song of the ankle rings

by Eric Alagan

Eric manages to use an earthquake and superstition to exact revenge. But I go ahead of myself.

This book is about the merchant classes. Not that kings don’t make an appearance, they do and they are disappointing. They are feeble. Unjust and cruel, just like most kings we read about. No, the merchant class is not any better.

A brief description of the main characters is given below. In the case of the Pandyan court, I have dealt with the court as an individual though I promise nothing is lost. There is everything horrible happening in that court. And the same can be said of the Arakans. The author does not differentiate them so much to cover a big spectrum of behavior or character. The men are strong. The women are fat. All of them are charitable and generous.

Kovalan, the son of a prosperous merchant has only one thing going for him, he is upright. His business ventures don’t do well even his marriage suffers, first from three miscarriages, then folly and finally death. I don’t know how a man with his right senses would leave his woman to go live with another for two years and expect the wife will just be waiting.

Madhavi! What should I say about her or her folk? Sly. Conniving. Ambitious. And maybe cruel.

Kannagi. Here, Eric, you didn’t do justice. Her character wasn’t well developed. She is so passive until the end when she acts bravely to avenge her good husband, Kovalan.

Anandan! The carefree, and I would, for lack of a better word, loose, brother to Kannagi. He never saw a woman he didn’t want to bed. Was unkind to their house servants. Only drew the line at Madhavi and any woman he considered pure. An astute business man and a good friend too.

Savaali, the Silent One and all the Arakans. Now, these are my heroes. The problems of nuclear families, this is my child, is not a problem to them. The parentage of the child is not definite and the whole community is involved in their upbringing. They have received a bad rap for crimes they have not committed but come out on top of the pack as being very upright and gentle fellows.

The Pandyan court. A place of injustice. It would interest Machiavelli. It is here where the final drama is enacted. The place where Kovalan is redeemed or rather redeems himself but dies ( the question for the previous post) and Kannagi exacts vengeance. When her husband is killed unjustly on the orders of the king and following the treachery of the Royal Jeweler, she forces an audience with the king during a state reception of Roman guests (and here Eric employs superstition to full effect). An earthquake that he alluded to earlier erupts, and it is during this earthquake, well after she has accused the king, proved the innocence of her husband and the guilt of the jeweler that she sets fire to the curtains and the palace is engulfed in fire. Savaali comes to the rescue and upon her death, the story is retold until she becomes a goddess.

Well, the story is well told. Eric brings about the issue of Sati practice among Indian widows. Faithfulness in marriage but contrasts it immediately with the Arakan freedom. The place of women in traditional society and even present is all discussed.

The style is easy. I like short paragraphs and Eric uses them well. The narration is good though once in a while you might forget who is the speaker. I had this problem, especially in the beginning. And I think with the death of Kovalan, our author took liberties because he has Kovalan telling us what happens to his head after it has been severed from his body by the executioner.

Thank you Eric for an autographed copy of the book and for weaving a beautiful yearn.


the darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World

by Catherine Nixey

Until the Story of the hunt is told by the Lionthe tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter. – African Proverb

To understand the impact of Christianity on the ancient world, this story would have to be told by the ancients themselves. Unfortunately, for us living today, the past is so much lost, thanks to the works of Christians of lore. It is this past that Catherine attempts to weave in her very readable book. And it is a sad, depressing past.

Christians are wont to say that their religion found a ready ground for conversion, that Rome had declined and all, but this is a tall tale. The Christians destroyed what was noble, what was beautiful and what was glorious and spread their religion through terror, rapine and violence.

For most people, the most famous name that points to the barbarity of Christian mobs is Hypatia of Alexandria. Ovid is lost to most of us, Catullus with his poems is lost to us, the temple of Serapis is lost to us and many more marvelous works in both East and west of the Roman empire.

In one place Catherine writes

Christians could, their preachers told them, wash for simple utility as long as they didn’t enjoy it too much. The good Christian should certainly not wallow in the sensual pleasures of the baths. Some defied such pious grubbiness: Augustine openly claimed bathing to be one of the pleasures of life. Others took a more robust approach to washing. Ascetics celebrated the ideal of being ‘alousia’ – unwashed. As one writer asked, what need did a Christian have to wash at all? Even if one’s skin becomes rough and scaly from lack of cleaning, he had no need, since ‘he that is once washed in Christ need not to wash again’.28 An intellectual change had taken place. Filth was moving from something that was found outside a man to something that stained his soul. A clean body was no longer one that was free from dirt: it was one that was unsoiled by sexual activity – and particularly by ‘deviant’ sexual activity – which started to be precisely defined then deplored in newly fierce and censorious terms.
Male homosexuality was denounced; and then outlawed. By the sixth century, those who were, as one chronicler put it, ‘afflicted with homosexual lust’ started to live in fear. And with good reason. When a bishop called Alexander was accused of having a homosexual relationship, he and his partner were ‘in accordance with a sacred ordinance . . . brought to Constantinople and were examined and condemned by Victor the city prefect, who punished them: he tortured Isaiah severely and exiled him and he amputated Alexander’s genitals and paraded him around on a litter. The emperor immediately decreed that those detected in pederasty should have their genitals amputated. At that time many homosexuals were arrested and died after having their genitals amputated. [emphasis mine]

what else happened? She notes further

Sex between a husband and wife was allowed but it should not, preachers said, be enjoyed. The old merry marriage ceremonies, in which people had eaten, drunk and sung profane songs about sex, were bluntly deplored as the Devil’s dungheap. Admiring stories of married couples who never slept with each other but spent their nights wearing hair shirts proliferated.

Go read this book, you will weep. But after you weep, I hope you find consolation in this poem and song.

First, Carmen 16 by Catallus

I will sodomize you and face-fuck you,
bottom Aurelius and catamite Furius,
you who think, because my poems
are sensitive, that I have no shame.
For it’s proper for a devoted poet to be moral
himself, [but] in no way is it necessary for his poems.
In point of fact, these have wit and charm,
if they are sensitive and a little shameless,
and can arouse an itch,
and I don’t mean in boys, but in those hairy old men
who can’t get it up.
Because you’ve read my countless kisses,
you think less of me as a man?
I will sodomize you and face-fuck you.

And then a song

The Earth

By Emile Zola.

I first heard about Zola in a comment by Paulette many moons ago. She wasn’t talking about the earth though. This I read because of a short review by Mark Twain where he said the book had so much sex, the French stopped its serialisation in their dailies. I told myself that must have been a lot sex. I am afraid, Mark Twain lied. I was disappointed.

The Earth is set in Rognes. Our star characters are peasants and their attachment to their land.

The peasants in Rognes are indifferent to religion and seems to me to take great pleasure in pissing of their priest.

La Grande is the meanest grandma in the whole book.

Fouan is one unlucky man. Divides his land to his children and they take turns turning him out from their houses until, finally, he is murdered by Buteau(his son) and Lise(niece and wife of Buteau) who suffocate him in their house and attempt to burn his corpse. The Buteaus get away with the murder of Francoise and that of old Fouan.

Tron kills Hourdequin out of jealousy so he can have La Cognete, the mistress to the boss.

Hyacinthe is that easy going son who is not a slave of the land as his fellow peasants. When their father Fouan gives each of them their inheritance, he mortgages his so he can drink and live a merry life. La Trouille, his daughter, is a thief.

The characters are well developed. The story quite well told. At the end, one wants to know what is in La Grande’s will and the manner of her death.

Or what happens to Jean, that unhappy man whose wife leaves him nothing and is turned out of the house by his in-laws.

And the issue of the war with Prussia. How does it end.

It is a book I would recommend.

A brief history of time

by Stephen Hawking

Is such an interesting read. But after I finished reading it, I am no wiser on what space is, whether time had a beginning and when. But at least I know there is psychological time, thermodynamic time and cosmological time.

Time travel maybe possible but there are paradoxes. If you travel back in time and kill your great great grandfather as a young man, will you born in the future? Unless you travel back in time but with an alternate history, but then where is the fun in this?

Are there singularities like the BBT or not? Does the universe have an edge?

Is determinism true or does the uncertainty principle rule it out completely?

Did god create the universe or rather the initial conditions and left the rest to take its course?

Is faster than light travel possible?

And finally, who was Einstein?

Skin in the game

By N. Taleb.

If you want to be provoked, maybe even annoyed by something you have read, then this is a book to read.

Having said that, if an author has said they have written a standalone book, it makes no sense when one feels every few pages is a sales pitch for previous books of the same author. We are not trying to read all your books, just this one, so go slow on the sales pitch.

Taleb hates Hillary Clinton, Steven Pinker, Dawkins and many others. I wish he could treat this is a separate subject or give an explanation. I think Pinker is misleading us on his claims of us living in the most peaceful times. I am not interested in doing the hard work presently, though.

He is right that those who make policies should have some skin in the game. Think for example, the idiots who make pronouncements about our non existent public transport have a driver paid for by a tax payer. They never get inconvenienced by their stupid regulations. Had they been forced to use public transport, we would have better service. To this extent, and in many others, Taleb has a point. The adage that if someone’s pay is dependent on them solving a problem, they are unlikely to solve it, applies here.

As for his use of aphorisms, I don’t think he succeeded. This work sometimes appear disjointed, random and doesn’t flow so coherently.

He makes a good case for skepticism about GMO and further that sometimes there are simpler solutions to the problem that GMO proponents are trying to solve. Looking at the people dying of hunger in Baringo (where Moi who was president for 24 years hails) is evidence that the problem is infrastructure and political will. To solve the problem, one would need to improve access and plan for adverse weather. But when you have idiots and thieves in charge, you have people die from starvation. Well, they voted for the idiots, anyway. It’s a problem they have a hand in, too.

Have a good weekend everyone. Read a book, if you can. If you can’t, drink a beer, take a walk, make love! Do something, don’t just sit.

The Green Book

In this post, I highlighted some of what Qaddafi identified as the problems of democracy as presently practiced in many places around the world. I will just note in passing, that he also expressed distrust for elections as currently run in many states arguing that they are tyrannical by limiting people’s choices sometimes to a yes or no question or between parties when it is possible there would be a wide array of issues where there is divergence or convergence. I am not persuaded his political solution to this problem would work for large groups.

His next problem is the economic problem and his solution is socialism. He argues, and I think the point has been made elsewhere, that extreme wealth concentrated in one person is inimical to public weal. He notes further that is only possible with the exploitation or deprivation of another person.

On education he argued that the present system is tyrannical. He argues society should have as many different schools offering different courses suited to different people instead of a few schools with a fixed curricula for almost everyone. He also adds that any society that stifles the teaching of religion is against freedom or a society that monopolizes the teaching of religion is equally against freedom.

One shouldn’t depend on someone else for their housing, food and other basic needs as this would be contrary to freedom. Your landlord can make you homeless.

On law he says most constitutions, being positive law, are sometimes in contradiction with freedom. To him all law should have its origin custom or religion. He seems to me to allow that each place can have its religion that is congruent to its customs. I think anyone of us can see where custom and religion could be in conflict with human freedom.

Finally, for this post, his views on women, and here, I will let him speak for himself

It is an undisputed fact that both man and woman are human beings. It follows, as a self-evident fact, that woman and man are equal as human beings. Discrimination against woman by man is a flagrant act of oppression without justification for woman eats and drinks as man eats and drinks; woman loves and hates as man loves and hates; woman thinks, learns and comprehends as man thinks, learns and comprehends. Woman, like man, needs shelter, clothing, and transportation; woman feels hunger and thirst as man feels hunger and thirst; woman lives and dies as man lives and dies.

And I wish he had stopped here.

But he goes on to say

To demand equality between man and woman in carrying heavy weights while the woman is pregnant is unjust and cruel. To demand equality between them in fasting and hardship while she is breast-feeding is unjust and cruel. To demand equality between them in any dirty work which stains her beauty and detracts from her femininity is unjust and cruel. Education that leads to work unsuitable for her  nature is unjust and cruel as well.

And I will quote the final excerpt, though one could read more of his views from the pamphlet

There is no difference between men and women in all that concerns humanity. None of them should marry the other against his or her will, or divorce without a just trial or mutual agreement. Neither should a woman remarry without such agreement or divorce; nor a man without divorce or consent.

In general, I would say his critique on democracy and parliaments does seem to hold true in many places. His solution to the problem is plagued with the question of practicality for large groups.



doubt, faith, awe

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think the book of Job as Sasot claims, teaches us about what faith entails, but about vanity of the gods. Why does Job suffer? Because god has placed a bet with Satan. Let’s pause for a moment and just think about this. Religious people of all persuasions insist Satan is the source of their problems always tempting them. In the story of Job, we learn they, Satan and god, are work colleagues, each granting the other a favour when need be.

Sasot, taking Job 38:4 out of context, uses it to castigate Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar for advising Job to repent. In actual fact, that particular verse is god refusing to answer Job’s query on why he suffers, instead he goes on a rant.

I find it strange, coming from an atheist, when she writes

What this implies is that nothing and no one can tell us what exactly God wants but God himself. Anyone or anything who weren’t there when He laid the foundations of the earth are all ignorant of how the Divine would unravel.

Which god?

In this next paragraph, she makes a virtue out of faith. She tells us

Fundamentalism is based on absolute certainty, while faith is based on uncertainty. Fundamentalism claims, faith trusts. Fundamentalism is unreceptive, faith is welcoming. Fundamentalism is the negation of doubt and the annihilation of the doubtful, while faith is the presence of doubt and the refuge of the doubtful. Fundamentalism arrests, faith surrenders.

And I am yet to meet a religious person who has faith and doubts they are destined for heaven or even entertains the possibility there are no gods and that they are wrong about religion and all that comes with it.

I agree with her when she says

Inspire your children to find their unique path to self-realization.

and only add that encourage children to doubt, to ask questions and to be open to new knowledge.