Monthly Archives: August 2010

Screwing Messiahs & Screwy Coffins

I love living in Somerset. Not only does it have some of the most beautiful English countryside, it is also full of history and craziness. Everywhere there are stories of ghosts, black magic and all manner of spookiness. It is also a hotbed of New Age beliefs and religious cults. And of course, as you know from following this blog, Glastonbury is just down the road.

Not too far from Glastonbury is the sleepy village of Spaxton, the centre of the notorious Agapemone – the “Abode of Love,” founded in 1846 by an unfrocked curate, Rev Henry James Prince. Prince who had declared himself to be immortal, was an early example of a messiah cult, similar to David Koresh and his Branch Davidians.  One of the perks of the job, apart from living forever, was that he surrounded himself with a harem of women, his ‘soul brides’ whom he fleeced for their fortunes to support his luxurious life style. So much so that they were able to afford to build an extravagant temple, the Ark of the Covenant, at Clapton in London.

The centre of the Somerset community however, was the Spaxton chapel, which also acted as bar, lounge and billiards room. It was here that the ‘Great Manifestation’ took place. In 1856, to the strains of organ music, Prince deflowered a young virgin in front of a congregation, including his own wife– such is the power of a charismatic messiah. The subsequent pregnancy was later attributed to the devil which immediately reminded me of the plots of several later witch movies; most notably “Rosemary’s Baby” or “To the Devil a Daughter.”

The Agapemonites lived well – eating drinking and playing billiards in the company of attractive young ladies, but despite the actions of their beloved leader, the rest of the community, including the married couples lived in chastity. Anyway, the good times could not last forever, and of course, Prince eventually died in 1899.

Prince was buried standing up so as to be ready for his resurrection. He could have benefited from a recent development in grave technology that would have been perfect for this purpose. Californian inventor Donald Scruggs has just been granted a patent for a vertical screw coffin that is designed to bury the dead in the space saving vertical position. It even offers a bonus for those terrified of being buried alive. This was a common concern in the Victorian era which is why some graves came with a rope and pulley attached to a bell on the grave stone so that the undead could raise the alarm. As a resurrected Messiah, Henry James Prince, could have simply popped the lid and jumped out with a triumphant “Ta-da!”

Screw coffins or useful telegraph pole foundations?

The one problem with the screw design is the amount of force necessary to insert the coffin into the ground. On the other hand, I think that such coffins, once inserted could act as very stable foundations for more municipal purposes such as the base for telegraph poles and such. Now that would make the line of telegraph poles  across the countryside much more useful and interesting to view.


Filed under General Thoughts, supernatural

Double Standards When It Comes to Mosques

The big hallabahoo over the planned Muslim centre two blocks from Ground Zero that I blogged about a couple of days ago appears to be heating up. Charlie Brooker wrote a hilarious piece on this in today’s Guardian that pulled no punches. People who object to the planned centre in New York, believe that Ground Zero is sacred and I believe their belief. But as commentors and some of my Twitter followers (most notably @EvilEyeMonster – follow him -he is good value) have pointed out, double standards appear to be operating. For example, within the same two block distance there are strip-joints, fast food chains and a whole bunch of dodgy businesses that you would not find on other sacred sites (maybe I am wrong here too!). But what is really double standards when it comes to objecting to the presence and activity of a Muslim Centre, is the report in today’s Washington Post that Muslims have been praying at the Pentagon’s chapel since 2002, gathering every day at 2 p.m. around the time of the second of five prayers Muslims are supposed to offer daily. People seem to have forgotten that the Pentagon was also attacked on 9/11 with the death of 125 people. Admittedly, it is a non-denominational chapel were the Muslims pray but it is remarkable how objectors have overlooked this anomaly.


Filed under In the News

Britain’s Most Disgusting Woman?

Britain's most disgusting woman, Wendy Lewis. Photo by Warren Smith

Following the theme of sacred sites from the last post, it was interesting to hear about Wendy Lewis who has been called ‘Britain’s most disgusting person’ by members of the Royal British Legion. Wendy went on the run today from a court in Blackpool where she was facing prosecution for urinating on a war memorial and then for good measure performing “a sex act” on some nearby drunk guy on a park bench. All of this was caught on one of Britain CCTVs (we have the most cameras per capita of any country). When word of the 32-year-old woman’s antics got round, a group of veteran soldiers waited for Wendy outside court to make their feelings known. However, before her case was called, Wendy fled the court and is currently being sought by police.

This reminds me of the couple who  were arrested in an Italian cathedral after parishioners heard groaning coming from the confessional box. When the authorities pulled back the curtain, they found a woman down on her knees, but not in repentance. She was performing “a sex act” on the man whose groaning was due to carnal pleasure rather than moral angst. The couple argued that as atheists, having sex in a church was no different to any other place. However, the church thought that the act was so sacrilegious that a special ceremony would be necessary to purify the box.

Somehow, I don’t think Wendy is going to be let off lightly. If the readers’ comments on the Daily Mail article are anything to go I expect they are going to through the book at her when she eventually turns up. There again… it is the Daily Mail.


Filed under In the News

Ground Zero Has Become A Sacred Site

Ground Zero & the Site of the Proposed Mosque (AP photographs)

The “Coalition to honor Ground Zero” organization is set to hold a rally on Sunday, August 22, in order to prevent construction of the planned mosque situated two blocks away from Ground Zero. The mosque is part of a proposed 13-storey Muslim community centre, which is reported to include a swimming pool, gym, theatre and sports facilities. It is alleged that construction is due to begin on September 11 next year.

One spokesperson, Daisy Khan, who is Executive Director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA), a non-profit organization dedicated to developing an American Muslim identity and to building bridges between the Muslim community and general public, is reported to have said, “We need to take the 9/11 tragedy and turn it into something very positive. It will also serve as a major platform for amplifying the silent voice of the majority of Muslims who have nothing to do with extremist ideologies.”

I listened to some of the exchanges on television and was somewhat dismayed as to how this planning application has become the focus of anti-Islamic feelings. I still have a few questions. If two blocks away is too close then how far should the Islam exclusion zone be? I daresay that many feel strongly like the Coalition to honor Ground Zero that the whole of the North American continent would be about right. But hold on. Isn’t that exactly the divisive intent of the extremists in the first place?

Ground Zero has become sacred site. It’s not just the memories. Many people feel that the ground is literally imbued with spirit. But like so many sacred sites around the world it will become a focal point to vent anger and frustration. When I stayed in the Hilton next to Ground Zero earlier this year and gave a talk in that big chic skyscraper in the picture, I too was emotionally disturbed. So I don’t what to belittle or underplay the passion that relatives and ordinary citizens feel about this site, but is banning this mosque the best strategy?

This is one planning application that is going to be a nightmare for the US public because I can easily see both sides of the argument. If only we didn’t have this damned sense that locations and objects in the material world can become profound. Then we could make progress.

UPDATE: I am hurriedly adding Daryl Lang’s blog that really challenges the whole premise that this location can be regarded as sacred.

I had to add this piece by Charlie Brooker in today’s (monday 23rd)  Guardian. As always, Brooker never pulls his punches.


Filed under In the News

Glastonbury Illuminated

Still at the bottom of my doldrums but was sent this by a bunch of young Southampton film-makers who I helped out with one of their final year projects. I bumped into them again behind the comic tent at Glastonbury where the effervescent James Williams (despite his inappropriate Twitter name of @grumpy_jimmy) stopped me to say hello and tell me that they got top marks for the documentary project that I had helped them on. I was about to take full credit for the quality of content when he quickly added that he was there to see my doppelganger and nemesis Robin Ince who had also taken part in their project. Damn! Will I never be free? (actually it was Robin who got me in – bless).

Anyway roll up or lie down for a very chilled Glasto reminiscence. The boys have got a good eye!

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Filed under In the News

Still a False Sense of Security in Iraq

The ADE 651 in 'use' on Sat, 14th. Baghdad. Photo by Karim Kadim AP

Once again we learn of more depressing news of suicide attacks in Baghdad yesterday where scores of civilians were killed in a series of suicide bombings. There were bombings last Saturday as well but as the death toll was comparatively minor with less than 10 fatalities, it seemed almost trivial to report this from a country which is about to tear itself apart in civil war. That was until I saw newspaper reports from the Associated Press where photographer Karim Kadim had snapped a picture of an Iraqi police officer using our old friend, the ADE 651 bomb detector at a checkpoint in central Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, Aug. 14, 2010.

I am not saying that yesterday’s killings were an indirect result of relying on the woo bomb detectors but the fact that they are still in use is unbelievable. In fact, ATSC Ltd that make the dousing rod detectors is still trading and by all accounts from their new updated website, selling more of these devices. The News and Events section even talks about new R&D of the device as well as further sales to Iraq. Now that really beggars belief. Jim McCormick may or may not be facing trial later this year, but Iraq is still left with the legacy of a false sense of security. Selling devices that put lives at risk based on dousing, diving or whatever magical fairy dust you claim works, is simply immoral. It is too depressing to contemplate – I may have to just give up reporting further bad news about the immoral exploits of this British company.


Filed under In the News

Friday the 14th?

Alton Towers re-opened their ride “Thirteen” today under the new name “Fourteen” in a bid to qwell superstitious visitors who would not want to take the ride on Friday 13th. To mark the occasion they have a new banner as well as limited edition t-shirts for sale…. Make of that as you will. Meanwhile a piece I did for BBC’s The One Show is supposedly broadcast in about 30 mins so I am off to watch that and cringe.

The Superstitiously Improved Thirteen Ride at Alton Towers


Filed under In the News

Feline Covers

When I was originally asked about what to put on the cover, I said “Please, no superstitious tokens.” Well that plea feel on deaf ears but now I am kinda of warming to the feline flavour – especially as some of the foreign covers are looking quite cool. Take this Portuguese translation. Just in time for tomorrow’s auspicious day.

I'm watching you Kitty!


Filed under book publicity

Christian Computer Video Games

I followed up a tweet from Carl Zimmer to discover a most bizarre and unsurprising US company, Left Behind Games, who specialize in “faith-based” computer games. Here of course, by faith they mean Christian ( is there any other?). One of their major products, “Left Behind” is a fight against the negative spiritual influence of the Antichrist’s forces on the streets of New York City. I was particularly intrigued by one key feature of the game which was to “Conduct warfare using the power of PRAYER and WORSHIP as more powerful than weapons and guns.” So you play and pray at the same time. Brilliant marketing genius for Christian parents who fear the depravity of modern video gaming.

Today’s modern warfare has often been likened to video games as technology has produced remote weaponry that increasingly removes the operator from direct contact with the target. This is an important psychological chasm to bridge as we know that people’s sense of moral responsibility is significantly altered when they perceive the consequences of their actions as indirect rather than direct. Take the infamous trolley problem. People feel that it is morally wrong to push someone off a bridge to block a runaway trolley that will kill five others whereas they will easily divert a switch on the track to divert the trolley away from five rail workers but in doing so kill one lone worker who would have escaped otherwise.

I suspect it is easier to remotely launch a rocket to kill unknown individuals rather than plunge a bayonet into someone. It is just to visceral (literally), immediate and gory. This notion of proximity fits with the controversial claim made by the military historian S.L.A. Marshall who said that most WWII soldiers did not fire at the enemy in open combat. Marshall’s claim has subsequently been discredited but it is still one reason why soldiers undergo intense training so that they do not have to question their actions.

But prayer and warfare???? I am reminded by General Bill Boykin who was one of the most shocking characters from Bush’s war of terrorism. General Boykin declared in describing one of the Islamic targets they were hunting,  “He went on CNN and he laughed at us, and he said, ‘They’ll never get me because Allah will protect me. Allah will protect me.’ Well, you know what? I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.”

I know both these guys are fundamentalists but do we really want to allow such people to reach the dizzy heights of power in a democracy or more importantly control the lives of others? There again, maybe we need fundamentalists to face fundamentalists in a situation were there is no reason. I came from a family of military, father.. grandfather and so on… it is not an easy call. I count my lucky stars and privileged background that I have not been forced into this hell-hole. My forefathers didn’t have the choice.


Filed under General Thoughts

From Me to You Tattoo

I’ve been thinking about tattoos quite a bit recently. I suppose it started when I went to TAM and saw so many people with them including the former JREF president Phil Plait who has meteor on his shoulder that he had recently done courtesy of LA Ink. Phil claims it was all part of a bet but deep down, I think that he wanted to join the growing ranks of geeks who have them. Carl Zimmer, who I met at SciFoo even has a science tattoo emporium which is well worth a visit. Why do so many people want to be inked? It can’t be for individuality.

I think that I am increasingly becoming a minority and I suppose each to his own. Some that I saw at TAM were very beautiful but I am such a fickle individual that I could never commit to a permanent pattern on my skin. Also, I have always thought that while tattoos may look cool on young skin, the ravages of time, gravity and tissue distortion rarely do justice to the artist’s original designs when you get to the wrinkly old age I am – there again who cares?

However, help may be at hand for the less committed like me. At SciFoo, I heard from the director of a new company that is working with silk of all products to produce a tattoo that is modifiable using electronics and light-sensitive components. If they manage to pull this off then this will be a megabuck industry. I am reminded of a good female friend of mine who revealed that her Chinese character tattoo for “woman” that she had done on her arm raised a titter from a native speaker, who said that she had been in fact, been permanently inked with the symbol for the ladies. It would be like having “Gents” tattooed on me.

Dead Son Tattooed into Mum

So where’s the woo angle here. Well this need for an intimate, permanent display reached a supersense level when the Metro reported that a 50-year-old British mother, who had lost her son Lloyd to a drugs overdose, had his cremated ashes mixed in with ink and then tattooed into three patterns on her back. She said, ‘I’ve put Lloyd back where he started – he’s in my body again. As soon as I knew it was possible, I wanted to have the ashes tattoos as a tribute to Lloyd.’ This is reminiscent of the Victorian mourning jewellery that was made from the deceased’s hair. However, technology has moved on and as I noted in an earlier post, it is possible to have the carbon ashes of your loved one made into a diamond by LifeGem. However, incorporating the remains of the lost one into your body in a tattoo seems more intimate – a feature of essentialism that I discussed in the book.

So what’s your opinion of tattoos? Do they need to be permanent or would you prefer the option of changing them? And what about having the remnants of a loved one permanently etched into your skin?


Filed under Essentialism, General Thoughts