Thursday, 24 March 2011

Megadeath singer might prefer The Old Rugged Cross

There's currently a story on the web about Dave Mustaine, of the bands Megadeth and Metallica. I'm not a particular fan of metal so I don't really know their music but apparently he used to do a song called The Conjuring. He's now refusing to perform the song because it contains instruction for hexes. Word is he's now found religion and doesn't want to sing a song about what, we can only assume, he sees as the opposition. Or some bollox like that.

To be honest there are more complete instructions for a magickal ritual in Chapter 23 of The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil if you are feeling so inclined. A bit of vague guidance on placing the parchment and lighting candles with a reminder to use the eyelash from a black cat and a straw from a broom isn't really going to get you banned from heaven. But that would be because heaven is as fictitious as my novel. (Oops, sorry, did I lead some people to believe that Nigel, Clint and Wayne are real?) I don't fancy fighting anyone's cat for one of its eyelashes, I know who'd come off worse, and I've never seen a broom made of straw!

In a complete reversal of the situation, in my early days of hanging out with occultists (as we used to call ourselves) a friend of mine had been a singer in the folk clubs during the sixties and seventies. He had a massive repertoire because he had to be prepared to perform almost any request from the audience. He used to do a fantastic rendition of The Old Rugged Cross that he hammed up in such a schmultzy style that is was a real pleasure to hear. It's not about the song, it's about the singer.

Then we would go in the back room and conjure Lucifer. ;o)


If you want to know more about the Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil here are some extracts:

Chapter two on astral travel

Chapter three on breaking down on the M6

Until the second edition comes out you can still get the first edition, complete with the original typos, from Blackwells

Friday, 18 March 2011

Cover designs for the second edition of the Hidden Masters

Here are some visuals for the cover design of the Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil (second edition). I'd welcome your input. I've knocked these up in Photoshop, these are to give the designer a brief. The final art will include spine details and all the bumph about price and ISBN etc.

Remember, this is still the first book in the series that many of you guys have already read in the old green cover. This is for the move to my new publisher. The second book in the series will follow when the transfer to the new publisher is complete.

Cover A

Cover B

Cover C

Cover D

Cover E

Cover F

Cover G

The images are taken from the 3D model that was adapted from the set for the animation. (The animation has been shelved until all the books are moved over to the new publisher.) Because the model was only ever meant to be seen from the alley side of the buildings the windows on the front of the houses haven't been painted in. Once we know which image we'll be using the image will be tidied up and finished off. The model as used in these images has streets going off into the distance but most of these are close into the houses so not much of the background shows.

The blurb is just a draft at the moment. If you've got any thoughts then please feel free to comment on this post or my post discussing future marketing.

And finally if you want to know what all the fuss is about here are some extracts:

Chapter two on astral travel

Chapter three on breaking down on the M6

Until the second edition comes out you can still get the first edition, complete with the original typos, from Blackwells

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Are we being kept in the dark?

Is the presentation of data to the public hindering our democracy?

Ask yourself what was the state of the national debt before the credit crunch. Remember the credit crunch? That's what we called the crisis before we called it a recession, which was before we called it the deficit.

Dear Prudence

Okay, so you could be excused for not knowing what the national debt was before the credit crunch because it wasn't big news. In fact, as far as I understand, it was news, just not big news, because I seem to remember that Gordon Brown was well on the way to paying it off. (These days they refer to the deficit but deficit is just the shortfall in money available to a government in any one year whereas the debt is the accumulation of those deficits over years, so they are different ways of expressing the amount of money the country owes.) They used to refer to Gordon Brown's famous war chest and he would talk about prudence in government spending. I'm interested in this because I get a bit tired of the current government saying that the previous government is responsible for the financial crisis due to of profligate spending. I'd like some figures to back up my admittedly alcohol befuddled memories. (See my blog for my thoughts on responsibility for the financial crisis.) But can I find any figures on this? Before the May 2010 UK election I looked on the UK Office of National Statistics web site and I could find nothing.

Okay, here's something else. A little over twenty years ago my father retired. Ever since I was a child he worked as an electrical fitter in a factory that made aircraft components. However, he had always been interested in the stock market and finance. Over the decades he built up a substantial portfolio. He  also paid into his pension during the high growth years from the sixties to the eighties until his retirement just before the turn of the decade. He died a few years later in 1993 enjoying just a few years of his hard earned retirement.

At some point during his short retirement I remember a conversation when he described how the pension funds of large businesses, in the early nineties, were massively in surplus. From what he told me the boom times of the eighties, various market crashes notwithstanding, had left many large company pension funds with huge sums of money that seemed to be far more than they required to fund the pensions of the members of the schemes. From what I understood the payments into the funds had been so wisely invested that the members would be very well provided for in their retirement.

Raids on pension funds

However, he then went on to explain that the companies that ran these schemes, on behalf of their employees, had persuaded the government to change the rules so that the companies were able to claw back substantial amounts of the pension surplus to be spent by the company. Weather that money went into investment in the company or was handed out to shareholders is something I don't know but I'm pretty sure my father had an opinion on the matter.

If company pension surpluses were raided in the early nineties then that is something that should be pointed out for we are now being told that pension schemes are all in massive deficit and that we should take a cut in our future pensions. It may be true that there is a demographic time bomb in pensions but we should probably know how it came about. If this is the case we have all been robbed by the government headed by John Major. (Remember him? No few people do.)

So I've looked on various web sites to try to find the truth of the matter but can I find anything about this? Can I fuck! Of course my father may have been wrong but I'd like to check his facts myself.

What does it cost our government to borrow money?

So today I read an interesting article by Paul Krugman about how the economic debate is dumbed down in the US. (No surprise there then.) He says '...the nation is not, in fact, “broke.” The federal government is having no trouble raising money, and the price of that money — the interest rate on federal borrowing — is very low by historical standards.'

So I wondered what the case is with UK borrowing and I dutifully went to the Office of National Statistics web site. I've searched and I've browsed and I've searched some more. I've searched on 'cost of borrowing', 'cost of national borrowing', 'historical interest rates' and many more terms. Of course I'm not an expert, I don't even have an economics degree. But I do have a vote and I have an opinion that I'd like to check instead of behaving like some jumped up fundamentalist who doesn't care if he is right, wrong or just an ignorant twat!

In a world where we are all connected, where we are tweeting and blogging, facbooking or just talking down the pub, we should be entitled to know the truth. I know, I can hear you all laughing as you read this but that shows what a crappy situation we are now in. The truth is out there but we should not have to be an expert in economics just to be able to ask the right questions.

I'm not asking for a total dumbing down of data for that would be ironic in the light of Krugman's article. However, an averagely intelligent and enquiring individual should have access to information to check what we are being told by those that have their own agendas.

A graph paints a thousand words

I don't know how we do this because economics is an arcane and difficult art. However, a first step might be for official statistical compilers to present data in a way that an averagely intelligent individual can find, without having to read a dozen esoteric reports that may not turn out to contain the piece of data required, anything less is obfuscation. Further, if the government is repeatedly telling us that the last government created the deficit through its economic mismanagement perhaps we should be able to find some data on this. That information needs to be presented in a way that it can easily be found, perhaps with multiple key words pre-empting the sort of questions people will search for. That means not presenting the visitor with bewildering numbers of links and multi page reports that the average Joe can't understand. A simple graph displaying the deficit or the national debt for the past few decades would suffice, perhaps sets of well presented and easily found data for the items currently in the news. I'm not an idiot, no really I'm not, but I'd like an idiots guide to the data rather than what we have now.

I'm brighter than a mushroom and I don't like the taste of bullshit. Basically I'd like to check my facts please. I'd like to have access to the truth.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The Robin Hood Tax - Just who is responsible for the financial crisis?

Apparently the EU, yesterday (Tuesday 8th March), voted to support the idea of a Financial Transactions Tax (popularly known as the Robin Hood Tax) that would be Europe wide. The vote is not binding but it is a step forward because the argument that banks would move out of a jurisdiction that taxes transactions would be unlikely to apply to an area as large as the EU. Were such a tax created in the UK the banks might argue that the banks would move to Germany or some other European financial centre. However, one would imagine that they need a trading operation in Europe so they would not be able to move anywhere else.

And here's one of the excellent videos they have produced:

So the Robin Hood Tax Facebook page posted this news today and it's unleashed the most incredible argument. I say incredible argument because one would imagine that anybody who has pressed 'Like' on the Facebook page for the Robin Hood Tax would largely be in favour of this.  A little bit of debate might be expected but this debate has been almost vitriolic. It makes me wonder if we are witnessing a little bit of astroturfing, effectively the existence of fifth columnists. Of course it's possible to become paranoid but the reaction does seem to be extreme and the banks certainly have the resources and the guile to do this sort of thing.

Some people on the Facbook page seemed to be arguing that perhaps a Robin Hood Tax was not such a great idea. They then went on to repeat the line that the current government continually feed us that the Labour government was responsible for banking deregulation. That is a blatant lie and the most significant thing the last government was responsible for was that they had a leader who was unable to smile on camera without looking scary. Neil Kinnock was mostly berated for being ginger so we've not moved on in nearly twenty years.

This has led me to write something on the financial situation we are in at the moment

The Labour government didn't deregulate the banks. They were deregulated on October 27 1986 (Big Bang Day) by Margaret Thatcher's government. (Further UK deregulation followed throughout the eighties and the nineties but it was largely complete by the Millennium.) In the US the Banking Act of 1933 (Glass–Steagall Act) was steadily repealed starting in 1980 and finally in 1999.

This series of deregulations allowed high street banks to become involved in speculation. Massive amounts of cash, previously held in deposit (or reserve against hard times and bad debt) was freed up to speculate on the global markets. Those that got involved with the markets during this time made massive profits and those profits fuelled the unprecedented growth from the mid eighties to a few years ago. We all benefited from the boom time with the occasional recession, as is normal, but nothing like we have witnessed recently. During that speculation banks became involved in loans that were so obscure that the decision makers (top managers and directors) often didn't know what was going on. (Often these financial arrangements could only be understood by highly qualified mathematicians.) Many more recent loans were risky but were at high rates of interest which meant that if they paid off they would make further great profits. In an attempt to hedge their bets they passed on those risks to other institutions around the world to the point where it was impossible tell which banks were safe and which were not.

Too big to fail

This would have been fine if the banks had only been involved in speculation. However, the repeal of regulations meant that this risk was spread to individuals like every one of us. Our savings and the finance of our employers were exposed to this risk. This is the origin of the concept of being too big to fail. Had the banks only been involved in speculation rather than high street banking then they could have been allowed to go to the wall. Instead, when their risks turned into massive failure we had to bail them out and now we have the massive deficits that we are trying to pay off.

Let's all try to remember the recent past and try to be informed about what went before. If we want an opinion we have to be aware of the news. Don't say, "It's boring I'd rather watch X Factor." None of us can have an opinion if we are not informed.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Building virtual Blackpool

Click on the image to see the (lack of) detail
Using the 3D model of the Victorian alleyway, created for the animation, I'm trying to create some art for the book cover for the second edition of The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil. Unfortunately copying and pasting something like 1000 houses, each individually defined right down to the window frames and chimneys is proving a bit of a stretch for the PC. (See the previous post on viral marketing for how it should render including the brickwork texture.) Even with a spanky fast machine it's proving too much. It's not rendered any of the textures or the small details such as the red chimney pots. It hasn't even bothered with the houses in the distance, showing whole terraces as wire frames. Notice the top of the image shows Google SketchUp as 'Not Responding'. At the time of writing it's been like that for over an hour, every few minutes becoming active then locking up again for a similar time.

The grey windows of the further streets are deliberate as the model was never intended to be seen from this angle. (All the action in the viral animation takes place within a single alleyway so the houses are only seen from the rear. Read chapter 7 for the details.) For the book cover these windows will have to be painted in individually. Also the wide screen format of modern monitors doesn't suit the portrait format of a book jacket so chunks of the landscape image will probably be chopped away. The distant houses, if SketchUp can ever be persuaded to render the middle distance, will probably have to be painted in later.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

What is Paganism? - as told by a Christian

I found this post recently, an American minister describing paganism. He does talk a little slow but his point is well made when he gets to it.

Follow this link: Demystifying Paganism

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

How many pagans does it take to fill in the census?

Counting pagans is like herding cats, it's just about impossible.

At the last UK census in 2001 it was the first time that people were given the opportunity to describe their religion as 'other'. Many pagans chose to register their religious affiliation on the census, yet pagan didn't really make an impact on the figures.


The reason for this was because pagans are a varied bunch of people. They don't have a single leadership, doctrine or even a single set of beliefs. Paganism is an individualistic approach to life that has many common characteristics but many variations too.

So Druids described themselves as Druids, Wiccans described themselves as Wiccans, Thelemites described themselves as Thelemites. (I think you get the picture by now.) Pagans are people who like to describe themselves as they see fit, not as others might like to describe them. Pagans are very individualistic.

So the 2001 census results led to considerable under reporting of pagans in the UK. It's thought that pagans are the seventh largest faith group on the country but because of the variation amongst all the flavours of paganism our numbers didn't add up to much.

So the solution is to retain our individuality while banding together. The term pagan has become the most popular description of who we are as a community. Not everybody prefers it but without it we wouldn't have the recognition we deserve. Without standing up to be counted we would also face much greater prejudice in the wider social sphere.

The PaganDash campaign is urging us to describe ourselves as Pagan with an extra entry for our own chosen path. So you might express yourself thus:


That way the census people can count pagans as a group or as subgroups according to the desires of each individual.

The simplest ideas are often the best.  :o)