Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Cheers for Houston's citizens

From NewsFlash:
"Standing in the Rose Garden, Bush said, "This recovery will take a long time. This recovery will take years."

He said buses were on the way to help take thousands of storm survivors from the overwhelmed Superdome in New Orleans to the Astrodome in Houston."

Meanwhile, from assorted word-of-mouth sources, rumor has it the bulldozers and earth-movers are already rolling on neighborhoods, but I've yet to be able to confirm that.

David Benzion* of The Lone Star Times, blogging from the Holiday Inn at the Astrodome, says:

"In a stunning and completely inexplicable display of compassion and generosity, citizens of Houston have begun to offer assistance to arriving refugees without ever having been directed to do so by a properly authorized governmental authority.

Your reporter witnessed this bizarre behavior principally in the Fiesta parking lot across from the Astrodome at Kirby and La Concha. Throughout the evening, several hundred refugees attempted to enter the Astrodome parking lot in crammed and crowded cars, only to be told that they would not be allowed in, since they hadn’t been part of the "official" Superdome caravan and the necessary supplies could not be guaranteed.

Ignoring their lack of proper bureaucratic classification, the plight of these "renegade refugees" was soon alleviated by a steady stream of private individuals and groups who gathered together in the above mentioned parking lot and began to offer assistance. It is not clear when, if ever, this parking lot was designated by federal officials to serve as a "refugee relocation and relief" zone.

One local anarchist boldly grilled and handed out upwards of 400 pounds of free hot dogs, knowingly flouting his lack of public food preparation permits."
*advisory: this blog tends to be over-sensational, with a right-wing agenda I dislike intensely. He was the only eyewitness-on-the-web I could find (so far) posting about the Astrodome situation.

Basin Street Blues, Louis Armstrong

Won't you come and go with me
Down that Mississippi
We'll take a boat to the land of dreams
Come along with me on, down to New Orleans

Now the band's there to greet us
Old friends will meet us
Where all them folks goin to the St. Louis Cemetary meet
Heaven on earth.... they call it Basin Street

I'm tellin' ya, Basin Street...... is the street
Where all them characters from the First street they meet
New Orleans..... land of dreams
you'll never miss them rice and beans
Way down south in New Orleans

They'll be huggin'.... and a kissin'
That's what I been missin'
And all that music....lord, if you just listen'
New Orleans....I got them Basin Street Blues

(instrumental break)

Now ain't you glad you went with me
On down that Mississippi
We took a boat to the land of dreams
Heaven on earth...they call it Basin Street

More images.

More Check-in Links

If you're in the hurricane aftermath zone, let someone know you're okay. There are also areas for discussion of the hurricane and aftermath at the following links.

craigslist>New Orleans>lost & found (Again, with thanks and a nod to TNH at Making Light.)

Katrina Check-In

NOLA check-in site

Patrick Connors' check-in site, now automated

Jim Macdonald's check-in site

Responses are beginning to trickle in. There are an enormous number of people missing and unaccounted-for.

Another way to help: Send a flood-bucket.

The sheer magnitude of human suffering as a direct result of this catastrophe cannot even be estimated, yet. Tens of thousands--perhaps more--have lost everything. Many of those people abruptly no longer have jobs, while they begin to face rebuilding.

This is an old, old story for the inhabitants of the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi River flood plains. There's an rich tradition of music and culture and cuisine unique to the region, stemming directly from its mixed and painful history.

If anyone in the world can rebuild--these people can. They will. I have complete faith.

Look, maybe I seem a little obsessive about this. Hell, I probably am. There's a reason for that. My experience of New Orleans--especially the neighborhoods in and around the Quarter--is that reality is a bit suspended, there.

For the rest of my life I will remember walking home from the New Orleans French Quarter in the fog, at around 4:30 in the morning, singing "Stand By Me"--really belting it out. From a balcony maybe a block away, a woman with a gorgeous voice picked up the harmonies on the chorus, weaving in and out around the melody. Then, somewhere else in the fog, a guy picked up the bass line.

The friend I was walking with stopped walking, and later swore that he stopped breathing to listen.

I know I was a little drunk--but every note was pure, and dead-on. There was a weird . . . synergy. The song ended all at once, as if we'd rehearsed it. Something about the acoustics of the streets, in the fog--you could still hear the last notes ringing overhead.

There's not much I can do, from here. I can go to the Red Cross site and donate money. I can spread the word about check-in sites. You can do those things, too.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Katrina Links

Swiped from "Making Light":
(Posted by TNH at 12:59 AM)

"Check-in pages: let people know you’re okay, and where you are.

Jim Macdonald’s page at SFF Net.

Patrick Connors’ check-in page.

Basic info and primary data:

NOAA/NWS’s National Hurricane Center website.

The National Weather Service Telecommunication Operations Center, the National Weather Service Forecast Office for New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and the NWS Nonprecipitation Warnings. Even the weather junkies amongst us have never seen the NWS use language like they’ve used tonight. It’s terrifying.

Wikipedia is doing a magnificent job of collecting and compiling information on Katrina.

New Orleans webcams.

More NOLA webcams.

Even more NOLA webcams. There’s some overlap from site to site.

Brian Robak has a spectacular collection of animated and still radar and satellite images.

A satellite image of New Orleans, for reference.

The concise New Orleans Hurricane Impact Study Area page, with assorted useful links, maps, and charts, including a shaded wireframe map of areas of New Orleans that are below sea level.

News compilers and knowledgeable watchers:

Jeff Masters’ extremely knowledgeable Weather Underground site.

Steve Gregory’s Weather Underground page.

Stormtrack: Frequent updates, bleakly humorous titles.

New Orleans Metroblog is collecting storm reports and substantial first-person accounts.

So is the NOLA View weblog.

MetaFilter is accumulating material as usual: much signal, much noise.

Insomnia is collecting storm reports at his Live Journal.

Background articles

Hurricane Risk for New Orleans: one of the two prescient articles everyone’s quoting.

Chris Mooney’s Thinking Big about Hurricanes: the other prescient and much-quoted article.

And another bit from Chris Mooney.

An old Making Light post about New Orleans’ vulnerability.

Popular Mechanics published an article on what could happen if New Orleans gets hit by a Cat. 5 hurricane. The article might have gotten more attention if it hadn’t been published 9/11/01." (end quote)

They're having a terrific ongoing discussion over there.

Also, blogs out of New Orleans:
Looka! I Am Dubious

WSDU Katrina Blog

Polimom--Algiers and East Bank update

How you can help:

Salvation Army
Red Cross

The More Things Change...

When the Levee Breaks ("Kansas" Joe McCoy, 1929)
If it keeps on rainin', levee's goin' to break (2x)
And the water gonna come in, have no place to stay

Well all last night I sat on the levee and moan (2x)
Thinkin' 'bout my baby and my happy home

If it keeps on rainin', levee's goin' to break (2x)
And all these people have no place to stay

Now look here mama what am I to do (2x)
I ain't got nobody to tell my troubles to

I works on the levee mama both night and day (2x)
I ain't got nobody, keep the water away

Oh cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do no good (2x)
When the levee breaks, mama, you got to lose

I works on the levee, mama both night and day (2x)
I works so hard, to keep the water away

I had a woman, she wouldn't do for me (2x)
I'm goin' back to my used to be

I's a mean old levee, cause me to weep and moan (2x)
Gonna leave my baby, and my happy home
Last night, I overheard someone point out that Katrina hit
the Gulf Coast at the end of the month. I suspect a number
of those folks who "chose" to stay and ride it out actually
just flat couldn't afford to evacuate.

Meanwhile I'm watching a dumbass news story about a
vacationing family that couldn't find a car to rent, so they
took a limo--all the way back to Chicago.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Katrina's Aftermath

The worst weather is over, from this storm. For the next several weeks or even months, people will be digging out, rebuilding, putting in new plate glass, and so on.

There's going to be some loss of life. How much remains to be seen.

You might offer a silent thought, positive energy, or even a prayer to the higher-power of your choice, for the people in the path of this storm.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Remember the "Redneck" discussion?

Pete just posted this in the comments on the Redneck entry.
I think it's fucking brilliant.

I'm especially impressed that he managed to read the damn thing, in its current state of template-mucking garish bright-yellow-on-light-gray semi-invisibility.
Pete said...

> You might be a redneck if: It never occurred to you to be offended by the
> phrase, "One nation, under God."

You might be a liberal if: You respect Americans of all cultures.

> You might be a redneck if: You've never protested about seeing the 10
> Commandments posted in public places.

You might be a liberal if: You believe passionately in your own faith, but would never dream of pushing it on someone else.

> You might be a redneck if: You still say "Christmas" instead of "Winter
> Festival."

You might be a liberal if: You know that it doesn't matter what you call it, it's about love, family and giving.

> You might be a redneck if: You bow your head when someone prays.

You might be a liberal if: You bow your head when a Christian prays, you turn to face Mecca when a Muslim prays, and you respect people who don't want to pray at all.

> You might be a redneck if: You stand and place your hand over your heart
> when they play the National Anthem.

You might be a liberal if: You have such a strong sense of pride in your country that you don't get upset if people don't do things your way.

> You might be a redneck if: You treat Viet Nam vets with great respect, and
> always have.

You might be a liberal if: You are proud of the men and women who fought for America, and allow yourself to question whether they needed to die.

> You might be a redneck if: You've never burned an American flag.

You might be a liberal if: You believe the part in the Bible about idol worship, and understand that the flag is just a symbol.

> You might be a redneck if: You know what you believe and you aren't afraid
> to say so, no matter who is listening.

You might be a liberal if: You have enough humility to listen to other people's opinions and aren't afraid when they're different from yours.

> You might be a redneck if: You respect your elders and expect your
> kids to do the same.

You might be a liberal if: You respect people of all ages and expect your kids to do the same.

> You might be a redneck if: You'd give your last dollar to a friend.

You might be a liberal if: You actually have given money to a friend in the last week.

Thanks, Pete.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

How Do You Feel About...

So here's a little anecdote about Mac's sordid past.

Years ago, as a frequently-drunken undergraduate working too many jobs to pay for my education, I was sitting in a dorm lounge with some friends late one weekend night.

Now, my 19-year-old self knew just exactly how very clever I was, on the one hand--but also, my 19-year-old-self was doing some struggling with gender-identity and feminist issues. I'd been raised in a magnificently repressive fundamentalist Christian home and church-culture. I knew without any discussion or articulation that all queers went straight to hell, do not pass go, do NOT collect two hundred dollars. Queers die, get hauled straight to the basement, and popped in a kind of torpedo tube direct to the underworld, right? So my 19-year-old self had never so much as kissed a girl, and I certainly couldn't directly confront the odd...longings...starting to manifest themselves.

But I could and did approach the snarly problem from a feminist perspective. That approach was, in fact, quite encouraged in this particular little liberal-arts institution. I don't know why it was all right for me to first address the problems of misogyny in fundamentalist Christianity--but I suspect it was because my mother was a sort of underground feminist, in her more lucid and rebellious moments. She'd planted seeds of questions and anger about the injustices of misogyny that were more approachable to me than were questions of personal sexual identity.

So here I was with a group of similarly beginning-to-seek-enlightenment friends--both male* and female--sitting in a dorm late one Friday or Saturday night, probably a bit drunk. So the whole topic of female bodies comes up, and the upshot of the whole discussion leads us to decide we must conduct an impromptu and unscientific survey, right then, of whoever happened to walk through the lounge on their way to their room.

The survey questions were simple: "How do you feel about your breasts? Do you like them? Why or why not?"

This led, quite predictably, to a fairly wide variety of responses. Lots of the young women we asked promptly grabbed their own breasts, and put an exaggeratedly thoughtful look on their faces, and answered with a wide range of mostly very positive observations.

More than one guy grabbed his girlfriend's breasts, then grabbed his own chest in comparison, to offer his input, as well.

A couple of girls just averted their faces and fled for their rooms.

Meanwhile, almost twenty years later, I still recall this episode with disturbing clarity. Because it seems to me what we were really asking is something akin to, "how do you feel about the sex of your body--outside of normal gender conventions, if you can go there; or inside those conventions, if you cannot."

So I want to ask it again. In a more thoughtful and less drunken way, this time. How do you feel about your breasts? (Or your vagina, for that matter--but we just weren't goin' there, that night. We weren't that brave and clever.)

More specifically, how do you feel about the condition of being a woman, in a woman's body? And for the guys out there reading this (you know who you are...) I'd like to broaden that question to include you, as well. How do you feel about your male body? What do you think about the condition of being a man in a man's body?

How does this shape who we are--which is so much more than either just our brains or just our bodies, but seems to me to be a synergistic sum?

Because the harder I look at those questions, the more I realize how right we almost got it, that night so long ago. So very much of our personal identity is wrapped up in our sexual identifiers. Which explains an awful lot about interpersonal dynamics, when we damn well ought to know better by now.

*Interesting side-note: two of the three guys involved in this event later came out gay.

"We Have Met the Enemy..."

No, I'm not going to bitch about Iraq. Promise. Well, probably not, anyway.

I was thinking about build-it-yourself boogeymen, though. You know what I mean, right? Those terrors that assume gargantuan proportions in our own minds--then when we face them, the reality seems oddly anticlimactic.

And something more than the everyday neurosis--I'm not talking about run-of-the mill hypochondria, for instance. I mean something more on the order of Stephen King's The Dark Half...

Take, for example, the troubling idea of tulpa creation. Essentially, the idea is continued focus brings a being to life. From the site linked:
When Alexandra David-Neel journeyed through Tibet, one of the many mystical techniques she studied was that of tulpa creation. A tulpa, according to traditional Tibetan doctrines, is an entity created by an act of imagination, rather like the fictional characters of a novelist, except that tulpas are not written down. David-Neel became so interested in the concept that she decided to try to create one.

Yep. On purpose.
But wait! It gets even better!

In time the vision grew in clarity and substance until it was indistinguishable from physical reality-a sort of self-induced hallucination. But the day came when the hallucination slipped from her conscious control. She discovered that the monk would appear from time to time when she had not willed it. Furthermore her friendly little figure was slimming down and taking on a distinctly sinister aspect.

Eventually her companions, who where unaware of the mental disciplines she was practicing, began to ask about the "stranger" who had turned up in their camp-a clear indication that a creature which was no more that solidified imagination had definite objective reality.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio...

Monday, August 22, 2005

If I may direct your attention...

I'm home from a weekend tramping through the woods on horseback, leaving me sunburnt, tired and grimy. So I'm just going to direct your attention to Kira's blog, Loving Twilight.

She has an excellent post about the new Dove ads, and female body-images: good, bad, and other fucked-uppedness...

She writes:
"I'd seen the ads in magazines, and I found them so refreshing I showed them to every woman in my office one day. Even the size 1 pixie with the glittery nails--and Ms. Glittery even commented that the women looked like real women.

Finally, I thought. Real hips on billboards! The world was a little better the day those Dove ads came out.

And then I read the post. It was written by a woman. In one sentence she undid all the praise she had for Dove.

"Thank God I'm skinnier than those women," she wrote.

Wham. All that hope of liberating the feminine ideal was dashed in one afterthought.

We can hate those other ads, with their images and ideals of the 95-pound blond in 5-inch heels all we want, but as long as we identify with said blond in our hearts, we have gained no ground."
The rest of the post is excellent, too. Go, read. I'll just grab a shower and a cold beer, and I'll be back in a wee while...

Sunday, August 21, 2005

New Look

I've been tweaking the template a bit, trying to find something easier to read than the light text/dark background. When I started this blog, I liked the simplicity of this template's layout--and honestly, I just didn't realize how hard on the eyes it was going to be.

Let me know if you hate the changes too much.

Or if you like the changes, for that matter.

Everyone in the world knows more about CSS and html, than I do. I've come to terms with that--heh, and I still have lots of fun mucking about. I'll try not to lose the entire thing somewhere in the ether.

Thanks for your patience.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Blogger CYA

Dawno brought this up.

She says:

"I get CNet news alerts in my email daily. I feel a need to stay on top of certain techie news because of my job at a high tech company. Today I got a news alert and the headline was "Blogging to be Free" by Curt Hopkins, director and founder of the Committee to Protect Bloggers.

I found my self nodding my head when I read, "Newspapers, even individual Web sites, are relatively easy to shut down. But what can't be shut down is a self-perpetuating system like the blogosphere. What our experience has shown is not that a single organization, the Committee to Protect Bloggers, is a threat to tyrants, but that blogging itself is. Blogging's culture of sharing, quoting and linking has created a radical redundancy for powerful ideas." I've mentioned here and there about my fascination with the communities of interest being built in the blogosphere and even though my circle of online acquaintances, i.e. my community, might be somewhat small they have online friends who blog who have online friends who blog, etc., nearly ad infinitum."

Curt Hopkins, in C-Net's "Blogging to be Free", asserts:
"Iran has imprisoned more than 20 bloggers in the last six to eight months. But it is hardly the only villain. Bahrain, a relatively liberal country for a hereditary Persian Gulf monarchy, imprisoned three moderators of BahrainOnline, a bulletin board service, including the chief, a blogger named Ali Abdulemam. Ali and his two co-moderators were also subsequently released on their own recognizance after a similar effort by Bahraini bloggers and the CPB. China has a huge number of cyberdissidents behind bars. Security police in Malaysia and Syria have hauled bloggers in for interrogation."
It's not quite that bad, here in the States.

However, blogging in the Free World is not without risks, or sometimes consequences.
There seems to be a pretty common perception that blogging is becoming a risky thing to do.
Google turns up a ton of news articles about all this.

Then there was the whole nanny-getting-fired thing, not so long ago. I sort of followed the story in Making Light and Bitch Ph.D.

The recently infamous Dr. Richard Scott Nokes*, of Unlocked Wordhoard, discussed blogging as an academic.

It's been discussed widely elsewhere, too. There's already a Legal Guide for Bloggers, online.

I'm not sure what to make of all this. My instincts suggest that perhaps there's more going on with these employer/employee relationships than the employee's blog--but perhaps not. Keeping your job is powerful motivation to keep your mouth shut--and it always has been.

Staying out of prison is much more powerful motivation, as is avoiding torture.

Perhaps it's all been discussed to death, already. That's okay. It never hurts to float the issue across the surface of our thoughts now and then, especially in the context of the ongoing discussion we've been recently having, regarding technology, community, and interpersonal dynamics--perhaps it will serve to prevent us from becoming smug and complacent.

(*ed note: Dr. Nokes thinks The Silmarillion is boring. This pronouncement resulted in worldwide virtual protests....or, well, actually a couple of other bloggers and commenters took mild issue. Dr. Taylor at PoliBlog comes to Dr. Nokes' defense. To be perfectly honest, I've never been able to force myself all the way through the Sil--I keep falling asleep and having to start all over. I'm keeping my head down about that, though. Meanwhile, it's all been triffic good fun to watch.)

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Technology, Alienation, and Sex Chat We aren't going to sex chat, here.

Although I'm not typically heavy-handed on the delete-comment button, and conversations have a way of going where they will; so technically, I suppose it could happen...It just isn't really my intention or point.

Since we've been discussing online communities, general alienation, and the role of technology in interpersonal dynamics; I started wondering how all that plays out in the internet dating phenomena. We all know people--or know of people--who met current partners or spouses online. Maybe we make fun of it.

There's the whole proliferation of forums and rooms specifically devoted to sex-chat.

There's the occasional unsolicited IM from a stranger, wanting to know if you'd like to cyber with him/her.

What's up with that? Is it that hard to meet real people? Is it just way more fun when sex becomes an exercise of imagination, separated from a solo act of masturbation by the presence of a participant--who isn't in the room?

Is is about flirtation from a safe distance? Some combination of all of the above, with elements as yet undiscussed, here?

Do we make value judgements about it? Sure. What's the line? What's okay online, and what do we find distasteful--even while recognizing that a great number of consenting adults not only do not agree, but enthusiastically participate?

I've never participated in the whole cyber-sex thing, but I do know people who have experimented with it. I also know of one marriage that was destroyed, at least in part, by a woman's online "extra-curricular" activity.

That suggests to me that on some level, in some contexts, people view cyber-relationships as real; therefore, on some level, that interaction has a degree of power to be both fulfilling to some extent, and potentially threatening.

I think we can safely extend that "real" status to non-sexual relationships, as well.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

General Paranoia

Is any one else really creeped out by the whole OnStar thing? The radio commercial transcripts of "real-life OnStar conversations with people-in-need" have me coming out of my skin with paranoid heebie-jeebies, all by themselves.

The only bright spot here is that there are a number of mock-transcripts floating around that are funnier than hell.

Do we really need a service that can let us into our locked cars, tell us where the car is now, keeps track of our name, billing address, and god-only-knows-what-else, all via satellite? Oh--and they call 911 for you, if you have an accident. See, it works like this: you call OnStar, so that THEY can call for help.

Then, to carry the idea just a bit further, I've recently heard speculation about putting a GPS in cellphones so that parents can track their kids' movements through the kid's cellphone.

There does already seem to be some sort of deal between OnStar (owned by GM) and Verizon Wireless, whereby you can combine your wireless minutes for the OnStar service in your car, and your wireless phone. On the same bill. w00t!

Also, this way you can use your cellphone to contact 'em about your car. You know--if you lock yourself out and the ice-cream's melting, or you forget where you parked and you're already late, or you get carjacked and have to abandon your eighteen-month-old sleeping in his carseat in the back.

Cuz that happens really often.

Just friggin' lovely.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

More About Heads

So I keep turning all this over in my own brain. What is the appeal of heads? Especially heads that continue to talk and eat and laugh, after being violently separated from their bodies?

The heads in the stories that continue to talk and eat and drink just as if still alive--what's that about? Does this serve as a slightly gruesome metaphor for an individual living on in the memory of his loved ones? The predominately celtic stories I've been reading treat the subject in a particularly literal way, though. Lisa's story about Conchobor Mac Nessa living on for seven years with the brain-ball of an enemy king, Mesgregra, embedded in his head, for example. Now--it could very probably be read as a sort of sociological observation about the lasting scars and damage created by feuding. The tale seems somewhat more literal that that, though. Here are some links to different online versions of the story, and further resources. They seem mostly adequate.

Also, they really did preserve the brains of vanquished foes, just so.

I think it has to do with faces: expressions, familiar features, and voices. How do we know the one we love, from all others? How do we identify our enemy? How do we discern who fathered whom, who takes after his or her mother, how do we recognize a friend or sibling we last saw months or years ago?

What do we think of, when we're picturing someone, wondering about them, or missing them? Faces are integral to remembrance.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Severed heads and UFOs (with a wink and a nod to Digital Medievalist)

Here's an interesting thing.

By way of background, let me just briefly explain that I've been researching a bunch of old stuff--old as in iron-age to medieval--for the next book. (A book I'll write, should I ever actually finish the current rewrite, but that's another blog entry.)

Now, if I had any sense, I'd be a bit daunted, seeing as how it's a great whack of history--2000 years-ish. I sort of figured, "hey, how much could there really be, still extant?" Quite a lot, as it turns out. Not that much of it written down. Hardly any of it written in any language I can actually read. Yet.


Months later, I'm doodling bog-bodies in the margins of notes while I'm on the telephone, and referencing Celtic saints in everyday conversation. My housemates are starting to give me strange and searching looks. I think that's probably due to the bog-body-noose doodles

I've noticed an interesting thing, however--wherever there's a lack of solid information or recorded facts, people are more than willing to make up something imaginative. If that bit of speculation is particularly fun and nifty, other people pick up the idea, quote it, and even cite it sometimes. Presto, we have something more-or-less accepted--at least by the interested layman--that's quite simply never really been established as true or real. Fun, eh?

My background is in Lit Crit. We're supposed to make creative-but-plausible shit up. That's what we get paid for. So this doesn't bother me as much as it might bother a real scholar. I do find I'm losing patience for the more outrageous crap out there masquerading as information.

A case in point: The Cult of the Severed Head.

Various sites suggest that everything from public beheadings to the portraits on modern coins can be attributed to this ancient cult. The Inquisition's prosecution of the Templars has been blamed this whole meme of severed heads, as well. Even the excellent Wikipedia takes the fact of an actual cult as given, even if the details are a bit foggy.

Some of the stuff that can be found is...urm...quite odd.

The more conservative speculation runs along the lines of, "look, they used all these heads in art, and architecture, and decoration; severed heads that speak show up in so many stories of heroes and saints; they took the heads of their enemies in battle--it all seems to suggest that human heads were quite important."

Some of this stuff seems to come from a Greek historian named Diodorus Siculus, who recorded the Celtic battle practice of collecting the heads of enemies, buying and selling various heads, methods of preserving them, and so on.

The more wild speculation suggests that the Celts closely followed some specific neolithic religion--traces of which can still be found on Easter Island and elsewhere--specifically involving bizarre rituals expressing actual worship of these heads, which may or may not have actually spoken. And probably had something to do with UFOs, too.

John Billingsley had this rather common-sense approach to the whole thing, "Any serious investigation of the subject reveals the cultic significance of the head to not only pre- and postdate the Celts, but also that the kind of stylisation encountered in Celtic circles has much wider currency. There are several reasons to question the modern understanding of the 'Celtic head' . As I have mentioned, the human head quite obviously had mystical meaning in cultures other than the Celts, occurring the world over, including pre-Celtic Europe. Thus, the religious perception of the head was not unique to the Celts, although it can be argues that they gave more intense concrete expression to the motif than it had ever had before."

Anyhoo--I think it's all terribly cool, and I haven't had such a fabulous time reading in years. It's like reading was when I was a kid, and everything was trackless and just waiting for me. For any of you feeling a bit jaded with whatever new things you're reading, I highly recommend looking for very old stuff, too.

It all goes to show, I think, that we just can't resist a good story. If the story's already got heroes, saints, and cannibals; then a few zombies and UFOs just make it all the better, right?

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Cindy Sheehan

This isn't typically a political blog, although I do stray into the occasional tinfoil-beanie rant.

Actually, I firmly believe that human beings want the same things, and hold the same things close to their hearts--whether right or left. I think we disagree deeply and painfully about the best way to go about protecting and preserving all that we hold near and dear.

Cindy Sheehan has a diary at Daily Kos. Please read it. Her son, Casey, was killed in Iraq. She's trying to get President Bush to actually talk to her. He won't. She opposes the war in Iraq with ferocity and tenacity.

Here is an account of her earlier meeting with President Bush, shortly after her son's death.

This lunacy HAS to stop.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Happy Thought

For quite some time now--years, really--I've been worried and troubled by the idea that snail-mail letter-writing seems to be dying out.

We know so very much about historic figures from their personal papers: letters, journals, etc.; and I just couldn't imagine a future in which Lit classes read old emails from author to friend or editor, full of email-isms and "w00t!" (which is a bit what my emails look like, for instance.)

Then I realized that we'll have blogs, instead. Heh.

Dr. Nokes at Unlocked Wordhoard touched on this the other day, with a post discussing an entry at Public Brewery speculating that Mark Twain would have been a terrific blogger. Public Brewery's PRB further ponders "I wonder what other people from the pre-blogging era might have made good bloggers. I'll throw out H. L. Mencken, Dorothy Parker, and Oscar Wilde for starters...

Dr. Nokes continues the discussion of writers who might have made terrific bloggers. (He's still tinkering with some technical attributes of his blog, so let me know if that link isn't quite right for you.) He adds a number of names to the list.

Jonathan Swift gets my vote as someone who would have made great use of blogging.

But the whole concept made me smile--because, for me, the most interesting stuff on blogs often seems to happen in the comments, between various readers and the writer. That dynamic communication neatly reproduces a correspondence relationship between author and acquaintances/readers.

There might be a literary future, after all!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Straight-Girl Summer Camp

Bear with me, kind bloggees. Not to beat this poor horse into the ground, but in yesterday's "Need an Interpreter" post, you had some very interesting things to say.

The "straight-girl summer-camp" thing is something I've wondered about for years. That particular phrase was born during conversations between myself and my housemates and other close female friends as a short-hand way for me to say, "you've suddenly started speaking a completely alien language, in terms of my cultural experience, and I need you to explain in explicit and simple detail just what it is I've missed, that you take for granted" whenever we reach a point in the conversation where someone is looking at me as if discovering I was raised by wolves.

Flippant as the phrase is, nonetheless sometimes I must wonder.

Jill said, in the comments: "Straight girl school? Ha. My mom was a hippie chick. I learned zilcho from her re: being a woman and she didn't know to send me to that place.

I'm still trying to figure it all out. Though most times? I just do ma own thang."

Not zilcho, Jill--cuz didn't you grow up to do years of public-interest law? Seems like you learned rather a lot about being a human being, at least.

Are we all making it up as we go along, like Jill suggests? Where do you credit learning how to be an adult woman in our culture?Are there things we learned from our mothers, either by observation or direct communication, that still are valuable?

How fast are things changing? How big an influence do you really think the various entertainment media is, on girls-becoming-women? Does that thing about white shoes after labor-day still matter in anyone's reality?

Because I have to admit, I think of myself as a human sooner than I think of myself as a woman. For years I suspected that sense of gender-alienation had to do with being queer--but now I'm not so sure. I wonder if I didn't choose, on an unconcious level, to reject the limitations sometimes inherent in gender-specific labels for ourselves. Because I don't feel in any way as if I reject my actual sex--I enjoy being female, and wouldn't change that for anything.

I wonder, though, if there isn't a reality gap growing between sex and gender. I also wonder where those gender rituals that serve to identify us to one another become stifling, rather than providing safety and comfort.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Line-by-Line rant

So I just got this email forward from my mother, bless her. I wish I could get her to see it upside down. *sigh*

We have enjoyed the redneck jokes for years. It's time to take a
reflective look at the core beliefs of a culture that values home,
family, country and God. If I had to stand before a dozen terrorists who
threaten my life, I'd choose a half dozen or so rednecks to back me up.
Tire irons, squirrel guns and guts -- that's what rednecks are made of.
I hope I am one of those. If you feel the same, pass this on to your
redneck friends. Ya'll know who ya' are...

errr...yes. Well. Actually, the likelihood of finding oneself alone, facing a dozen or so terrorists is pretty damn slender-to-non-existent. So what on earth is the percentage in creating this artificial make-believe scenario? And why, when one does so, does it start to resemble a post-modernistic and surreal version of West Side Story?

Pardon me while I burst into song:

"When you're [American],
You're a [redneck] all the way
From your first cigarette
To your last dyin' day...

When you're [American],
If the spit hits the fan,
You got brothers around,
You're a family man!..."
You might be a redneck if: It never occurred to you to be offended by
the phrase, "One nation, under God."

Actually, I'm a flaming, over-educated, far-left liberal. The phrase still doesn't offend me in the slightest. However, I also support anyone's right not to believe or say it.

You might be a redneck if: You've never protested about seeing the
Commandments posted in public places.

See above.

You might be a redneck if: You still say "Christmas" instead of "Winter

WTF is that about? Everyone but god-fearing conservatives hates Christmas?

You might be a redneck if: You bow your head when someone prays.

Good manners are now exclusively the territory of rednecks? Oh dear. Or is it that everyone but "rednecks"--which is code here, and doesn't really mean redneck in the original sense of the term, at all--is unChristian, antagonistic, and rude about it.

You might be a redneck if: You stand and place your hand over your heart
when they play the National Anthem.

Again, see above. Add unpatriotic to the litany of imagined offenses.

You might be a redneck if: You treat Viet Nam vets with great respect,
and always have.

Unless that vet is John Kerry, of course. Then all bets are off, right?

Again, see above. WTF is really going on with this? I treat other human beings with great respect, unless and until they demonstrate themselves to be other than respectable.

If fact, Vietnam has been recently resurrected as a mirror for Iraq, and rather than attacking the issue of Iraq directly, I think this is a nasty straw-man argument.

You might be a redneck if: You've never burned an American flag.

Because everyone else is out there setting fire to flags willy-nilly, of course. Also, love-of-country is now exclusively the territory of rednecks, NASCAR fans, and straight white conservatives.

You might be a redneck if: You know what you believe and you aren't
afraid to say so, no matter who is listening.

Actually, again, I'm a flaming, far-left liberal. See above answers. I can provide a bunch of links to similarly-unafraid people's sites, if necessary.

You might be a redneck if: You respect your elders and expect your kids
to do the same.

See the Vietnam-Vet answer. This is just "family-values" crap, in thin disguise.

You might be a redneck if: You'd give your last dollar to a friend.

Generosity and open-handedness are also now the exclusive province of the same group of people who support crap like the Minutemen?

If you got this email from me, it is because I believe that you, like
me, have just enough Red Neck in you to have the same beliefs as those
talked about in this email.

God Bless the USA!

And god bless this whole besieged and torn world, and all the humans trapped here.

Okay. I'm only bothering to respond to this because I'm terribly disturbed at the subtext--which is more of the tired old "either you're with us, or you're unAmerican and oughta just emigrate while we'll still let you go."

It's flat out scary and dangerous to imply that anyone willing to challenge the government and its actions has questionable values. It's not even particularly hidden, here. While there's nothing particularly new or revolutionary about the anti-intellectualism and perverse pride in toeing the "American" line in terms of both thought and behavior, I think it is becoming more prevalent.

That fucking terrifies me.

Even scarier is the idea that someone is sitting around churning out this propaganda. This is slick, subtle, and effective. This is emphatically not something Joe Schmoe's sister whacked out, in between loads of laundry and picking up the kids from soccer.

Who the hell is footing the bill?

Monday, August 08, 2005

Interpreter Needed

Okay--so here's what happened.

An acquaintance of mine (someone with whom I must occasionally work) says to me a few weeks ago, "Oh! Your housemate has a toddler? WONDERFUL! My grandchildren have outgrown some things [my interpretation: all this leftover crap that's broken and/or worn out] --I'll bring them for you to take home!"

My response, "Oh good god, please NO! Absolutely not. Really--it's a very kind thought, and thank you for thinking of us--but he's got more clothes than he can wear until he's at least five [note of explanation: thanks to a doting extended family] and there's seriously so many toys he can only manage to get to a fraction of them every week. So seriously, no--I mean it: NO--give the stuff to someone who'll use it [my interpretation again: I don't CARE what you do with it, it isn't my problem, I just don't want to lug it all home and have to deal with it.]

Yes, I really said it, just like that. I smiled while I said it.

So the other day I see this acquaintance again. She greets me with the words, "I know you said no, but..."

Sure enough. Several big white plastic bags full of outgrown infant and toddler clothing. All of which she wants to unpack and show me. Several boxes of toddler toys, in varying condition.

NOW--before you start thinking me petty and churlish--I don't have children...I've chosen not to have children. It's sort of an accident that I'm sharing living-space with a toddler. It's much more fun than I would have thought, but still--it's an accident, and he isn't MY toddler.

I'm also not completely without tact, although "mostly feral" does come to mind again just now, for whatever reason. So I put all this stuff in the back of the jeep--in spite of the resentful looks from my dog, who must give up precious sprawling space to accommodate it all. I say "thank you" and manage not to grit my teeth too obviously.

But here's where it gets weird.

I get home later with this jeep load full of stuff. I relate the story to my two housemates--both straight women, one of them above-said toddler's mother. I'm rolling my eyes a lot while I relate this story. They just look at each other.

That was yesterday.

Today, I come home and find the toys have been assimilated into the other toys--but there are NEW boxes of toys sorted out of the combined mess, now destined for GoodWill or somewhere. There's also a box of toys set aside for me to fix, as I get time. Still others have been discarded.

The clothing? None of it will fit. Still, both of the other adult women in the house went over every single item, holding it up, spreading it out, exclaiming, "oh look how cute this is!" I saw them doing it. Several things were shown to me, and I think I was supposed to exclaim over them too, instead of furrowing my eyebrows and looking mystified and appalled.

Then it was all lovingly refolded and repacked and stacked with the boxed-up toys. I've been assigned to transport the lot down to a gently-used baby and toddler store.

So that's what happened.

Now, all day I've had this nagging feeling that I missed something crucial. Worse, I have a feeling that I was unnecessarily churlish and nasty about something that was, at most, a teeny-tiny inconvenience in my day. Even though I didn't actually say anything nasty or churlish, I thought those things.

But also, I'm sort of sensing a subtext between women--even mostly-unconnected, unrelated women--that has to do with child-raising and...and...well, I'm not quite sure just what else.

I've said for years that I missed a huge part of the cultural lexicon, because I skipped straight-girl summer classes--you know, where girls learn the ins and outs of being American women, and what to expect from themselves and others, around that.

I have this odd impression I was witness to an important community ritual, between women from two different families, who've never met. Something sweet and honorable and perhaps even a bit sacred. Something to be respected.

It all leaves me feeling rather an outsider, and it's an uncomfortable feeling.

Any of you moms out there feel like filling in some of this subtext?

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Why is it...?

Why is it that people choose not to believe you, when you tell them something straight-up and dead-honest? Even if it isn't something they want to hear, something that's difficult for you to say--but you manage to say it, anyway--wouldn't you think the natural and respectful thing would be to take you at your word?

Even worse is when someone tells me something, I behave as if what they told me was true; then they're utterly mystified, because OF COURSE they were prevaricating and I should have somehow known.

Look--I know I seem socially inept, and perhaps that is true.

However, I think it a damn sight more thoughtful and respectful to begin a conversation with the premise that all parties involved are being (mostly) truthful. Otherwise, what's the fucking point?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Interesting Note:

Here's the thing: I really don't sleep. Usually I manage to balance not sleeping, life, and sleeping just enough to get by. Occasionally, though, I find myself approaching something like a ratio of sixty waking hours to, oh, three sleeping hours.

Like now.

This has relevance because I just reread the UFO post, which went up in the wee hours of the morning--around 3:30, in fact. I really have very little recollection of writing it, or what I was thinking about WHILE I wrote it--and moreover, I seem to have been just barely lucid at the time.

Heh. Human brains are very funny.

Area 51 Disease

I just don't quite get the whole ufo thing, I must admit. If you google "ufo" you get well over 3 million hits.

Of course, I'm just adding to that already massive google weight.
I'm okay with that, though.

There are about 321,000 image hits alone. I waded through several pages of pictures. They ranged from pictures of clouds and helicopters and snowboarders and airplane lights, to fuzzy or grainy photos than made me think, "hmm!"

All the conspiracy theory stuff about ufos and the government seems less mysterious, though. The idea of possibly-threatening but perhaps benign beings, with mysterious and incomprehensible powers--and the government aids and abets--seems a very valid fear, on some level.

It's so much easier to spin an elaborate UFO metaphor to provide a mythology to explain our own feelings of powerlessness. It puts a false face on that which we fear and despise, so we don't actually have to confront the reality, directly.

Karl Rove might really, truly, be a hostile alien though.

Just sayin'.