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Sudden Poll!

1. What are our responsibilities to people we love?
2. What are our responsibilities to people who love us?
3. Why?
4. Where do these responsibilities overlap?
5. What kind of love did you default to while answering this poll?
(I had to come to Swaziland to get into Beyonce's music. But she's so good!)

Okay. Here I am! I'm alive and well, and will remain so as long as I continue to take my malaria prophylactic pill, not to mention boil, filter and put bleach in all the water I drink. I miss you all very much.

I thought I'd have more time to write once I was done with Pre-Service Training (PST) and out in the field, but there's so much to do out here ... between settling in, introducing myself around the community, getting to know my host family, continuing to practice siSwati, reading the ten thousand books Peace Corps gave me, and implementing the various assessment tools and integration process assigned by Peace Corps, I'm still really busy.

However, I have good news about Visitors!

I told everyone they shouldn't visit me before I left, because PC had informed me that it would count towards my vacation time. As it happens, this is not true in PC Swaziland -- if you visit me and I keep working, then it won't count towards my vacation. So you're welcome to come if you really want to! But you have to be prepared to live like I do -- don't come if you can't do a lot of sitting still in very high temperatures. I believe that the plane tickets cost about a thousand dollars round-trip if you come through Johannesburg, and then we'd have to figure out a bus to Swaziland or something.

Some Reasons Why Peace Corps Blogs, In Particular, Tend To Be Relentlessly Boring

I have seen very few travel blogs that weren't relentlessly boring. I'll do my best not to fall into that mold, but there are some complications.

Firstly, I can't post anything that could potentially give away my exact location or the location of another Peace Corps Volunteer; we're very strong potential targets for crime. Secondly, I cannot take political stances; Peace Corps is a thoroughly neutral organization. Thirdly, I cannot say anything that might be construed as culturally insensitive.

If you send me an email or a letter telling me about your life, though, I can send you a letter that might do some of the above ....

Oh yeah, and by the way, the contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the US Government or the Peace Corps.

Swazi Public Transit: the Khumbi System

People sometimes complain about the transit here, but the khumbi system is pretty amazing considering that it serves the entirety of this country -- most of which is rural. Khumbis (sometimes spelled kombis) are large vans that stand idle at their departure points (usually cities) until they are full. Once full, the driver gets in, puts on very loud music of his choice (this varies from gospel to electronic to pop to breathy love ballads), and speeds to the end of his route hell-for-leather, pausing only to pick up people who flag the khumbi down or when a passenger says "siteshi" ("station"). For some reason, the drivers always seem to hear a person who says "siteshi", no matter how loud the music is. Drivers drink frequently; one of our Peace Corps Safety Tips was to make sure we pay attention to the driver's apparent state of intoxication before taking a khumbi.

Individual khumbis have varying degrees of personality -- I think the drivers may be allowed to decorate them however they want, as long as the starting and ending points are written on the front and back of the van. The fonts used for this purpose are unpredictable; it's often a plain Helvetica or whatever, but another favorite is that drippy monster / Halloweeny font, and yet another is a New-York-Times-esque heavy calligraphy gothic capitals. (Maybe this has to be seen for the jarring effect to be fully appreciated.) Many khumbis are painted with gospel slogans or praises for the Lord; one is painted entirely red (yay). I've spotted one that has STREET VIBE painted across the back in skater script, and there's another that says NCESI (which means "excuse me", as in "excuse me, I seem to have just run you over because my driver is totally plastered").

Slogans

Slogans spotted around the place by myself and some other local Peace Corps Volunteers:

1) For the Koo brand of canned beans: "It's the best you can do."
2) The name of a general store near Mbabane, the capital: "Siyazama" ("we are trying".)
3) The name of another general store: "Take A Chance".

Are these hilarious, or is it just us?

Libraries!

The libraries here are really interesting. Almost all the books are in English, and many donated from the First World, so the collection is a bit idiosyncratic. There are a few classics, a bunch of thrillers, and a surprisingly high percentage of science fiction and fantasy. When I first browsed the local library branch, I found six novels of Gor on the shelves in the fiction section (none of which were, by the way, the first in the series). The amusement I felt upon encountering these was matched only by the sudden dropped-stomach pang of despair that hit me when I realized I know exactly nobody on this continent who'd understand why their presence is both hilarious and scandalous. There's a Tanith Lee book there, too -- and one of her more obscure ones, Sung in Shadow, which retells Romeo and Juliet.

To request a library card, one must submit two passport-sized photos -- and in lieu of proof of address or anything like that, I had to get a local friend with a good reputation to sign the application as a reference.

I just recently made friends with one of the local librarians -- a young woman who grew up in Manzini and studied in South Africa. She seems to feel a bit bored in this little town, and said that I'm unlikely to find anyone "like me" out here; that nobody reads. (Literacy is high in Swaziland, 80% or so, though of course that doesn't mean anyone actually uses it.) At another library, I asked one of the librarians why there weren't any books in siSwati. He looked at me over his glasses. "Swaziland is still a backwards country," he said. "No one is writing here."

That quotation is representative of an attitude I see a lot. A lot of people here really feel that they're living in a "backwards country", and aren't embarrassed to say so. And they often do so in language that a culturally sensitive person in the USA would blush to use: for instance, "backwards country". There's this fascinating consciousness of themselves as "backwards" or, better yet, "undeveloped".

Gender Equality Dynamics

That same consciousness makes for interesting attitudes around gender equality. Gender equality (one facet of which is often considered to be opposition to polygamy) is seen as a development issue here. Apparently, greater gender equality is very aligned with more highly-developed countries, and so now many development agencies "market" gender equality by saying that. One result of this is that gender equality is kinda being imposed "top-down" -- you see a lot of government speakers and media groups and such that are very consciously pushing gender equality, while the general population might not otherwise be inclined to think about the movement on its own.

And then, on top of that top-down effect, you also have a very weird feeling about the movement among the people we're teaching. For instance, during training we had to teach a practice class in a local high school, so my friend Ali and I chose to teach a gender lesson. When we asked the students why it's important to create gender equality, one of them answered that we should do it for the development advantages. Not because equal opportunity is a human right, not because all people should be accorded the same amount of respect, not because diversity is important ... etc. Because it'll make Swaziland more developed.

Of course, gender / feminism points are routinely oversimplified in the States too, but that tends to go ... in a different direction. In the States, you have people rattling off lines about how the media gives women unrealistic body image (kind of true, and kind of way oversimplified -- the media and the existing cultural norms are an interlocking system that can't be separated so easily). Here, you have people rattling off lines about how creating gender equality will be a major step forward in fighting the HIV pandemic (kinda true, and kinda way oversimplified -- it would certainly help if women felt more empowered to insist on condom use, etc).

... Okay. I know that's not much, but I'll post more when I can. In the meantime -- yeah, I really do miss you guys. Next time I'll post about the siSwati language (impossible to learn!), the tinyanga and sangoma ("traditional healers"), and much more!

they're pictures of nothing at all

Vegetarian Deconstruction

Okay. So I'm standing by the refrigerator in my vegetarian co-op and I open the door to see what I can eat and I see, what do I see, but some sausages. Apparently, I discover, we have tons of sausages. And chicken. Vast quantities of meat have stuffed the co-op to the gills -- all of it left over from a local art festival. It will go to waste if we don't eat it. And there is tons of it.

If I eat this meat, then I'll be breaking my vegetarianism. But my vegetarianism is about the resource usage that goes into American meat, and it's about the cruelty inflicted on animals in American farms; it's not, in my mind, about my health (health-wise, I could probably use some meat; I'm not so good at the protein thing). So if I eat this sausage, then I'm not actually having any effect at all on the problems I purport to care about -- because this sausage has already been purchased, is left over, and will go to waste if nobody eats it.

But I could leave it to my housemates to eat.

But it doesn't matter, because whether I eat it or not, it will be eaten, and the effect has already been had anyway -- viz., the commercial support of awful treatment of animals has already happened, and so has the commercial support of an industry that uses completely insane amounts of resources. What difference does it make?

Well, I could argue that I am setting an example by being vegetarian. That I am helping the vegetarian movement by standing true to my beliefs and showing others that yes, giving up meat is actually not that big a deal, and in fact it's an important moral decision that we can stick to. Except that it's 2AM on a Sunday and no one else is awake to see me eat this meat, so what example? Where? I see no example.

So really the choice I'm facing is whether or not I stick to a rigid moral code in face of a choice that will hurt nothing. I mean, what does it matter if I eat meat that I didn't buy, that was basically rescued from the trash, with nobody observing me? The only reason not to eat it would be "because I don't eat meat, that's all," and shouldn't any moral code be flexible? Shouldn't everything be flexible, doesn't flexibility = survival and effectiveness?

But the moral crisis that led me to vegetarianism taught me that I had to acknowledge the line, that I had to toe the line, that I could not allow myself "room to maneuver". And yeah, I haven't been perfect about that this year. I've fucked up a few times. But I think I've done my best. I think. I don't know. I haven't done my best, but maybe I've done my best at doing my best. Argh, it's not enough. How about this -- I tried.

Anyway, the point is that I have to make a line and toe it. Psychologically. Surely the psychological angle matters. I have to make myself feel guilty for eating all meat because what keeps me from eating meat if not guilt? And how do I maintain my vegetarianism if I let the guilt slip? Except that I don't really believe that the only thing maintaining my vegetarianism is guilt. I have not historically needed a whole lot of guilt in order to do the right thing; my convictions seem to stem from something else. Unless the guilt goes deeper than I think it does, which it might. Anyway ... anyway ... anyway, surely I have to draw a bright line and force myself on one side of it psychologically. Force myself to see things in black and white.

But on the other hand, do I? I actually think that a lot of problems have stemmed from seeing things in black-and-white. It gets dangerous, it makes people follow the letter rather than the spirit, it blinds people to important understanding and compassion, it allows people to feel less responsible for their decisions ("I was following my code!"), it disappears all the shades of grey -- and life is shades of grey. Inflexible moral codes create monsters. Morality isn't about the words in the code, it's about the intent and the effect.

So really, if I want to show that I'm actually a thinking being who isn't blindly following a rigid and unchangeable moral code, I should eat the sausage.

Actually I think the moral of the story is that I should eat nothing at all and go back to what I was doing, which was working on wrapping up my biggest project before I go to Swaziland. In a week. A week. Not that I'm panicking or anything. Everything is fine and I am totally capable of getting everything done before I catch my plane next Sunday. Totally. Capable. And not hungry at all. I don't need sausage. Or food. Ever again. Eating is for chumps.

...

Saddam's Palaces: An Interview with Richard Mosse
These extraordinary images — published here for the first time — show the imperial palaces of Saddam Hussein converted into temporary housing for the U.S military. Vast, self-indulgent halls of columned marble and extravagant chandeliers, surrounded by pools, walls, moats, and, beyond that, empty desert, suddenly look more like college dormitories. Weight sets, flags, partition walls, sofas, basketball hoops, and even posters of bikini'd women have been imported to fill Saddam's spatial residuum. The effect is oddly decorative, as if someone has simply moved in for a long weekend, unpacking an assortment of mundane possessions.
... Fascinated by the dozens and dozens of incredible photos Mosse emailed — only a fraction of which appear here — I asked him to describe the experience of being a photographer in Iraq.


Detailed description of Hindenburg interiors from zeppelin history site
from cooper_korman.

Elaborate dice collection plus pictures
Includes ancient dice! Matt and I found it while discussing what ancient dice might be made of -- turns out basically anything from ivory to stone to metal to wood.

Research shows robots forming human-like societies
Dario Floreano and his team at the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems in the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology built a swarm of mobile robots, outfitted with light bulbs and photodetectors. These were set loose in a zone with illuminated "food" and "poison" zones which charged or depleted their batteries. ... At intervals, the robots were shut down and those that had the most charge left in their batteries were chosen as "successful", and their neural programming was combined to produce the next generation of the robots. ... Within fifty generations of this electronic evolution, co-operative societies of robots had formed -- helping each other to find food and avoid poison. Even more amazing is the emergence of cheats and martyrs. Transistorized traitors emerged which wrongly identified poison zone as food, luring their trusting brethren to their doom before scooting off to silently charge in a food zone .... Some robots advanced fearlessly into poison zones, flashing warning lights to keep other robots out of harms way.

Bibliodyssey: Books, Illustrations, Science, History, Visual Materia Obscura, Eclectic Bookart
Incredible antique book illustrations.
from my mother.

Antique vampirism articles
The "vampirism" tag from a blog whose description is: My current research has me looking through microfilmed tabloid newspapers of the 1930s. My progress is greatly impeded by my inability to scroll past unrelated “human interest” stories, most of them tiny nightmares like something out of Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts (which you should read immediately if you haven’t already). Anyway, I’ve started this blog as a place to memorialize these spectral and transient tragedies.
from Housemate Ackerman.
Putting up this entry scares me more than anything else I've ever written here. I don't know what people will think of me. I'm superficial. I'm vain. I'm self-centered. I'm seeking attention. I'm a brainless bimbo.

I've been writing this off-and-on for ages. It doesn't go anywhere. It feels like a pathetic excuse. It feels like something obscene. It feels like I'm whining, and not just whining, but whining about something totally stupid. It's going to run too long. And maybe tl;dr is the best reaction to hope for.

But I want to talk about beauty. About the idea of being beautiful. And about how I look. I'm circling around the thing it scares me to say. Maybe I'll be able to say it by the end of the entry. There's no way I could have this conversation with someone in person. I feel like a bad person for writing this, but I'd feel like even more of a bad person if I tried to talk about it.

...

Beauty, the idea of being beautiful, matters. I can't speak for anyone else, any other woman. I don't know how much, if any, of my experience is true for other people.

Maybe I have obsessed over appearance more than most people; but I always fantasized about being beautiful. It was always a core part of the early stories I wrote, the characters I created. I always drew, primarily, beautiful women. My avatars were inevitably beautiful.

I didn't date in high school. I spent the bulk of my time running around the Internet, playing computer games, and reading. I was not, one might say, popular. One of the Popular Girls once said I'd look great if I had a makeover, and offered to give me one; another of the Popular Girls once came up to me while I was wearing a new shirt and said, "Lydia! You look so trendy today!" ... I remember this interaction primarily because it made me feel ill, it made me want to go home and change. Oh, I wanted to be beautiful -- but far more deeply, far more powerfully, I didn't want to be like the Popular Girls. I hated what I could see of their world. And I wanted to be beautiful only on my own terms.

I didn't understand yet that there's no way to be beautiful on your own terms.

...

I remember the first time a boy my age -- someone besides my parents, or the doctor, or someone else way older than me -- told me I was beautiful. I was sixteen. It was my first week at Simon's Rock College, and a sophomore boy had taken me on a walk around the lake. It was late at night, mist was curling everywhere, and he'd been saying how he could just imagine a grey dragon materializing from the mist.

He said, "I feel very connected to you right now," and I said something stupid like, "Why?" and he hesitated and looked at me, "Well --" he said, "you're very beautiful." Just a line? Maybe. It seemed sincere. The way he was looking at me seemed sincere. I caught my breath, my eyes fluttered closed, my pulse slammed into my throat. His words were like a slap in the face. Leaving me breathless. (Though it's maybe weird to say "I feel connected to you because you're beautiful", as opposed to feeling connected to someone because of a mental/emotional commonality or shared experience or whatever ....)

It was something I'd always dreamed about, of course, being beautiful enough to have moments like that along the side of a lake. It was something I'd thought about so much that it almost seemed ... inevitable. Like, "Oh, there it is; this is the part of my story where the ugly duckling grows up!" But after the moment passed I didn't know how to act. I knew how to be brassy and forthright and abrasive and angry; I also knew how to be silent and absorb myself in a book and disappear. I knew how to dress in glitter and bright colors and interesting jewelry and incredible costumes, and I knew how to ignore the way people looked at me when I was wearing something ridiculous. I knew how to flirt with someone online; I'd played out any number of romances in online games, as Shataina. I even had some idea of how to flirt with a guy in real life. I'd even kissed a boy once, no way! But I still didn't know what to say to the way that boy was looking at me right then.

I don't think I've ever learned what to say. I've learned, since then, to pretend the compliment didn't happen; or to pass it off like it's not important; or to be sarcastic, to derail the conversation; or to look away while I thank the person, and quickly change the subject.

And I've unlearned the reaction that I got, long ago by the lake. It doesn't hit me like that anymore; not unless it's someone I care about, saying it. Not unless it's someone I trust a great deal. Anyone else says it, and it makes me feel put on the spot, self-conscious and defensive. Or I feel sick. Or I feel nothing.

...

Interestingly, when I started playing tabletop roleplaying games -- in college -- I always made my characters beautiful. Always. I always spent the points necessary -- and it always did cost points, even in games where there are no obvious in-game advantages (e.g., many White Wolf games charge for the Appearance statistic, but it's very rarely useful). It felt necessary, even for characters that had nothing to do with being beautiful (like ninjas). When I created Shataina as a character -- my avatar, the character I always thought of as closest to myself -- I always made Shataina as beautiful as I possibly could. More beautiful than any other character I made. I spent the maximum points.

I could deal with being beautiful in a game, where it wasn't real. I could even revel in it. I loved the fantasy. But I also accepted a certain level of disempowerment -- maybe partly out of guilt; I felt guilty for daring to have such a vain shallow fantasy in the first place. Having a beautiful character was never primarily a benefit, though it sometimes was useful. GameMasters would occasionally give me some kind of benefit for it, but would also frequently impose penalties because my character was a beautiful woman: penalties on trying to disguise her, for instance, that would not be imposed on an handsome male character or any other unusual-looking character. Or social costs, or abuse. One of my characters was coerced into sex by another character, and the reason given was that she was beautiful (this experience was a major contributing factor to that article I wrote about rape in RPGs, back in 2005).

(For comparison's sake, imagine a character who's really strong or intelligent. Now try to imagine a GameMaster imposing a penalty on some unrelated skill check, because your character's so strong or intelligent. It doesn't happen. But it happens for high-Appearance characters. Particularly female ones.)

Later in my life, when I volunteered for True Dungeon -- they tend to dress their female characters in very revealing outfits. One year in particular I remember badly, because the True Dungeon people dressed me in a really stripperiffic dress and didn't give me any spoken lines, and I was basically a "girl not wearing much clothing" prop for my entire experience. But the worst part of that situation wasn't actually the way they dressed me or told me to act, which I did -- after all -- consent to (even if I felt uncomfortable about it during and afterwards, I did consent). The worst part was when one group came through True Dungeon and one of the women said something angry about my character. Which was reasonable, because my character was super mean. But one of the men said, "Oh, you're jealous," and the other men all snickered, and I didn't know what to say and I ended up letting the moment pass without venting my spleen.

But it made me feel sick, it made me want to scream. If I could go back in time and slap that man across the face, I would. "I hate you and your male entitlement, the way you so casually take possession of my appearance and use it as a weapon. Don't feel entitled to how I look. Don't use a comment about my appearance to disempower that woman's perspective. Don't use me to make other women feel bad."

...

A while ago, I discovered a brand of jeans that fits me really well. Caslon, by Nordstrom. I really wanted more of these jeans, so I did an Internet search for them, and one of the first hits was a blog post from a woman who absolutely hated Caslon jeans. (This is no longer true; the top hits for Caslon jeans have changed, and I don't know where that blog post is now.)

This woman said Caslon jeans were ridiculous, unreal, that no actual woman could ever fit them. I remember reading her blog with an odd sense of displacement ... maybe, as if I were outside my body looking in. Apparently, the jeans that fit me perfectly were disempowering to this woman. Apparently, my body couldn't be real. Part of me felt a little frustrated at the way she was denying my experience -- claiming that I could not possibly exist -- shaming me, even. But more of me felt sympathy for her. Felt guilty. My body, by fitting Nordstrom's jeans, had betrayed her. By existing, I was contributing to a hostile world for her.

...

If a friend told me they liked me -- if a man told me he loved me -- for my intelligence or my skill at writing or my irony or my perspective or any facet of my personality, really, I'd be happy. If someone told me they liked me, or loved me, for my appearance -- I'd feel hurt. Confused. Sickened. Even now, when I feel like my boyfriend is saying "You're beautiful" too often, I get ... uneasy.

I've dated one man who never said I was beautiful. I think he complimented my appearance exactly once, and it was with a somewhat reserved term ("cute"). Sometimes his lack of feedback on my appearance made me feel safer with him. But sometimes with this particular thing ... appearance ... I'd think he disliked me for it. Not because he wasn't attracted to me, but because he was. He implied once that he felt guilty for being attracted to the people he's attracted to (presumably including me). He implied more than once that he thought I was too focused on my appearance, and disliked that.

How do I address an implication like that? "You're very focused on your appearance," he said once, in a vaguely accusatory tone. What does that mean -- what sin am I committing? At the time I said defensively, "Well, appearance is important," and he nodded and turned away; I should have asked him what he meant and why it bothered him. I think I was afraid to get into it. His opinion mattered to me so much ... I was afraid I might find out that he considered me shallow and/or vain. I could have tried to talk about façades and image control and making people think certain things about you, and really, when I think about that particular ex, I know that he was quite preoccupied with his image -- though not with beauty. We could have had an interesting conversation about the way we think about appearances. But I felt too ... accused ... to start that conversation.

...

I don't wear lipstick or concealer or eyeliner; I don't shave my legs. I don't do these things because they bore/annoy me to implement ... but when someone tells me, "You're very focused on your appearance," it makes me feel as though I have to make it up somehow, as though I have to prove my "appearance doesn't matter" cred. It makes me feel as though not wearing makeup, not shaving, is an obligation. It makes me feel as though even if I wanted to, I shouldn't start doing those things.

A gentleman recently told me that he loved how I don't shave my legs because it's like a statement of power ... a statement that I don't care. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I guess it's nice to be validated. On the other hand, I hate the fact that not shaving my legs is A Thing. I don't do it because it takes me a while to do and I hate the way my legs feel afterwards, not because I'm trying to make a statement, but at this point, I've had to think about and defend it so much that it's become by default A Thing and that makes me crazy. Why do I have to spend so much time thinking about a single cosmetic practice? I don't actually believe this -- but I'm tempted to say that his comment was nearly as repressive as any pro-shaving comment might be.

Using makeup feels like a sin. When I do it, I feel awkward about it. I don't wear significant makeup unless it's really really obvious -- I only do it when I feel like I'm putting on some kind of costume. You know, dramatic makeup -- sparkles or cat-eyes or bright colors. I would never even consider plastic surgery, unless I was scarred; then it would be "reasonable", it would be "fair", it would be "acceptable" to get plastic surgery to reverse the damage. Getting plastic surgery just to make myself more beautiful? That'd be "fake" and "superficial".

I did some modeling for fun a few years ago -- mostly what the industry calls "trade for pictures"; I was only ever paid once -- and I always felt awkward about it. Early on, I mentioned it to some of my friends, but I tried to pass it off lightly. With most people I never mentioned it at all. And a lot of the reason I stopped was -- partly because I figured I couldn't make the grade as a pro -- but also partly because I thought, "If I do make the grade as a pro, then that makes me nothing more than a vain self-centered model."

Then last year I did some more modeling projects for fun, because I had free time, was going slowly mad and needed to do something with my time. I loved the pictures but I felt torn every time I wanted to share them with my friends. I adopted the same kind of semi-open, semi-hidden behavior I've used in the past re: modeling; I feel strange being proud of the pictures. I think I've posted a total of one modeling picture to LiveJournal ever, and it was highly stylized, not one I thought of as attractive. I used some modeling pictures as Facebook avatars at one point this year, because I loved them ... but I also felt relieved when outside circumstances made it wise for me to take them down.

I remember very clearly that when I posted this picture of my Halloween makeup, I cropped out my body and only included my head. The full picture, with my body, involved a corset and looked fabulous. I felt too self-conscious to post it; it was too good a picture.

...

Occasionally, people will talk to me as if there's some assumption behind my appearance, as if it's taken for granted. My college friend Vinny once asked me, "Hey Lydia, do hot people sit around and talk about other people who aren't hot?" Or sometimes some guy will be hitting on me, and he'll say something like, "Well, you know how pretty you are ..." as if we're on the same page, somehow, as if we both understand each other automatically. But what does it mean if I agree with that statement? Is that allowed? It feels like a trap. Not to mention, it doesn't feel real.

I remember a moment with an ex-boyfriend where we were both very intoxicated, and I looked at him and asked: "Do you think I'm pretty?" And he looked back at me and said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, "Yes." One of his friends laughed and said, "You know, my girlfriend will also say the most out-there stuff when she's messed up," and I didn't know what to say. Is it such a weird question to ask? When images of heartbreakingly beautiful women are everywhere, I am really supposed to simply assume that I'm pretty?

...

Back when I was working as a game writer, one of my housemates suggested that I create a website where I put up pictures of myself and marketed myself as "the hot game writer girl". The idea was nauseating. I couldn't stand it. But it probably would have worked: after all, when I was writing games, one of my employers outright told me that he hired me because he thought I was cute.

If I'm beautiful, it calls all my accomplishments into question. Was I hired, recruited, accepted for my appearance? It calls all my friendships with men or gay/bi women into question. Do they like me only because they want me? If I'm beautiful, I can't feel secure in it. Better not get used to it, because by the time I'm 30 it's gone, right? If I'm beautiful, that beauty isn't mine. I can't take credit for it, I don't own it ... I certainly don't deserve it.

If I'm beautiful, I'm not that beautiful. (That's what people will say, right? "I don't get why she's so torn up. It's not like she's that hot.") After all, no one could possibly be that beautiful, and even if you are, you're not supposed to say it aloud.

"I'm beautiful." That's the thing it scares me to say. That's the thing I've been circling around. I can write it only because it's in quotes, it's not real -- and typing the words still makes me wince. I'm not beautiful. I can't be beautiful. If I'm beautiful, I don't deserve it. If I'm beautiful, I'll inevitably lose it. If I'm beautiful, what does that make me?

I close my eyes and I see blood and roses

Housemate Mike wanted to get my perspective on this article on a rationalist web site titled, "Do fandoms need awfulness?" I wrote an irate response that I will now post here.

In re: Jack Vance (who is highly praised in the article), there are aspects of Jack Vance's work that are monumentally bad. Trust a rationalist to be so excited about Vance, who completely sucks at character and emotion but excels at shiny-looking logic puzzles and clever solutions to dungeon crawls.

I've encountered arguments like the one made in that rationalist article before. Always stuff like, "Wow, since we think X piece of art is totally awful, then I guess fans of X must really like awful things!" As if there's no possibility that X actually has significant redeeming qualities, or that other people might have different tastes from the reviewer. It consistently irritates me that people apparently prefer to criticize the fans for liking X "awful" fandom, than to figure out what's appealing about Fandom X. It's all a product of considering some cultures better than others -- high culture vs. low culture, etc; it's a function of stigma and bias, and it pisses me off particularly to see it on a so-called rationalist site.

Tangentially (as I mentioned in a recent post), something similar has been happening with Internet culture and new Internet publishing tools -- people from more established publishing media will say snarky things about how "those kids" must have no taste, or must like really awful stuff, because we're using blogs and forums and Twitter etc etc. Rather than trying to figure out what's successful about the blog/forum/Twitter model, and how people can use it/are using it in intelligent ways, they simply decide that people who like blogs/forums/Twitter are stupid. Quit patronizing my generation! :roar:

...

I found the most incredible karaoke place ever the other night. Cabaret room. Lounge singer style. I was wearing leather pants and I sang "Blood and Roses", also one of my companions convinced me to sing the female part of "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" despite the fact that the song is everything wrong with heteronormative America. It was sheer class.

...

Quick links:

An entire blog devoted to the Arabian Nights!
Awesome! I found this, by the way, because I was trying to figure out when Mary Zimmerman's version of "The Arabian Nights" is going up. Zimmerman is known for such myth-based plays as "Metamorphoses", "Mirror of the Invisible World", and "Argonautika", and she is incredible. And her version of "The Arabian Nights" is playing in Chicago right now! And I'm still here for it! Amazing!

Wikipedia's list of unusual articles
Hours of fun. Includes the Facteur Cheval!
from Housemate Rebecca.

Glass Petal Smoke: Gleanings from the World of the Senses
Glass Petal Smoke was created out of a personal passion for things olfactive and gustatory. The back story regarding a raw material or finished product is often rich with history, myth and folklore. When all of these aspects are brought together, they tell a story of our common humanity, as expressed through the senses. Because Glass Petal Smoke is a blog, an element of cyber anthropology infuses the space in which it exists. Culture is about human nature and people who love food and fragrance are acutely aware of the connection between the senses and memory. Glass Petal Smoke appeals to readers who possess such awareness and those who aspire to it.
from my mother.
Insanely busy, going crazy, etc. When was the last time I posted? For that matter, where am I and what the hell is going on in my life? But as I was writing out strategies for Bookstore Y to market itself in Today's Ridiculous Bookstore-Unfriendly World (tm), I came upon this thought tangent. And what else are thought tangents for if not LiveJournal? Plus, I've been thinking about marketing, so I get to use boldface everywhere.

There's a lot of tales in ancient mythology (particularly Greek) about attempts to avoid prophesied death by doing pretty rough things, frequently involving killing children. Perseus is an example of this -- Perseus was the son of Zeus and Danae. Danae's father, King Acrisius, set Danae and her son adrift on the sea because of a prophecy that Perseus would kill him.

Sometimes people will act all weird about stuff like this, as if it's totally crazy for a dude like Acrisius to kill his own daughter and grandson. But what people don't understand is that back in the day, this was actually a perfectly viable strategy. That is, in 95% of cases where concerned parents bricked their daughter up in the back room and left her to starve, said daughter would in fact starve to death and would not birth the foretold son who returned to kill his grandfather (or whatever the prophecy was).

Fashions in the manner of killing one's troublesomely fated children would fluctuate. Partly, this was determined by success rate -- "immure girl in tower and forbid anyone ever to see her" was a surprisingly effective strategy for escaping Fate, at 97%, whereas "stick infant in basket and send down river" only boasted 65% success. There were also PR debacles -- no one did the reed basket thing after the Moses incident. But it was also a matter of convenience, of course. Not everyone has the time, resources or inclination to build massive doomy dungeons for their family members.

Also, children in the neighborhood would totally spread prophesies to get each other in trouble.
"Ed took my favorite blocks and won't give them back. Let's tell everyone he's gonna kill his dad and marry his mom!"
"You got prophesied! You are so grounded!"
The above were common refrains among scampering kids in the agora.

Anyway so, seen in this context, it is clear that the stories passed down to us re: Greeks doing things like killing their fathers and marrying their mothers aren't really intended to be sobering parables about the remorselessness of the gods, or human helplessness in the vast universe. They're more of a "Wow, really?" ... the kind of thing where ancient peoples would tell the story, shake their heads, and be like, "Well ain't that the craziest thing?"

"Dude, did you hear Acrisius got killed by his son after all?"
"Jeez, poor guy. Who'da thunk that'd happen?"
"Yeah ... after all the effort he put into setting his daughter adrift in the sea. And I mean, he gave her a much nicer death than I gave my daughter last year -- I just flung the girl to the dogs."
"Just goes to show, man."
"Yeah." (pause, pull on beer) "Just goes to show."

...

And now that I've written that I might as well post some links.

Taxidermy!
Examples of taxidermy articles from antique "Popular Mechanics" magazines. Just trust me. It's awesome. And I even found it myself!

I assume you all heard that it's over for Geocities.
What this ending of Geocities does make me realize is, for all our scary talk of how we need to watch what our slutty, drunken selves put online because oh no someone who may pay us to do something might see it, is how not permanent so much of the web truly is.
from Audacia Ray.

Oh my God there's a "Journey to the West" TV show!
In case you've never heard of the Chinese epic Journey to the West, you have a treat awaiting you.
Journey to the West is a household legend and myth throughout East Asia, especially China, and among Chinese throughout the world. It is based on the real life monk Xuan Zang's (also known as Tripitaka or Tang San Zang) pilgrimage to India, to fetch back some Buddhist scriptures. Nonetheless, this fictional retelling focuses on San Zang's first disciple, the monkey king, Sun Wu Kong, who captured readers' hearts and imagination with his bold, daring, and mischievous personality. He was also very rebellious. As a matter of fact, Wu Cheng En wrote Journey to the West to criticize China's political system and society.
from my mom.

On the trail of Trebitsch Lincoln, 1920s triple agent
Searching at random I came across entries for Trebitsch in almost every year between 1921 and 1938. These were frequently of a piquant nature, tantalizing by reason of their brevity. Thus the entry for 1923: ''LINCOLN, Trebitsch (alias Patrick Keelan) Activities in connection with Chinese deputation to General Ludendorff respecting Sino-German relations.''
Or for 1924: ''LINCOLN, Trebitsch (alias Trautwein) Alleged sale of bogus German military plans to French authorities.''
As I moved into the volumes dealing with the 1930's, the arena of activity appeared to shift. 1931: ''Initiated as Buddhist priest.'' 1937: ''Japanese propaganda activity.'' 1938: ''Activity in Tibet.''

Found this one myself too, and all because I work in a ridiculous bookstore with obscure books about every which fact. I love my job, it's breaking my heart to know that I'm finally leaving. Even if it is a "finally".

(McSweeney's) ENG 371WR: Writing for Nonreaders in the Postprint Era
Instant messaging. Twittering. Facebook updates. These 21st-century literary genres are defining a new "Lost Generation" of minimalists who would much rather watch Lost on their iPhones than toil over long-winded articles and short stories. Students will acquire the tools needed to make their tweets glimmer with a complete lack of forethought, their Facebook updates ring with self-importance, and their blog entries shimmer with literary pithiness. All without the restraints of writing in complete sentences. w00t! w00t! Throughout the course, a further paring down of the Hemingway/Stein school of minimalism will be emphasized, limiting the superfluous use of nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, conjunctions, gerunds, and other literary pitfalls.
You know, as I get older I get more and more bored by the handwringing of my elders over the death of writing. This article half-amuses me and half feels unbearably pretentious. The Internet is replacing print because it's a better technology, people, it's not because we kids are idiots who can't string a thought together. Oh well. Here endeth my rant.
from someone I definitely don't follow on Twitter. Because I don't use Twitter. Twitter is for the peasantry.
The other naif [that is, besides Henri Rousseau] whom Surrealism especially admired was not a painter but a builder who, in the obscurity of his own country garden, created what was perhaps the most elaborate, beautiful, and mysterious "unofficial" work of art made by any nineteenth-century artist. He was Ferdinand Cheval, a postman or facteur in the village of Hauterives, about forty miles from Lyon. The Facteur Cheval (as he is usually called) had done nothing remarkable for forty-three years of his life. But one day in 1879, on his delivery round, he picked up a pebble. It was a piece of the local greyish-white molasse or tufa, gnarled and lumpy, about four inches long -- his "stone of escape", as he later called it. He put it in his pocket and, from then on, began first to collect more odd-looking stones, then tiles, oyster-shells, bits of glass, wire, iron, and other junk. Back in his garden, he began to lay foundations and build walls. He was, by his own account, bored of "walking forever in the same decor", and so:

... to distract my thoughts, I constructed in my dreams a faëry palace, surpassing all imagination, everything the genius of a humble man could imagine (with grottoes, gardens, towers, castles, museums and sculptures), trying to bring to a new birth all the ancient architectures of primitive times; the whole thing so beautiful and picturesque that the images of it remained alive in my brain for ten years at least ... but the distance from dream to reality is great; I had never touched a mason's trowel ... and I was totally ignorant of the rules of architecture.

He began to take a wheelbarrow on his rounds, collecting more and more of the bizarre stones of the region, rock-collecting by night, building in the morning and evening, delivering letters by day, and sleeping very little. This routine went on for a third of a century. The result, the Facteur's Ideal Palace, contained all his ideas -- mostly built, like the Douanier Rousseau's, on pictures he had seen in magazines, photos, and almanacs like the
Magasin Pittoresque -- about the "true origins" of ancient Greek, Assyrian, and Egyptian architecture, with side-glances at the Taj Mahal, the Maison Carrée in Algiers, the mosques of Cairo, the White House, and the Amazon Jungle. Dark grottoes (which the Facteur called "Hecatombs", meaning today "Catacombs") ran through it, and wild bristlings of minarets and sculptured palms crowned its towers. Almost every surface that was not ornamented with the writhing effusions of the Facteur's imagination carried an inscription: "Interior of an Imaginary Palace: the pantheon of an obscure hero. The end of a dream, where fantasy becomes reality." "The work of giants." "Remember: will is power." And, very movingly:

For forty years I dug
to make this faery palace
rise from the earth.
For my idea's sake, my body has confronted all:
time, ridicule, the years.
Life is a swift charger
but my thought will live on in this rock.

It took this proud and certain man, by his own reckoning, 10,000 working days (or a total of 93,000 hours) to finish his Ideal Palace. When he did so in 1912, he at once set to work on the construction of his tomb in a cemetery nearby, which he also finished well before his death, at the age of eighty-eight, in 1924. Thus Breton and the other Surrealists could have met him, though they did not; it is not known when they first went to Hauterives, but the Palais Idéal immediately became one of the sacred spots of the surrealist world. Max Ernst made a collage in praise of the Facteur Cheval, and Breton wrote a poem about him (a companion piece to the verses Apollinaire had written on the Douanier Rousseau). This, it appeared, was the palace of the unconscious mind that no architect had ever built, a nearly sublime fantasy in which the formal means of Edwardian garden-builders -- grottoes, stones, shells -- had suddenly shot up to the heights of obsession and revelation.


(Pages 229-231, Robert Hughes' The Shock of the New: Second Edition, 1980. Evidence of Cheval's work is easy enough to find!)
Apparently "Last Christmas" has been covered over a hundred times. Maybe I'll cover it when I release my cover album that will probably never happen. But at Iggy's Karaoke in New York, many people totally said I should be a pro. And if you can't trust the bartenders and drunken regulars at a karaoke bar, who can you trust?

...

There's any number of things I could say about what I've learned over the past year. So many people to thank, so much luck to appreciate. There were bad points ... there are always bad points. But I'm in an amazing place right now -- I am a little afraid of myself, in fact. I feel so powerful and productive, I am riding such a wave, that I am afraid I must inevitably go under!

It's so hard to pick out the "most important lesson of the past year", but I think maybe I have it. It's something I mostly owe Ex-Boyfriend Brett for, I think (thanks Brett), though there are undeniably other influences. Brett's remarkably good at getting things done outside an established framework; I'm glad I got the chance to see him in action. (Of course, he also shattered my heart, but these things happen.)

Anyway, here's the lesson: There's always a way to do it. Whatever it is. The tricks are: knowing what you want to do, being flexible about the implementation, and being willing to do the research. And yes, in the end it might be too expensive or time-consuming or confusing; you simply might not have the money/time/inclination. But why wouldn't you, at the least, look into it? Only because you're lazy and/or afraid ... and neither laziness nor fear are things to cherish.

In the course of your research, you'll learn a lot of unrelated stuff -- but that's not a waste of mental space, that's inspiration! In the course of your implementation, you'll go down blind alleys -- but that's not a waste of time, that's evolution!

The best example of this (a wholly ridiculous example, but still) is the lighthouse incident. It all started with me and Brett sitting on a beach looking at a lighthouse. And while I idly speculated about how awesome it would be to live in a lighthouse, I wouldn't have implemented such a project under my own power. By the time Brett was done researching lighthouses, though -- he made living in a lighthouse look easy. (As, it turns out, it is.)

It's a simple lesson. Really, I should have understood it before; I've often done absurd -- sometimes extensive -- projects under my own power. (And who hasn't heard: "Just do it"?) Maybe it's silly for me to give Brett so much credit, but I feel like ... I don't know, somehow, I feel like I didn't really internalize this until now. Not on a large scale. Not on the scale of my life. I think he helped me put it in perspective.

It's like I've been living wrapped in cotton, and suddenly I feel unbound and clear. There's always a way to do it. There's always been a way to do it.

I just had to be willing to want, to grow, to learn, to change, to run. To recognize fear and face it down, to be ruthless in my motivation.

The vista of my life has never looked so tempting.

...

Most people's experience of eggnog is limited to that horrible store-bought stuff, so most people think they don't like eggnog. But my family boasts the finest of eggnog recipes, handed down from parent to child over hundreds of years (seriously). My uncle says it's fine if I tell everyone about it, so I am. Here you go. It's the best thing ever. Try it. Your life is incomplete until you do.

Lydia's Family Eggnog

2 dozen eggs
24 tablespoons sugar
1 quart (or a fifth or 750 ml) rye whiskey (Old Overholt preferred, but any good rye or good bourbon will work)
1 pint cognac
1 half-pint dark rum (Myers preferred, but any good dark rum will work)
1 quart milk
1 quart heavy whipping cream
1 quart light cream or half and half
Ground nutmeg

Read more...Collapse )

...

The Yes Men
Impersonating big-time criminals in order to publicly humiliate them. Targets are leaders and big corporations who put profits ahead of everything else.
A person (male or female) becomes a Yes Man by exposing, perhaps deviously, the nastiness of powerful evildoers.


NYTimes: Current progress on the Netflix contest to improve CineMatch
Cinematch is the bit of software embedded in the Netflix Web site that analyzes each customer’s movie-viewing habits and recommends other movies that the customer might enjoy. (Did you like the legal thriller “The Firm”? Well, maybe you’d like “Michael Clayton.” Or perhaps “A Few Good Men.”) The Netflix Prize goes to anyone who can make Cinematch’s predictions 10 percent more accurate. One million dollars might sound like an awfully big prize for such a small improvement. But in fact, Netflix’s founders tried for years to improve Cinematch, with only incremental results, and they knew that a 10 percent bump would be a challenge for even the most deft programmer. They also knew that, as Reed Hastings, the chief executive of Netflix, told me recently, “getting to 10 percent would certainly be worth well in excess of $1 million” to the company. The competition was announced in October 2006, and no one has won yet.
I've noticed some surprising things going under my "cyberpunk" Delicious tag recently.

The Vertigo Tarot
Illustrated by Dave McKean (of "Sandman" fame), and pretty.
from byzantienne.

The new Burger King beef-scented body spray
The home of the Whopper has launched a new men's body spray called "Flame." The company describes the spray as "the scent of seduction with a hint of flame-broiled meat."
The fragrance is on sale at New York City retailer Ricky's NYC in stores and online for a limited time for $3.99.

I think this came from Housemate Mike, but I've seen a lot of people talking about it. Burger King's got some other more distasteful ad campaigns going on, too. This body spray thing, though, I like. It appeals to my absurd quotient.

"She is More to be Pitied than Censured": Women, Sexuality and Murder in 19th Century America
The exhibition at the John Hay Library focuses on sexual scandals and murders in 19th century America that involved women in a significant way: as victims, as perpetrators, or as involved bystanders. The books, pamphlets, and broadsides on display reflect period attitudes on adultery, abortion and contraception, domestic abuse, and illegitimacy. Most noteworthy, perhaps, is how closely many of these events mirror contemporary issues concerning women, sexuality, and murder.

Hilarious: "Pride and Prejudice", Facebook-style
thanks, potatocubed!

New historical romance line: Gay fiction line written by straight women
I'm not sure how troubling I find this. I feel like a kink for watching/imagining gay people have sex is acceptable, even if you're straight. But I also feel like there's something ... borderline imperialistic? ... definitely exoticizing ... about a bunch of straight people writing erotic fiction about gay people specifically "created to mirror romance novels, not gay erotica." If Sexuality A gets off on imagining Sexuality B but does not identify as Sexuality B, are there any boundaries on how Sexuality A "ought" to depict Sexuality B? I guess we've already somewhat thought about this issue in, for instance, lesbian porn made by and for men.
Someone I know makes the point that it's more okay because of "the old PTBarnum deal 'no press is bad press' as in, gay stuff being out there for folks to read means that its no longer in the closet = progress." Maybe.

Lawsuit over copyrighted ampersand
Abercrombie & Kent obtained a temporary restraining order to prevent the former CC Africa from using the ampersand (“&”) in its new name “&Beyond” pending resolution of a trademark infringement suit over the right to use the ampersand as a trademark.
This also reminded me of a 2004 Malcolm Gladwell article that I recently read: Should a Charge of Plagiarism Ruin Your Life? which is one of the clearest, most eloquent discussions of copyright I've read (and I've read a lot about the whole copyright thing).
A while back I found myself in the middle of a conversation wondering how people who eat bugs, hunt bugs. I mean, they must hunt bugs in order to eat them, right? Half an hour of fruitless Internet research later, I determined that the answer might be in the book Man Eating Bugs: the Art and Science of Eating Insects by Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio. Naturally, I swiftly reserved the book at the library and then ignored it until the renewal limit came up, at which point I did some minimal but frantic reading and discovered the following bug-hunting methods that I can now share with you lot. Don't say I never do you any favors.

Japan, page 32: Early the next morning we are standing with Mr. Nakamura in the river .... He's lent us special zaza-mushi-stalking waders. [Zaza = the sound of rushing river water; mushi = insect.] The foot of each boot has a special place for your big toe, Ninja-turtle-style. Over these amphibian rubber feet he straps on steel crampons to prevent him from slipping in the zaza. To catch the mushi he uses a wire net shaped like a small baseball backstop. He sets it in the river downstream from where he overturns rocks with his feet and a pickaxe. Under the rocks live the ugly little larvae of the caddis fly.

After two hours of rocking and rolling, Mr. Nakamura has a bucket full of slithering green pincer-headed little monsters. They bear an uncanny resemblance to the creepy scuttling things in the milk at the bottom of my cereal bowl in my recurring childhood nightmares.

... During winter, a professional collector like Mr. Nakamura can collect five pounds of zaza-mushi a day, selling them for about $40 per pound. There are currently about 40 such collectors.


Australia, page 18: Now and then we veer off the dirt track to chase after a kangaroo, change a flat tire in the shade, or inspect a promising clump of witchetty bushes. Bessie, decked out in a flower-print cotton dress, walks through the bush with an iron digging bar and a shovel. When we see a witchetty bush, she drops her purse in its shade and plomps down to dig. Buzzing flies, shovel scraping through dry sandy soil, then the cracking of a root. Dusty red backlight. She checks if the root has a grub in it. "A little one," she says disappointedly. "If he [were] bigger, might kill more of the tree. But be bigger to eat." In the past, she says, "People could live on these things, along with honey ants and goannas [lizards]. Then the white man showed up. People don't dig anymore. We still get them when camping out, though. In the bush."

Australia, page 24: An hour north of Alice Springs we head down a dirt track parallel to a fence that drifts due east, like a jet contrail, for six miles. Suddenly the women tell me to stop. We crawl through a livestock fence and break branches off a bloodwood tree with dozens of knobby galls. Bessie calls them "bush coconuts". Later she splits them open with a hatchet. Inside is a chestnut-sized opening, the home of a light green grub: a scale insect.

... Along with the grub inside the gall are a small handful of tiny nymphs, hundreds or thousands of them. That they are eaten alive is no problem, since they taste nutty and are so small I can't see them clearly without my reading glasses.


Thailand, page 40: ... [S]ome of 9-year-old Visith's marble-playing friends notice a hole near the side of the house from which giant winged ants periodically emerge and fly off. Word spreads and soon the entire family and a half-dozen neighbors are sitting on the ground or on stools around the bunch of ant holes. It's maeng man time, a once-in-a-year even triggered by the first heavy rains.

The ants coming out of the hole are female giant red ants (the maeng man), which are the size of a quarter. They have brand-new wings, on which they intend to fly off and start new families. But when they emerge, the Knuenkaews and their friends pluck them up by the wings. Tiny white worker ants are crawling all over the adults, and the workers bite like crazy, so you have to either knock the workers off or avoid them by plucking up the giant queens by their wings and quickly dropping them in empty liquor bottles. One nearly full bottle of ants equals two hours of this activity per person working on two or three holes.


Indonesia, page 60: Although chicken replaced dragonflies on his dinner table years ago, Darsana taught his children how to hunt the insect using a slender strip of palmwood dipped in the sticky white sap of the jackfruit tree. When the insect touches the strip, it sticks fast to the sap.

With Darsana in the lead, we go into the fields. Homemade wands whip through the air in the hands of the six excited children. ... Standing in one paddy, Darsana shouts encouragement as his 8-year-old daughter, Ni Wayan Sriyani, slowly extends her bamboo pole as far as she can reach. A dragonfly approaches, zig-zagging over the rice. Like an expert fly-fisher, she flicks out the end of the pole and catches the wing of the first dragonfly of the day.


...

Now for sale on eBay: Obama's senate seat
I think my favorite quotation from this whole Blagojevich scandal is: Mr Blagojevich is said to have blasted the incoming president over the choice of new senator, saying that he did not want to give that “motherf***** [Obama] his senator. F*** him. For nothing? F*** him,” he said. “They’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation. F*** them.” Yum, I loves me some gummint.

A tour through the history of pop-up and movable books
The first movable books actually predate the print culture. The earliest known examples of such interactive mechanisms are by Ramón Llull (c.1235-1316) of Majorca, a Catalán mystic and poet. His works contain volvelles or revolving discs, which he used to illustrate his complex philosophical search for truth.

Maybe I'm the last person to hear about "Wired"'s annual vaporware awards
We are officially accepting nominees for the annual Wired.com Vaporware awards, our yearly showcase of the products pitched, promised and hyped, but never delivered.
Oh man, I can't believe I didn't know about the Optimus Maximus keyboard (which, in the words of "Wired", successfully separated overpaid design fetishists from their Google stock dividends just in time for the market crash). Housemate Andrew says I should check out the Optimus Maximus site and weep at how beautiful their various products are, but I'm afraid of up and spending my life savings.

Á La Card Chicago
We have selected 52 of Chicago's finest chef-driven/owner-operated restaurants for you to experience, each for its exciting & unique contribution to our city's dining culture. Draw a card. Dine at that restaurant. Save $10. As a special bonus, if I buy this I can then fleece my dinner companion at cards. My mom was calling me a card shark when I was eight ....

Immersion Blog: from a "photographer and video artist, mostly interested in identity and the media"
Some cool stuff. I really need to start using aggregators other than my livejournal friends page.

DVD for sale: Bettie Page film loops, plus some fetishism and pinup history
As always, please no one buy me a Christmas present. But this is just, you know, in case you might be seeking one for me.

Religious history map: want to see 5,000 years of religion in 90 seconds?
How has the geography of religion evolved over the centuries, and where has it sparked wars? Our map gives us a brief history of the world's most well-known religions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism. Selected periods of inter-religious bloodshed are also highlighted.

Did I seriously never link to this?
Gamers only.
I think I just accidentally convinced my boss to do a Bookstore Y Dance Party. We'll see how this plan develops ....

Sudden Poll! Please post song titles (and ideally, YouTube links) for Bookstore Y Dance Party songs. Bonus points if you post them within the next hour, because then I get to play them (quietly) for the store's clientele and also my very stoic coworker, Shelley, who most resembles a mute vampire (only in the best possible way, of course) and who I think has never known exactly what to make of me. So far I have "I Love You Always Forever" and also "Love is a Battlefield".

Sudden Poll! 2 If a local antiquarian bookstore had a dance party, would you attend?