Saturday, October 30, 2010

To My Bestest Bucket

Wishing you a very merry birthday from far away-- may your day be full of much cake and skeleton brownies, fun sized candy bars, and little debbies...

Your gift is sitting on the floor of my apartment. I promise to mail it before I return to America.

Happy, Happy Birthday, Simon!


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Out of Control

When I was putting in the black background I had to double-check what color #4C4C4C was because HTML is the bane of my existence. The first web page that came up was this:

Internet, seriously? We're rating colors now? Is there nothing we can restrain ourselves from making public, even if it is deeply boring, completely subjective, and has no bearing on anything at all?

Moreover, twenty-two people saw the color gray and thought, "Not only must I express my opinion of this color, but my opinion is that I love it." Who loves the color gray? Gray is the color we use as a metaphor for, "Eh, I could go either way." Almost by definition you can neither love nor hate gray. GRAY IS A GRAY AREA.

Sometimes the internet is just too much.

Monday, October 25, 2010

More Fall Photos

Once on a Friday when the boss was out of town, a co-worker and I went across the street for an hour and a half and walked around Mt. Hope Cemetery. It was all yellow, and after a while it started to snow lightly. It is difficult to work when you know this is such a short distance away.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Dangerously Inappropriate!

Loyal reader Liz alerted me to an inappropriate use of bacon the other day. Behold the Bacon Me Crazy Plush Toy.

I shall now enumerate the three things that are inappropriate about this.
1. Bacon-shaped objects that are not bacon are inappropriate.
2. It is sold out, which shows how many people have inappropriate taste.
3. The product description:

"Stir up some fun in your apartment with this kitschy shapin' bacon pillow! Morph your bacon to your desired 'degree' with its internal wire, and wear the accompanying pin that states, 'I love you more than bacon,' to show your love of sweet meats all day long. If you're ever feeling down, simply lay with this fleece and felt strip of softness, and all will be 'cured!'"

Maybe I just have cannibalism on the brain, but I do NOT want to be CURED like MEAT, thank you very much! Inappropriate! INAPPROPRIATE!!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Among the Cannibals, Part 2

Start with part one here.

After describing the Korowai and the Aghor sect, Raffaele moves on to Tonga, but only briefly because there isn’t much to say. The vast majority of what he talks about is how fat the Tongans are. He’s so fascinated by their fatness you almost wonder if he wants to eat them! Ha, ha, cannibal joke.

The island of Tonga in the South Pacific no longer has cannibals, but it did once, and they ate some troublesome Europeans, and who can blame them. Eating enemy warriors is pretty ordinary in cannibal circles. It’s a lot like the ritual consumption of family members after they’ve died. Their bravery or power or wisdom or energy passes to the person who eats the meat. Again, it’s a matter of religious ritual.

At this point in the book I’d been grossed out several times just because I really don't like dead bodies, but I had not been horrified by anything. Then I got to the section on forced cannibalism in Uganda, which was the most horrible thing I have ever read in my life. In the course of the war between the Ugandan government and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, which has been going on for 23 years, tens of thousands of young children have been kidnapped to serve in the LRA. To separate the kids from their sense of who they are, shame them so much they don’t want to go home, and make it so that their families don’t want them back, the LRA leaders make them murder and eat any of their friends who try to run away. Children who have been rescued from the LRA are obviously severely traumatized, and sometimes the plan works. Their villages don’t trust them and don’t want them back. This doesn’t even come close to a religious ritual, as it is part of a deliberate strategy masterminded by a psychopath to dehumanize and brainwash children. It’s not the same as the other kinds of cannibalism covered by this book, and doesn’t really give any insight into why cannibals eat other people. I’m not sure eating human flesh under pain of severe violence, sexual assault, or death makes you a cannibal. I definitely wouldn’t call those kids cannibals.

By the time I got to the final section on the Aztecs I was so thoroughly numbed by Uganda that I didn’t really care that they practiced what can only be described as egregious amounts of human sacrifice involving cutting hearts out of living bodies. But now that I'm writing this, I’ve kind of had it with cannibals. Aztecs, was it really necessary that the heart be beating? On the other hand, all the primary sources were written by Europeans who had an interest in telling everyone the Aztecs were subhuman, so it’s hard to say exactly what really happened. They definitely had a lot of really big knives, though.

So, is the depiction of cannibals in Crusoe racist after all? Well. If I could remember it better, maybe I’d know. I think what disturbed me at the time was that it seemed like the cannibals were sort of ridiculously over-costumed to look terrifying, and behaved like they’d eat you as soon as look at you. Judging by what I’ve read, that’s not how it works. Cannibals don’t eat people because it’s fun or they’re hungry. Nobody keeps a herd of humans fenced out back as a food source. Except for in Uganda, they only do it under certain ritualistic circumstances. So I can’t think of a good reason why cannibals would randomly land on Crusoe’s island with the intention of eating him, unless it’s because they know he’s white and therefore consider him a devil, or at least an enemy (which is plausible). Either way, I suppose the real question is how Daniel Defoe depicted them, and how closely the tv show followed his depiction. Sadly, my research for this post did not involve reading that book, so I’ll have to report back later.

As for Raffaele’s desire to prove cannibalism still goes on, I think it’s pretty clear it does, although I would like to point out that he never actually saw it happen. And it’s fading out in places where there are police forces willing to make arrests, or where modern society is encroaching. I would not personally be sorry if people stopped eating each other, but I’m not sure it’s morally wrong. Raffaele quotes Robert Louis Stevenson as saying, “To cut a man’s flesh after he is dead is far less hateful than to oppress him while he lives.” I find that to be fairly sound. Within the cultures where it occurs ritually, it is not seen as immoral, and I am uncomfortable judging one culture by another’s standards.

But I’m taking a very literal definition of cannibalism and limiting it to mean the actual consumption of human flesh. The murder that occurs beforehand bothers me quite a lot, especially the Aztec kind. This is a very weird and kind of squishy moral area. It does not seem measurably kinder not to eat someone after you kill them, since they're already dead. I’m more squeamish about the killing, and the cruelty involved, than the eating. Still, it isn't fair to condemn other humans for behaving according to the conventions of their peers. Any khakhua who gets eaten has likely eaten other khakhua.

At any rate, I don't find nonviolent cannibalism particularly offensive. I can understand a ritual wherein you eat a bit of your dead relatives, if you happen to believe that you can preserve them and absorb their good qualities that way. It’s only fair to point out that there are more than a billion Catholics in the world, many of whom believe in the miracle of transubstantiation, which seems quite similar to me.

In case anyone is tempted to become an Aghori: Ivan asked whether eating brains made you sick, and the answer is that it depends on your DNA. You might be fine, or your brain might turn to mush. With this in mind my final recommendation concerning cannibalism is don't do it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Among the Cannibals, Part 1

A few months ago my sister and I had a conversation about whether or not the depiction of cannibals in Crusoe was racist. We sort of suspected it was, but not knowing a great deal about cannibals, it was hard to say. So, not long after, when I saw a book called Among the Cannibals: Adventures on the Trail of Man’s Darkest Ritual at a library sale, I of course took it home with me to see what I could find out.

The problem with buying books that randomly present themselves at library sales is this: they might not be the best books on the subject. The number one requirement for a book about cannibalism should be that the author does not put a blanket condemnation of cannibalism in the second sentence of the introduction. So it was clear right away that I wouldn’t be getting anthropologically reliable information. The author, Paul Raffaele, is a well-travelled, well-read, and experienced journalist, and I was constantly surprised that his approach to this subject wasn’t more nuanced.

As the book went on, the author’s personality began to grate on me. First, I get the feeling that his idea of being subtle is shouting, “SO. ARE YOU A CANNIBAL OR WHAT?” Cannibals are going to be pretty sensitive about cannibalism, especially when they’re talking about it with someone who considers it to be a taboo. If you want them to let you in, you have to pretend you are not completely horrified by what they do. Second, it is awkward when the author feels required to describe the body of any woman he meets. He does this with men, too, but there’s a difference between “He was naked except for a leaf” and “Let us discuss the precise state of her breasts.” One could be a salient detail, one definitely is not. This is one of many things that make me think this book could have used a really good editor, and didn’t get one.

Raffaele wrote the book for two reasons. He wanted to argue against an anthropologist named William Arens, who asserted in 1979 that ritual cannibalism never actually happens—it’s all a mixture of lies and legends coming out of the clash between Westerners and the cultures they don’t understand. Raffaele also wanted to find and talk to cannibals who aren’t psychopaths because . . . I don’t know why. Because they’re novel, I guess. Honestly, he seems so disgusted by “man-eating” that it seems strange to me that he decided to write a book about it.

He starts in New Guinea, where the Korowai tribe are known cannibals. They don’t understand disease, so their belief system has to explain it. When someone gets sick and dies, they believe that a man in the community must have been possessed by a murderous demon and is eating the sick person from the inside out. These men are called khakhua, or witch-men. Any unfortunate individual named as a khakhua is believed to die when he is first possessed. He becomes a monster in human form, but he is no longer human. Therefore, to hunt him down, stone him to death, and eat him is not only acceptable but necessary.

The Korowai, Raffaele and I agree, are not raving psychopaths. They practice cannibalism within very narrow parameters. They do say the meat tastes good, especially the brain, but it isn’t like they randomly eat people out of hunger. It’s a matter of revenge. They eat the khakhua because the khakhua has eaten his victim.

The next stop on the cannibal express is weirder. In Benares, India, the holy men of the Aghor sect of Hinduism live on the edge of the Ganges, where they eat the flesh of the bodies that have been brought there to be cremated. (Interestingly, they like brain best, too.) The rationale behind this is that ignoring cultural conventions and engaging in taboo behavior separates you from society—and therefore allows you to become divine. Frankly, cannibalism is not the most shocking of the things they do, but none of it is harmful, exactly. They don’t murder people, they just nibble on them, and whatnot, after they’re dead. Given that there are other paths to holiness, it’s hard to explain why one would choose the path that involves doing everything your society finds repellent, except to say that sometimes human beings are just like that. But even the Aghor sect only eat people within certain religious parameters.

In part two we shall discuss Tonga (briefly), Uganda (depressingly), and the Aztecs (violently), and try to remember what actually happened in Crusoe so that this incredibly long post will have a point.

Read part two here.

Friday, October 15, 2010

This Week In Coping with Expired Household Goods

Okay, my brown sugar wasn't actually expired. But I didn't have enough. So, inspired by the relative success of the mayonnaise experiment, and possessed of more molasses than I will ever probably use, I made my own. Behold.

What I don't understand is why you would ever buy brown sugar. Making it is easy and fun! And it comes out so pretty! Much prettier than mayonnaise, anyway.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Every year I go out and take the same pictures. Here they are.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Halloween: The Holiday of CONSTANT VIGILANCE!

The other day I walked under the awning of the pizza place a couple of doors down. And I looked up. And I saw this.

It gave me a start.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

I basically stole this post from the Royal Society's blog.

My clever friend The Clergy brought this blog post to my attention: Robert Boyle's To-Do List. This is the Boyle of Boyle's law, which you learned about in high school unless you had a senile chemistry teacher like I did.

Boyle lived from 1627-1691 and was, among other things, a natural philosopher. I always get very excited when people are described as natural philosophers, because usually it means they believed hilarious things and spelled them funny. I shouldn't laugh because Boyle was a scientific genius and I'm not, but there's something adorable and endearing in the fact that while Boyle was making a note of the inverse relationship between the pressure and volume of gas when its temperature remains the same, everyone was still thinking of science as a branch of philosophy.

Anyway, apparently Boyle had some grand visions of what natural philosophy could accomplish. And he wrote them down. For our amusement. From his list:

  • The Cure of Wounds at a Distance.
  • The Cure of Diseases at a distance or at least by Transplantation.
  • The Emulating of Fish without Engines by Custome and Education only.
  • The Transmutation of Metalls.
  • The Transmutation of Species in Mineralls, Animals, and Vegetables.
  • The Attaining of Gigantick Dimensions.
  • The making of Parabolicall and Hyperbolicall Glasses.
  • The making Armor light and extremely hard.
  • The practicable and certain way of finding Longitudes.
  • A Ship to saile with All Winds, and A Ship not to be Sunk.
  • Freedom from Necessity of much Sleeping exemplify’d by the Operations of Tea and what happens in Mad-Men.
  • Great Strength and Agility of Body exemplify’d by that of Frantick Epileptick and Hystericall persons.
  • A perpetuall Light.
  • Varnishes perfumable by Rubbing.

Aside from the spelling, and the randomness, I think it's the earnestness that cracks me up. If only we could never sleep! If only we could swim like fish! If only we weren't slaves to the wind! If only we could attain gigantick dimensions!

The fact that we have done some of these impossible things (we have glasses, Kevlar, satellite navigation, outboard motors, Red Bull, steroids, electricity, etc. etc.) makes it all the weirder that we haven't figured out the others. As far as I know, we can't transmute metals or species. We understand that swimming under water like fish is not a simple matter of education. We can't prevent any given boat from ever sinking. I am not sure why we would want to attain gigantick dimensions, but we certainly haven't. As for a varnish perfumable by rubbing, I don't even know how to imagine that. The closest I can come is Scratch-n-Sniff stickers, but I have a feeling he's really after something more like Glade PlugIns. The seventeenth century was full of some hardcore stenches, after all.

The point is, this makes me wonder what things I think of as completely insane and impossible that we could have in three hundred years, and what things I assume we'll have in three hundred years that we still won't haven't figured out yet. I can't imagine we'd ever figure out how to put an electronic port in our brains, so that'll probably happen. But jet packs and hovercrafts? I bet we go extinct without ever getting to play with those.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Pride Cometh Before a Fall

This photo of my post-kneading, pre-baking kitchen is called "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PLEASE RISE."

This one is called "I don't care if you're misshapen, I love you for not tasting like yeast."

"Things seem to be going well, let's be ambitious."

And last: "I wonder how much chili powder this needs. I'll just throw in the rest of the bottle. Clearly I can do no wrong today."

Fortunately I had a lot of bread around for when the chili threatened to burn a hole in my tongue.