27 March 2007

Automata and attitudes to terminal failure

Tangled during the night in a spider's line,

these struggles to stay upright lasted for about twenty minutes.

Most likely, two distinct species of humanoids will arise: those that respond to and illicit our emotions and those we wish simply to do work, day in and day out, without stirring our feelings . David Bruemmer, Humanoid Robotics: Ethical Considerations, Idaho National Laboratory

Will automata be built with the will to live past their warranty period?

23 March 2007

Lint fills a window

But do you have Lint in your pocket?

The purpose of clothing is to provide bases for pockets.

POSTSCRIPT: In case I didn't make things perfectly clear above (and few could accuse me of clarity) what I am saying now and should have already said is: This Lint belongs in a pocket — yours! (and if you don't have a pocket, then you need emancipation). This Lint will make your synapses snap, because this Lint is created not by the churning of your belly button or the secret machinations in a pocket's corners, but by Steve Aylett, who will churn your mind.

Gertrude's prize

18 March 2007

An end

The ends of the earth are infinite

and the means infinitely worth scruting.

Gone to scrute, perhaps to get lost.

"What's she saying?" asked the toad of the donkey. "And you've eaten the last medlar comfit!"

"I think she's saying that," said the donkey. "Hop on my back and we'll explore the world."

"But the medlar comfits! Where will we find more?"

"I prefer chocolate," shrugged the donkey, "without crunchy bits. Are you hopping on?"

15 March 2007

Do English-as-a-second-language writers (and speakers) have more fun?

I'm asking this question quite seriously, because —

1. I am coming to the conclusion that English is a feast made best today by people whose first language is not English. By 'feast', I am not referring to puddings enriched with words and expressions from other languages. Hobson-Jobson and the like, though deliciously rich, are just desserts.

2. I have come to the conclusion that many people who use English-as-a-first-(and possibly only) language professionally have less interest in communicating than they do in using language as a marker, like a cat's pee. They might be so highly educated that they write and speak in two languages — the one that uses words to signify a level of education that takes English beyond meaning; and a level of language that has so few words that it is not language as much as social grunting, sometimes in friendship, often not. "Yeah duh spence, god sum guys are just so thick!" was the total text of an anonymous comment left on this blog the other day. To really express yourself in modern English as spoke by natives, you need emoticons, because English like, is boring and it suks when you wanna say stuff. Avoid misconceptions in emails with emoticons, and have some fun, too, instructs email. com.

English can be full of fun. The more well-read one* is, the more fun can be had — and in a literate society, that fun doesn't need to be competitive. I don't mean that one needs to quote Shakespeare, though quoting Shakespeare is popular amongst a surprising number of hack journalists in the non-Anglo world (who tend to quote so many of the writers we Anglos were supposed to have read that one wonders if they actually read them).
(* Never use 'one' in this context if you want to pretend that English [or Texan] is your mother tongue)

Going by a Greek proverb, a beard signifies lice, not brains. On the contrary, William Shakespeare made Beatrice assert in Much Ado About Nothing that he who has a beard is more than a youth and he who has no beard is less than a man.
- Amlan Chakraborty, Of beards, goatees & stubbles, Sports Tribune, Chandigarh, India

Bachi Karkaria (another Indian journalist) has so much fun with English that I am a Karkaria addict, and not just for the fun of it. She writes a regular column for the Times of India, where she is a senior editor. Here's a typical column by her that is in the archives, and her latest: Wimmen vs. Woemen. One of the features of her writing is her use of puns, a game that is rarely played today in English, and certainly not a feature of Western journalism. Is punning popular in Indian languages? I don't know. And what about alliteration?

Alliteration and a fiercely articulate sense of justice come into play in everything that Professor P. Radhakrishnan writes. Although he is an academic, he has ideas, expresses himself clearly, and is not afraid to write forcefully. He would no more wish to be obtuse than to have a gag shoved in his mouth. I recommend his latest book, The Perfidies of Power. The publisher, Ideaindia.com, has made this book and others available by download. The site is well worth browsing.

The daily Ghanaian Chronicle isn't exactly fun and it doesn't alliterate, but it's definitely worth reading. The newspaper must cope with a frustrating infrastructure, so it is often not online, but many of its stories and editorials are reprinted in allAfrica.com (a portal that leads to many writers I would love to cite as reasons for my questions). The Ghanaian Chronicle uses plain English, to communicate — and how! Here's a current editorial that should be reprinted in the International Herald Tribune: The Tomato Farmers' Plight

If I began to talk about fiction, I could never stop, so I will just mention one writer — a Canadian.

Claude Lalumière writes fiction with such a feel for the sound and emotive quality of each word that his stories are more like poetry to my ear, with all the suspense and excitement that used to be the stock of travelling storytellers.

But since this is my blog and I can contradict myself, I'm not stopping there.

Dean Francis Alfar, in the Philippines, writes with a lyricism that has no affectation. His stories are full of pathos without bathos, deeply emotional without a bit of melodrama. He isn't afraid to mix languages and to play with meaning. He is only one of many writers who make me aware of the meaning of words. He chooses. He expresses with a particularity that doesn't pretend that any one language can express all, yet he finds verbal and written language rich enough that he doesn't need emoticons.

I would love to read more by the author of FANaticism, Baskar Dutt. This is
one of my all-time favourite short stories. I am happy that the Indian Science Fiction & Fantasy site still exists, though this short story section looks comatose (perhaps it is only sleeping, in which case, I hope some frog kisses it awake). I once wrote a fan letter to Dutt, c/o the site, but don't know if the letter was ever conveyed.

Vera Nazarian writes sensuous, semi-fairytale novels and short stories that make me want to sit in a deep wing chair reading while eating marzipan; and non-fiction that can be incandescent. Sometimes she burns herself with a passionate essay, but never because she didn't know how to express herself. Her problem then, one that more people should have, is that she expressed herself so well. Her short story "Young Woman in a House of Old" is another of my all-time favourites. Nazarian learned English as her third (or fourth?) language. When we came to America, she writes, I read all the time, and devoured sometimes two books a day, ever since I learned English. Although at first, I didn't even understand the books very well, because my English was still not that great. But because I was so curious to know what happened to the characters in the books, I struggled and read them anyway.

Finally, in this list that grew, is Célestine Hitiura Vaite, the author of Breadfruit, Frangipani, and Tiare, three novels that form a trilogy. Recently, I posted a recommendation on Medlar Comfits to read everything she writes, including what she says about herself on her site — about the Barbie doll and Les Aventures D'Olivier Twist, about families and reading and writing and the way Books do change lives . . . they changed mine . . . My life mission is to blast the literacy rate in French Polynesia to the sky. Her trilogy that she says is "about people who just happen to be from Tahiti" should be an international best seller. I'm pleased that it's already on its way. She wrote these books in English, and her style is pure, storytellingly transparent — perfectly (under)stated and true to the narrative and dialogue, even to giving a feeling for vernacular. She hears and sees people speaking while she's writing, and so does the reader (though happily, we don't have to translate). She's a great observer and has a gift for the throw-away line. She has a mighty, earthy sense of fun and writes from the heart. She wields a mighty pin against pomposity, though is never nasty or a poseur. I'm so happy that she didn't get that Barbie doll — and that she writes in English.

Observing the natives

It's too stomach churning to metaphor English-as-a-first-language as it is used today (and taught) as foodstuff, so please imagine it as a set of chisels. Modern Anglo-only pro's often use three chisels max, as hammers. When that doesn't work, they often get angry — at being misunderstood, and at other people being stupid. Or they don't notice, as they bash away.

News Channel 32, Georgia, USA (a Media General Company, "Serving Northeast Georgia") has a constant online presence, a news team they're so proud of that they display their News Team bios, and much to say about communication.

Here are some current clips from Channel 32's 'Top Stories' :
(Note: I've removed paragraph spacing.)

Every half hour the children hear a different story from a different character. Etheridge adds, “The whole idea is to encourage children to read and open whole world of what reading is to them.” Studies show reading aloud to kids increases their vocabulary and demonstrates fluency. Not to mention, reading is a lot more fun when everyone is dressed up. It seems to be working. John Isaac says, “I learned words and other stuff.”
- Megan Heidlberg, Children Celebrate Read Across America Week

"Hi Tyesha," yells an excited Katie Townsend. Thursday afternoons are a favorite for Katie and Tyesha Davis. "So how was your week?" asks Katie. It gives the friends a chance to catch up and talk about like. "She's like a best friend to me," says Davis. It's a friendship that developed through the Stephens County Middle School Mentoring Program. Katie is a student at Toccoa Falls College and spends at least one hour a week with 7th grader Tyesha. "I look forward to it every week," gushes Katie. "I'm like I get to mentor Tyesha today." Most of their hour is spent playing cards. But don't get the wrong idea. When the hour is up, they both walk away with so much more. "It doesn't matter what their hands are doing," says Mentor Coordinator Beth Gangel. "Their hearts are connecting."
- Megan Heidlberg, Mentors Make a Difference

Stephens County High School senior Benjamin Moore is getting the star treatment. It's not everyday you get a reception after school with your teachers and administrators. It's also not every day you're recognized for years of hard work. But on Thursday that's just what happened . . . But Thursday wasn't just about Benjamin. He's sharing the spot light with his AP Biology teacher Ken Camp . . . Mr. Camp has always supported Benjamin by writing letters of reccomendations for varioius scholarships for Ben . . . The STAR Program is in it's 49th year . . . Later this month all will meet for a state wide reception.
- Megan Heidlberg, STAR Student and Teacher Honored

Heidlberg often writes about education and literacy. Here's another of her current headlines:

Teacher's of the Year Honored at Luncheon

She (and News Channel 32) first came to my attention in 2005, with her story about reading and communication in which Heidlberg wrote:
"Communicating is much more than just speaking," Webster.

Heidlberg's stories are written in the what must be the house style for News Channel 32. Here are more clips from their current Top Stories, all written by another 'Anchor/Reporter', Scott Myrick.

Jean Armstrong and her husband own "The Basket Peddler" cafe in downtown Cornelia. They setup shop here three years ago --because-- of the downtown area.

Last month, the program mailed out 721 books. But as more people join, the more expensive it is to keep the program running. It costs $2000 a month now. "We have been able to keep up, but as it grows so does the amount per month," says Lisa Prickett of the Stephens Education Literacy Foundation. So for kids like Tori to keep getting new books each month, more people need to step-up to help soon.

A Towns County Bank has been robbed for the second time nine days. Thursday morning two masked gunmen got away with an undisclosed amount of money from the Bank of Hiawassee in Young Harris. This makes the third bank robbery in the county in two months. The people who live there say this isn't a good representation of their quiet mountain town.

More from Myrick — three sentences from a 346-word story, Hall County Firefighters Burn Barns:

This is the day that brings-out what they're really made of.

Days like this make sure he's ready for whatever the job throws at him.

Twenty-eight recruits are training to join the hall county fire department now.

Every day in every way, the News Channel 32 news team is consistent, so I haven't been particular in cropping, though for space reasons, I've chosen to quote only two of their star reporters.

News Channel 32: Top Stories

No country left behind

"The youngsters in Asia work harder, outnumber us, and have an educational system that prepares them better."
- Holden Thorp (chairman of the chemistry department at UNC-Chapel Hill, dean of its College of Arts and Sciences) Hang on to arts education, The Fayetteville Observer

The misuse of language and wording is the saddest thing there is - the deterioration of the language via 'SMS' texting and, just generally, the way kids today speak and write is heart-wrenching - and me with 3 kids, all of whom don't give a damn! - email to me from a friend in Australia

"In the Ministry of Truth, Winston Smith's colleague boasts about how Newspeak, the language invented by the party to eliminate the possibility of rebellious thought, is the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller each year. Next to the vocabulary of the average teenage girl, it already reads like Shakespearean verse."
- Luke Escombe,
Passing Orwell's deadline won't avert grim days ahead, Heckler, The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 March 2007

"Launching the books, Undersecretary for Formal Education in the Ministry of Education, Alfred Ilukena, said language was the most important tool for thinking, a means of communication and one of the most important aspects of identity."
- Mother Tongue Project Distributes Thousands of Books by Wezi Tjaronda, New Era (government newspaper), Namibia

A high level of communication in one's language is a prerequisite in a knowledge-based society.
- Alfred Ilukena

"For now, people without an access to computer are called illiterate but not those who don’t read and write."
- Saleh Bassurah, How to reform education? Yemen Times

"Keep you (sic) English up to date" with the BBC's Learning English site.
Today the word is 'wuss'.

The tiger and the mice

There was a tiger (with a noisy stomach) who ate mice.

Oh, it was very easy to eat the mice, because they lived in a box, and the tiger just plucked out a mouse whenever it suited him, and ate. He always had, and that was the way of things.

One day, one of the mice got away and was not eaten. Not only that, but the mouse lived to have babies.

The mice in the box looked at the mouse living on the outside, not eaten.

The mice in the box listened to the sounds of the tiger's stomach, and said it was music he played for them. How nice of him! they said. Its stirring notes put the mice in the box into all kinds of moods, and led many of them to a state of righteous anger at the unheard-of audacity of the mouse who got away. How dare she? She'd been born to listen to the tiger. She'd been born to be tiger food — and her babies, to be food of his babies. That is the way it always was.

And some mice watched the mouse on the outside, who thought more of the stomachs of her babies than the stomach of the tiger — and were quiet.

11 March 2007

A resiliency of leeches, and lovely luscious fruit

NOTE: Leeches are NOT fruits. They are animals, usually bloodsucking parasites described more accurately as: "segmented worms in the Subclass Hirudinea that are usually ectoparasitic".

They are "little bloody marvels", but they are not fruits. I'm saying this because many people are landing here because they searched for "leeches fruit". If that is your search, too, these fruits are what you're looking for:

My original post here is not about them, so I've now made a special page for you, about this delicious and maddeningly spelled fruit:
Or divert yourself first below with a foray into people-juice gourmets, and another juicy gorgeous fruit, that we don't eat.

I am happy to report that yesterday in the forest, a healthy leech was seen galloping up my thigh. It's been so dry that the rebound of leeches should fill us with admiration for their stiff-upper-lipness during years of drought. They just stoicise away under the ground without a whinge or a subsidisation. Leeches don't get the admiration they deserve. I would happily wax on about other qualities of these rather expressionless creatures, but you might be more interested in fruit.

Some trees have produced a huge crop of fruits despite this having been a summer of unusually severe drought, after many years of 'normal' drought. This is a picture taken a couple of weeks ago —

This luscious fruit is actually the covered seed of the fruit of the 'cheese tree' (Glochidion ferdinandi), a fast-growing Australian native smallish bushy tree.

The cheeses are a great favourite of king parrots (who, every summer, crack the cheeses open to extract the seeds when the seeds are still immature) and other frugivorous birds like the brown cuckoo doves (who swallow the immature cheeses whole).

The fruits mature in late summer here in southern New South Wales; and as you can see, not only birds enjoy them.

10 March 2007

So really. What IS science? Mere miracles?

PZ Myers, recently challenged to answer the question What is science?, wrote several definitions. This is the one that I think sums up science best.

#3: Science is a process. It is a method for exploring the natural world by making observations, drawing inferences, and testing those inferences with further experimentation and observation. It isn't so much the data generated as it is a way of thinking critically about the universe and our own interpretations of it.
Yet, in the same century, same language, this is being said:
Finally, notice that professor Dawkins and his fellow evolutionists offer no proof at all for any of their speculations, for the simple reason that there is no way to prove them. One might as plausibly speculate that the sun was originally blue when the earth was formed; no one can disprove it. Because they are “scientists,” we are required to take their word for it. - Thomas E. Brewton, Rational Evolutionary Hypothesis? Intellectual Conservative

What a neatly convoluted argument. Does the author know that no scientist worth the term 'scientist' would say the sun was originally blue unless there was an observation made, and then a process followed that led to that postulation? Or does the author work on the assumption that people think that scientists are declaratorians — clerics in white coats? And is there a good reason for the author to assume this?

Science, good science, despite the way it's often portrayed as 'ask the experts' and can come across as smug, never purports to know definitively; never has the assurance that nevadamistermom, one of the comment-posters displays in agreement with Brewton's essay: "I have yet to find questions that creationists cannot answer."

Nevadamistermom says: The problem boils down to this: evolutionists simply can’t get past the fundamental premise made by creationists; namely, that there is an uncreated Being who designed everything. However, once you accept this premise, the evidence for a Designer rather than random mutation is really quite overwhelming. All the observable data “fits” the creationist model much better than the evolutionist model.

There's certainly been a lot of evolution in answer-creation since I was in the US back in 1995, when I was invited to speak about Australia at an elementary school. I showed slides of the bush — kangaroo tracks, old-man banksias — and a beach with a rockshelf thick with fossils. "These lived back in the time of the dinosaurs," I said to the class of six-year olds. After that class and before the next, I was pulled aside by the principal. "Everybody loved your talk," she said, "but please don't talk about dinosaurs."

Since that question has now been settled so well that it got a letter in Nature, I will skip to other questions—questions that science has failed to answer.

1.Did God put reproductive organs and nipples on man because He has them, too?

2. What does He do with His?

3. If God made Adam like a Ken doll, and then added these items, did He fashion them during the operation in which He took Adam's rib? This would be efficient, so it seems the most intelligent time.

4. Why, despite the Book of Genesis, have scientists gotten away with the propaganda for hundreds of years, that men and women have the same number of ribs?

I look forward to the answers, but in the meantime, I'll stick my neck out and say what I think is so confusing, and wrong, with science today: too often, science is told in the language of religion.

David Sinclair believes resveratrol is a miracle drug.

That is the first line of a recent 'news' story. (A votre santé: now in pill form? by Erika Check, Nature news, 2 November 2006)

Later we read, if we bother, that he doesn't have enough evidence to show that it works in humans, but that after a series of experiments, he and his team were able to show a finding that . . .

News stories are usually written without the explanation. The miracle is the message, and if it's not the cure, there's the inevitable let-down, and more confusion as to what is science, what is mumbo-jumbo, or Lourdes-based cure.

Sense About Science has garnered quite a bit of coverage, and its motives could be pure, but if so, I don't understand why the organisation doesn't put its 'answers' online, and why it isn't more transparent. SAS fosters more of the illusion amongst the public that science is answer-based and not a continual process of questions that are tentatively answered, only to have those answers over-ridden by what often seem to be downright fiendish 'surprises'. In topics such as xenotransplantation, for instance, scientists are quite split amongst those who say that the science (and evolution itself) is ignored when it comes to zoonoses, and those who some might say are dazzled by possibilities in the short term (the Sense About scientists?) but call themselves pragmatists and the others junk-science fear-mongers. They say that science is above all, a constant weighing of possibilities: risks against benefits—and that they have assessed the risks with 'real science'. Scientists were not on one side only when it came to BSE-CJD, but the early public assurances in the name of science were as all-knowingly faith-based as Nevadamistermom's, in her little old book.

Today, more than any time in our history, the public needs to know not only what science is, but what scientists are capable of. Today, as scientists can do more in and to the natural world than anything humans have done before, we need to assess cause and effect. We need to fully discuss implications, but to do that, we need to be able to have a broader knowledge of not only what is possible in the life sciences, but what the magic and miracles of life and the natural world are. Otherwise, xenotransplantation and work on retroviruses are just more black boxes, or stories that are written about in the media only in terms that religious 'ethicists' pick, or 'trust me. I'm a scientist (but don't ask questions)', or even worse: the ugh or cool labels that 'breakthroughs' and 'research' wear when they appear as 'news'.

We are capable of change beyond what we can change, though we act as if the world is infinitely conquerable. We've got a 19th century mentality still, even down to using up the 'miracle' of antibiotics within a generation and playing now with viruses as if they and not we, have the brains. Wherever there is a chance to do exciting work, there is an arrogance, especially when it comes to the natural world. Many scientists have called for a measured approach to discovery when there is danger on a species scale. We have so many evolution-given gifts. I hope that we as humans, progress to the stage of using them, though the evidence at the moment shows that so far . . . Its solution: lab workers “will be trained to stop breathing”.

Uncertain Science . . . Uncertain World by Henry N. Pollack (Cambridge University Press, 2003) is an excellent book for explaining science — the full contradictory world of science, all its tensions in expectations and perceptions. Above all, it stresses the core of science, the excitement of the unknown, the excitement of the search, the lack of any point as end, and the lack of any reason to want to reach that point. I recommend the whole book, but will quote just a little here.

When scientists acknowledge that they do not know everything about a complex natural phenomenon such as the spread of disease through an ecosystem, the public sometimes translates that to mean that scientists do not know anything about the subject. That, in turn, leads to a loss of public credibility in the capabilities of the scientific community. A byproduct of the loss of credibility is an all-too-frequent willingness of the general public to entertain flimsy pronouncements from kooks, charlatans, and marginal skeptics. With an air of scientific authority and certainty, these pseudo-scientists make assertions that have never been subjected to the rigorous probing that is the foundation of genuine science . . .

The problems with understanding science begin very early, with some inadequacies in the educational system. In a very important sense, children are born as natural scientists. They emerge into a strange world and are curious about everything surrounding them. They look, they touch, they listen, smell and taste. They make observations of this new world, and they process and evaluate the stream of information coming at them from every direction. They explore, experiment, and learn from their mistakes. Then they go to school . . . science in school is, more often than not, presented as a recitation of accomplishment rather than as a process of inquiry.

So science is confusing. Students are taught science as catechism, and its achievements are explained to the public, even to scientists, in religious terms — miracles, magic, black box.

No wonder then, that there's confusion explaining the world of the unexplained arcane. The funny thing, though, is that while 'science news' is miracles, the most common 'science' that people come upon is in consumer packaging, from sweet and soft drink labels to cosmetics.

And there, in ageing especially, people have learnt that miracles don't happen.

Exclusive innovation:
The skin's cells are naturally receptive to
β-Endorphins, molecules that boost the skin's "well-being". L'Oreál Paris has demonstrated that β-Endorphins play a role in the skin's natural hydration*.
With HAPPYDERM, the L'Oreál Laboratories have succeeded in creating Phyto-DorphinsTM. Derived from plant extracts, these Phyto-DorphinsTM emulate
β-Endorphins by improving skin's hydration.
*Tested in vitro

07 March 2007

Bookbinding and discussions that go everywhere on Making Light

'Absolutely' is such an over-used word, except in the case of Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden's Making Light, which is absolutely the best site on the web for discussions.

Read Patrick's post, All Knowledge is Contained, which leads straight as a knife chewed by a blender—to
Abi Sutherland's
fascinating 5-part history of bookbinding,
contributed as a


See her own beautiful hand bookbinding.

This gives me the opportunity to recommend Steven Roger Fischer's series:

The History of Language

The History of Reading

The History of Writing

published by Reaktion Books.

How to play the cows

Claude Lalumière first published this piece of mine back in 2004, in his online magazine, Lost Pages.

I've vanity-pressed it into service here because of these words that I just read by Cecily Maller: Never, in our entire history, have we spent so little time in physical contact with the natural world. - "Back to Nature", Nature Australia, The Australian Museum, Winter 2005

Prelude: Just as a five-year-old boy can't play the tuba, you first need to fit your instrument to your size. I use Murray Greys, as they come up to the required part of my anatomy: mid-chest. Next, just as every Stradivarius has a name, your instrument needs a name, too. An eartagged G34 will give you as successful a concert as a cobra puckering up to a flute. Now for proper concert attire. In winter, old flannel shirt and old jeans. Gumboots a must. In summer, if you are just jamming with no one else around, there is nothing to beat naked with gumboots. The reason you need proper attire is that your instrument is not incontinent, but she doesn't see any sense in intermission.

No need to know any more fancy musical terms; it's as easy as clapping your hands to play. Anyone can, that is, if you love your instrument.

For that is a requirement, too. While a violin in the hands of a put-upon ten-year-old boy will suffer in bondage, unloved instruments of the cow type will just walk away.

So all is set. Let's make music! Every concert should begin with a bow, so we will bow first. You walk up to the head of the cow and bow from your waist, putting your nose out close to hers. She will put her rubbery nose to yours, or if you are really lucky, to your lips. The finest instrument I've ever known once stuck her tongue briefly into my startled mouth. That day we made music!

Now, walk to your place, at her rear. Stand back a few steps first and examine the instrument. Every time you play she will look, and sound, different. If you compare her right side to her left, you will see that invariably, one side is swelled out like a high balloon, and the other side, a lower-slung balloon. You can think of her as stuffed with four enormous bagpipes, each at different levels of inflation and deflation, as digestion moves the contents around in her four stomachs to finally produce the reason you need old clothes and gumboots.

It is these differences in stomach size that give you the range of notes that are available to you at each performance. She is, in her hollows and swellings, under the tent of her skin-covered bones, a marvelous collection of timbres.

Every cow sounds different, just as every violin. But a well-loved cow is never out of tune.

Your stance is set . . . hands in position, poised out a ways from each flank? Play! Give her a gentle slap on the right, down a handspan from her spine. Then on the left. Then move your hands around, slapping out first a gentle rhythm, slow and exploratory. She likes your voice to accompany the slaps, so sing away. Push your chest up against her tail and feel how her body vibrates. Close your eyes, and you are away.

Take any type of music you like that is rhythmic. She hates John Cage, or any music that needs to get a government grant to be enjoyed. For cows have romantically soppy taste. A cow's house would probably be decorated with velvet paintings of calves with dolorous eyes. But if you warm to passionate music, you've got your instrument. Not that she likes sad music, or all romance. On a sunny day when dandelions make yellow galaxies in the paddocks, she enjoys a rousing John Philip Souza march as much as the Marines.

And when you and your instrument are really in synch, on the finest of fine days, you will find yourselves accompanied if you are lucky, by birds. For me, the notes of a currawong magpie adding its bell-like voice one afternoon, to a Spanish/North African stew of rhythms . . . well, there is no finer feeling of oneness with the world.

So you've played yourself to blissland. Now is the time to pay.

You are in the right position, there at the tail, but now step back so that you are not touching her body with yours anywhere, except with your hands. Spread your legs and note where her back feet are, and yours. And now, singing gentle melodies--a slow waltz is lovely, but homemade lullabies are her favorite--stroke her along the sides of her spine from the middle of her back to her tail, in long, sinuous passes.

She will immediately sway her back to the music, side to side, back and forth, and (mind your feet!) her feet will follow her sway. Never take your fingers from her body. Never stop stroking. Working your way down, concentrate now towards her tail till you are stroking the top of the tail itself. It will raise itself and will probably move itself to one side. Now is the critical time. Watch your feet and hers. For this is when you discover the depths of passion in your instrument.

See her head, low to the ground, wagging from side to side? If you can see her eyes, you will note that they are rolled up into her head. Her legs are wobbly and she often steps back toward your embrace, not quite being in control of her movements. Remember that old perfume ad where the woman has swooned into the arms of the handsome pianist? That is exactly what has happened with your cow. She is transported. She is, in short, having the best time of her life, and you are giving her satisfaction that no bull ever could.

Stop reading now if you don't want to know the obvious, or if you dare I will tell you what happens if she doesn't become downright dangerous as she loses bodily control. She orgasms. You have paid.

She will with delight, be ready any day you want, for the next concert. In fact, if she isn't busy having to support those stomachs, she will be with her friends, queued up and waiting for her turn to play and be paid.

And why she has this passionate capacity, this C-spot that is as used by her in nature as an appendix is to us, is a mystery that I ponder. But as for the thoughts of Lily, Buckwheat, Wild Thing, and Pansy, compare any cow chewing cud, her long-lashed bedroom eyes half-closed in introspection, to a person slumped watching TV. Whatever Pansy and her sisters are thinking, there's no doubt about it. They think and chew at the same time. And if you've played and paid for concerts with them, and you enter their field only to walk on by, only the assumptive unobservant could pooh-pooh cows pondering, too.

06 March 2007

Make your eyes and brain happy at the 18th Circus of the Spineless

Sneaky worms, perverse ants, poetry- (and murder-) inducing crickets, cnidarian representatives, and of course, spineless sex! And that's just some of the acts. PZ Myers of the marvellous Pharyngula has whipped together a great assortment of crunchy, squishy, slimy, tentacled, multi-legged, no-legged creatures this month for your edifibogglifithrillifimullification.

Swim, slither, or click over to:
Circus of the Spineless #18

05 March 2007

Interfictions - the excitement of finding the broken in the spaces between

Read what the editors, Delia Sherman and Theodora Goss, have to say about this misfit.

Their discussion reminds me of some words in a paragraph that I wish would appear guerilla-like in notebooks, in the middle of stories, dreams . . .

I read the paragraph after enjoying a book so much, I decided to read its introduction. The author is someone who writes what I think is some of the world's most pretentious drivel; but as an editor and introduction writer, is as impossibly wonderful as a working magic wand. And though she speaks of English literature here, what she says has universal relevance, especially since the teaching of writing fiction has turned into a pandemic.
"I found, reading in bulk, that I was developing a dislike for both the 'well-made tale' and the fleeting 'impression'. Manuals on how to write short stories, and much criticism, stress unity of form, stress that only one thing should happen, that an episode or incident should be developed or an emotion caught, with no space for digression, or change of direction or tone. Much of the competent, and more than competent, work . . . has an ultimate stiffness—it is diligent, it is wrought, it is atmospheric, but it can be mildly admired and taken or left. Many of the stories in this collection break all the rules of unity of tone and narrative. They appear to be one kind of story and mutate into another. They make unexpected twists and then twist again. They pack together comedy and tragedy, farce and delicacy, elegance and the grotesque. The workmanlike English story is bland, and the great English story is remarkable for its lack of blandness. The workmanlike English story is even-toned and neatly constructed. The great English story is shocking—even the sparest and driest—and hard to categorize."
- A.S. Byatt, The Oxford Book of English Short Stories, Oxford Press, 1998
Interfictions: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing
Published by Small Beer Press
Heinz Insu Fenkl, Introduction
Karen Jordan Allen, “Alternate Anxieties”
Christopher Barzak, “What We Know About the Lost Families of – House”
K. Tempest Bradford, “Black Feather”
Matthew Cheney, “A Map of the Everywhere”
Michael DeLuca, “The Utter Proximity of God”
Adrián Ferrero, “When It Rains, You’d Better Get Out of Ulga” (translated from Spanish)
Colin Greenland, “Timothy”
Csilla Kleinheincz, “A Drop of Raspberry” (translated from Hungarian)
Holly Phillips, “Queen of the Butterfly Kingdom”
Rachel Pollack, “Burning Beard – The Dreams and Visions of Joseph Ben Jacob, Lord Viceroy of Egypt”
Joy Marchand, “Pallas at Noon”
Anna Tambour, “The Shoe in SHOES’ Window”
Veronica Schanoes, “Rats”
Léa Silhol, “Emblemata” (translated from French)
Jon Singer, “Willow Pattern”
Vandana Singh, “Hunger”
Mikal Trimm, “Climbing Redemption Mountain”
Catherynne Valente, “A Dirge for Prester John”
Leslie What, “Post hoc”
Delia Sherman and Theodora Goss, “Afterword: The Space Between

04 March 2007

Can you crack the Mystery of the Curious Case?

It is a case of . . .


"Should we hand out a prize for solving the Riddle of the Case?" asked the goanna.

"Yes yes!" cheered the male spider, always keen on a prize.

"For everyone who sends an answer?"

"Yes yes!" cheered the male spider, always keen on a prize.

"Of course not," said someone else.

"Of course not!" agreed the male spider, always keen on a prize. "Of course not, dear."

"It's not a riddle. Riddles are . . ." said the wombat, climbing down from a high log. "And why is this in past-tense?" he added as he walked away.
"Do you
talk in past-tense?" everyone heard but pretended they didn't.

Here, I am happy to say: female spiders don't rule any more than people with common sense, tiresomely superior wombats, or spiders who are too awfully keen on a prize.

Prizes will be given to: not just anyone who writes in, but some.

Prizes will be handed out for:
Nothing dull in between
(adding up to a maximum of 3)

What are the prizes?
"A box of medlar comfits!" the rainbow lorikeets shriek. "Let us lick them first!"

"Keep your brush-tongues off the comfits," a kookaburra brays — easy for him, as he doesn't crave sugar. He flies down from his branch to snatch a lizard stalking a praying mantis eyeing a peanut-butter tasting . . .

"Recognition should be enough," says the wombat, and climbs up on a log.

What are the prizes?
Some busy, loyal insects in my household tell me to award copies of my books. "That's like giving a spider a silk scarf!" say the bones who lay (some would say lie but I cannot tell as lie) about all over my house — bones I care for, though I should grind them up and throw them to out to the cruel and frivolous winds; and instead, collect dried hearts.

I have, nevertheless taken the honest bones' advice. If you are one of the lucky winners, Cracking the Mystery of the Curious Case, you will receive your very own obituary, written, painstakingly, and with meticulous disregard for accuracy, just for you!

03 March 2007

Petticoats and octopus, or A secret about Anna Tambour and Others

I'm going to share a secret with you. Practically the only people who drop in to my other site, Anna Tambour and Others, are tourists exploring the wilds away from Susan MacDonald's fascinating Petticoat Discipline Quarterly. I once wrote to Susan expressing my heels-over-head, had-to-unlace-my-stays appreciation of her essay, Petticoat Punishment in James Joyce's 'Ulysses'

Furthermore, I invited her to write an essay just for my Virtuous Medlar Circle in the AT&O site, and she complied with a promptitude I expected.

Her Dreamscapes of Edward D. Wood Jr. is the most popular feature I have ever run despite or because of it being a paeon to the man known as the worst film director in history. And I have so many tasteful features, too! This minds me of the two famous foreign correspondents whose memoirs I read back to back a few months ago. Each had written a single column about his dog. That column was the single most popular essay he had ever written—and garners, still the most mail for each — despite each correspondent covering, brouha after brouha, some of the most important brouhahas in modern times. I think that the world would be a better place if we had more to do with other species than often, our own, so I am not disparaging their readers' tastes. But I wonder if these dog-paeons would be trumped by other essays by these two respected commentators, had they possessed Miss MacDonald's extraordinary talent and bent of mind.

But back to Anna Tambour and Others. Susan (as I can call her, but don't you dare!) listed the site in PPQ's links list, and obediently, enthusiasts come expectantly 24/7/365-to-eternity-if-she-recommends, only to leave as fast as an Iowan tourist would, from a restaurant with golden arches that serves live octopus.

So I'm declaring here: I don't have any helpful discipline tips nor a catalogue of flannels.

But I do display many other Irresistibles, and I have disciplined myself to update the collection monthly for many (too many?) months.

This month's features in the Virtuous Medlar Circle:

Illegitimate Sovereignty by Wallace W. Storbakken, who is a member of the Chippewa tribe, state of Minnesota, USA

by A.C.E. Bauer, another in her monthly series of columns

"Garlic and Honey" a story from Tales of Nasr-ed-din Khoja translated from the Turkish text by Henry D. Barnham, 1923 (another in my series of classics to enjoy rather than think you should have read)

Every month there are new features, such as this recent, utter hoot by Spencer Pate:
The Multidimensional Topology of Department Stores

And every month, there are always fresh piles of Quotations and Irresistibles at www.annatambour.net, where you might possibly find something to your taste.

02 March 2007

Steve Aylett, biographer in the tradition of Swift and Saki

Congratulations, Steve Aylett, who has just earned a review for Lint that I would kill for.

Jessica Hope, writing in 3AM Magazine, says: By no means is this book overly high brow for your average reader — a relief for those of us without Masters, and a great help to those legions of mass market publicists pushing Cadbury, Coke and Aylett to the masses.

Furthermore, Hope writes: Magically and bizarrely, Aylett succeeds in telling it how it is, littering the text with tangents and placing Lint on a plateau of self importance but with absolutely no analytical judgement of the man in question. Bravo! The vast horde of average readers hates authors who shove themselves into the books they write, be those books fiction or nonfiction.

As for the work of reading a biography, Hope gives hope to readers who are bored bored bored by books larded with sharp opinions that zzzzzz into our skulls, with as much sense of humour as a lobotomising drill. Reassuringly, she writes: The life and times of Lint are communicated, in a round about sort of way, and the book is educational and, in parts, mildly funny. A few colourful images of front covers offer light relief.

As for her other comments, I don't necessarily agree, though I think that the comments are tangential to the review itself. She thinks Aylett is too close to Jeff Lint to be objective; and she displays some rather academic hissiness with her comment: And in order to read this biography, you have to be in a club. Sorry, I mean in ‘THE’ club. This is a criticism only to be expected has a Masters degree in Religion and Political Life, states her bio. Anyone who spends years immersed in and studying clubs can end up seeing the whole world as a pack of clubs, most of which one doesn't belong to.

So hail Aylett! After many years with insufficient recognition, he should be as thrilled with this review as another king was when he finally got butter for his bread. I would suggest that he invite Hope to be his guest at a State dinner in Smaragdine. Jeff VanderMeer might be persuaded to take a break from his Dispatches from Smaragdine, to be Hope's escort for the evening.

And while she's in Smaragdine, if the travel bug bites her, perhaps Hope might review the travel guides from Jetlag Travel.

However, I must admit that I would have liked the review to compare Aylett to other authors who have tended to stay in the background of what they tell. I have always thought of Aylett as a biographer in the grand tradition of those other biographers: Swift, Gogol, Carroll, Desani, Wodehouse, Myles na Gopaleen; and my great favourite, Saki, about whom Christopher Morley wrote:

Saki writes so lightly that you might hardly notice how beautifully also. And here and there, beneath so much enchanting play upon words, you will be startled and embarrassed by play upon hearts. Let me repeat what I once put into the mouth of the 'Old Mandarin' in a pseudo-Chinese translation:

He has the claw of the demon-cat,
Beneath his brilliant robe.
Suavest comedian, silkiest satirist,
Smooth as a shave
With a new razor-blade.

LINT, appropriately being reissued by Snowbooks.