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Of Carnivore Slugs and Other Monsters 


Sunday, April 30, 2006

Two Christmases ago, my best friend Pugshot gave me the Sci-Fi/Horror B-Movie game, Grave Robbers from Outer Space.



We played up a storm, attracted by the cheesy dialogue, monster-distracting cleavage, bloodsucking fiends, blobs, carnivore slugs, killer toys and subterranean cannibals. I've recruited Matt into my

The next best thing to actually daydreaming up your own schlock horror pic might be playing this game. Just to start, you've got to come up with a title. You pick the six top cards from the deck, then cobble together a suitable title from the suggested words, adding the necessary thes and ofs.

In the last few hours, Matt and I have come up with:
  1. Unchained Coed Girlfriend of the Unholy Damned Terror
  2. Killer Hell Brain of the Demonic Sorority House
  3. The Three-Headed Alien Vampire from Beyond
  4. Lair of the Maniac Virgin Brides


Psst, Want a Million Film Canisters? 


Thursday, April 27, 2006

My job allows me to explore all sorts of crafty things and I have a strict budget which makes it all the more challenging and fun. I get to spend lots of time going through artsy books and browsing through dollar stores for materials. My favourite crafts, though, are recycled, with minimal new materials.

Last week, for Earth Day, I taught the kiddies how to weave coasters out of plastic bags - ideally they will go home and put together wall-to-wall carpeting. I also taught the kids to make hipster PDAs. The PDAs were one part recycled paper (remember to use both sides), one part new binder rings and one part playing cards from a casino (where they can only use cards once). The kids loved that best, except for the huge model of pollution invading our watersheds.

One site I have ogled often is Arvind Gupta's Toys from Trash. And the focus of my adoration is the Touching Slate, or the Slate for the Blind. It's a DIY Etch-a-Sketch!

Yesterday, at a dollar store, I tested out yarn on my velcro shoe buckles. Yes, the yarn stuck. I've been on reconnaissance missions for cheap velcro and erasers. A fellow Freecycler offered me some velcro, too. Old pen bodies should be easy to find; make a friend clean out their desk and there should be a dozen there for me to use. The cycle spoke? A twisted paperclip ought to do.

The funnest part was the film canisters. The first supermarket I visited was already saving their film canisters for another collector. Foiled! My second supermarket had 66 film canisters for me. I told them it was for a museum and the girl at the counter got excited about it. "If you make any more film canister crafts, please come back for more - we've got plenty for you!"

Touching Slate

Photo courtesy Arvind Gupta*

Now that I've got a cornucopia of film canisters, I will now be even more obsessed with tracking down bagpipe-maker Francis Wood, who makes disposable Northumbrian pipes out of plastic straws, plastic bags and 35mm film canisters." His friend, Paul Rhodes, says, "They sound surprisingly good."

About a month ago, I spent a couple of hours plugging different combinations of Francis Wood, bagpipes, film canister and Northumbrian pipes into Google, with nothing to show for my labour except pretend bagpipes and film canister maracas.

If anyone has bagpipe-making experience, you must know the secret behind film canister-drinking straw-plastic bag Northumbrian bagpipes. Please share your knowledge for the good of humanity.

Now if only I can find a kid-worthy use for 60 empty cd cases.

*I emailed him and he's a really nice guy. He says he wants teachers everywhere to share in these resources.


Fun with Calendars 


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Some of my favourite toys have always been calendars.

A staple at work, Microsoft Outlook's calendar is useful in that specific setting, where I use it more heavily for meetings, deadlines, appointments and all that. In my own time, where my dayplanner plays the roles of checklist, phonebook, calendar and notepad, I need only scribble down everything. All fun in their own way.

Once 30 Boxes arrived on the scene, however, I found something I was missing.

Everyone knows someone with a convoluted schedule, if it's Monday, they're in Paris, that kind of thing. My sister, who juggles three jobs, is one of those people. Me, with only one job but no two days the same, am another. My pal Mr. Pho Bich Nga works for a place with frequent shift changes. Other friends are between jobs, yet when I call them to hang out on a Monday afternoon while the rest of the sluggers are handcuffed to their cubicles, turns out they've found a job. 30 Boxes cures these messes.

Sharing 30 Boxes means comparing and contrasting everyone's schedules, as if your friends jotted their events all over your calendar. The last two months have been fun, 30 Boxes, thanks for all the laughs.

Now that Google's beta calendar is on the scene, I've switched. Not without resistance from MaikoPunk, who's grown attached to 30 Boxes. "I don't want to remember another password" is the usual protest.

What can I do to sell the Google calendar? It's one-click away from my Gmail account? How selfish. You can add and hide alternate calendars with one-click? That's more convenient than 30 Boxes. It's super colourful? Yes, that makes it more readable.

Then again, 30 Boxes has a few perks: you can read your friends' profiles, you get updates on their blog posts and links to their Flickr uploads.

Along on the scene comes iCalShare. With 2708 calendars, I've added Romanian holidays and artists' birthdays to my calendar, making every day potentially very special: "Sorry, boss, today is Odilon Redon's birthday and my religion very clearly states that on the birthday of any Symbolist artist I must fill my cubicle with puffed wheat."

(I was disappointed that the Shipwrecks of New England calendar didn't work, but life is full of bitter disappointments.)

The best thing of all about iCalShare is that you can make your own calendars and share them with the world!

When I lived in Japan, I published a monthly column on dates, covereing things like Heart and Stroke Month and Black History Month to Talk Like a Pirate Day. If I can locate my old files, I may yet have that calendar of weirdness.

And remember the French Revolutionary Calendar? We would have been in the month of Floréal, today would have been Ancolie (Columbine), Christmas would have been Chien (Dog), my favourite day Fumier (Manure) would have fallen on December 28.

Tweaking my French a few years ago (also during my stay in Japan), I translated half the calendar into English (in those days, we didn't have Wikipedia).

Now I can continue the work on my calendars, add it to iCalShare and my life's goals will be one step closer to completion.

Ooooh, first, mole slippers, then yeti lobsters, now this. Life just gets better and better.


Festival Dishes (Part Five) 


Tuesday, April 25, 2006



All Flowers Bring Joy, especially when they are made of salmon, snapper and caviar.

Get Promotion Step by Step contains the ingredient that makes promotions possible: white glue rice flour cake.


Moby Dick Called and He Wants His Poo Back 


Monday, April 24, 2006

$20 a gram sounded pretty good to me; my output is something like 5 kg a day. I scooped up the prize, dumped it into the pool just a way from the heat vent, cordoned it off with a seaweed fence, swished it around a bit as if I were preparing a mess of spaghetti then left it to bake. Ten years later and the fecal mess is ready. Grey amber, floating gold, call it what you will, my DIY ambergris knock-off will put me on par with the sperm whales.
The incriminating evidence is there. Hairy lobsters never learned that anything they put on a blog becomes public information. It was only a matter of time before they got slapped with a lawsuit.

kiwahirsuta

The motive, as I can gather after perusing the blog of the recently discovered yeti crab - or Kiwa Hirsuta - is the desire to be useful. It isn't enough for a lobster to be hairy, albino and musical these days. A lobster needs skills, talents, something marketable.

Remember how in the pig movie, Babe, Fernando the duck took up crowing at the break of dawn in an effort to be an animal with a job? The lobsters were under the same pressure.

Rumour has it that, soon after they were discovered in the 80s, their French discoverers made a meal of the initial victim, Margaret Hirsuta.

Forsaken by their namesake, Polynesian goddess Kiwa¹, patron of crustaceans, the lobsters knew that soon bored Japanese salarymen and nouveau riche Chinese socialites would mark them for the pot. Next thing you know, some curious redneck is going to troll off the American coast for them. Humans became aspects of the all-devouring god of death, Auraka. It was only a matter of time and the lobsters knew they had to act fast.

We knew their PR faction worked overtime on the plush toys. Just like the reversal of the great white shark smear campaign, when tiger and lemon sharks joined forces with some of nature's most reviled carnivores to bombard the toy market with loveable softies that swung public opinion and induced thousands of former beachgoers to return to the shores, the lobsters thought they could convince youngsters to go vegetarian for once and for all.

Perhaps the public had their fill of marine fauna collectables, perhaps the growing pro-vulture movement overshadowed the plight of Kiwa Hirsuta, or perhaps it was simply a case of anti-Darwin forces refusing to bow down to beliefs that fundamentalist pastors evolved from the velvet-clawed deepsea lobsters. Whatever it was, the lobsters never made it onto the endangered or even the threatened species list and millions of gourmands added the creatures to their to-eat checklist.

When the lobsters launched their We Were Just Discovered - We Might Be Pharmaceutically Useful Campaign, the Bush administration declined to negotiate.²

Furthermore, a growing pro-lobster-boiling lobby, concerned about avian flu and bovine spongiform encephalopathy in the most popular protein sources of the day, pressured Washington into signing the Freedom to Eat Whatever We Damn Well Please Even If It's Endangered Amendment. Using the aborigine traditional loophole, this controversial Twenty-Ninth Amendment obscured the so-called One-Man-Multiple-Wife Amendment, pushed through by fringe Mormon groups.

Conspiracy theorists would have us believe that the pro-lobster-boiling lobbyists came from the ranks of the poultry and cattle industries, eager to diversify into safer animal food sources to quell the growing fears of the public as well as to circumvent measures taken to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the US workforce. (The theory goes that, deepsea harvesting around hydrothermal vents in the ocean floor requires fishing crews to work far from shore, in international waters and hence in areas outside of legal jurisdiction. Trawlers supposedly recruit along Mexico's coast, with would-be refugees never setting foot on US soil and thus not threatening the country's fragile security.)

Without any US protection and the knife-sharpening in the East, the lobsters knew their case would fail before the UN body.

The lobster group splintered into factions, with some, like celebrity Johnny Hirsuta, auditioning for the popular off-Broadway all-crustacean musicals. Banking on the popularity of the term "Yeti Crab," Samantha Hirsuta auditioned for and garnered the abominable snowman role in Disneyland's Matterhorn Mountain attraction, the first time a non-bipedal won the coveted position.

The fame of the former and the household recognition of the latter, however, did little to improve the lot of the vast majority of the lobsters.

This is where my department comes in.

The Great White Whale called. Or rather, his lawyer called. Copyright infringement. Moby's team were threatening to sue the lobsters. But they needed absolute proof first.

With all the poo floating around in the world's oceans, no one could be absolutely certain that Moby's caca was the real deal. Some knock-offs in Hong Kong night markets fooled even the best of fecal appraisers.

Ambergris is usually waxy, with a powdery coating. It's white, grey or brown, but if it's black, it's fresh, soft as licorice, probably containing squid ink, and without the musky forest floor smell as perfected in the grey and white varieties. I've tested ambergris in the field with simply a needle, heated with a lighter: the real stuff melts into a black liquid and you can smell the musk in the smoke. With poo, it just gets your hands dirty and it smells like shit.

The sperm whales, threatened with removal from the endangered species list themselves and a failing International Whaling Commission whaling moratorium, concocted the Ambergris Excuse. Case studies of civets marketing their poo, instead of the more painfully extracted musk, as coffee led the sperm whales to approach their predicament from the excrement angle.

The Ambergris Excuse is so-called because, armed with a patent on their process and a copyright on the intellectual property (as sculpture), sperm whale lobbyists countered renewed whale hunts with cries of "But wouldn't you rather have ambergris?"

The nascent American whaling industry, which had hitherto hibernated in New England tourist meccas, switched to perfume manufacturing and, thanks to celebrity fragrances, were able to wrest control of the global industry from the French. Even renegade Icelandic and Norwegian whalers gave up actually killing the whales to instead massage the poo out of their digestive tracts.³

The threat to the multimillion dollar industry from the upstart lobsters proved to be greater than originally imagined.

The whales originally turned a blind eye on the poo ranches; the finished product was of green-black consistency, dissolved in the hand and, worse, smelled like lobster poo.

However, Kiwa Hirsuta lobster researchers put stringent quality controls on their poo. They corralled their excrement in fenced-off units near their hydrothermal vents. They changed their diets to eat squid (with the establishment of a whole sub-industry of giant squid hunting lobsters).

The new and improved poo also benefitted from sperm whale poo harvesting. Whereas sperm whales once pooed wherever they pleased, not giving much thought to where their poo went after defecation, the lobsters soon began sending upmersibles to the surface of the ocean to collect the windfall. Combining lobster poo with sperm whale poo in a secret recipe, the yeti lobsters were able to approximate real ambergris and flooded the New York markets.

Things came to a head when Brittney Spears' new fragrance, Intense Labour, was reported to smell "like caca" after a few hours on the wearer.

Moby Dick, celebrity spokesman for Ahab Manufacturing, the main body of the sperm whale ambergris industry, held a press conference after a week of ambergris backlashes. The source of the rumours was traced to a lot manufactured with questionable ambergris.

A cursory Google search turned up one of the poo ranchers' blogs and, issued with a search warrant, I and two other intellectual property officers made our way to the mid-Atlantic. We were able to trace the address from internet records; presumably the lobsters had been using the old Newfoundland-Ireland telegraph cable of 1857. These yeti lobsters proved that they are small-time crooks, out for a quick buck.

When we got there, the lobsters were gone. We photographed the evidence: thousands of pounds of ambergris, already packaged and ready for transport. Then we confisacted the lot. It will be destroyed.

I figure that the Kiwa Hirsuta got whiff of our coming from an informer. Could have been anyone undersea. You can't really trust the fishes. Maybe a disgruntled mollusc. Human-coral relations have been going downhill for years now. Whoever or whatever it was that tipped off the crustacean bastards, they disappeared without a trace.

Back-up from the CIA went door-to-door, asking the denizens of the deep if they'd seen the lobsters. No one even remembers there ever having been lobsters in their neighbourhood. Until there's a good Homeland Security system underwater, we'll never win in this war against copyright infringement.

___________________________

¹Who probably doesn't exist anyhow.

²An anonymous leak had it that researchers had already plundered enough of global indigenous plantlife to cure all of humanity's ills. They were taking their time in parcelling out the panaceas, according to a schedule decided upon by drug companies and secretly ratified by the president.

³The symbiosis of human whaler and sperm whale was also responsible for the bluegrass hit "Her Baleen Almost Sucked Me In" (a mistranslation of the Norse "The Colonic Irrigation Almost Sucked Me Into Her Asshole," referring, of course, to the clysters used in the industry).


Hammer Time! 


Thursday, April 20, 2006

It surely can't be normal. I've had MC Hammer's U Can't Touch This stuck in my head for two days now.

Worse, it's been forty-eight hours of singing only the refrain to myself, over and over and over and over again. Only occasionally do I remember to stop, shout "Hammer Time!" and do the Chinese typewriter.

It's highly embarrassing at work, downright dangerous when I'm driving and I break out into the song-and-dance routine.

In order to vanquish my demon, I've decided to confront it. Learn the rest of the song.

Turns out the lyrics have a frequent incidence of the word "oh." In fact, early estimates put the occurrence of "oh" at fifty percent. This makes U Can't Touch This on par with such songs as Funkytown.

Easy enough. Now I need the shit catchers to go with the dance.


Guess the Item! 


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Muff in Bowl

Hint: it's not a hamster.


Update on New Look 


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Now that I've given the new look twelve hours, I am finding a few buggy things.

It's not loading properly, with the blog body and the sidebar occasionally too big for their britches. It's because the code I used is based on tables (as a result of me wanting this specific look, full of boxes with rounded corners and not knowing how to do it). Matt offered to help me out again sometime, to improve the site.

The second thing is, it seems as if categories are a big issue with Blogger blogs. More and more I am tempted to switch over to Wordpress. I already have the maktaaq.com name lined up - try it out: www.maktaaq.com. Well, before I leave Blogger, I'll play around with categories still.

The "tortured" font, by the way, is called "Decomposed." It's from Acid Fonts.


New Template 


Monday, April 17, 2006

It's been a long time in the working, especially because I needed to learn all that CSS stuff.

The colour scheme is vaguely Romanian, with the red, yellow and blue, though muted as to not blind. I find the colours slightly depressing and will mull over them. But maybe I'll get used to the new me.

I've also decided to try out the Blogger commenting system; Haloscan erases my comments after a certain number of comments and I've lost all my early comments as a result. Perhaps Blogger will be nicer?

I have disabled Haloscan for now and will look over my comments later to see if there are any that I need to respond to.

My blog links are gone, replaced with a link to my Bloglines account. I haven't added everyone yet to Bloglines; hopefully everyone has an RSS feed.

Not having blogrolls on one's front page is a blogging faux pas; the whole linking thing, however, strikes me as a little highschoolish. I myself find it embarrassing when someone de-links to me. I have heard that links in blogposts are worth more in the universal scheme of things, so I will try referring readers to great bloggers in my posts.

Then there's the question of categories. I'd really like to have them; Blogger prevents me from editting anything beyond 999 300 posts. This blog is gaining on 1200 posts in its four years of existence. It would be a great opportunity for procrastinating to go back and categorize everything.

First, I would need to figure out how to add categories. Blogger doesn't support categories. What I've read, from other Blogger users, is not promising. I'll keep looking.

Finally I will be adding drawings to this site as I merge it with my former illustration blog. Narwhals, of course, the so-called "corpse whale" and the creature from which the Inuit procure maktaaq. I've been tinkering with sperm whales and a baleen whale or two, when I should have been concentrating on my subcutaneous fatty namesake.

Let me know what you think and where I could make improvements.

Thank you for reading!

PS Thank you to Matt for all the free design consulting.


Bored in Melbourne? 


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

This morning, some dude from Sage, Arkansas stumbled on this site looking for "the smurfs smurfette sex pic." My curiosity piqued, I too suddenly wanted to see Smurf porn.

The internet disappointed.

Aside from Papa Smurf appraising Smurfette's blue tush, an esoteric pre-orgy blind smurf warm-up, a smurf interspecies orgy with Popeye, a badly drawn smurf family extravaganza, hankypanky on the outskirts of the Smurf Village, a Smurfette that needs to lay off the bodybuilding, the smurfs hardcore orgy and a beefcake Vanity Smurf with a hootchie mama Smurfette, there's nothing out there.

Except Smurfette in a threesome with another smurf and a sock monkey: "smurfette is always fun... she's never worn out by all the other smurfs... and one even came along to show me how she likes it!"

So I looked up Sage, Arkansas, to find out what kind of place breeds people who look up smurf sex pictures. All there is to Sage seems to be real estate offices, singles looking to meet me, moving companies and a handful of defibrillator lawyers.

A longer search pulled up Melbourne, Arkansas - is Sage a suburb of Melbourne? Melbourne is 97% white, with 1,673 people, 736 households and 448 families, almost 20% of the population is poor, according to the Wikipedia entry.

Nearby are the Blanchard Springs Caverns. Even more awesome is the Ozark Folk Centre. There you can learn to make pine needle baskets and mountain man accessories: a "possible bag" and a powder horn to go with the muzzleloader.

The Melbourne calendar of events has a Mutt Strut on April 29. Geez, and you're sitting at home looking up smurf porn!


Kat Kollectin' 


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Krazy Kat's greatness lies in its thorough exploration of the comic strip medium's possibilities.

Far more than any oh-yawn superhero comic or copycat manga borebook, George Herriman's comic toyed with the ideas of visual narrative continuity, gender and miscegenation of sorts, and language fluency through exacting dialogue.

The artist, who, a refugee from Jim Crow laws, passed for white in the Los Angeles and New York of the early twentieth century, refused to pin down the gender of his main character. His characters' language ranged from something I've been told was the way black people spoke to Spanglishisms to Shakespearean fits to gross Chinese stereotypes.

Ask a Kat fan what the comic is about and you get the eponymous kat, a mouse, a dog and a brick, in endless combinations. I would say also, add the fantastic landscape of Arizona's Coconino County as rendered by Herriman to the mix. My opinion is that, entranced with the Navajo world, the cartoonist couldn't help but squeeze in as many vistas of the land as he could and occasionally turn the Navajo rug into a landscape.

Krazy Kat the comic, however, carries a curse. After Herriman's death in 1944, a number of publishing houses attempted to reprint all the strips, only to go bankrupt in the process. The first was Eclipse Comics, which managed only the 1916-1924 Sunday strips; Kitchen Sink Press snagged a couple volumes of the 1935-37 Sunday strips. The Comics Revue, which is still around, nailed down the September 8, 1930-1934 dailies somewhere, while Pacific Comic Club's still has some of the 1000 copies each of Krazy and Ignatz: 1921, Krazy and Ignatz: 1922 and Krazy and Ignatz: 1923.

My book moratorium, meant to contain my almost 2000-volume library, allows for certain exceptions: rare books, art books or Romanian books. Krazy Kat, under its curse, encourages my urgency in accumulating its reprints.



The bible of all Kat fans, this baby has been in my personal collection for years now. I only read Herriman's biography contained within once, during my childhood. This was not the book through which I discovered the great man; that honour goes to a nameless green-covered volume that my public library discarded at the turn of this century.



From Alberta-based Stinging Monkey come the 1918-1919 dailies. The company's website leads to nowhere - the curse of Krazy Kat publishing strikes again. Luckily, I have acquired this volume before it escalated in price on eBay.



The 1925-1926 Sundays in There Is A Heppy Lend Furfur A-Waay are mine. Take that, curse!



Love Letters in Ancient Brick
(1927-1928) includes "reproductions of rare Herriman ephemera from [book designer Chris] Ware's own extensive collection."



A Mice, A Brick, A Lovely Night (1929-1930) reprints sheet music for the 1911 "Krazy Kat Rag."

The next ones on my to-accumulate list:



A Kat a'Lilt with Song reputedly has some Gooseberry Sprig, the Duck Duke from 1909. I'm almost strictly a funny animal fan - for those of you not into comics, funny animal is the anthropomorphic animal genre. (I do stray into Sacco-Marjane-Herge-Goscinny-Uderzo-Dirge territory occasionally.) Herriman's earlier comics were mostly human-centred, though, as I get older, I am intrigued by how they address earlier American racial and immigration issues.



According to publisher Fantagraphics, the 1933-1934 series in Necromancy by the Blue Bean Bush were the most difficult to acquire. This volume is part of Herriman's orthodox period, when his biggest contemporary fan, William Randolph Hearst, forced the cartoonist to contain the comic in convention panel format in order to gain more mainstream interest in the strip.



Herriman started publishing his Sunday strips in colour in 1935. More importantly, the two-month Tiger Tea adventure took place in 1936. The tea turns the usually placid Krazy into a steamroller of testosterone. Having read portions of this chapter in my childhood, I remember this being my favourite story. A Wild Warmth of Chromatic Gravy will be a treat.



Shifting Sands Dusts its Cheeks in Powdered Beauty is not yet released, though its cover especially tantalizes.


Bookwormed Again 


Sunday, April 09, 2006

After a bookwormy Sunday and listening to one of the greats of Canadian comedy, Stuart McLean, whose character Morley joined the world's most inane bookclub before forming her own, the time has come to create my own bookclub.

Matt was thinking the same thing. We plotted quickly. Him, I feel bad recommending a book I haven't read but I do want to read something new too. Me, Don't worry, as long as we've heard the books are good, no one can fault us.

So off my list go Slaughterhouse Five, Neuromancer and Catch-22. No crossing off the Dickens novels from my list either.

For years I've wanted to join a creative nonfiction bookclub, too. So two bookclubs it is.

Both will be encouraged to stick to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and to try to be no more than 300 pages.

The first will be a fiction bookclub. I've flagged a few potential books:
  1. Nancy Mitford: The Pursuit of Love
  2. Jane Austen: Northanger Abbey
  3. Tom Robbins: Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
  4. Margaret Atwood: The Edible Woman
  5. Kobo Abe: Secret Rendezvous
  6. Peter Hoeg: Miss Smilla's Sense of Snow
The second bookclub has some of the nonfiction titles in my collection and others I've ogled:
  1. Jeremy Seal: Snakebite Survivor's Club
  2. Roderick Grierson: The Ark of the Covenant
  3. Evelyn Waugh: Remote People
  4. Ray Raphael: A People's History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence
  5. Miles Harvey: The Island of Lost Maps: a True Story of Cartographic Crime
  6. Nathaniel Philbrick: In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex
  7. Kenn Harper: Give Me My Father's Body : The Life of Minik, the New York Eskimo
  8. Lawrence Otis Graham: Our Kind of People: Inside America's Black Upper Class
Or, I could make my club strictly a biographical reading club, with such greats as:
  1. Tove Jansson: The Sculptor's Daughter
  2. Nien Cheng: Life and Death in Shanghai
  3. Geza Vermes: The Changing Faces of Jesus
  4. Enchantress: Marthe Bibesco and Her World
  5. God's Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan
  6. Annie Dillard: An American Childhood
  7. Simone de Beauvoir: Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter
  8. Stella Tillyard: Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa and Sarah Lennox 1740-1832
  9. Deirdre Bair: Anais Nin
  10. Evelyn Lever: Marie Antoinette
  11. Alison Weir: The Life of Elizabeth I
  12. Stacy Schiff: Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov)
  13. Richard Wright: Black Boy
  14. Liane de Pougy: My Blue Notebooks
  15. Viktoria Schweitzer: Tsvetaeva
  16. Barbara Sjoholm: Pirate Queen: In Search of Grace O'Malley and Other Legendary Women of the Sea
What's the next step? Putting up signs around the neighbourhood, in my favourite teashop and at bookstores. Does anyone have any experience with this sort of thing?


Bison Hero 


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

My new hero is Eric Pianka. He's a biology professor at the University of Texas, studies lizards, said that the earth is overpopulated and that ebola will be a much better human killer than AIDS.

Yes, yes, he "has unique views on the world," which are not so unique really because me and a few other people think the earth is in serious need of a Chinese one-child policy. No one's advocating killing, either. We'll leave that up to the racist anti-abortion warmongers*.

What I really, really like about Pianka are the bison.

Pianka lives with 22 of the animals. He belongs to the Texas Bison Association.

Bison and I go back way far. Growing up in Canada's Texas (Alberta), a Cree best friend introduced me to the bison. My sister's explosive reaction to bison photography sealed the deal. Bison and I are spiritual buddies. I even wrote my own song for bison, though I erroneously referred to them as buffalo. Real buffalo come from Africa and Asia.

Bison are wild animals. Seeing someone pet a bison is cool, as Pianka does - it takes work to be allowed by a bison to pet it.

In my wildest dreams (the same ones where I almost successfully defend my imported Transylvanian castle from zombies in the high Arctic), I would harvest musk ox wool or qiviut, dye it with tundra lichens and knit endless mufflers. Though more closely related to goats and sheep, musk oxen (umimmaq or the bearded ones in Inuktitut) look enough like bison (yet has the same number of ribs as Indian water buffalo, a true buffalo) that I'll turn a blind eye to taxonomy in my fantasies.

Of course I am having enough trouble taming two hamsters and a stepcat. No one said fighting off zombie invasions would be easy though.

*Life begins at conception and ends at birth, eh?


Chinese Zombie Ships 


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Already I see it as the perfect setting for a zombie invasion. It had the title "The Chinese zombie ships of West Africa" and of course I was intrigued. From Ocean Defenders, the Greenpeace blog:
It's more rust than metal - the ship is rotting away. The foredeck is covered in broken machinery. The fish deck is littered with frayed cables, and the mast lies horizontally, hanging over the starboard side. A large rusty Chinese character hangs on railings above the bridge, facing forward. It reads 'happiness'.
These fishing vessels brought to the coast of poor Guinea cannot, holepunched near the waterline, make the trip back to China and so the fisherman live aboard until relief crews arrive.

Sometimes relief is two years off. The men desalinate water onboard and catch their own fish. Their commercial catch is laundered through legit fishing outfits, eventually making its way to European dinner plates.

Guinea is too poor to patrol their own waters, with some illegal ships coming within two miles of the shore:
In the struggle to compete with illegal industrial trawlers, local fishermen are losing their livelihoods - and in some cases, their lives. Others are forced farther out to sea - we've seen them working more than 100km from the coast, bobbing around in small boats ["most of whom still use small canoes called pirogues"], at the mercy of the elements.
It's one of those annoying problems. Do you punish the fishermen, who have little choice but to participate? How do you get to the real meanies?

Surely somebody can come up with a decent zombie plot out of this. Lonely rusting boats tethered together in the Atlantic, a man pulls himself across from one ship to the other in a small crate. His ship hadn't seen the other's crew for two days now. He makes the twenty minute trip across the water, yells to anyone aboard the other ship. No answer. Something darts across the deck, obscured by rust. He calls again and boards the ship.

Guinea once supplied slaves to the New World: these could be traditional voodoo zombies. Or, in keeping with environmental disasters, the fishermen ingested contaminated fish, plucked from a secret toxic waste dump zone. One crew makes it back to infect everyone at home, unleashing a zombie armageddon in one-billion strong China - or should it be Marseille, that old plague standby, that gets its own twenty-first century undead epidemic?

I am weighing the terror potential of such a story. Would I be more terrified to be a Chinese dude on a ship off an African country, not speaking the language, my passport thousands of miles away, a roving band of zombies on my trail, or would I be even more terrified as an eighteenth century arctic explorer with my ship trapped in the Northwest Passage ice, a roving band of zombies making its way over the floes to my ship, a blizzard swirling about them?

So many questions. I am thankful to Greenpeace for providing me with more fodder for thought.


Extreme Bookworminess 


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

I spent much of my night trying to write two blog posts. I was in such a writerly mood but everything is half-baked, weak and sterile.

Starting off with the usual bloggy autobiographical thing, I grew frustrated that my life came up with no conclusion with which I could end. I then succumbed to an overthinking headache.

Matt suggested I write about semen sales. For a few minutes I was on a roll. Yeah, why not inflate the importance of sea urchin cum to that of bull? A mad scientist extravaganza in the making. Then, the sheer grossness of my invention made me wonder if I weren't being silly. My post seemed just slightly too imbued with the shades of incest and rape. I'll save it for a later, less sinister mood.

I really want to get to sleep tonight, yet until I get the writing bug out of my system, it'll gnaw at me all night. I've decided to write now, just about this day's minor obsessions. Books, as usual.

This evening, after work, I returned to my favourite teahouse for an hour of Perdido Street Station. After I drained my second pot of tea, I returned home to a great book review by Hebdomeros, on Gus Openshaw’s Whale Killing Journal by Keith Thomson. Zing! It went onto my book recommendation wiki!

This book recommendation wiki, last week's invention, was to be my magnum opus. I added myself and my friends, emailed them with excited invitations to start adding away their recommendations. I foresaw us saying to ourselves, why here's a book Bobby Jo would just love - better add it to the wiki.

In 24 hours, however, we'd exhausted our recommendations. It now sits quietly, like my long-defunct book club blog, MaikoPunk and my discarded magazine enterprise, and the Espresso Stories endeavour, with which we were as close as sending out our press release.

For eleven years, I have kept a list of all the books I've read. Recently expanded to include unabridged books consumed during commutes, my list puts me at around 140 books since 1995. Few are worthy of showing off.

I do want to improve, to add my conquests to my list and to talk more about what I read. I even briefly joined a real book club for half an hour and liked what I heard. Unfortunately, their tastes soon forked off from mine. I want to be recommended books, but I don't want to be recommended bestsellers.

Cleaning up earlier tonight, I found a scrap of paper with librarything.com on it.

It sounds like what I am doing already in a one-stop shop:
  • Catalog your books online or keep a reading list.
  • Show everyone your library, or keep it private. Find people with the same books as you. Get recommendations from readers like you.
  • Sort by author, title and many other fields by clicking on the name of the field.
  • Import your Amazon wishlist.
What is holding me back is the daunting task of taking off each book from the shelf and typing in the title. Even worse, I have a huge collection of books in Romanian, Japanese and Chinese, with a few in Arabic, Hungarian, Slovakian, French, Spanish, German and Italian thrown in. The cataloguing of the three representatives of non-Western scripts really frighten me.


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