Posts Tagged ‘history’

Reading 50 books by people of color: a blog challenge

Earlier this year I signed up to do the 50books_poc challenge, to read 50 books by people of color.

Part of the fun of this has been noting other people’s books and reviews, getting leads on good books to read that I’ve never heard of, and participating in discussions. Today I saw a question about history books by POC especially focusing on history of Asian countries or regions. So I contributed a bit by looking at my own bookshelves. While I have mostly fiction – and an entire bookcase full of mostly-fiction from China, Korea, Japan, and India – I picked out some histories, historical fiction, and stories that are kind of political or that I learned history from – especially socialist realist fiction, which I love.

Here is my list of recommendations for history,

Korea Unmasked, a comic book history of Korea, very odd and interesting, by Won-bok Rhie. I particularly recommend this as a view of Korean history and China and Japan that you will not get from a Western source.

A New History of Korea – Ki-baik Lee This is the most tolerable in style and authoritative feeling history I have found in English. I would love to see comparably well-sourced and annotated Korean history books but written for a mass audience or maybe sort of more pop/journalist storytelling style of history.


Feminist Cultural Politics in Korea
– ed. Jung-Hwa Oh. A collection of academic essays. Very interesting!

Korea Forty Three Centuries by Tae Hung Ha. (A bit dull and textbooky like so many English translations of Korean history, but full of interesting details.)

A Handbook of Korea Extremely boring AND YET STILL INTERESTING. It is a very “official publication”.

And here’s a few interesting novels which sort of, well, have a lot of history in them:

The Sun Shines over the Sanggan River by Ding Ling (really, anything by her that you can find in translation to English is pretty awesome.

My Innocent Uncle – Ch’ae Man-Shik (short stories)

A Ready-Made Life: Early Masters of Modern Korean Fiction (more short stories, again heavy on the politics)

But I have more to say as I gaze fondly over my bookcases, with a full heart!

So, a few years ago I went on a reading spree and sought out books from China. I read some of the major classics like The Scholars, Outlaws of the Marsh (or The Water Margin, or The Marshes of Mount Liang), Journey to the West, and Story of the Stone (Dream of Red Mansions or Dream of the Red Chamber). They are very huge long complicated epic novels. I read them in multiple translations. As well as all the “classic” scandalous books I could find like Golden Lotus and The Peony Pavilion and The Carnal Prayer Mat. Ranging backwards in time, I read some translations of Sima Qian (or Ssuma Chien), The Three Kingdoms, The Pearl Blossom Fan, and whatever stuff Arthur Waley translated, some buddhist scriptures, and translations of Mencius and Confucius. And the Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature. And a lot of other random stuff that was quite old, that gave me more background to understand stuff going on in the epic novels. Moving into the 20th century, I read translations of both versions of Rickshaw Boy. They are quite different – one with a happy ending kind of tacked on. Then, a completely wonderful anthology which I highly recommend, called Literature of the People’s Republic of China. It is crucial if you want to get a flavor of literature in 20th century China! I read other authors like Ding Ling and Gu Hua and I’m sure I’ve mentioned him before, you should read Wang Shuo’s Playing for Thrills if you are going to Beijing to get a good unhealthy dose of modern cynical street thug postmodernism. (This balances out the socialist realist novels about love and wheelbarrows.)

That isn’t even counting the poetry and I have read rather a lot of Chinese poetry as well. Maybe best for another post.

Basically, I have this secret self-taught degree in Chinese literature which I never particularly get to talk about or share. It was a reading kick that lasted many years. I still re-read the long epics, which I love the best because they suck me into a completely different world full of hundreds of characters and they last a good long time. (I read fast, so a regular paperback novel is over in a couple of hours.) I have a lesser knowledge of classics from India but have read multiple versions of the Mahabharata and Ramayana, Pancatantra (one of my favorite books ever) and I read every single Penguin classic from India as well like the Rg Veda, Upanishads, Kathasartsagara, and so on. And I have a similar middling depth in Norse sagas which have a similiar feeling of epic scope and a huge cast of characters.

The Korean history books I list at the top of this post are from Rook’s completely separate reading kick over the last 2 or 3 years – I have read some of them but not all.

My goal in doing all that focused reading was to get some real depth in something that was not my background and not what I was being taught or that everyone around me assumed was true, so I could have a better picture of reality, history, truth, human nature, and the nature of stories. That has been a driving force for me since I was a teenager and began to read as widely as possible. The beautiful thing for me is that there is always so much more out there – infinitely more amazing literature than I could ever manage to read in a lifetime.

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Vacation with Saturn and proplyds

I'm in the parking lot of a motel staring at spectacular red and buff cliffs! It's the Kaibab Limestone and the Coconino sandstone and that other red rock formation I forget the name of. Spiky little lizards are playing on the fence next to me.

After a great but exhausting week at ETech and SXSWi, I'm on vacation in Arizona with a rental car and no particular plan. Last night in Sedona we picked up a flyer in the Super8 lobby, for Evening Sky Tours which I pictured as a couple of old retired guys out in a parking lot picking up some spare cash for new lenses by showing off their amateur astronomy knowledge. While this was close to the truth the Adventure was run in a scarily businesslike and professional manner and rather than being a once a week or sporadic deal it was clearly a real job. Three guys pulled up with a trailer or two full of telescopes with a D**'s mount sort of a huge wooden box like a box kite with mirrors stuck in and lenses and spotting scopes stuck on! They had a row of folding chairs with wooly blankets laid out. Reclining lawn chairs would have been more the thing.
The main dude went around in a bossy way reminding his employees the telescope flunkies to "tell 'em what they're lookin' at". It was excellent. They did an especially good job of saying "In Africa" or "In the MIddle East" when talking about the names of stars and the history of astronomical discoveries.

As the Milky Way began to slide into our consciousness we saw a few satellites and every time I wanted to scream "Satellite!!!" Might have done just that. We had out our G1 Skymaps at first but put them away so as not to be assholes. I knew Orion, Taurus, Cassiopeia, the Pleiades, the Big Dipper and North Star, and that is about it. With luck I can spot Cygnus and the Corona Borealis. Zond-7 knew where Sirius was, which impressed me. I guessed where Gemini was, but got it wrong. Then I did what one of the astronomy dudes suggested and learned "Arc to Arcturus" and "Spike to Spica". Now I know a new thing!

The Night Sky Adventure dudes explained what we were looking at very well and were patient and sweet about all the questions. It was a little hard to get them to go into any depth. But it was light years better than going to a planetarium!
Stuff we saw: M51 which is sort of colliding or interacting galaxies, M3 (a globular cluster), M81 and M82 together (they affect each other with tides!), the Beehive Cluster, the Pleiades, a red dwarf star among the Double Cluster,  Mizar A and B and Alcor, (The horse and rider!), Saturn and 5 moons, and a bit of the Orion Nebula where the Trapezium is. We looked at Sirius through a polarized filter to see its spectral lines.

Later, the Wikipedia entry on the Orion Nebula turned out to be incredibly great; hello, iron tipped glowing blue "bullets" of supersonic incandescent gas. It just got more and more extreme and crazy in the descriptions. Keep reading. It gets better and better. Like this:

The green hue was a puzzle for astronomers in the early part of the 20th century because none of the known spectral lines
at that time could explain it. There was some speculation that the
lines were caused by a new element, and the name "nebulium" was coined
for this mysterious material. With better understanding of atomic
physics, however, it was later determined that the green spectra was
caused by a low-probability electron transition in doubly ionized oxygen, a so-called "forbidden transition".

In between lurching up from my wheelchair to peer through telescopes, I kept saying over the things we'd seen, so that I could look them up later. "You must have studied this!" one woman said in amazement. "No…. I'm just repeating to myself what the guy just told us…"

I don't mean this meanly, but I have forgotten how dumb most people are. Or maybe not dumb but just, without the most basic snippets of information about things like what a moon or a constellation or a galaxy is. Compared to our amateur astronomer hosts Zond-7 and I were just a couple of people who grew up liking science magazines and who might read the Planetary Society blog once in a while. But the people around us, holy crap. One lady was asking what it meant for something to be a moon. As we explained (super nicely) she *got it* that moons go around a planet, and planets go around the Sun, and so the moons are also going around the Sun at the same time, but with extra wiggling. I could see her getting it, even in the dark! Zond-7 explained very clearly to someone else what it meant for Saturn to be in Leo (which it was). Earlier, someone else went "Is there a thing called a .. a 'quark'?" and boy howdy did I feel like Mr. Peabody just able to say "It's a tiny elementary particle" Zond-7 asked if she meant quasar, but she meant quarks which were mentioned in a movie she saw. When I hung out with large feral packs of theoretical physicists I noticed how they would speak with disdain of washed-up media whores meaning anyone who ever talked to the press or wrote a popular science article. Meanwhile I wish popular science was more popular and more people would learn how to explain (with strangeness and charm) what a quark is to a regular person.

Anyway, I was struck by how much people don't know. We don't need to know it, people go around and function and are smart as anything, but I forget that most people don't care for some of the things I like to know. And I was struck by the thought that I am used to being around people who do know and who have a fairly huge internal database of random knowledge not applicable to their daily life. The people who came to the astronomy event were self selected to be people who were interested and curious and willing to learn stuff, unlike the general population. I am not trying to be judgmental on people by saying this, it is just that I felt a gulf suddenly between my assumptions about what's in people's heads all around me, and what actually is. Heather Gold at SXSWi in her talk show at Plutopia touched on this rather sweetly when she mentioned the movie Powers of Ten and said "You know, like that thing you do in bed when you're a little kid, where you imagine you're in your address, St. Louis, Missouri, United States, North America, Northern Hemisphere, Earth, The Solar System, Milky Way, like that? … and the crowd just kind of stared at her…. As Heather did, I assumed everyone did that! Did you? But no – not everyone spends hours poring over photographs of galaxies and nebulae and reading encyclopedia articles. I have not felt like a freak for having a lot of book learning for a long time, not for years. As a kid that was a hard lesson – I thought all reasonable people would automatically know what mitochondria were, and so on.
This crowd, the idea of spectral lines was going to be so completely over their heads that it was impossible for the guys to explain anything. I was glad they showed it anyway.

Meanwhile, I don't know the parts of an engine or how to fix a toilet or knit a sweater or take someone's blood pressure as probably the people on our Star Tour do know.

Saturn's moons freaked me out the most. They just hang there. The light reflected from Saturn shades them like our Moon is shaped and shaded by Earthlight. They were more surreal to me than Saturn itself, because they looked so three dimensional.

There is a flythrough of a 3-D model of the Orion Nebula! Can't wait to try it!

When we get home I have a book called Agnotology waiting for me which promises to be about theories of Not Knowing. What don't we know? And why don't we? And how does that affect us?

One last note, Zond-7 asked one of the astronomy dudes how many stars
were in a galaxy and was told a trillion.  He gently drew out the guy a
little more and then shut up. Later in the car he told me that the
trillion stars theory was in the process of being debunked, as it is
based on "a trillion solar masses" but like 99.999 % of that is dark
matter so there are likely not a trillion stars in the galaxy at ALL.
Speaking of Agnotology!

If you are wondering about a proplyd you may go read the article on the Orion Nebula! Happy pointless knowledge voyage!

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Get me off this ice floe!

The rain and cold are kicking my ass. Likely I am a bit physically weak from not doing much while I was sick. At least I can breathe really really well. (Yay steroids) But damn, I’m really worn down by pain, the last few days.

I can walk but it’s slow and creaky. This morning I woke up aching so hard. I moved around in all directions in bed, progressed to PT exercises, then got up and forced myself to walk around and pick things up off the floor. Unstiffening is good. Oh, for last week when the sun was out and I was full of strange vigor and I felt like being alive.

Distraction is the most helpful thing & also it passes the time so I can endure this grinding annoyance until I can legitimately be unconscious again. In short – I am cranky.

Before I got up and while doing slow leg lifts and stretches I read “Ice Drift”, a very dull book about two Inuit boys adrift on an ice floe. It’s hard to convey how dull it was for something that should be good. Plodding! Untrustworthy-feeling! Stilted As-You-Know-Bob dialogue on every single page! And pointlessness. It was like two pieces of cardboard, spouting bits of children’s encyclopedia entries to each other!

The afterword was the best bit, where the author explains that the real story that inspired him was the story of some of the crew of the ship Polaris in 1871, 19 people including 2 Inuit men 2 Inuit women, and 5 of their children, stranded on an ice floe for six months. The author read the manuscripts from the Captain and two crew members. “In the end, rather than attempt to boil down the mass of information about Tyson’s ordeal — the many characters, the murder of the Polaris master, the near mutiny, the shameful treatment of the Inuit — I decided to write a novel about two young boys who were forced to go on a similar journey.” A novel in which white people show up in their ship only to nicely give the boys a ride home and cheer for them.

There is also a bit from 3rd person omniscient focused on the kids’ mom who bravely sets out against her husband’s wishes, risking death and divorce to rescue them, but is warned by two big burly men to turn back, and then turns back. That’s after she and her husband go out to find them the first time and turn back after 1 day when they realize they were too stupid to bring any food with them. Why was that scene even necessary!

Why not write the story of the Polaris in all its complexity, from the point of view of one of the kids? I just re-read Treasure Island and was impressed with its moral complexity… and thought of how I loved it when I was little. The book I read this morning had none — zero, zilch, nada.

Also, I couldn’t get past the younger boy being named “Sulu”. Elementary school kids might not have this problem but for me it was a hurdle!

IN the book instead of being people who kill, kidnap you, and take you to be exhibited in museums, as well as setting off on polar expeditions that are complete clusterfucks because they all have their heads up their asses; instead of that, the white people on the ships are competent and benevolent – everything they do benefits the Inuit. Even the wrecked ship the Reliance is dismantled and its wood used by the Inuit to make their only “real village” of Nunatak with “even a proud community hall building, courtesy of the Reliance wood” as opposed to what they were before which was a “collection of temporary makeshift huts and iglu“. With this totally non subtle subtext like, “even the accidental garbage left over from our total failures helped immeasurably to civilize the childlike natives.”

It is a good book for this blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature, to take apart. I’m going to write to Debbie Reese and suggest it.

The best account of the actual ice floe journey that I could find:
http://www.oldnewspublishing.com/story1.htm

Doesn’t it sound like everyone on the Polaris was going mad from slow arsenic poisoning? and the Captain just got the most lethal dose?

Here’s some details about the Inuit who were on the ice floe. Unlike the Inuit in the “Ice Drift” book, these people were well acquainted with white folks. Hell, they had met Queen Victoria.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tookoolito
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebierbing
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Hendrik – innnnnnteresting, Hans Hendrik wrote a book: “Memoirs of Hans Hendrik, the Arctic traveller, serving under Kane, Hayes, Hall and Nares, 1853–1876, by himself ”

Well, that’s how I spent my morning, obsessing over the ways that this type of “historical” fiction actually erases history in a way that is stupid, dull, inaccurate, simplistic, and racist, all in the guise of educating young people.

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Lovely lovely databases

SF Chronicle and LA Times have made available a searchable database of donors supporting and opposing Proposition 8. I just searched on donors from Utah. Fascinating stuff. You can sort each column, so I tried sorting on amount donated to find the big spenders. Bruce Bastian donated a million dollars opposing it, i.e. in support of people’s right to marry. I looked up his name figuring anyone who could afford to donate a million bucks must be googleable. Sure enough, he is one of the founders of WordPerfect.

Here’s the weird thing. I did the same search to see who supports Prop 8 and there is another million dollar donor named Alan Ashton. I looked him up and for god’s sake he’s another founder of WordPerfect.

What the heck? Did one donate first, and the other one get so mad and embarrassed he had to match it, but on the other side? I’ll go out on a limb here and guess that Ashton was first. I’m trying to imagine their fiery history together writing that code that gave us the chalky blue screen with the chunky letters… Maybe they were college roommates… Friendship and shared hackerdom, undermined by years of software company tomfoolery and financial competition, then… by homophobia?

Someone needs to write the slash fic for this, clearly.

It’s nice to see that my own neighborhood is about 95% “oppose” with their donations. Then… where did all those Mormon “Yes on 8″ rally people come from, who have been out on the corner near my house? Utah?

*** Update*** have now actually read their bios in Wikipedia. Bastian was Ashton’s student as well as his fellow programmer and business partner and WordPerfect tycoon! The RPF writes itself.

*** More updating *** I was wrong! Bastian donated a few times first, and donated his million back in July! Ashton only donated once, 1 million on October 28! The drama of it! And Bastian came out as a gay Mormon and is way involved with the HRC. So what happened that Ashton felt like he had to jump in and donate his own million?

******** STILL LATER ************
So, I realize people are likely pulling all this data to do creepy stuff with it. But I still love it. I love the transparency. Just put it out there! Fine, say we’re all gay! We’ll point and say, y’all are homophobes and bigots!

Imagine if we had this level of transparency into who donated what in the 60s towards (and against) the civil rights movement? Wouldn’t that be fascinating? Maybe we’ll have this data 30 years from now when today’s level of homophobia seems unthinkable to a new generation.

Creepy, right? But when there’s data to be had, I’d rather we all have it than only giant corporations and the government have it.

The message is this: You do not have to change your beliefs. You do not have to budge an inch on your views. You are still free to hate black people, still free to fear gay people (or demean women) all you like. It’s simply that we as an Obama-led, gender-inclusive nation no longer have any real use for your brand of poison. We are done with you. (from Mark Morford’s latest editorial)

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Pins and needles in my head, too

I can do anything. That’s why I try to do everything, no matter what. Pushing myself physically backfired this last week. When I got home from my trip I didn’t try to walk around the house – I came out of the taxi and just wheeled myself into bed with a side order of Vicodin because my leg wasn’t working and the pain was nasty. All week I struggled trying to keep out of the chair. I did it, by cutting and cutting things I wanted to do, errands to run, stuff to do around the house, going-out-at-night plans. Order stuff off the net, rather than go to a store. Then on Friday ended up walking 2 blocks down Haight street (allowing myself 1 of the 3 errands I had meant to do) and was stuck. I didn’t feel like I could make it back to my car. I sat in the shoe place and felt extremely upset at the situation, at my body, and with myself for having poor judgment.

I am back in the place I was some months ago of doing something brief like laundry or getting myself food, then lying down to rest for a good while before attempting anything else. I have to scale back and be careful.

So, I can’t sit up and walk around and be active right now for a whole day. Yesterday and today I was super conservative, and I’m still getting worse. I’m not stressed, or upset, other than my basic fear of what is happening and my frustration at being in pain. The constant pins and needles in my legs, feet, and hands is maddening and my right leg’s pain and collapsing hit me worse today. My calf – the horrible nerve going down the outside! I sat on the floor this evening for a second to open my sewing box, and went OMG what was I thinking… I’m fucked.. that was the worst idea ever. But I was able to do it last week!!!! Over the course of the day I lost the ability to bend over and pick stuff up off the floor. When I whimpered with pain by accident while trying to get up from a chair that was the last straw, I said to hell with it and brought the wheelchair in the house again.

Suddenly the geography of my house is different. I need help keeping all the floors clear.

I don’t know or care if “It” is a mechanical/orthopedic issue which I aggravated by too much activity and sitting up 12 hours in a row and the long plane rides, or if it’s MS or what the fuck ever aggravated by too much activity and stress and no rest. Whatever it is, it’s flaring up big time.

Everything non essential will be put off.

Since I am now making dr. appointments again I will take time off to do that instead of just doing it and making the work up at night. That is part of my regime of less stress and more rest.

I wish to god i had some prednisone right now – I would take it in a flash. I know it’s bad shit but I would get it for a week for bronchitis or sinuses and then would end up feeling fan-fucking-tastic top of the world healthy and able for the next 3 months.

My plan is good – I just need to stick to it – I had such nice plans to go to the beach or the science museum with Moomin this weekend – and I scrapped them completely knowing it would be insane when I can barely contemplate going out to buy cat litter.

Nice things today – Moomin getting completely better after a sudden morning of barfing – helping Moomin with his homework – having pictures drawn for me – lying in bed reading umpteen Antonia Forest “Trennels” books since they’re very comforting and complicated (Oh the perfidy of Lois Sanger! She’s worse, and better drawn, than Widmerpool, don’t you think? ) and making spiders out of black yarn (body and legs), red glitter paint (eyes), and safety pins (to attach them on things). Rook’s LOTR alternate history game and finding dwarven words for it – Colin Powell’s declaration of support for Obama, which was lovely – Shaving Zond-7′s head – and having bits read to me last night out of the history book about Santa Anna’s leg and its burial – and how it was dug up and burned (which I am not seeing anywhere on the net – instead a lot about its burial with full military honors, and how his prosthetic leg, captured & stolen, is still in a museum in Illinois).

That’s where I’m at – I don’t need a lot of sympathy, it’s only been 20 years or so this has been happening – just want to talk about it, complain a little, figure out what I’m going to do about it, and declare it, hoping other people will hold me to my resolutions of intelligent behavior.

I’m sorry I fucked up. It’s hard to know where the line is. Sometimes I don’t do anything wrong, and things still go wrong and I end up getting worse. This time I feel like it is kind of my fault. Fingers crossed a few days or a week of resting and I’ll rocket right back up onto my feet.

I think the social worker’s call came at a time when I really am ready to hear it and am panicking anyway so willing to jump back into the Wheel of Diagnosis.

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Fancy dress for narcissists

I had very specific feelings about this dress, and remember them well. I liked the color and the fact that it was fancy. I didn’t like that the waist was babyish, or the way the lace scratched, or how the elastic on the sleeves pinched to make a line around my arm. I thought the black bow was elegant, like Mr. Peabody‘s bow tie. Of course, who wouldn’t admire Mr. Peabody and want to be just like him?

me probably about 4

In my mind, when I wore this dress, I was professorly.

You’re laughing! I can hear you!

They thought I was a cute little girl in a frilly dress. When really I was Dr. Badgerabeth; kindly, bossy, superpowered, able to pull any book I wanted out of a secret pocket; a little vague; quick to invent, prone to giving history lessons.

I knew and deeply resented the contrast of reality vs. my imagined self, and would not have told anyone my Mr. Peabody feelings for the world.

Is it insane, or the sign of extreme narcissism, that I can remember all my feelings about this piece of clothing from when I was 4 or 5?

Last weekend at my grandma’s house, I pawed through only a few of her dozens of scrapbooks and photo albums and drawers of letters, and completely enjoyed hearing her stories of the past. On this photo

age 5

she described to me all her feelings about the dress. It was her best one and she loved it. But she had mixed feelings. They had to stand in lines all the time for clothes and food. I got the impression it was a hand-out that was fixed up for her, probably by her own grandma or her older sister (her mom was dead.) “It had a rip in it. RIGHT HERE.” and she pointed. The dress seemed to mean something complicated; I could see its ghost outline. A mixture of pride and desire-to-be and humiliation.

My grandma Hemulen told me when she realized she was an artist. She was 6 years old. Her uncle, a house painter, painted her and her sisters’ room a light spring green. He used something like masking tape or strips of paper to mark off a border around the bottom, and told her she could make a decorative border however she liked. As she described her plan for the border to me, my grandma’s face lit up with excitement and pride. She marked off stripes with the tape, then squares, then painted a checkerboard pattern, with tulips in every other square. I too have memories like this, intense strange memories of feeling very driven, and holding on hard to those memories all my life. It was strange to see the similarities in our strong memories and our documentary approach to life. The photos, the scrapbook articles, and for me the blog entries, aren’t so much proof of anything as they are keys, keys to all the doors of the past, of desire and identity I didn’t want to lose, and in part a desire to have the keys to other people, to the locked doors inside their heads, like those little eggs with peepholes and dioramas in them, but with infinite room or a maze that leads to through-the-looking-glass . . .

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My thoughts at lunch

My favorite sandwich shop in town is incredibly fast and has the sort of sandwiches my mom or sister might make for me or that I’d make for myself. They’re just… normal sandwiches. I just had a turkey and swiss with red bell pepper and hot mustard. It is no small feat to make a normal sandwich in a deli. Somehow. I don’t get why. You would not think it’s a thing that could be ruined. But think of the really disgusting sandwiches you’ve encountered in your life! Yes! It is possible to ruin a simple turkey and cheese sandwich!

The deal is, every time I’m in this deli I have a mind boggling moment of wondering why the whole place is done up in Old West decor? It’s got wagon wheels, washboards, old sacks, jangly old spurs, signs, sayings, photos, etc. But the rest of the decor is straight up “regular old sandwich shop” and in fact is overly generic, like the menus and wall signs make me think of a Denny’s or a Baker’s Square or something extremely dull, even though there are maybe 20 of this particular deli chain. The only nod to the Gold Rush theme in this signage is a faintly old-timey font. What’s the deal? Is the eponymous “Erik” who owns or owned the deli, a descendant of some famous local Gold Rush participant? Did someone have a weird marketing brainwave? Is it a spinoff from the nearby Fry’s that has an old west theme? Is it someone else’s BBQ restaurant that got bought and repurposed? Because when I think “whole grain sandwich with sprouts and avocado on it” I do not think “yippee ti yay”. DOES NOT COMPUTE.

Go west, young vegan, go west! That’s where the veggies are best!

My theory is that the deli owner just really likes old west junk and goes to a lot of flea markets. So they can feed their junk shop hobby and count it as a business expense on their taxes! I imagine this all out, but have not tried to look it up or find out because I don’t want to ruin my little daydream or the strange mystery of it all.

Next up I should blog my other favorite sandwich shop, Mr. Pickles in the Mission in SF. The history channel watching opportunities are good there, and the sandwiches scary awesome.

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Beautiful computers: The Difference Engine

This weekend we all went to the Computer History Museum in Mountainview. Take a look at my photos of some of the computers if you want a little history and nostalgia! They have a working Difference Engine, one of only two in the world.

Difference Engine

I have added to my vague fantasy of my future bookstore/cafe/laundromat/junk shop. Now it contains a Cray:

Cray!!!!!

Stylish!

I remember reading about these and drooling over them when I was a kid – reading Omni or Discover or Scientific American.

Check out the gorgeous design of the KL10. There’s something about the cool colors and the way they continue from button to casing – and the very clean font:
KL10 buttons

My imaginary bookstore cafe will also need a SAGE Weapons Director 2 (as directed by my friend Yatima’s daughter:

Julia with Weapons Director 2

Secretly … I want to be a set builder for some show like Dr. Who or Blake’s 7 and make amazing fake computers with blinky lights and complicated “futuristic” control panels!

This stuff is so much better — being real.

It was disappointing that the Difference Engine exhibit didn’t have any mention of Ada Lovelace. What’s the point of leaving her out? How annoying. We brought her up, and the astronomer Caroline Herschel, during the demonstration (which mentioned her brother). Then the speaker talked enthusiastically about Lovelace. So why not put some information and a photo of her? And Herschel too. Instead, we got a dumb wisecrack/excuse about how women didn’t do much math back then. (Hummm. What is the point of that? Why not mention the ones who did? Mary Somerville for example, who taught Lovelace.)

I wish there were more working models of older computers we could actually use. I can see that it would be way too much work to maintain that, though. Inspiration for me to fire up my Mac Plus or an old Commodore 64 maybe!

It was so glorious… I also felt like anyone else who had bothered to go to this museum was probably very cool and a kindred spirit… people were walking around grinning hugely or gawping in awe like a cathedral. (Which it is.) All those PDPs and VAXes and the IMP, and amazing calculators from 1899 or 1920 like the Millionaire and the Comptometer. The chess exhibit was good too. All the excitement of REAL AUTOMATED COMPUTERS that play chess, all the excitement and conviction that the future would be AMAZING — all came flooding back to me. I wanted to hug the IMP and just sort of commune with it and say a little prayer or something, like I felt when I saw very new lava, or the tallest tree in the world, or something else I have loved abstractly, imagined, and then seen for real.

Please put this label in prominent place on IMP

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What I think of in the bath

Moments where the heights of luxury hit me; I live like this!

With all the history I’ve read, and all the fantastic future histories, I’m dizzied that at this particular moment, I can summon enough just-so-temperatured, perfumed, clean-enough-to-drink water to cover my body, and have the leisure to lie in it, with food and a book at hand, with music playing, with a wealth of culture a snap of my fingers away, in this decadent privacy and peace, free from fear, secure in control, able to move around as I please, absentmindedly rubbing green tea and fennel lotion into my hair. I am a magician – Can this be real? How did this happen? Can it last? Might this, as I have thought many times before, be the pinnacle of physical experience of my life? How is it that I have all this? That we have all this?

A moment where I don’t take it for granted, where I acknowledge this ordinary moment of a daily hot bath is an amazing luxury I am lucky to experience at all.

coffee and book in jacuzzi

How very odd – Roman emperors or Trimalchio really could not have it any better – How smug we are and how tiny a blip in history – and how sure we are that it is deserved, permanent, this hot bath – I think the same when I eat a sandwich in the back yard – It is what we die for really – for someone’s right to this peaceful back yard or miracle bathtub. Part liberty, part theft. What splendor. No wonder we hardly know what to do with ourselves, emperors lacking any good citizen-ish Mirror for Princes. A funny picture as I consider Roman cities: thunk, the public park and fountain is plunked down in our utopian sim city grid and the people stop their riots.

Often I think of myself as an anarchist, but I am politically naive and lazy enough to have never examined or defined my political beliefs. The most glaring inner contradiction has always seemed to be my love of, and belief in, virtuous and stable institutions and laws, which I somehow cherish along with a strong tendency to veer off in order to disrupt institutions that aren’t or that I think aren’t. I was struck by this bit of tonight’s book; it’s near the end of Godfather of the Kremlin, after long exposure of corruption, embezzling, capital flight, murder and greed:

Private property or free markets alone do not guarantee a high level of civilization. Even the most impoverished countries have private property and free markets. What they lack is a healthy state and a healthy society. Today these are the two essential preconditions for civilization.
There are several salient characteristics defining a healthy state: a good legal code and the means to enforce it; the equality of all citizens before the law and the state; a sound financial basis allowing for the provision of such public goods as national defense, law enforcement, transportation, education, medical care, and pensions; an efficient and effective government apparatus. A healthy state is uncorrupted by wealthy individuals, powerful businessmen, or special-interest groups; it is an honest broker for all the conflicting interests of society. Finally, a healthy state protects the weak from predation by the strong.

This calls out to the bits of my middle-class and civic-minded soul that believe in such things. The root of the non-contradiction is that I believe it could be achieved by anarchic means. Maybe. Given some ideal state of beginning, or anarchic-alientech-ex-machina, or that proper nucleation that crystallizes and spreads that we like to imagine could be just around the corner.

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Bitchy Women’s News – old riot grrl zine

A couple of quotes for you from some of my Riot Grrrl mail from 1993, from Eulalie of Rude Girl in San Antonio — a parody newsletter of Witchy Women’s News called Bitchy Women’s News.

The WWN/SA-RCG would have all goddesses crammed into one grand goddess-over-all. All they have managed to do is force a sex change on the Christian God, and at that, the New Testament good-sweet-and-kind God. This is not the goddess, particularly not the triune goddess they appear to be speaking of… The WWN/SA-RCG has managed one thing — they have disarmed the goddess. What was once a huntress, creatrix, crone, is now a mockery; the sweet kindly woman whose only role is that of figurehead idol around which women gather to moan of their mistreatment.

oh also from the introductory paragraph, a harsh shot,

The Witchy Women’s News has, for some time, “envisioned the raising of a cone of energy.” So, they formed a council. Why a council? Because “Board of Directors” was too “patriarchal” I don’t think “council” is any less patriarchal; call it an Inner Circle and be done with it…

And then from an actual issue of Rude Girl, an advice column called “Ask Brother Prick”, critiques of critiques from Off Our Backs, anti-NAMBLA ranting…

and tiny stickers and paragraphs clipped out of newspapers

“I used to be something of an iconoclast, but now when I see signs of that in my son, I try to squash it immediately,” he noted with a rueful laugh.

What does it mean – it is kind of a poem, there on its own – was it carefully chosen – I think so.

Also in the envelop – a separate, fantastic, typed zine called Do-It-Yourself. Thanks Eulalie and Alison! (Zine credits: Alison Wonderland, Eulalie Fenster-Glas, Aleister Grumb, Tiajuana, Bobek, and Tiana!)

I was thinking that this was really the feminist press explosion where we all took our CR sessions to a public forum – more public than closed discussion groups anyway. We didn’t have a lot of continuity other than in snip & pieces of history or writing – not a lot of public talk about feminism that we could understand as us or ours, anyway – and just said, collectively, fuck it, we’ll talk about whatever it is, fast as we can come up with it, and send it out like dandelion seeds, not worrying if it’s good enough or done enough or what it’s for.

The media representations of us were so horrible – compared to the wit & punk charm and fuck you ishness of people trying to figure out what societal structures to undermine and how (graffiti and putting glue on top of one’s postage stamps being the tip of the iceberg) reduced to cute belly buttons, well — beyond annoying and into horrible.

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