Monday, November 30, 2009

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

"He remained annoyed with himself until he realized that not knowing what he wanted was actually quite natural.

We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.

Was it better to be with Tereza or to remain alone?

There is no means of testing which decision is better, because there is no basis for comparison. We live everything as it comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold. And what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself? That is why life is always like a sketch. No, "sketch" is not quite the word, because a sketch is an outline of something, the groundwork for a picture, whereas the sketch that is our life a sketch for nothing, an outline with no picture."

Gut Symmetries Winterson

"Forgive me if I digress. I cannot tell you who I am unless I tell you why I am. I cannot help you to take a measurement until we both know where we stand.

This is the difficulty. Now that physics is proving the intelligence of the universe what are we to do about the stupidity of humankind? I include myself. I know that the earth is not flat but my feet are. I know that space is curved but my brain has been cordoned by habit to grow in a straight line. What I call a view is my hand-painted trompe-l'oeil. I run after knowledge like a ferret down a ferret hole. My limitations, I call the boundaries of what can be known. I interpret the world by confusing other people's psychology with my own. I say I am open-minded but what I think is."

"All children stumble over what Einstein discovered; that Time is relative. In mother-time the days had a chthonic quality, we ate, slept, drew, played, world without end, waiting without knowing we were waiting for my father to come home and snap his fingers and whisk us into the gold hour. We became aware, though I can't say how, that he was giving us four whole quarters of an hour."

"I know I am a fool, trying to make connections out of scraps but how else is there to proceed? The fragmentariness of life makes coherence suspect but to babble is a different kind of treachery. Perhaps it is a vanity. Am I vain enough to assume you will understand me? No. So I go on puzzling over new joints for words, hoping that this time, one piece will slide smooth against the next.

Walk with me. Hand in hand through the nightmare of narrative, the neat sentences secret-nailed over meaning. Meaning mewed up like an anchorite, its vision in broken pieces behind the wall. And if we pull away the panelling, then what? Without the surface, what hope of contact, of conversation? How will I come to read the rawness inside?

The story of my day, the story of my life, the story of how we met, of what happened before we met. And every story I begin to tell talks across a story I cannot tell. And if I were not telling this story to you but to someone else, would it be the same story?"

"Poor baby, passed from hand to hand like a pouch of tobacco, a fresh-faced narcotic promising hope, change, at lease for now. My family are addicted to sentimentality. If that sounds cruel it is only the cruelty of too close observation for too long. Unable to express their feelings in the normal course of days and hours they need every legitimate excuse to do so. They cannot say 'I love you' so they say 'Isn't she lovely?' 'Well done.' They can seem like bon viveurs, always a party in the offing, my mother planning a new recipe for canapes even in the act of stuffing my relatives with the ones she has just made."

"I think I was happy, in the maddening determined way that children have of being happy, and it was that happiness that worked as a magnet on both of my parents."

"My grandmother loved me because she recognised the same stubbornness that she had gened in her son. The difficulty and the dream were not separate. To pan the living clay that you are is to stand in the freezing waters and break yourself on a riddle of your own making. No one can force you to do it. No one can force you away."

"Defect of vision. Do I mean affect of vision? At the beginning of the twentieth century when Picasso, Matisse, and Cezanne were turning their faces towards a new manner of light, there was a theory spawned by science and tadpoled by certain art critics that frog-marched the picture towards the view that this new art was an optical confusion. nothing but a defect of vision. The painters were astigmatic; an abnormality of the retina that unfocuses ray s of light. That was why they could not paint realistically. They could not see that a cat is a cat is a cat.

Recently I heard the same argument advanced against El Creco. his elongations and few shortenings had nothing to do with genius, they were an eye problem.

Perhaps art is an eye problem; world apparent, world perceived.

Signs, shadows, wonders.

What you see is not what you think you see."

"Walk with me. Walk the 6,000,000,000,000 miles of travelled light, single year's journey of illumination, ship miles under the glowing keel. In the long frost the sky brightens and the rim of the earth is pierced by sharp stars. After the leaf-fall the star fall, the winter shedding of too much light. Walk the seen and unseen. What can be rendered visible and what cannot."

"Stell turned towards me and crumpled my heart in her hand.
'Do you fall in love often?'

Yes often. With a view, with a book, with a dog, a cat, with numbers, with friends, with complete strangers, with nothing at all. There are children who grow up as I did, with the love clamped down in them, who cannot afterwards love at all. There are others who make fools of themselves, loving widely, indiscreetly, forgetting it is themselves they are trying to love back to a better place."

"My mother drinks. My grandmother reads the Bible, my sisters numb themselves in excess family life. To each his own epidural. It does ease the pain but the pain persists, the dull ache, low down as though my back had been broken and not properly healed."

"Grandmother and I sat face to face over the sepulchral plastic of the breakfast bar. Common and rare, to sit face to face like this. Common that people do, rare that they understand each other. Each speaks a private language and assumes it to be the lingua franca. sometimes words dock and there is a cheer at port and cargo to unload and such relief that the voyage was worth it. 'You understand me then?'

I wanted her to understand me. I wanted to find a word, even one, that would have the same meaning for each of us. A word not bound and sealed in dictionaries of our own. 'Though I speak with tongues of men and angles but have not love...'

Balkan Trilogy

Dugdale answered in an authoritative tone: "In my opinion Germany has made her last move. Russia is the one we have to fear...The next victim will be Sweden... then, of course, Norway and Denmark. After that the Balkans, the Mediterrranean, North Africa - what's to stop them? The Allies and the Axis will watch helplessly, each unable to make a move for fear of bringing the other in on the side of Russia."

Guy began to say: "This is absurd. Russia has enough to do inside her own frontiers. What would she want..."

He was interrupted by Nikko, his brows raised in alarm. "But Rumania would fight," he said. "And the Turks, too. They would fight. At least I think so."

"The Turks!" Dugdale put a small potato into his mouth and swallowed it contemptuously. "We give them money to buy armaments, and what do they spend it on? Education."

"Hopeless people!" Inchcape grinned at Clarence, who grinned back. Harriet was thankful that at last, decided to come down on the side of flippancy."

Primum non Nocere

"People who reveal, or announce, that their gender is variegated, rather than monochromatic or plainly colored in the current custom, have always presented difficulties. Not only is our society distressed by masculine women, feminine men, and the androgynous; even the big man who embroiders, or the wife and mother of three who has a black belt in tae kwon do, a buzz cut, and no makeup in her gym bag, stirs a frisson of discomfort... I sometimes think that our culture is like the Church in the days of Galileo. We will not see, and we will silence and mock, even banish and punish, those who say that what is, is."

"Normal" by Amy Bloom is subtitled "Transsexual CEOs, Crossdressing Cops, and Hermaphrodites with Attitude." I found it an interesting account of her interviews and experiences. The book didn't really change my beliefs regarding transsexuals or the intersex, however I hadn't really spent any time contemplating heterosexual crossdressers; I'm far more familiar with drag queens and kings. I have to say, by the end of the book, I wasn't feeling especially interested in making the aquaintance of most of the characters she describes: they all come across in her narrative as narcissistic, misogynistic, conservative Republicans. Not my kind of people. In her interviews with experts, there is a suggestion that the crossdressing is both a compulsion and sexual in nature; the groups that the men and their wives have formed instead stress that the men are expressing their feminine side. However, Bloom describes the wives as being very unhappy, going so far as to say that their husbands' crossdressing is painful for them. She reports one wife saying, "For twenty years he couldn't help with the dishes because he was watching football. Now he can't help because he's doing his nails. Is that different?" I wonder what support and accommodation these men are giving their wives, considering their wives seem to be giving an extraordinary amount of both. If anyone has any suggestions, I'd be curious to read more about the subject and see if Bloom's findings are common.

"Not monsters, nor marvels, nor battering rams for gender theory, people born intersexed have given the rest of the world an opportunity to think more about the odd significance we give to gender, about the elusive nature of truth, about the understandable, sometimes dangerous human yearning for simplicity-and we might, in return, offer them medical care only when they need it, and a little common sense and civilized embrace when they don't."

Sunday, November 29, 2009

I Don't Know About You...

...but I always leave room for the Holy Spirit in my hugs.

Christian Side Hug from The Fathers House on Vimeo.

And then go and check out the Ten Webcomics you should read.

Little House on the Prairie

Little House in the Big Wood

"Uncle Henry went home after dinner, and Pa went away to his work in the Big Woods. But for Laura and Mary and Ma, Butchering Time had just begun. There was a great deal for Ma to do, and Laura and Mary helped her."

eating pig's tail and cracklings as treats - they never seem to mention eating any vegetables

Pa tells Ma there will be a dance at the sugar harvest

"Ma smiled. She looked very happy, and she laid down her mending for a minute...

A dressmaker had made it, in the East, in the place where Ma came from when she married Pa and moved out west to the Big Woods in Wisconsin. Ma had been very fashionable, before she married Pa, and a dressmaker had made her clothes. The delaine was kept wrapped in paper and laid away. Laura and Mary had never seen Ma wear it, but she had shown it to them once."

"Then one night Pa said, 'We'll go to town tomorrow.'... They were so excited that they did not go to sleep at once."

Mary's golden hair, Laura's brown.

"Mary's said:
Roses are red
Violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet,
And so are you.
Laura's said only,
Sweets to the sweet.

The pieces of candy were exactly the same size. Laura's printing was larger than Mary's.

"So Laura gathered up the pebbles, put them in the pocket, and carried the pocket in her lap. She did not mind very much when Pa laughed at her for being such a greedy little girl that she took more than she could carry away. Nothing like that ever happened to Mary. Mary was a good little girl who always kept her dress clean and neat and minded her manners. Mary had lovely golden curls, and her candy heart had a poem on it. Mary looked very good and sweet, unrumpled and clean, sitting on the board beside Laura. Laura did not think it was fair."

Little House on the Prairie

"Eat your breakfast, Laura," Ma said. "You must mind your manners, even if we are a hundred miles from anywhere."

Pa said, mildly, "It's only forty miles to Independence, Caroline, and no doubt there's a neighbour or so nearer than that."

"Forty miles, then," Ma agreed. "But whether or no, it isn't good manners to sing at the table. Or when you're eating," she added, because there was no table."

"Will the government make these Indians go west?"

'Yes,' Pa said, 'When the white settlers come into a country, the Indians have to move on. The government is going to move these Indians farther west, any time now. That's why we're here, Laura. White people are going to settle all this country, and we get the best land because we get here first and take our pick. Now do you understand?'

'Yes, Pa," Laura said. "But, Pa, I thought this was Indian Territory. Won't it make the Indians mad to have to-"


"Then Pa said something to Ma that made Laura sit very still and listen carefully. He said that folks in Independence said that the government was going to put the white settlers out of the Indian territory. He said the Indians had been complaining and they had got that answer from Washington.

Farmer Boy

the big boys come to thrash the teacher "Sometimes they made two little boys fight each other, thought the little boys didn't want to fight and begged to be let off."

"They settled down cozily by the big stove in the dining-room wall. The back of the stove was in the parlor, where nobody went except when company came."

"Almanzo looked at every kernel before he ate it. They were all different shapes. He had eaten thousands of handfuls of popcorn, and never found two kernels alike... you can put all the popcorn kernel by kernel into the milk, and the milk will not run over. You cannot do this with bread. Popcorn and milk are the only two things that will go into the same place."

"They talked about spareribs, and turkey with dressing, and baked beans, and crackling cornbread, and other good things... Almanzo ate four large helpings of apples'n'onions fried together. He ate roast beef and brown gravy, and mashed potatoes and creamed carrots and boiled turnips, and countless slices of buttered bread with crab-apple jelly."

"Some women made a new-fangled shape, round, with a hole in the middle. But round doughnuts wouldn't turn themselves over. Mother didn't have time to waste turning dounghnuts; it was quicker to twist them."

"The band played, and everybody sang [the national anthem]. From the top of the flagpole, up against the blue sky, the Stars and Stripes were fluttering. Everybody looked at the American flag, and Almanzo sang with all his might. Then everyone sat down, and a Congressman stood up on the platform. Slowly and solemnly he read the Declaration of Independence."

"But all the land our forefathers had was a little strip of country, here between the mountains and the ocean. All the way from here west was Indian country, and Spanish and French and English country. It was farmers that took all that country and made it America."
"How?" Almanzo asked.
"Well, son, the Spaniards were soldiers, and high-and-mighty gentlemen that only wanted gold. And the French were fur-traders, wanting to make quick money. And England was busy fighting wars. But we were farmers, son; we wanted the land. It was farmers that went over the mountains, and cleared the land, and settled it, and farmed it, and hung on to their farms."
"This country goes three thousand miles west, now. It goes 'way out beyond Kansas, and beyond the Great American Desert, over mountains bigger than these mountains, and down to the Pacific Ocean. It's the biggest country in the world, and it was farmers who took all that country and made it America, son. Don't you ever forget that."

"Mother said it was high time Almanzo went to school, if he was going to get any schooling that winter....

"What do I have to go to school for? I can read and write and spell, and I don't want to be a school-teacher or a storekeeper.

"You can read and write and spell," Father said, slowly. "But can you figure?"

...he studied hard to learn the whole arithmetic, because the sooner he knew it all, the sooner he would not have to go to school any more."

"Well, son, you think about it," said Father. "I want you should make up your own mind. With Paddock, you'd have an easy life, in some ways. You wouldn't be out in all kinds of weather. Cold winter nights, you could lie snug, in bed and not worry about young stock freezing. Rain or shine, wine or snow, you'd be under shelter. You'd be shut up, inside walls. Likely you'd always have plenty to eat and wear and money in the bank... That's the truth, and we must be fair about it... But there's the other side, too, Almanzo. You'd have to depend on other folks, son, in town. Everything you got, you'd get from other folks. A farmer depends on himself, and the land and the weather. If you're a farmer, you raise what you eat, you raise what you wear, and you keep warm with wood out of your own timber. You work hard , but you work as you please, and no man can tell you to go or come. You'll be free and independent, son, on a farm."

Friday, November 27, 2009

I'm Not Sure That Candle Has Any Ends Left

I'm tired. I've been tired since, oh, a week after my vacation ended. It's not because I'm too active, since the post-vacation poverty hasn't allowed for paying for a gym membership yet. It's not because I have to much work to do - I'm on a 26 hour a week schedule right now.

It's my complete and total inability to go to bed at a decent hour of the night - sometimes at an hour that even is part of the night. I've been staying up far too late. I need to get more sleep.

I'm so shitty at going to bed. Even when I'm tired.

Candlelit Borders

Our last day at the resort started early, so we could pack and eat (French toast and pineapple juice) and hop in a taxi to Takoradi. It was during my long wait for a washroom that the insect bites on my feet were discussed, though I will sadly never know what they were. Sand fleas were my guess. After than we took a trou-trou to Accra and I managed to both read The Economist and snooze. We took a taxi to the New Haven Hotel, which I highly recommend, especially if all the singles (which actually have double beds, so they sleep two) are full, because the double rooms are swish and still only 37 Ghanaian cedis - I do wonder why the Ghanaian part is always added - are there other cedis out there? Anyway, the beds were gigantic - you could totally sleep four in them comfortably. We had dinner at the New Haven, which wasn't spectacular, so I fed a great deal of it to the hotel cats. An older man called Soloman came over to chat with us and told us all about the mistakes he had made with women, which had led to his having ten children. Ortencia told me a series of hilarious stories about some of her Peace Corps friends, particularly about W., who once shit his own pants during a business meeting, because his French wasn't good enough to figure out where the toilets were, and A. who split his pants while riding his Peace Corps issued mountain bike. Since I could barely keep my eyes open, it wasn't a very late night.

The next day I took my only hot shower of the trip - and used conditioner - pure luxury. After our standard breakfast of instant coffee, toast, and jam, I managed to get a fly stuck up my nose. UP MY NOSE. Not fun and the next thing I noticed was a blood blister on my thumb. I really am the klutziest woman who travels that ever existed. We took a taxi to the Arts Centre, where I bought a dress, some earrings, and a necklace. It was relatively low key, as shopping experiences go. We had Cokes and chocolate chip cookies to tide us over until we taxied back to the Paloma complex to each pizza at the restaurant there for lunch. Then Ortencia challenged my position as world-class klutz by falling into a hole next to a shop and causing a dress to fall down on her - however, since she then bought it, I think my status remains unchallenged.

We took a cab to Tudu Station and then there was a bit of a goof up where our taxi driver told us there were no more trou-trous going and the private cars going were charging 15 cedis each, about five more than was at all reasonable. Then Ortencia managed to find us another trou-trou in a different parking lot, though there was a lot of loud yelling between the apprenti and the passengers and waiting before we got started. I finished off The Economist and did some more Sudoku, slept, and mentally rehearsed my French.

Arriving at an African land border after dark is maybe not the way to go. When several people make runs for the border and get beat up, it makes you a bit skittish, especially when you are in the process of being ripped off when exchanging dollars for CFA (according to the LP, it might have had something to do with the calculators, and a police officer comes and gets involved. In the end, we just crossed the borders before exchanging. Turns out, I only had a single visa for Ghana, in spite of paying for a multiple and being asked on a date by the man who issued it - apparently I should have made that date. But, into Togo we went, where my passport was stamped by candlelight and bargained for a better rate for my dollars (though I would never have guessed that you can get better rates the bigger the bill).

Unfortunately, we could not find a taxi - the only one that went by was asking a completely unreasonable price - and Ortencia doesn't have Peace Corps approval to take a moto. While we were standing around in the dark, and Ortencia was talking with asshole cabbie, I started chatting with a Liberian named Charles, who is a Rastafarian musician in Togo for a festival and he got a friend of his to drive us over to the hostel. It was only 9 PM. When we checked in, not only did we have mosquito netting but for the first time, we had sheets. Ortencia had mocked me (gently) about having packed a sheet for a double bed - but the LP told me to bring one, and so I did. The double sheet is the only one I own. We walked down the sand roads to find credit for Ortencia's phone, water, and spaghetti at a stand for 300 francs - cheaper and just as good as the food in Ghana.

By the time we hit the hostel again, I had the grossest fee in the history of feet: dirty, covered in bug bites, and with a nasty weeping wound on my ankle. A pedicure would not have made it any better.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

They Come in Twos

We won both at Orange Tree and Phillies trivia and I'm starting to believe that we can only win them together. Plus, I had two Thanksgiving dinners over the weekend. And I finally got ahold of the two Battlestar Galactica movies. Perhaps two is my new lucky number.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sick in Paradise

I woke up sick in paradise, sadly, and missed a canoe trip to see turtles - and while apparently there were no turtles, I'm not sure my morning of reading in the most uncomfortable hammock in existence was a better call. I finished The End of Faith and moved on to reading Travels in West Africa while travelling in West Africa, which has some hilarious quips about dying. Ortencia and I chatted, wandered down the beach to the Oasis Resort for lunch (though I stuck to water, in an attempt to settle my stomach). There was much debate about whether we should stay another night in the hopes that I would start feeling better or move on. We attempted to order more chocolate bars and ended up instead with hot chocolate with milk and sugar to be added - though considering how chilly it was when the sun wasn't out was just fine. I had plain rice for dinner and Ortencia refused to plan any board games with me! Apparently I'm too intimidating a Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit opponent, so I did some Sudoku by the lantern light and went to bed.

My Moleskine notebook from the trip is just made up of short notes most of the time that I'm having to translate (rather after the fact) into a narrative. One of the few actual sentences in the notebook was from the beach:

"Are travel and new places the norm now? No disconnect in suddenly find myself in Rome, Accra or on a beach with pounding Atlantic surf, a flickering lantern lighting my book and crabs coming out of the holes to climb up legs."

The next day remained restful, as I spent most of it lying on the beach reading Time and The Economist and doing Sudoku. I skipped lunch and coffee in the hopes of healing my stomach yet again, and when Ortencia finally caved, there were no board games available! There are notes about coconuts and handwash, though I have no recollection as to why now.
"Ma'am, trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining-room table. I have no interest in doing it." Barney Frank, Congressman, regarding health care reform town hall question that compared it to Nazi policies.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Not All My Students Belong There, I Suspect

A very interesting article about whether the push to send more students to university is worth it, via 11D.

Keeping House

"Beneath her portrayal of domesticity as a satisfying and enjoyable pastime is what one reader calls 'a relentless paean to obsessive practices.' Menelson wants us to sanitize our sponges and disinfect our dish towels after every use, change the kitty litter ever other day, put on fresh pillowcases twice a week, vacuum our mattress pads wheneer we change the sheets and unplug and wash the refrigerator once a week! Taken seriously, this is domesticity as paranoia-oh, no, a germ! Takes in small doses, it's housekeeping as a hobby for busy professionals, like gourmet cooking, or (more likely) a fantasy: one more self-improvement project that lasts a week and makes you feel guility forever... Put Eve Engesser's story [almost lost her sons for a missed workfare appointment] story togher with Cheryl Mendelson, and what you have is domesticity and motherhood as class priviledges. For poor women, take a "job" or lose your shelter and your kids. For the well-off, running the house becomes a holy task, than which nothing of which the human spirit is capable could possibly be more important."Katha Pollitt

You know, I like a clean house as much as the next person. I'm usually also willing to work to get it that way. However, I am always intensely annoyed by the need to clean up messes created by others, especially if they aren't guests. I have, at times, actually cleaned my fridge out weekly - giving it a wiping down while figuring out what my grocery list should entail just seemed smart. I usually clean once a week - though I may dust or mop my floor a bit less often. I've been known to let the bathroom go for a bit and I have to admit that my dishes aren't always washed within 24 hours.

Cleaning seems much more satisfying when I'm doing it all for myself than I ever recall it being when I lived with roommates or my ex.

Almost Paradise: The Water Could Be Warmer

The Green Turtle is an eco-lodge along the coast. It may take hours to get to Dixcove, but it is well worth it. The dorm beds, which at only three bunkbeds to a big hut were pleasantly spacious, also had mosquito netting hanging from the ceiling to cover my top bunk, which made me feel a bit like a princess crossed with an explorer. The bar is made out of an old fishing boat. There are self-composting toilets lit at night with lanterns, some of them candle lanterns. The showers are outside - cold water, but with the sunlight and ocean breezes and the natural stone structures, they were the best showers I had on the entire trip - in fact, possibly the nicest showers I've ever had in my life. With the Jack Johnson and Bob Marley playing, in some ways it reminded me of all the other beaches I've been to - Thailand, the Philippines. However, the chilly water and the rip tides made swimming unlikely and in the shade the breeze made it a bit chilly.

On our first morning at the beach, I was up incredibly early, as always, but was still the last one up. Finally, real coffee! Along with the French toast, honey, and bananas we had for breakfast, it was fabulous. The fabulousness was slightly hampered by the suicidal flies that kept dive-bombing our cappuccino foam. I had managed to acquire, the night before, about fifty bug bites on each foot and a nasty scratch. I assumed mosquito bites but when we left the lodge, I used a public toilet and two women discussed the bites extensively - unfortunately, they didn't know the English word for what had bitten me.

Lunch didn't happen until 3 p.m. and involved a gin and tonic, plus fresh orange juice, so far the only fresh juice we'd had in Ghana. We spent our day on the beach, sitting on chairs made of old boat seats, listening to the crashing waves, in the shade of short palm trees. Ortencia was taking notes from the Economist and I was reading the magazines I had grabbed in the airport, interspersed with chapters of "The End" of Faith." We read until it was too dark, got a lantern, and then finally had dinner at 7:30 - I only ate mashed potatoes and chocolate fondue. The first was supposed to help settle my stomach, the second I just couldn't resist.

"The End of Faith" was very much a book that preaches to the choir; I don't see anyone but an atheist reading it. I have to say, a lot of this book resonated with me. Back when I worked in the bank, I worked with a guy about my own age who loved to come out with comments along the lines that atheists don't have any self-discipline because they never have to give up anything. It was an almost daily occurrence, his comments on atheists, but had I ever stated my beliefs about religion in detail, I'm pretty sure I would have ended up in quite a lot of trouble - you can insult atheists, you see, and generally that isn't considered a rude thing to do. But to take on religion - there's a reason you don't discuss religion, politics or football in Scottish pubs. Then there was that whole ridiculousness surrounding the Golden Compass movie and books. I've yet to ever meet an atheist or agnostic who would deny their children the chance to read the Narnia novels, but apparently the atheism in the Golden Compass (which, interestingly enough, I didn't even pick up on my first read of the book as an adult, though it isn't really obvious until you hit that last book) is going to convert all the kids who believe in religion - though Narnia really failed to convert me. Anyways, as I said, preaching to the choir: one of his main beefs is the way atheists are unable to even question religion in the public realm without being seen as rude. I very much agree.

"Sex kills, and so does this kind of blushing prudishness." re. money squandered on teaching abstinence.
Nicholas Kristoff

"Apart from logical cogency, there is to me something a little odd about the ethical valuations of those who think that an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent Deity, after preparing the ground by many millions of years of lifeless nebulae would consider Himself adequately rewarded by the final emergence of Hitler and Stalin and the H Bomb." Bertrand Russell

"What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence." Christopher Hitchens

"To see how much our culture currently partakes of the irrationality of our enemies, just substitute the name of your favorite Olympian for "God" wherever this word appears in public discourse... Clearly the commonplaces of language conceal the vacuity and strangeness of many of our beliefs."

"The most sexually repressive people found in the world today - people who are stirred to a killing rage by reruns of Baywatch - are lured to martyrdom by a conception of paradise that resembles nothing so much as an al fresco bordello."

"But the rise of Islamic fundamentalism is only a problem because the fundamentals of Islam are a problem. A rise of Jain fundamentalism would harm no one."

"What constitutes a civil society? At minimum, it is a place where ideas, of all kinds, can be criticized without the risk of physical violence. If you live in a land where certain things cannot be said about the king, or about an imaginary being, or about certain books, because such utterances carry the penalty of death, torture, or imprisonment, you do not live in a civil society."

"In neurological terms, we surely visit more suffering upon this earth by killing a fly than by killing a human blastocyst (150-cell stage), to say nothing of a human zygote (flies after all, have 100,000 cells in their brain alone)."

"When was the last time that someone was criticized for not "respecting" another person's unfounded beliefs about physics or history? The same rules should apply to ethical, spiritual, and religious beliefs as well."

re. the limits of intelligent dissent: "People who believe that the earth is flat are not dissenting geographers; people who deny that the Holocaust ever occurred are not dissenting historians; people who think that God created the universe in 4004 BC are not dissenting cosmologists; and we will see that people who practice barbarisms like 'honor killing' are not dissenting ethicists."

"Man is manifestly not the measure of all things. This universe is shot through with mystery. The very fact of its being, and of our own, is a mystery absolute, and the only miracle worthy of the name. The consciousness that animates us is itself central to this mystery and the ground for any experience we might wish to call 'spiritual'. No myths need be embraced for us to commune with the profundity of our circumstance. No personal God need be worshipped for us to live in awe at the beauty and immensity of creation. No tribal fictions need be rehearsed for us to realise, one fine day, that we do, in fact, love our neighbors, that our happiness is inextricable from their own, and that our interdependence demands that people everywhere be given the opportunity to flourish."

"And yet it remains taboo to criticize religious faith in our society, or to even observe that some religions are less compassionate and less tolerant than others. What is worst in us (outright delusion) has been elevated beyond the reach of criticism, while what is best (reason and intellectual honesty) must remain hidden, for fear of giving offense."

"It seems doubtful that a person could know that he was successfully practicing addition unless he already believed that 2+2=4. It seems just as certain, however, that you did not wake up this morning believing that eight hundred and sixty-five thousand, seven hundred and sixty-two plus two, equals eight hundred and sixty-five thousand, seven hundred and sixty-four. To really exist inside your brain, this belief must be constructed, in the present moment, on the basis of your prior belief that two plus two equals four. Clearly, many beliefs are like this. We may not, in fact, believe most of what we believe about the world until we say we do."

Sam Harris, The End of Faith

Monday, November 23, 2009

Some Fish Are Scary Looking

Yet another morning of not-seven, this time so we could pack up, dump our bags in a left luggage closet, and having breakfast at a little stall on the corner that turned out to be the best of all our breakfasts in Cape Coast by far. After a rip off taxi ride, we were in Elmina. Through the window I caught sight of one of the Asafo Posts dotted around the town (originally army units they were then used to run the administration of Elmina. Today they are shrines functioning as military altars, colourfully decorated with statues drawn from nature, the military and the Bible and used in festivals and funerals) and the church in the center of town and then we got dropped off right in front of the castle. Elmina Castle was very similar to, though smaller than, Cape Coast Castle. I actually preferred Elmina in terms of architecture and since it hadn't been renovated as much it felt a bit more authentic. From Elmina we could see both the fish market and Fort Jago, which planned the rest of the day.

To get into the fish market you actually have to pay. Once in there, it was incredibly busy with people and fish and boats. We saw some very cool and freaky looking fish, but as people seemed to be very anti-fish photos, I don't have much pictorial evidence.

I got some incredible pineapple, cored and sliced for me into a bag, and then we headed up the hill to the fort. On our way, we picked up a group of curious girls, who were fascinated by seeing themselves on our digital cameras and my hair. After sharing some pineapple with them, we went into Fort Jago, which was much like the castles we had already visited. They are planning to make it into some sort of hotel, I believe, though I'm not sure the bathroom facilities are ready just yet. The views of Elmina Castle and the fish market were amazing. After a short walk, one where I caught sight of a woman carrying on her head the same sort of old-fashioned sewing machine that my mother has two of at home. It's funny how the oddest similarities strike you when you travel.

Before we left Cape Coast, I needed to grab some cash - though several banks claim to have ATMs in Cape Coast, according to the guards, most of them are advertising the ATMs that they intend to soon install. However, there was one at Lloyds bank and certainly none at our next stop: the Green Turtle Lodge at Dixcove. The line-up was sizable, so Ortencia disappeared off hat shopping while I waited for some cash (I did have plenty of American dollars on me, but I thought it was wise to save them for Togo.) Afterwards, I sat down on the steps to start in on my second book of the trip, "The End of Faith" by Sam Harris.

Ghana seems to me to be quite a religious country. To be honest, the Christianity combined with the slave castles - it gave me pause. Interesting that a book so accepting of slavery could continue to be okay with that book while confronting the historical realities of the slave trade. Granted, as an atheist, I suppose how most people can read the Bible and be okay with so many of the messages it sends that are incredibly negative is something that has always confused me. I'm not saying that I don't see that some of the messages are also positive, but considering the overwhelmingly negative result of that book on innocent people over the centuries...

Anyway, my book aside, once Ortencia returned, we got some chocolate Fan Milks - a frozen chocolate milk snack that is not bad, but a poor substitute for ice cream. At the hotel we had to hang around to see if the manager (he of the odd TV-room insistence) had her cell phone, which we had left plugged in the room when we dumped our stuff into the left luggage room. Once we were successfully reunited with our only form of communication (though we never did figure out how to send text messages in Ghana), we took a cab to Pedu Station and began the wait for a trou-trou to fill up.

The first trou-trou ride started off with plantains and preaching - while I was reading an atheist book, no less. Rather amusing. Thankfully our preacher wasn't on with us long. At Takadori (no idea if that is spelt right...) we changed trou-trous to head towards a roundabout where we had to switch to a taxi - a very, very expensive taxi. At 15 cedis to get to the lodge, it was the equivalent of three nights stay in the dorms; I noticed in Cambodia as well that prices when you are travelling sometimes just do not compute. It was incredibly late when we arrived, past time for dinner, but the staff kindly made us some incredibly delicious spicy beans and rice. And bottles of Coke and chocolate, naturally!

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Sorry, I'm busy stuffing myself with turkey and can't post in a substantial manner today.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Poor Man's CSI

Since I have no TV or Internet at home, I've been watching a lot of DVDs. When a bunch of freebies came my way, I took them. As a result, I've worked my way through the first season of NCIS. It was described to me by a friend as a poor man's CSI and I totally get why. I find the goth and the British doctor annoying, the frat boy obnoxious, Mark Harmon not cool enough to make up for all that, and that hot chick, well, all she does is stare at people in a flirty manner (which, while nice, isn't exactly the only think I'd like to see female characters doing.)

But they hit rock bottom when they suggested that MOST OF CANADA went dark during the great eastern blackout of 2003. And they showed a map! People, Canada is the second biggest country in the freaking world - that is definitely not most of Canada.

Friday, November 20, 2009

I Want This Now


After two weekends that involved spending all of Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday morning lying around, watching DVDs and reading has me slightly dreading this weekend's intensity: a friend up from Busan tomorrow, two Thanksgiving dinners, two hashes, and possibly a Saturday night at the Pink Hole (subtly named lesbian bars are not a Korean thing, apparently) with both the Sappho Sisters (Seoul) and the Busan Sisters all meeting up, about 40 odd people it sounds like.

However, I'll be totally broke next weekend, what with getting paid on the 30th - a freaking Monday! - so I suppose I can chill out again then...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I Survived the Makeout Session

In spite of all last night's jokes about me making out with pigs and that explaining the piercing headache I had had for two days, I don't have the swine flu. Woke up tired but pain-free this morning, thankfully. Ever since that day when my vision pixilated back when I was working at the bank in Scotland and the doctor said it could have been a migraine (just without the extreme pain), I've always worried when I get headaches that match migraine descriptions, but so far I seem to be coasting along...

Obama's visiting Yongsan Base, leading to a crazy number of police officers wandering around my hood last night. We named ourselves the Obama Stalkers in his honour but his luck didn't rub off on us - a third place win by only two points, so no free booze.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I Dream of...


This morning I woke up after the most incredibly vivid dream about Thanksgiving. I dreamt about buying all the food, cleaning the house, cooking, stressing about the turkey, people arriving...

And then I bloody woke up. I didn't even get to eat any of my dream turkey!

Thank Maude the real thing is happening twice this weekend.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Do you know what happens to weekends when you spend two months dead broke? You find yourself doing things like decorating the walls or cleaning on Friday nights. I may have physically entered my thirties a year and a half ago, but this is the clincher. Two weekends in a row have found me in the house, reading and cleaning and watching TV and such things, with Sunday being my only exciting day. Last weekend was the perogy-making party with my coworkers, fuelled by lots of red wine. I must recommend less red wine if you don't want to be scraping lots of damp flour that has glued itself to your walls, counters and floor after. However, between the cabbage/mushroom/onion fry up, the sausages, and the most delicious handmade perogies I've ever tasted, it was a big success. Just with lots of dishes - but I can't complain because hosting that party kept me fed on leftovers for a solid week. Assa!

This weekend I didn't venture out until Sunday afternoon book club/brunch. We read David Sedaris's Holidays on Ice - I wasn't a huge fan of the book, but the discussion was still interesting. Our next read is The Year of Living Biblically by whoever that guy is. All the lesbians on my Facebook feed say it's good - which struck me as an interesting response. I'm curious to read it now, but I'm sharing a copy with Nami, who got it first. I traded in some books and had the tail end of the gift card I won on Brian's blog with my photo of a kid's shirt so between trading some chick flicks for two books and then picking up four more on credit and buying the most recent Ms. Magazine, it was a pretty damn exciting trip to the bookstore. After I wandered over to Sam Ryan's to hang out with hashers and eat mushy peas.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Caster Semenya, silver metal stripped for intersex result

katie reyes, age 13 first girl to hit the winning home run in the Little League World Series, Canadian
1984 only 15 girls have played in the Series

Peta can kiss my big fat vegetarian ass.

marga gomez, one of the first openly lesbian comics

November 25th, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women
volunteer, advocate against violence

January 22, 2010
Roe v. Wade Anniversary

Pakistan was the nation with the first Muslim woman presidential candidate (Fatima Jinnah, 1965) and the first women head of government in the Muslim world (Benazir Bhutto, 1988).

Moderate Taliban IDed by:

-any leaders whose daughters, mother, sisters, and/or wife are educated without restriction on grade level or subjects;

-any leader willing to escort the women and girls of his family to a male physician if he is on duty;

-any leader whose female family members have paid employment or are self-employed;

-but any leader who has advocated killing of individuals or groups that disagree with his viewpoint is not eligible for moderate status

*don't involve whether a woman is veiled, which is a personal and cultural choice

-Rebiya Kadeer leads Uighur resistance

-Nobel Peace Laureates Shirin Ebadi, Wangari Maathai, Mairead Maguire, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Betty Williams, Jody Williams, Aung San Suu Kyi

November weekends

perogies, end of PMS meeting at Laura's

battlestar gallactica, grey's 1 &2

book club Sedaris at Wolfhound


Iain M. Banks, Consider Phlebas

Laurell K. Hamilton, Incubus Dreams

L.A. Banks, The Awakening

Aldous Huxley, Ape and Essence

Anne Fadiman, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

Global Woman, Barbara Ehrenreich, Afflie Russel Hochschild

Ms. Mag

On After for Southside

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Friday, November 13, 2009

And then Ortencia got ants in her pants...

The mosque at the market.

I am not a morning person. In Korea, I seldom get up before noon without a lot of incentive, but in Ghana I found myself waking incredibly early - so early that I requested Ortencia not tell me what exactly was the time was, so all I can tell you about the day we went to Kakum is that I woke up at a time that was not seven. I started off the day a bit ill - after that morning, I would not have an unaided solid shit - perhaps that is too much information, but this was a topic of conversation that in Ghana and Togo is discussed to a fairly large amount of hilarity, actually.

By this point, Cape Coast had started to feel familiar, as we walked up and down the same four or five streets several times a day. Off we went to the market to find a trou-trou to make the trip to Kakum. About an hour later we were walking down a muddy lane with two other tourists to the museum at the entrance to the park. After a quick intro to the history of the park and the rain forest environment and animals - which really only consists of forest elephants so hard to track or glimpse that even scientists have a hard time seeing. We went on a canopy walk first - the view was fairly incredible, but I have to say, it wasn't a terribly enjoyable experience. I have a rather big fear of heights and every time the net bit didn't come up at least to my waist, I have to say it was a bit... well, less than fun.

Do you know what I forgot to take to the RAIN forest? My rain jacket. Turns out that it rains in the rain forest... Anyway, after the scary up-high hiking bit was the nature hike - we went along the trails, learning about the trees and plants. I felt rather bad for some of the people on the hike - they seemed to think we were actually going to see incredible animals. The only wildlife we encountered was ants, but they were pretty cool ants. Hundreds of them were walking together across a path, over and around each other. Unfortunately, Ortencia and one of the other girls on walk got them up their pants. And I thought that was just a figure of speech.

After a trou-trou ride home, we wandered around looking for information on the resort at Dixcove at tourist information and the castle with no love. I grabbed chocolate and water in order to go home and nap - I had a fever and the chills and just generally felt shitty. The napping was interrupted by the incredibly, indescribably loud music playing just outside the hotel. A bunch of young kids were out dancing to that music in the evening as we ate the not-great-as-always dinner on the hotel roof, because I totally lacked the will to walk anywhere. After a cold shower, I went back to bed.

Taking cold showers, and all my showers on vacation up until I returned to Accra were cold showers, always make me think of swimming lessons as a kid and what they tell you about hypothermia and the parts of the body that they always advised that you try and cover up by curling into a ball and floating because they let so much heat out. Cold showers weren't that bad in Ghana, actually, since it was so warm, but I still dreaded the moment I had to stand under that water and get my head wet.