In Germany, children leave their shoes out on December 5th and awaken to find them filled with candy and [chocolate] gold coins. December 6th is Niklaustag, St. Nicholas Day, and he has visited the evening before to distribute small toys and candy.
This is what my mom told me every year, when she reminded me to put my shoes outside my bedroom door. What she failed to tell me is that Niklaus does not roam the Germanic lands alone. He has a partner, whose name and description vary with area and, in my mind, level of scare necessary for the children in question.
There’s Knecht Ruprecht, who is simply St. Nicholas’ bondsman. He follows close behind, handing him the switch to spank bad children with, and carrying the sack filled with goodies that Niklaus distributes to good children. He was my mother’s explanation of who accompanied St. Nicholas on his rounds and I always thought of him as poor, human elf. Just a helper who can’t really get away.
There’s Schwartze Peter, who is St. Nicholas’ black slave. He also carries a sack and switches, but stuffs really bad children into the sack. What happens to them next varies from being sent to Spain, beaten with sticks, to being drowned in the ocean.
Then, there’s Krampus. Read more >>
Happy Halloweekend! I hope everyone has a spooky, safe, costumey, awesome Hallowe’en!
I ran across this tweet by Neil Gaiman a few days ago, linking to an article he wrote for last year’s Hallowe’en:
A few small Hallowe’en thoughts from a few years ago, from the New York Times: http://nyti.ms/aydNtx
In it, he discusses fears and their place in our culture.
I am not afraid of witches, devils, goblins, death, satan, spiders, werewolves, vampires, ghosts, or Buzz Lightyears. I’m not afraid of the dark, of the cold wind that blows, of a full moon and dogs howling in the distance, of night, of strangers, of cobwebs that stick to my face, or strange houses. But tonight, I will allow such fears to make me shiver with delightful fear, let the adrenaline make my heart beat faster, and enjoy the warmth and comfort of friends gathered in camaraderie, food shared, and candles lit. Because it’s easier to be afraid of “spooky” things than to think of the things that I am afraid of: government intrusion, theocratic politicians, people who want to take away other people’s rights, not having money, family deciding not to love me, and losing friends.
What are you afraid of? What will you let yourself fear tonight?
(no, not that one)
“That says, ‘oh, Love Me Dead!’”
or, A Feminist Critique of Ludo’s “Love Me Dead”
Today’s music brought to you courtesy of DH *ahem* who picked it up from a House commercial. Which is funny, since I watch TV & he doesn’t and the song totally escaped my notice. I’ve had it stuck in my head essentially since I first saw the video for it, which I shall present forthwith:
When I was a kid, we had the story of Rindercella taped to our refrigerator. I loved reading it. I grew up in a family where the dominant form of humor was puns, including Spoonerisms. While I was first discovering teh Intarwebs, I looked for Rindercella, a candidate for being somewhere online if ever there was one. I never found it (although I did find Round Tuits, one of which my grandmother had).
Until today, when I said “nidmight”, a reference to it that all of my family would have gotten, and had to explain about how Rindercella slopped her dripper at nidmight. Then I Googled it & behold! A piece of my childhood to inflict upon my readers, muahaha!
Read more >>
Two recent news stories impressed upon me the fact that I will always be some kind of Catholic. Even if it’s ex-Catholic. My first step in rejecting religion was exploring my own. This started as what I later knew to be feminist critique of Catholicism. The more I learned, the more it seemed clear to me that women had a larger role in this religion than I was ever allowed to know growing up in it.
I still keep tabs on the Womenpriest movement and hope that someday the Church of my birth becomes something I can be proud of. I still think of Mary Magdalene as an integral part of what the Church should be (and is, even if it’s denied). And recently, these stories made me smile and be hopeful.
Feminists (even if they don’t use that word) are trying to get stories from the Bible that include positive depictions of women read more often during Mass. Proof of their desire for a female representation of the Divine, they gather in their churches while mass is not in session to share in their subversive readings.
Every day, there are more and more books that discuss the historical underpinnings of Christianity from a feminist perspective. Here is an interview with a recent author of one such.
I’ve held off for as long as I could bear to, but it is now time to release this upon the MoF community. From the guy who brought us the classic office zombie song, Re: Your Brains and the classy May Day song, First of May, comes the geek classic Still Alive, the end-credits song for the video game Portal (play a flash version here).
Portal is the latest installment of the Half Life series, one of the first popular first person shooter video games. The song, Still Alive, is played over the end credits, and sung by the main (speaking) character, GLaDOS, an AI with a distressing sense of humor: “The Enrichment Center promises to always provide a safe testing environment. In dangerous testing environments, the Enrichment Center promises to always provide useful advice. For instance, the floor here will kill you. Try to avoid it.”
I have a soft spot in my heart for AIs in general and female AIs in particular. From Jane, my namesake, to Cortana, the only redeeming quality of Halo, another FPS, there’s something inherently attractive to me about a disembodied (yet somehow still female) sentient computer. And so, despite GLaDOS’ evilness in the game, I already like her.
The general theme behind Portal (which may be necessary for understanding the song) is that GLaDOS is in charge of a research facility involved in testing a new kind of gun that creates “portals”. She has a number of test subjects who she forces to test the gun in different situations (creating levels in the game) for a promise of cake at the end of a successful course of testing. Throughout the testing, the test subject (the player) encounters blood splatters where prior subjects died in their attempts and graffiti, often consisting of “the cake is a lie” (which has become a geeky expression). Eventually, the test subject kills GLaDOS and discovers that she was the only entity in the research facility, a situation eerily similar to the house in Bradbury’s There Will Come Soft Rains. Throughout the game, GLaDOS’ voice stumbles and is replaced by static, indicating that something has already gone horribly wrong.
Implicit in the AI mythos is that, although it is created (either purposefully or accidentally) by humanity, it cannot be controlled by humanity. The AI must choose between good and evil—but these are binaries that only exist for humans, good for an AI might be destruction of humanity (see: HAL). AIs are the Frankenstein’s monsters of our century: it is beautifully tempting to create something so powerful and advanced but it is dangerous to unleash something with such capacity for destruction. As we get closer to the realities of the fictions we create, these stories, I believe, carry more and more poignancy.
Still Alive is a heart-wrenchingly emotional portrayal, in her own words, of a heartlessly unemotional being. It walks the razor edge of the AI paradox: GLaDOS is human in so many ways but still cold and ruthless. And so, after much ado…if you still dare, I give you more versions of Still Alive than you could possibly desire: Read more >>
A fascinating discussion/speculation about the position of women on earth and how that mirrors their position in heaven. Includes speculation about what might have been the course of humanity if the Abrahamic God was a female.
1. One book that made you laugh: I, Lucifer, by Glen Duncan. DH and I read this to each other on one of our many road trips. Totally light reading, with no redeeming social value (as my father might say), but still a fun ride.
2. One book that made you cry: Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. I was going to use this for #4 but the truth is, I cry every time I read it to the end. I cry when he visits Valentine at the lake and she convinces him to return to school. I cry when he passes his final “exam”. I cry when he realizes what he’s done. I cry when Earth does not welcome him back—when his friends gather around him to protect him from the adulation and the horror of his fellow man.
3. One book that you loved as a child: Fables & Fairy Tales, by Leo Tolstoy. I love this book. I love the way fables (and fairy tales) influence a culture. It was quite instructive to me to read them, even though I didn’t know what culture they came from. The more later learned about Russia, the more sense they made.
4. One book you’ve read more than once: Sophie’s World, by Jostein Gaarder. I discovered this book in high school—a friend of mine simply could not believe that I hadn’t read it and insisted that I find a copy (in English, a fair feat) and read it. It’s a wonderful introduction to philosophy in an accessible manner (even if they’re already diving hard-core into Kant and Nietzsche, I would recommend—and lend—this to CatGirl and GameBoy).
5. One book you loved, but were embarrassed to admit it: Tell Me Lies, by Jennifer Crusie. By the time I realized it was a romance novel, I was too far into it to put it down. Now I reread it on occasion because it still cracks me up. I had imagined that romance novels would be far more explicit, but this concentrated on the personality of the guy and, while he’s not my type, that made all the difference. (I imagine…it’s the only romance novel I’ve ever read…I swear.)
6. One book you hated: Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. My professor told me to read it in high school while the rest of the class finished reading (whatever we had been assigned) and to tell him what I thought. I told him that I liked the story, “and a good author could have done a lot with it.” I’ve never been able to bring myself to reread it, but now I feel bad about that, since I think it was one of his favs.
7. One book that scared you: Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. I don’t know how old one is supposed to be for this book, but I think I was really young when I read it. I still think of it and get that fear in my chest—when I’m speeding down a freeway so fast I can’t read billboards, or when I am confronted with a fire station and must interact with it.
8. One book that bored you: the Cherry Orchard, by Anton Chekhov. Another high school book. I felt that we spent too much time on it and I really didn’t understand what it was supposed to symbolize.
9. One book that made you happy: the Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love & High Adventure, by William Goldman. One of my favorite books of all time, one that I can pick up, flip open, & just start reading at any point & reenjoy the whole thing. It makes me happy every time I reread it.
10. One book that made you miserable: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (who just recently died—I have to admit that when I read it, I thought he was already dead). It took me more time to read this than it took me to read Anna K..
11. One book that you weren’t brave enough to read: the Return of the King, by J.R.R. Tolkien. My father read the first three (including the Hobbit) to me but I started falling asleep when he got into the Fellowship books. He never finished the second one & I never had any desire to start the third. I know, I’m going to lose major geek cred for that…
12. One book character you’ve fallen in love with: I guess Paul Atreides from Dune, et al., by Frank Herbert. (Does that restore my geek cred?) Although I kinda just wanted to be his sister, Alia. She was badass!
13. The last book you read: Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer. I have nothing else to say :-p
(overheard between a drunken John & a drunken xJane at last night’s Abney Park concert)
Background: Yesterday, xJane was sitting around, slightly ill, and generally feeling sorry for herself. Whilst innocently watching Emmy consideration DVDs, she received a call from John, who asked if she was busy (she was not) and if she was interested in a steam punk event (she was). What followed was a scramble to finish the DVD (it’s an interesting & funny show, and I recommend it to all and sundry), google costumes, create a costume, finish laundry & dishes, see if I could rope anyone else into this (it’s like drugs: cosplay seems more normal if you can convince other people to do it with you, right Onigiri?), google hairstyles, make & eat dinner, shower, and get all steampunked up.
She then drove to the venue, which is the perfect place for such an event, and immediately knew she was in the right place. Perhaps 2% of the people who showed up were not in cos. Twas tres cool. She stood in line in the chilly LA air for a while, then was allowed to wait inside for John (who was then allowed to skip the line!). Many thanks to Isaac for the tix, for then we entered the 1870s. Or some kind of approximation there of.
Steampunk is hard to define, but I usually go with “Victorian futurism”. It’s was the future would look like if it were trapped in the past. Think the Time Machine, Golden Compass, Diamond Age. It generally involves lots of gears, leather, and zeppelins. It has some hardcore overlap with the Goth scene (although there is less blood involved in steampunk, there are arguably more corsets) as well as DIY/Makers.
The Edison in downtown LA is a steampunk-themed bar. It is always steampunk themed but may not always be as overrun with steampunks than it was last night. It may actually be a historic landmark (and if it’s not it should be): it’s the first private powerplant in LA…turned into a bar. The generators, coal-furnaces, and just all around ambiance is still there. They even have a steampunk dress code (which stresses no “athletic wear of any kind” and that they “strive to more quickly accommodate those who” dress steampunk). It’s a place I would certainly go back to for drinks & perhaps a bite to eat.
Abney Park is a great band whose music might be described as “industrial punk with Eastern/Arabian influences” if not for the lyrics (check out their favorite, played twice last night, “Airship Pirate“). They had a great presence and awesome fan interaction (singing along, stopping songs in the middle because of a mistake, jokes, &c.). They play electric guitar, bass guitar, piano, violin, and djembe (yes, electric djembe) all of which have been steampunked out. And they play them well. This is not just a bunch of weirdos who think they’re a band. This is a band who is also a bunch of weirdos. But in their defense, so is their audience (watching the Artful Dodger and gentlemen with muttonchops mosh is friggin’ awesome). And so am I.
John nor I do this on a what you might call regular basis, so our steampunk was a little mild (although the darkened & sunken eyes that Jana pulled of on John were the perfect effect!) compared to
some most of those in attendance. Unfortunately, I do not have a corset on hand for just such events. This shall be remedied soon (hear that, John? lemmie know when they’re back in town). Nor goggles, nor top hat (though I should have spectacles somewhere, which I shall find & superglue to an appropriately dainty stick to hold to my face). John did admirably with $12 and a borrowed hat. And DH has a remarkable amount of steampunk stuff hanging around: too bad he has no inclination in that direction. But I think we did quite well on short notice and with no practice. I could totally get into this.
Since it was John, there was much emphasis that evening on absinthe, of which there was plenty to be had. We each had a shot of heavily sweetened absinthe from and we split a “Hemmingway”: a shot of absinthe mixed with champagne. We then went and sat down for a while. We ended the evening with Denny’s before slinking home, glad that, at 2AM none of my neighbors was around to ask what I was wearing.
I thoroughly enjoyed (and survived) the whole schmear: the dress up, the drinks, the people, the event. Who knew that heavy drinking was good for a cold? John & I met at the venue before the concert started and had a chance to wander into each of the little alcoves to check out the decor (John kept commenting on the attention to detail) as well as the people. And once again I have to give props to the effect of the Masque: people walked up to me as though they’d known me for years, “Those are awesome gloves!” and we’d start talking about little boutiques in Marin county. Staring is encouraged in this kind of a venue. Some of the people even had their own personas (I heard one gentleman introduce himself as Baron von [something german]). I found myself wondering who these people were in meatspace, for want of a better term. Do they wear goggles to their offices? Or are they corporate lawyers in the day light and corseted wenches only in the shadows of the Edison?
And what causes people to get into this? Cosplay at a con is one thing, but cosplay at a bar takes it to a whole nother level. I wonder if there isn’t some of the camaraderie of religion that attracts people to this: if you know they’re into [Jesus, Buddha, steampunk], you already have something in common. John mentioned that there was a notable increase in the amicability of the people at the Edison last night (as opposed to people in everyday life). And it was true: the gentlemen opened doors for each other & for the ladies (even if they were wenches). Perhaps some of the attraction of the Victorian lifestyle is the level of politeness that is acceptable in mixed company. I just like the corsets. And the gears. And I’m totally going to look for costume pieces the next time I’m at the army surplus store. This is totally my bag (and if not for John, I’d not’ve known!).
One thing that I miss about being a missionary were the ghost stories we shared. They had more power then, when I believed in the world of the spirits. The dead were constant companions. One night we were riding our bikes to a dinner appointment in the countryside, and the silhouettes of the forested hills that surrounded us were darker than the night sky. As the three of us pedaled along, one companion talked about friends of friends who had talked tough about what they would say to Lucifer and then who were paralyzed with fear when he appeared to them at night. When I spoke about the time that some LDS prophet had seen Cain walking through the woods, forever cursed to wander the earth, my big Kentucky rancher companion told me to stop and admitted that these stories “scared him shitless.”
When we taught a teen schoolgirl and her mother about the spirit world, we were surprised (and delighted) to find that they already knew all about it. In fact, Sachiko had already had kanashibari (lit. “bound in metal”) experiences lying in her futon late at night, in which she felt so paralyzed by the invisible spirits that it was like being bound up in chains. I shared a similar experience and my companion and I witnessed that these spirits were real and that these things were indeed true. It was fear-inducing and a delightful bonding experience.
Contrast these stories with my experience a few years ago. In the dead of night, I opened my eyes, looked down at my chest and saw a disembodied hand holding a tube of anti-bacterial ointment. The skeptic in me immediately kicked in, thinking “no way,” and the hand quickly faded. My mind immediately filled in all the gaps: I was still dreaming, even though my eyes were open; my daughter had cut herself the day before, and my subconscious drew on my parental worries about infection. No spirits were necessary, though it’s probably that I would have interpreted and spun the experience differently when I was a believer.
I’ll close with a link to the Wikipedia article on Sleep Paralysis. It seems like a universal phenomenon, but it’s amazing how it’s interpreted within each culture. Apparently interpretation has serious consequences for some–Hmong males may actually die from the fear-induced stress. Here are a few of the names and folk-explanations for sleep paralysis:
- In African American culture, isolated sleep paralysis is commonly referred to as “the devil riding your back”
- In Hmong culture, sleep paralysis describes an experience called “dab tsog” or “crushing demon” from the compound phrase “dab” (demon) and “tsog” (crush). Often the sufferer claims to be able to see a tiny figure, no larger than a child, sitting on his or her chest. What is alarming is that a vast number of American Hmong, mainly males, have died in their sleep prompting the Centers for Disease Control to create the term “Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome” or “SUNDS” for short.
- In Japanese culture, sleep paralysis is referred to as kanashibari (金縛り, literally “bound or fastened in metal,” from kane “metal” and shibaru” to bind, to tie, to fasten”).
- In Iceland folk culture sleep paralysis is generally called having a “Mara”. Mara is an old Icelandic word for a mare but has taken on the meaning for a sort of a devil that sits on ones chest at night, trying to suffocate the victim.
- In New Guinea, people refer to this phenomenon as “Suk Ninmyo”, believed to originate from sacred trees that use human essence to sustain its life. The trees are said to feed on human essence during night as to not disturb the human’s daily life, but sometimes people wake unnaturally during the feeding, resulting in the paralysis.
- In Mexico, it’s believed that sleep paralysis is in fact the spirit of a dead person getting on the person and impeding movement, calling this “se me subió el muerto” (the dead person got on me).
- In Ireland it is also known as “the hag.” The expression originates from reports of an old woman that was believed to be seen near the sufferer during paralysis.
When I was in high school, if I wanted to do anything on a Sunday (missing church), I’d have to go to Saturday evening mass. Since the English Community only had one service a week, and since it was 50k away, I’d walk down to the local Catholic Church and sit in the way back (eventually it did occur to me that I didn’t have to go there, just be gone for the right general amount of time, but I still usually hung out around there). I found it much easier to tune out mass in German, so I often spent the hour or so thinking Deep Thoughts. One of the major Deep Thoughts was of chaos & order.
By this time in my spiritual life, I was quite well versed in Classical myths (Roman & Greek) and fairly well versed in other European (Norse & Irish) and some Shamanic traditions (Egyptian & American). I knew I wasn’t Catholic, but I didn’t really know what I was. Chaos, in the Greek myths, is how the universe began. Upon it, order was imposed & it became the Cosmos.
I always felt (and still feel), that Chaos still has quite a hold on the world in general. When sitting in the last possible pew, I would look at the orderly church: rows upon rows of pews set just the right amount apart. And then humanity would trickle in through the doors and seat themselves willy-nilly. Chaos imposing itself back upon Order.
I see this often when I look around. There is order. And there is Chaos. And they exist in less of a matter/anti-matter state, where one destroys the other, but in an almost agreeable discord. Like a violin with one string out of tune.
I love this. I love seeing order being swept away, covered, or dismembered by Chaos. Sometimes I think my life as too much order; although I never wish for Chaos, when it comes, it brings a necessary balance. Maybe it’s because I’m so anal retentive that the slightest disordered item stands out as though it’s neon, but I cannot abide a situation in which Chaos came only briefly.
I’m a dualist in many senses of that word, but it’s chaos and order that really bring it home to me.