Stoning, cheating, rats, slugs

The size of the stone used in stoning shall not be too large to kill the convict by one or two throws and at the same time shall not be too small to be called a stone. “That is, pebbles are ruled out, but so are rocks big enough to kill quickly. As Slate magazine explained, the stones should be “around the size of a tangerine.”

→ National Post: Graphic, anatomy of a stoning

And they have rats down there that have maybe never seen the surface. If they did, then they’d run people out. Like in the movies. You see, we only see the tail end of it. And we only see the weak rats, the ones that get forced out to look for food.”

→ BLDGBLOG: Stratigraphies of Infestation

Now as all the Rats will not run out of the packing cases or waste paper, but will hide amongst the same, this is the time to take a good terrier dog or two with you, and to have a bit of sport. Let one dog hunt among the cases, etc., and hold the other, for the Rats will soon make for the holes, but the rags preventing their escape you will catch and kill a great many by this means.

→ Project Gutenberg, Ike Matthews: Full Revelations of a Professional Rat-catcher

After I’ve gathered my sources, I pull out usable quotes, cite them, and distribute them among the sections of the assignment. Over the years, I’ve refined ways of stretching papers. I can write a four-word sentence in 40 words. Just give me one phrase of quotable text, and I’ll produce two pages of ponderous explanation. I can say in 10 pages what most normal people could say in a paragraph.

→The Chronicle of higher education, Ed Dante: The Shadow Scholar

It looks like any other sea slug, aside from its bright green hue. But the Elysia chlorotica is far from ordinary: it is both a plant and an animal, according to biologists who have been studying the species for two decades. Not only does E. chlorotica turn sunlight into energy — something only plants can do — it also appears to have swiped this ability from the algae it consumes.

→, Stephanie Rogers: Bizarre sea slug is half plant, half animal

Well, fuck. Sorta.

When my paternal grandmother died last spring, we stopped by in Sanok to check in with my fathers father. Although not totally estranged, the relationship wasn’t very cordial and he hadn’t yet met dads second wife of fifteen years, nor their kids. The meeting was short and somewhat strained, but since grandfathers refusal of taking chemotherapy had left him with only a handful of months to live, dad thought he’d make an effort.

The previous occasion that I’d spoken to him had been almost ten years ago. Dad called me up on Iceland while visiting grandfather who had taken ill, and asked that I talk with him. I told shortly of what I was doing and where I was, and he sounded very weak and grateful that I’d taken the time to speak with him. The stories I’ve heard about him has him pegged as a dick, and perhaps illness had brought awareness of this to the foreground.

Regardless of his feelings, he died two weeks ago from metastasized cancers. When we met him in spring he had a brisk step and keen, albeit weary eyes. He’d cut back on the amount of work and now went to his tailors studio only to keep himself occupied during the days. He was living with a woman who cared for him, and if he was wanting for anything it was certainty that he’d die with dignity, which he’d found lacking as of late.

When I last saw him, I was ten or twelve. He gave my brother a straight razor and me a paratrooper knife. “When the Russians attack at least you can take one with you” he said. Mom confiscated the razor. I used the knife when I parachuted ten years ago, but have not killed any Russians. My brother went to the funeral a week ago, while I stayed at home, tied to work, sending my regards to those left behind, and from afar.

Now both my parents are without parents.

Sticks and stones, words and bombs.

So, yes, there is reason for Israelis, and for Jews generally, to think long and hard about the dark Hitler era at this particular time. For the significance of the Gaza Flotilla incident lies not in the questions raised about violations of international law on the high seas, or even about “who assaulted who” first on the Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, but in the larger questions raised about our common human condition by Israel’s occupation policies and its devastation of Gaza’s civilian population.

→ Haaretz, Henry Siegman: Israel’s Greatest Loss: Its Moral Imagination

“Every time I drop a bomb and kill one innocent Afghan, I set the war back — even if I killed 100 Taliban,” he says. And maybe, Grasso admits, he was a little overeager to drop bombs last year. “When you’ve got a truckload of food, everyone looks hungry. So when everything looks suspicious, when you’re looking for suspicious stuff, you almost want it to be suspicious.”

→ Wired, Noah Shachtman: How the Afghanistan Air War Got Stuck in the Sky


→ Wikileaks Wardiary: (ENEMY ACTION) DIRECT FIRE RPT (Small Arms) 2/8 USMC : 0 INJ/DAM

Avoidance speech, or “mother-in-law languages”, is a feature of many Australian Aboriginal languages, some North American languages and Bantu languages of Africa whereby in the presence of certain relatives it is taboo to use everyday speech style, and instead a special speech style must be used.

→ Wikipedia: Avoidance Speech

This is, perhaps, the most troublesome use of a generally troublesome mark. That said, the basic rule for possessives is quite straightfoward: to denote possession, put an apostrophe and a lower-case ‘s’ at the end of the noun (ie person, place or thing) which owns. So we have: Somebody else’s thoughts on the subject of possessive apostrophes.

→ Between Borders, Brian Forte: Mind Your Apostrophes

More than half of the semicolons one sees, I would estimate, should be periods, and probably another quarter should be commas. Far too often, semicolons, like colons, are used to gloss over an imprecise thought. They place two clauses in some kind of relation to one another but relieve the writer of saying exactly what that relation is.

→ Opera, Sex, and Other Vital Matters, Paul Robinson: The Philosophy of Punctuation

Well fuck. Again.

When I visited Poland with Anna and Andreas a couple of years ago, my paternal grandmother delighted in having new guests for dinner, especially since my veganism interfered with her understanding of proper food. At one point she cried when I asked her to not feed my friends because they were in a hurry to another dinner.

When my maternal grandmother died last fall I stopped by my dads place, and she was bedridden and ill. She’d been on the go for most of her life, but despite the radiation therapy, the cancers were making her worse. Her prediction that it would be the last time we’d meet proved right, and she died Friday morning.

Tomasz is better at keeping in touch with the family, and after a recent visit he mentioned that she only had few months to live. I called her on her birthday afterwards; She was tired and sad. I was planning on visiting in May, when work will ease up a bit; Now that I’m leaving for her funeral, shuffling a few appointments around doesn’t seem like such a big deal that I couldn’t have done it earlier. Odd how ones priorities change.

As far back as I remember her, I remember granma as worrying and caring. Caring often came down to a question of food, as it often seems to do with people who have seen war and scarcity. She would rise early to make dumplings or tenderize pork, and eat either standing up or sitting near the kitchen so that whoever seemed to run out of something would get a refill. Dinner was always a three course affiar.

She worried about her extended family and did her best to accomodate everyone. She’d offer you the clothes off her back, and did so literally — I once complimented her scarf, and later found it packed in my suitcase, next to a container of jam pastries and sandwiches.

She worked as a waitress at a diner in Dalarna when my dad had some business up north, and between running a bed & breadfast in Polanczyk and caring for her son’s families, her work ethic was beyond reproach. She used to sell Amway to do something with her spare time. She would enjoy coffee and cigarettes, promising to quit but laugh when taking up smoking again an hour later.

The last three years she’d become progressively worse, and the last six months, as so often is the case, sucked. For someone who always worked and never wanted to be a bother, her illness added insult to injury. We don’t get to choose, but it would be nice if we could die doing what we love, or that which gives us purpose. It seems unfair that she saw herself become unable to work, then move, and finally even to breath.

End-stage pain is the price the sufferer pays for the survivors to be able to see death as something other than only tragedy, and that helps people to move on, but regardless of how it ends we’re one person short.

Compelling narratives.

Thomas Bey William Bailey over at Vague Terrain has an analysis of Modern Warfare 2. It’s a bit too uptight for my taste, but it balances the lavish superlatives I’ve heaped on the game quite nicely. His objection is that because of the extremely compelling narrative of games like these, we’re fed a bunch of propaganda and taught a manufactured history of the world. This is completely true. Thomas critiques isn’t limited to this game but rather highlights the possibilities for nefarious uses which the medium can be put to. The FPS Americas Army is in its third iteration, and they have spun it off into a graphic novel as well — the first story unironically entitled Knowledge is Power — but they get a free pass since it’s an obvious recruitment tool for the US army.

As Walter Benjamin mentions (in an essay you might have noticed lately) film, like architecture, is an art form which you learn to appreciate by habit and osmosis, rather than contemplation. Computer games have the grandiose scenarious of movies, as well as the tactility of architecture (since you’re able to navigate the world and develop an appreciation of the physics of the place.) so they really act as a multiplier of knowledge and narrative. (Regardless of their relationship to fact, mind you)

The exciting thing with photo-realistic games isn’t that we might end up with a Matrix-like scenario where we won’t be able to distinguish between ‘reality’ and ‘not-reality’ but that our memories of events will be messed up. Are you remembering something which you experienced in the ‘real world’ or the surreal world? We don’t have to mess up our physical perception of things for this technology to be scary, only our remembrance of things. Look at how much importance we place on photography as an external memory, and multiply that.

I know that I have created historical narratives based on nothing else than the tech tree in Civilization, so obviously I give more credence to a story than to static statements of fact; And since we experience the stories of computer games first hand, we might absorb the sentiments expressed even more readily. MW2 is a kick-ass game exactly because it fits within the narrative which the West has spun, and which countless action movies has reinforced — it’s “as close to reality as you get” exactly because it’s a narrative which is fictionalized from start to finish.

To paraphrase: Guns don’t kill people. People who live in a world where guns are seen as necessary responses to certain crises, kill people. Political action is necessary if we’d like to change the story, and it would be awesome if computer games could be a change for good, instead of only mirroring an already dominant narrative of how the world works and who we are as humans.

[flv: 640 360]

A more upbeat rider to this story comes from the podcasting world, where fictional parallel universes are less flat and predictable than in MW2:

Myke Bartlet has continued writing and podcasting stories in the Salmon & Dusk universe. The latest short story, Yesterday came too soon, is a nice introduction to his stuff if you don’t feel like starting on a longer series. As previously mentioned, Mykes reading is half the enjoyment of his podcast, not cause the stories are so-so, but cause his tempo and timbre is excellent. Go listen.

Well fuck.

A couple of years ago I was working on a photo series of my extended family; Uncles, cousins and all the extra personnel a family aquires over time. With the omission of a grandfather I got all of them except my maternal grandmother. She was complaining about being too old and ugly to be in a picture, and that she’d rather we remember her by the pictures from back when she was still an imposing matron – with keen eyes and a barking laugh – rather than this old woman of waning health.

I ended up taking a picture of the blanket that would have been the backdrop to her portrait, to make sure that she’d have a place in the finished work.

A couple of years ago she’s still be up and about, occasionally leaving apartment where she’d moved in with her daughter. My mom got her an articulated bed to make getting up easier, but after a while she couldn’t manage that by herself and required full time help.

She’s had arthritis for a long time, and with other illnesses that accompany old age she’d become sickly. The last couple of times my mom came back from visiting Poland, she’s been upset at the amount of pain and suffering that her mother was experiencing, and the inability for anyone to alleviate it.


Grandma died early this morning and we’re looking at ways of getting to the funeral. I haven’t been to Poland for a while, but it’s becoming a bad habit of going for shitty reasons. It’s hard to figure out how to feel about her death; About the unfairness of suffering, of dying and of being left behind, living. There were no things left unsaid nor any promises left hanging, but still there is a void.

She’d talk of her experiences during the second world war, of being imprisoned in a German camp, of losing everything and starting anew in Sanok. She spoke of the house her family used to have, of her time as a hospital nurse, of when lightning struck a pole not ten metres away. If she had any misgivings about her kids or grand-kids it was that none of us had become a lawyer or a doctor – careers worth pursuing and sure signs of intelligence and character – and more than once she’d admonish me for using my talent for arguing on her instead of making a career out of it.

She was tolerant and had an open mind, but took no shit and for as long as she had the faculties of movement she’d pull your ear if you were being stupid. My habit of saying “meh” came from her, but where I might be detached and distant, she had an explosive pronounciation which made it carry so much more meaning. “Bah! Meh! Humbug! Don’t say stupid things!”

Even though she will be missed, I don’t begrudge her a release from the endless suffering she lived with for the past years. No matter how much we’d wish it wasn’t the case, death is sometimes still our only remedy.


If wet, in a library.

There’s a debate on assisted suicide up on Metafilter, brought about by an article by writer Terry Pratchett. I’ve posted on suicide before, but this is more about terminally ill and suffering people and the battle for the right to decide when to go that some of them are waging. My mom brought up the subject in connection to her own mother being very ill and suffering the worst of old age right now. I don’t know how I would handle the request if someone would ask me.

Pratchett has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and is writing the article from the perspective of someone who will be horribly sick before dying. It’s well worth ten minutes of your time. Memento mori, and so on.

As an author, I’ve always tended to be known only to a circle of people – quite a large one, I must admit – who read books. I was not prepared for what happened after I ‘came out’ about having Alzheimer’s in December 2007, and appeared on television. People would stop me in the street to tell me their mother had it, or their father had it. Sometimes, it’s both parents, and I look into their eyes and I see a flash of fear. In London the other day, a beefy man grabbed my arm, smiled at me and said, ‘Thanks a lot for what you’re doing, my mum died from it,’ and disappeared into the crowd.

→ Daily Mail, Terry Pratchett: I’ll die before the endgame [Via: Metafilter]

Iraq troopers

I recently finished reading Starship Troopers, a rather boring book full of military and pseudo-psychological jingoism, and then I stumbled upon the article below.

The things that carried him
The Air Force honor guard moved only one case at a time and, as is their protocol, whenever a case was moved, no matter the distance, it was given a three-second salute, present arms. The airmen carried each case onto the Red Carpet, placing them carefully in neat rows of three. When the last case was in place in front of the cargo door, the general-officer party stood at attention before it, and Sparks said a prayer.

Besides being a gripping article, well written and researched, it’s also an exceptional tale of transformation. The body of a dead soldier takes on so much meaning; It is saluted, posthumously promoted, polished, presented, wept over by strangers. The death of the soldier is portrayed exactly as the harrowing loss for the family as it is, but it is the metamorphosis of a living soldier into someone whom we respect for dying, for having eschewed his life and risen out of the body bag a martyr, that makes the text a particularly interesting read.

It’s worth your time just for the description of the ritual.

Space dictator!

As the evening turned out yesterday, I ended up in front of the tv to watch the space-launch of the first Swedish taikonaut. I’ve never watched all that many things live on TV (the reruns usually are edited better) but it was kinda neat to see the countdown start and then you get the ignition and the takeoff and boom and a lot of lights.

When the event wasn’t narrated by the space-groupies in the studio (“my company developed this space yoghurt. Try it!”), we sat and listened to space control at Kennedy space station. I’m curious how many millions they put in to get that static-sounding, very clippy sound. Gazzilions I imagine – it’s sort of part of the whole thing. if they actually would use regular microphones instead of the NASA brand noise phones half the experience would get lost.

Anyway. It was a blast (har).

And to brighten my evening I just heard that Augusto Pinochet just died in hospital, 91 years old.

Now, if we could just reanimate him and kill him a couple of more times, maybe take a collective shit on his face, well, then I might believe in karma. As it is, the fucker didn’t stand trial nor face the consequences of any of his actions.

The orbituaries are mentioning his dictatorship, the one million refugees, the economical boom. They are not telling of US/western support of him (maggy suck-my-crusty-ass thatcher?), but that might start showing up tomorrow.

He started to decompose with enough time for the editors to put together an interesting retrospect for the morning edition (although I’m quite sure they’ve had one laying around for a bit already). I might actually buy that.

Stop motion

Reminds me of whats-his-name who does the black and white etchings of dead children (same guy who did “a series of unfortunate events” maybe?).

Yes, I know it’s extremely lazy of me to post these vids instead of making any new content. But as usual, when you can’t make noise yourself, don’t be bothered by the other people making noise filling the void.

Or something. I don’t know. What the hell. I just had three bowls of lentil soup and am in a food coma and just want to go to sleep. So. There.