10,000 years ago, you know i was a naked ape!

It’s bad form to post too many mp3s from the same album. 20 Jazz Funk Greats posted “Wolves and Wolverines” from Old Time Relijun’s 2012 recently. I’m more keen another song though…

Old Time Relijun “Chemical Factory” Hey! I live in Baton Rouge! How can i not adopt this tune as a staple for all kinds of compilations now?! Sheesh, and it’s got all kinds of pseudo-evolutionist ranting and post-apocalyptic imagery. George Saunders goes cruising with Captain Beefheart in a Big Jesus Trash Can.

(pssst…. personally i believe mankind was quite sophisticated 10,000 years ago, living in planned communities, not savage cavemen… we may as well be called naked apes now.)

That crazy oboe sound is strewn through the whole album. That’s got me hooked deep.

reading The Cyberiad

I’m not even a third of the way through Lem’s The Cyberiad, but i’m struck with how it reminds me of mythology, with a pair of trickster-heroes inventing and lying their way through reality. It’s not a collection of Just-So stories, but the deep connection to something very ancient in human storytelling is powerful.

There hasn’t been a book that i’ve read in months that i have not loved (aside from The Historian. Fuck that book,) but it’s more fun reading The Cyberiad than i could have imagined. Lem’s a name tossed about by literati and elite geeks for decades, but only now i’m catching on to the fact that Douglas Adams is regularly dismissed by fans of Lem’s The Cyberiad, being a pale imitation, or lesser cousin via convergent evolution at best. Poor Adams… i don’t doubt for a moment now that he read Lem’s work or lifted elements from it, but he also came from a tradition of British humor that Lem borrowed little or nothing from. The peculiar folk-myth quality of Lem’s Cyberiad is nothing Adams used.

It doesn’t seem unlikely for Trurl and Klapaucius to be renamed as Coyote and Crow.

Off to read more, but this is among my favorite books read in quite a few years, just for pure entertainment.

12,000-Year-Old Skeleton Discovered In Morocco

This seems to be right at the dawn of Capsian culture. I think Berkane is in extreme northeast Morocco, right on the border with Algeria.

September 28, 2005 12:30 p.m. EST

Niladri Sekhar Nath – All Headline News Foreign Correspondent

(AHN) – A Moroccan archaeologist team has excavated a human skeleton dating back 11,000 to 12,000 years in a cave in Tafoghalt, Berkane, reports Indian news agencies.

One of the skeletons was buried with a horn of a barbary sheep, an animal once abundant in the region during the prehistoric age.

The discovery will give experts a clearer idea of the funeral rituals practiced by the prehistoric population of the superior Paleolithic, the Iberomaurusian culture in particular.

According to the report, scientists also discovered tools made of rocks, pottery works and remains of ostrich eggs dating back 5,500 years in other sites.

I wonder if this skeleton will be a useful piece in this puzzle.

one month later: many dead of Katrina still not found or recovered

So the death toll of Katrina is officially at 1,134, for four states, with no clear definition of whether the deaths are defined as purely from flooding, dehydration, or other causes.

It turns out that even of the houses that have been marked as searched for survivors or bodies in the aftermath of Katrina have not been searched all that thoroughly. It was already known that searchers were not allowed to enter homes that were locked, except by peering through windows. Now it’s turning out that the homes they did enter could not have been searched that thoroughly.

A few residents returning to their homes in this devastated region have found the bodies of their loved ones, even in houses that have been searched and marked, and the state emergency medical director warned Wednesday that more families could be in for a similar shock.

It’s not that the search parties are lazy or duplicitous. It’s the scale of sheer devastation:

Dr. Bryan Bertucci, the coroner in St. Bernard Parish, which was opened to residents on Saturday, said that even in houses that had been entered, conditions might have prevented a thorough search.

“I’ve been in my own house five times, and I still can’t get into the bathroom,” Dr. Bertucci said.

In many rooms at St. Rita’s Nursing Home, where 34 died, he said, “if you looked in the room numerous times, you wouldn’t know somebody was there unless you moved furniture around.”

Unless one knows exactly what to look for and where, many of the bodies are not going to be obvious. In flooding, layers of mud and silt are left covering everything, with debris cast about. I’m having a rotten time trying to track down an official number of missing persons related to Katrina. There will probably not be an accurate death toll for Katrina.

tomb of Odysseus found?

It’s a month old article. I don’t know whether i just missed it because of the hurricanes or whether it’s been discredited and dismissed already. Most likely, it just seems to have slipped through the cracks.

The island of Ithaca is not the Ithaca of Homer. It’s proposed rather that Kefalonia is the Homeric Ithaca. A royal tomb was discovered in 1991 on the island, and certain people argue that other details match up with descriptions from the Odyssey.

I don’t know about the validity of the claim, but i never saw reason to doubt that Odysseus is a historical character as well as a literary one.

malaise & possible recovery

It’s hard to shake off the shock of Katrina. It’s not just an emotional problem. The bookstore is so busy that it’s not dissimiliar to working during the Christmas season, with just as many customers, with quite a few of them short-tempered and vindictive. I’m a little numb. It’s a struggle to read, let alone post on the blog lately. I don’t want to come home to stare slackjawed at the television, but it’s more entertaining than staring at a blank wall.

Despite the staring at television and walls, i have been reading. Those will come back later, but i’m finding that i cannot afford to buy all of the books that i intend to read. I’ve gone back to the library.

The odd thing is that this obsession with buying the books i read is a relatively recent one, probably supplanting my record collection fetish. Most of the books that i’ve read has been from public libraries. I didn’t keep a very good journal in those years so i’m not even that clear on exactly what i’ve read in the past, but it was a lot of Beat, sci-fi, fantasy, and history… i went through a few years in which i had decided that fiction was not worth my time, as there were too many real events that i was unfamiliar with to waste on fiction.

Now i have a library card for the East Baton Rouge Parish Library. I’m more than happy with the selection. Today i checked out Pamuk’s The Black Book, Kadare’s The File on H. Barth’s The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, Calvino’s Why Read the Classics? and Irwin’s Arabian Nightmare. I’ve already put together a list several pages long of other books sitting on the shelves. Although i reminisce about how wonderful the Amite library was in my childhood, i know damned well that it didn’t have anything like this. This is one aspect of living in a city that my backwoods hick self didn’t even grasp… that a public library in Louisiana would have anything other than bestsellers and typical Western canon.

Eine Kleine Monastic Cell Discovery…

Interesting recent find. I pilfered this from a LISTSERV so I’m not certain of the source… I think it is a NY Times article…

September 28, 2005
Ever Since A.D. 270, the Need to Get Away From It All
By MICHAEL SLACKMAN

ZAFARANA, Egypt – Men have retreated to the desert for centuries in search of God, drawn by the quiet and the isolation, by a feeling of divine presence in the barren landscape.

The Rev. Maximous Elantony was one of those men drawn to the desert in search of a relationship with God. But he could hardly believe it when he recently helped to discover some of the earliest physical evidence of Christians who made that quest as well.

Follow Father Maximous inside the 15th-century Apostle Church in the desert near the Red Sea and see history in the torn-up floor. Frozen in time, hidden for hundreds of years beneath one church, and then another, are what Egyptian antiquity officials say are the oldest monastic cells ever discovered, dating to the fourth century. They are so well preserved it is as if someone just lifted off the roof.

“When you live in a quiet place, like a cell, and you are not busy with anything but God, you start to hear yourself and to see yourself,” Father Maximous said during a recent tour of the unearthed cells. “We only want to be busy with God, to hear God, to see God.”

Father Maximous is a Coptic monk who for 27 years has made his home inside the walls of St. Anthony’s Monastery, a fortress of Christianity 100 miles southeast of Cairo that is generally considered the birthplace of Christian monastic life.

During the third century, there were Christians who sought piety through abstention and self-denial. But St. Anthony is credited with taking those practices a step further when he went to live in a cave in the mountains of the desert, not far from the monastery that bears
his name, around the year 270.

The monastery is breathtaking, two tall towers rising up from the sand, each topped with the Coptic cross, dotted with churches and cells for 110 monks. But it is the green that is so striking, the green that historians say drew Anthony, the green palm trees that signal the presence of water. It is easy to feel a divine spirit where water emerges from the desert floor.

And so the men who sought to live like St. Anthony built cells in the ravines of a craggy, bare mountain with all they needed to survive, and with quiet. They made their cells of bricks and plaster, durable but lost over the years, buried beneath Apostle Church.

Father Maximous is deeply interested in the past and is busy working with crews that have dug and scratched away at layers in every corner of the monastery. He said he knew that his predecessors used to build basins into the floor of their churches for what he called a “water mass.” So he began looking. Working with contractors, and with the help of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, he found one basin, and then, mysteriously, a second.

The second was a bit deeper down than the first, and in the wrong position to have been part of Apostle Church. “The direction of this one could not be for this church,” he said, pointing at the second basin.

So they kept digging, pulling away flooring and stone until they uncovered the foundation of an 8th-century church beneath the floor of the 15th-century church. So they kept digging, and beneath that found a stone with a Coptic inscription: “Forgive me Savior. Forgive me Lord,” is roughly what it said. Father Maximous tried to take the stone out of the ground, but it would not budge. So they kept digging.

“This was a complete surprise,” Father Maximous said pointing at the monastic cells.

In the corner of one is a brick stove that was used for cooking. Another was used for prayer. The cells told a story of monks who lived together, with several people in one cell. There was also a basin that was used to soak palm fronds, which they used for weaving things like mats and baskets.

Exploring the past tends to inspire reflection on the present, and as Father Maximous spoke about the cells he helped find, he commented on how much life has changed for Coptic monks in Egypt. The struggle back then was to avoid being killed by Bedouins roaming the desert. Today it is to hold onto the solitude that drew the monks here in the
first place.

“To be a monk is to let yourself free of everything, to connect yourself only with God,” he said, adding that today’s monks are nevertheless a different breed.

He said the younger monks wanted access to e-mail, and he himself carries a fancy cellphone. They want suitable toilets, too. “Those are for modern monks,” he said, a bit condescendingly as he pointed to newer housing on the monastery grounds.

But they also get tourists and pilgrims, busloads in the summer, who traipse through the monastery, taking pictures, making noise. The monastery, once sealed shut with no gate at all, is now open for tours daily, and monks are the tour guides. For a time, tourists were allowed to spend the night, but that was a bit much for the monks. So starting three years ago, all tourists were required to leave by 6 p.m.

Even now, Father Maximous is happy to show off the monastery’s historic sites, but will not show the cells the monks are actually living in. He appears reluctant to take visitors into the library, where there are 2,300 ancient manuscripts, and steps in only after
banging repeatedly on the door so that anyone who wishes to can hide or leave.

Some of the older monks are so put off by the tourists that they take food and head into the mountains to spend the day in a cave, returning only after the crowds have left.

Still, Father Maximous has a plan for Apostle Church that is certain to attract even more tourists. He wants to restore the monastic cells, then cover then over with a glass floor so the church may once again be used for prayer without burying the historic evidence of
early monastic life.

“We are trying to find a balance between our spiritual life,” he said, “and the needs of the people.”

The Death of Serious Russian Lit?

I saw this article on the declining quality of Russian literature at the hands of brutal market forces last week (via Lit Saloon, I think) and wasn’t going to comment on it here.

That is, until I saw this list of best-sellers in Russia (via the November issue of The Atlantic):

A top-ten book list, as of August 2005, based on sales data compiled by Moscow’s Dom Knigi (House of Books).

1. I Take My Words Back, by Viktor Suvorov. A Russian military historian finds flaws in the memoirs of the late Soviet World War II hero Marshal Zhukov—and takes his words back for him.

2. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, by John Perkins. World economic institutions are purportedly shown to be as corrupt and conspiracy-ridden as Russians always believed them to be.

3. The Blue Day Book, by Bradley Trevor Greive. Animal photos and corny captions as mood enhancers, compiled by a Tasmanian author.

4. My Life, by Bill Clinton. The memoirs of Russia’s favorite American president.

5. Catherine the Great: The Diamond Cinderella, by Aleksandr Bushkov. A patriotic account of a German noblewoman’s rise to the Russian throne and of her rule as an enlightened despot.

6. Hunting for Werewolves, by Aleksandr Khinshtein. A Duma deputy’s exposé of the gravest threat to law and order in Russia: “werewolves” (corrupt law-enforcement officers).

7. Business Is Psychology, by Marina Meliya. Self-help for the disgruntled Russian businessman.

8. Lost Civilization: In Search of Lost Mankind, by Aleksei Maslov. The “true” history of mankind, including Atlantis, our vanished horned ancestors, and mysterious giants.

9. Doctor Sinelnikov’s Practical Course: How to Learn to Love Yourself, by V. Sinelnikov and S. Slobodchikov. A step-by-step course in supermarket psychology, Russian-style, for sufferers of low self-esteem.

10. The Mafia Manager: A Guide to the Corporate Machiavelli, by V. An anonymous author confirms what Russian entrepreneurs already know: business isn’t about mission statements, but about who whacks whom—commercially, of course.

Is this really that much worse than our good ol’ American bestseller lists?

Stephen Hawking Breaks his Silence

The Guardian has an interview with genius physicist Stephen Hawking. Hawking has revised and simplified his A Brief History of Time and is releasing the new version as A Briefer History of Time. According to my count, this will mark the fourth time that the material has been dished out to the adoring public. Is the old nerd cashing in? That issue is addressed in the interview.

This is not just a boring Q&A. The interviewer writes about how difficult it is to communicate with Hawking. She even hints at the physicist’s dark side.

An odd read, all in all. Exerpt:

At 63, Hawking has already exceeded his life expectancy by some 40 years. His fame is as much a function of his illness as his science and he plays up to it good-naturedly, providing the voiceover for his cameo in the Simpsons, illustrating his books with cultish, Where’s Wally-type photos of himself flying through space in his wheelchair and suffering the condescensions of the press with relative equanimity. With so little to go on, a personality has been created for him, based largely on assumptions of childish good humour. Hawking’s smile is always “mischievous”; his propensity to mow people down in his wheelchair is japery rather than ill temper or a sign that – who knows? – were he able-bodied he might be a football hooligan. And although his ex-wife has called him a tyrant and his second wife been accused of maltreating him (the complaint was dropped), the romance of Hawking’s image as a butterfly mind trapped in a diving-bell body overrides all others. After meeting him, I suspect that he is cannier at managing it than he is given credit for.

Note to my fellow Americans: do try to ignore copious use of the word “maths” in the interview. MATHS!?!?!

there’s a theme here somewhere

So i’m being lazy… I might as well explain that i’m catching up on some reading.

Yesterday, i finished Kelly Link’s Stranger Things Happen. It’s exactly what i wanted it to be, more stories that defy immediate pigionholing into any particular genre, horror, fairy tale, fantasy, speculative fiction, magical realism, ect. All of these stories had that same unsettled feel and unforced humor. I guess that i must admit that i am conscious of the fact that she’s woman. Through no fault of my own, i don’t read as many female authors as i do male authors. Kelly Link’s style never lets me for a moment forget that a woman is crafting the prose, but never do i feel excluded because of my gender. I’ve tried to read a few female authors before, and realized that i was not the intended reader. Link’s inclusive, yet distinctly feminine, not in the frilly, pink bullshit, but in the human sense. These are the kind of voices and thoughts that i can understand. Although i tend to steer away from any kind of sexuality in literature altogether, out of boredom more than prudishness, Link’s vision works for me.

Reading all of her warped reinventions of fairy tales is bringing back a lot of questions raised from my own childhood, reading stories that seemed more like adult nightmares that pleasant idylls of children. The library in Amite had stacks of dusty old books filled with creepy stories about nonsensical murders, secret monsters, and cruel marriages. Despite the violence of television and video games, few live up to the gruesome possibilities that those old stories offered. I put the Italian Folktales compiled by Calvino back on the shelf, as it was not meshing with my occasional Arabian Nights fix, but that tome has come back into rotation after a couple of Kelly Link books. The psychology of those stories makes more sense again.

I started O’Brien’s The Third Policeman. I cannot recall whether i finished it, but two chapters in, all of it is extremely familiar. No comment just yet.

I’ve also started Lem’s The Cyberiad, definitely the first time that i’ve read it. I’m surprised so far by how much this prefigures Calvino’s Cosmicomics. It still bugs me that Lem didn’t seem to care for Calvino. However, reading this, i wonder if Calvino trod a little too heavily on Lem’s toes in some of his games, and Lem felt trespassed. More later obviously. I’m addicted to Lem now.