Banned Books Week 2012

Today starts Banned Books Week! In fact, 2012 marks the 30th anniversary of this national event that celebrates the freedom to read. This is also the fifth year that we’ve featured the event on our site! The traditional fifth year anniversary gift is wood and the modern is silverware if you’re considering getting us a gift. Anyway, as the American Library Association says, “Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community –- librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types –- in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular. By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship.”

You can learn more about Banned Books Week and how you can participate at the American Library Association Website. While you’re there you can view a list of frequently challenged books that are considered classics. And on this, the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week AND the 5th anniversary of us celebrating Banned Books Week on The Magical Buffet I picked a classic very close to my heart to share with you today.

From their list is:

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

Banned in Ireland (1932). Removed from classrooms in Miller, MO (1980), because it makes promiscuous sex “look like fun.” Challenged frequently throughout the U.S. as required reading. Challenged as required reading at the Yukon, OK High School (1988) because of “the book’s language and moral content.” Challenged as required reading in the Corona-Norco, CA Unified School District (1993) because it is “centered around negative activity.” Specifically, parents objected that the characters’ sexual behavior directly opposed the health curriculum, which taught sexual abstinence until marriage. The book was retained, and teachers selected alternatives if students object to Huxley’s novel. Removed from the Foley, AL High School Library (2000) pending review, because a parent complained that its characters showed contempt for religion, marriage, and family. The parent complained to the school and to Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. Challenged, but retained in the South Texas Independent School District in Mercedes, TX (2003). Parents objected to the adult themes—sexuality, drugs, suicide—that appeared in the novel. Huxley’s book was part of the summer Science Academy curriculum. The board voted to give parents more control over their children’s choices by requiring principals to automatically offer an alternative to a challenged book. Retained in the Coeur D’Alene, ID School District (2008) despite objections that the book has too many references to sex and drug use.

In high school I was given a list of books and told to choose a book on the list to read. I chose “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley. I can say unreservedly that no child should have to read this book. Not because of sex, drugs, or suicide, but because the book stunk. Seriously. One of my biggest regrets in high school was picking “Brave New World” from that damn list. Why? Why, oh why didn’t I pick “1984”? You can leave it in the libraries, but please, teachers, I beseech you, stop the misery now, don’t have your students read “Brave New World”. Consider it a Banned Books Week anniversary gift.

H.P. Lovecraft’s Dark Universe

By Dr. Bob Curran

As horror writers go, perhaps none is more mysterious or more intriguing than Howard Phillips Lovecraft who died in March 1937 and who created the dark cosmos which is now known as the Cthulhu Mythos. In life, Lovecraft was as strange as any of his creations – a gloomy, withdrawn and introverted man wholly dependent on other people – indeed, so much so that many have suggested that he was in touch with things which we ourselves cannot see or sense and that they formed the basis of his macabre fiction. Much of his work centered round blasphemous tomes – the most famous being the “abhorred Necronomicon” – or remote and mysterious locations and this has prompted some to suggest that he was privy to occult and arcane knowledge that is denied to the rest of us and rightly so for it would send our minds crashing into madness. But is that the case?

There is no doubt that Lovecraft’s vision is vivid and intense and utterly terrifying. It has served as an inspiration for other fans and writers who have both expanded and developed it down the years in their own fiction, in films and in role playing and video games thus keeping the vision fresh and unique. The landscapes which the Mythos envisages are bizarre and dangerous in the extreme. Here great and monstrous beings which have existed since the dawn of time come and go between Earth and the stars with impunity, disregarding Mankind as being of little interest as they did so. All of these ancient beings, however, had some impact on our world and sometimes manipulated individuals for their own eerie and unfathomable purposes. Indeed, much of the history of the world has been clandestinely guided by them towards their undefined objectives. But are such ideas truly rooted in fact or are they, as some have argued, simply the horrific distillation of Lovecraft’s own fears and nightmares?

Certainly as a lonely and introverted boy Lovecraft had access to strange books on the travel and folklore of his great uncle Whipple Phillips’ library in the family home in Providence, Rhode Island and many of these writings may well have taken root in his steadily darkening mind. And some of the ancient houses of Providence itself, with their queer histories and curious traditions may also have intrigued him. In many respects he saw himself as an investigator of the unusual and the outré and this notion was to haunt him as he penned his ghostly fiction.

Part of the source of the dreadful Universe also lay in Lovecraft’s inability to fully integrate into society and into general friendships and relationships. He always considered himself as an “Outsider”. True, he did form friendships – some which lasted until his death – and he actually was briefly married, which hinted at a relationship of sorts but he always found human society difficult and often chose to retreat into his own dark cosmos which he had fashioned out of his peculiar dreams, ideas and nightmares. But he did find face to face relationships difficult and preferred to keep the world at a distance – maintaining his friendships through voluminous letters.

As a writer, Lovecraft was something of a failure in his own lifetime and indeed almost died in penury, having made very little from his imaginative fiction and reduced to “hackwork” and revisions. Nor did many of his friends or fans turn up to his funeral when he died, although there were disagreements over his estate afterward. And yet, the dark legacy which he has left behind has continued down to the present day – not only surviving but continuing to expand and grow like some mysterious seed planted in fertile ground – the minds of those who read them. Others too have taken up the mantle, placing their own stamp upon the Mythos – expanding it and taking it in new and even darker directions. In recent times, the followers of the Cthulhu across the world have never been more numerous. And in the background the shadowy influence of Lovecraft still lingers on. Did he really know things that we don’t and that we would be terrified to find out?

In a new book “A Haunted Mind” Dr. Bob Curran traces the emergence of Lovecraft’s ideas and the sources of his inspiration. Exploring some more obscure avenues of myth and folklore Dr. Curran seeks to trace if there might be some deeper and darker truths hidden away behind some of Lovecraft’s fiction. Had he, for example, studied Middle Eastern lore and had he found some strange and unnerving inferences there? Was there indeed evidence of something which slumbered beneath the hills of rural New England, waiting to be awakened? Is there some concealed reality lurking somewhere beyond our own known only to a handful of savants of which Lovecraft was one? Dr. Curran delves deep into obscure myth and legend and well as into Lovecraft’s fiction to investigate. Some of his conclusions are extremely surprising. And he looks too at Lovecraft’s own life and examines the forces that shaped the strange writer and perhaps formed the basis of this own dark world.

“A Haunted Mind” is a must for anyone who wants to understand Lovecraft and his influences but be warned! After reading it you may not look at either Lovecraft or your own world in the same way again!

About. Dr. Bob Curran:
Throughout Dr. Bob Curran’s varied life, he has worked as a gravedigger, musician, journalist, and civil servant. He is now a history teacher and well-known throughout Ireland and beyond as a writer and broadcaster. He is the author of “Vampires”, “Forgotten Realms”, and “Man-Made Monsters”. He lives in Northern Ireland with his wife and family.

Talk Like a Pirate Day 2012

Here it is again, International Talk Like a Pirate Day! A day of pirate fun for the whole family, and a special day of observance for Pastafarians. One of the tenets of belief for those who follow the Flying Spaghetti Monster is that they “believe pirates, the original Pastafarians, were peaceful explorers and it was due to Christian misinformation that they have an image of outcast criminals today”. So today is a special day for everyone; Pastafarians, rum drinkers, and those who just want a little whimsy for a day.

And there is still time left to celebrate! Thanks to the kind folks at the official International Talk Like a Pirate Day website, there is no shortage of assistance in helping you get yer pirate swagger on!

For instance, here are their top ten pickup lines for men to use on International Talk Like a Pirate Day:

10 . Avast, me proud beauty! Wanna know why my Roger is so Jolly?

9. Have ya ever met a man with a real yardarm?

8. Come on up and see me urchins.

7. Yes, that is a hornpipe in my pocket and I am happy to see you.

6. I’d love to drop anchor in your lagoon.

5. Pardon me, but would ya mind if I fired me cannon through your porthole?

4. How’d you like to scrape the barnacles off of me rudder?

3. Ya know, darlin’, I’m 97 percent chum free.

2. Well blow me down?

1. Prepare to be boarded.

For the record, the guys over at the International Talk Like a Pirate Day website don’t seem overly optimistic about your odds using these. I’d suggest you first start with a lot of grog! Good luck to ya’ land lubbers! And happy Talk Like a Pirate Day!

The Tibetans and The Grateful Dead

By Huston Smith

Mickey Hart, a drummer for the erstwhile Grateful Dead, is also a serious ethnomusicologist who now works with the Smithsonian Institution. Fascinated by the Tibetan monks’ multiphonic chanting, he put the infrastructure of the Dead to work and helped organize six sellout coast-to-coast tours with twelve of the Gyuto monks.

One evening the monks were returning to Mickey’s ranch, in Northern California, after a performance in the University of California’s Zellerbach Auditorium, in Berkeley. When the van reached the Marin side of the Richmond Bridge, out of the blue the monks asked the driver to pull over to the side of the road. They told Mickey that they sensed evil in the vicinity, and they wanted to alleviate it. Little did they know that at that moment they were passing San Quentin, a maximum-security penitentiary. Visibly moved, they asked if they could go into the prison and bless the inmates.

Mickey was skeptical, but he asked the sentry on duty, who referred the matter to his superior. The monks were admitted to the entrance, which was separated from the prison proper by about twelve yards. On the opposite side was an electric fence featuring elevated cages, which housed sharpshooters with cocked rifles.

The prison chaplain told us about a Christian group of prisoners who met regularly to pray and sing hymns. They were summoned, and for about half an hour they alternated with the monks, one group singing and praying, and the other group chanting. The monks were so moved by their encounter with the prisoners that they returned several times to repeat the ritual.

Later, I accompanied Mickey to the San Francisco Airport to say farewell to the monks, who where returning to India, for their final tour had ended. As the stairs for boarding the plane descended to the runway, the monks regrouped themselves and chanted a farewell blessing on the land that they were leaving. The passengers in the corridor who were proceeding to their departure gates were so captivated they stopped and clustered around the monks, listening intently. As the last monk disappeared into the plane and the door was closing, a woman asked us in wide-eyed wonder, “What was that all about?”

As if to answer her emphatically, Mickey shouted out to the departing monks the famous line from Star Wars, “May the Force be with you!”

Then, turning to me, Mickey said, “What am I saying? May the Force be with me! They already have it!”

About Huston Smith:
Huston Smith is recognized and revered as the preeminent teacher of world religions. Smith has taught at Washington University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Syracuse University, and the University of California, Berkeley. He has written fifteen books, including the classic “The World’s Religions”, which has sold over two million copies in many translations, and the New York Times bestseller “Why Religion Matters”. He has been bestowed with twelve honorary degrees and was the focus of the five-part television series “The Wisdom of Faith” hosted by Bill Moyers.

From the book “And Live Rejoicing”. Copyright © 2012 Huston Smith. Reprinted with permission from New World Library.

Geek Month in Review: August 2012

By JB Sanders

Ah, the dog days…

007 Through the Years
Ever wonder what the highest grossing James Bond film is? Or which one it is, adjusted for inflation? Wonder no more!

Extreme Danger Through Kid’s Chemistry Sets
Isn’t it too bad that chemistry sets (intended for kids) don’t include cyanide, uranium dust (not kidding), or pure iodine (lethal at 2g).

Diving Suit of Nightmares
If this thing doesn’t freak you the hell out, you’ve been looking at Giger art for too long. Special bonus, this diving suit was made in 1882. Seriously.

Spray on Skin Has Reached the Present
Doctors have begun using “spray on skin” to treat long-term skin ulcers (which are notoriously hard to deal with) as a test of the technology. Yay, spray-on-skin!

All US Presidents Except One Related to English King
And I’ll go ahead and spoil the surprise ending for you: Martin Van Buren. Yeah, apparently every US President is descending from old King John. Who’d have thunk it?

Just Roll a d12 and Shut Up
Need an idea for your fantasy RPG session? Stuck for inspiration in your epic fantasy novel? Just curious what the hell I’m talking about? Roll 1d12:

LEGO™ Serenity
There’s a fan of the show, and then there’s this. You just have to click and go look at the pictures. It’s more awesome than I can say.

Stealth Salvage Barge For Sale
No kidding, this Cold War “ship” was designed to retrieve wrecks (like, say, a Soviet submarine) from the depths. Get your radar-proof salvage barge!

How Big is Infinity?
Great animated explanation from TED talks about how big infinity really is. Warning: Math content. Some heads may explode.

Uh, Anyone Else Thinking Mothra
Scientists have discovered that there has been a dramatic increase in the rate and type of mutations in the butterflies in and around the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Ghost Towns of China
China has a HUGE labor force, and sometimes they’re given things to do to keep them busy. Like building cities. Empty cities.

Stop-Motion Animation Still Going Strong
Now with 3D printers! Apparently the folks behind the movie Para-norman are making it using old-fashioned real-life figures, only they’re stepping it up using 3D printers. Because the 3D printers are comparatively fast, they can also use them for things like facial expressions.
Be sure to check out the image gallery.

2500 year old Hipster Tattoos
See the hipster chick — I mean, Siberian Princess and her mythological beast tattoos. It’s history AND tattoo art.

It’s a Terrible Pun AND a Useful Tool
What is it? It’s the Giger counter. It’ll make more sense if you click on the link and see the pictures.

Largest Map Ever
Well, it may not physically be the largest map ever, but it’s large in terms of what it covers: everything visible in our universe. Which is a lot. Check out the 3D fly-through tour, with links to the full data set. Did anyone else know that there’s a 3D button you can press on YouTube videos? I didn’t.
The video is a fly-through of a part of the map. Keep in mind as you watch it that those things you see whizzing by are GALAXIES (not stars or solar systems).

What if Futurama Was Real?
Then the characters would look more like these drawings this fan did. Or 3D renders. Or whatever they are. The Bad Astronomer has a NSFL* warning on these, so beware.


Real Hover-bikes in the Works
Not kidding. Hopefully not an internet hoax (is there an abbreviation for those?). They plan on having them out by 2014. Yes, there’s prototype video.

Teaser? Short? Preview? Who Cares, It’s Got Death Robots!
As it turns out, this is a preview of an upcoming scifi movie about the problems with arming your robots. And maybe not properly reformatting your hard drives before re-using them.

Tesla’s Lab Saved
Interview with the comic book artist who raised money to save Tesla’s lab. Bonus points go to the mention of Tesla’s earthquake machine, which had to be shut off with a sledgehammer to prevent it taking out the whole block.

Cool, chilling scifi near-future short film. Coolest part of all? It’s a student-made project. Keep that in mind as you see all the Hollywood-quality graphics and effects fly by. STUDENT-made.

Now Everyone, Jump!
What if everyone on Earth jumped up in the air and came down again, all at exactly the same time? SPOILER: pretty much nothing. The guy at xkcd explores this in detail, on one of his What If? articles.

Your Favorite Songs as Sculptures
Don’t even know if they used a 3D printer. These folks took the sound waves produced while playing certain songs and transformed them into 3D sculptures.

Handy Chart: Shakespearean Insult Kit
You can make “goatish fly-bitten giblet” or “vain fool-born clot pole”. Just tons of options.

About John:
John’s a geek from way back. He’s been floating between various computer-related jobs for years, until he settled into doing tech support in higher ed. Now he rules the Macs on campus with an iron hand (really, it’s on his desk).

Geek Credentials:
RPG: Blue box D&D, lead minis, been to GenCon in Milwaukee.
Computer: TRS-80 Color Computer, Amiga 1000, UNIX system w/reel-to-reel backup tape
Card games: bought Magic cards at GenCon in 1993
Science: Met Phil Plait, got time on a mainframe for astronomy project in 1983
His Blog: