Category Archives: Culture and History

Chewbacca’s Girlfriend

In a note to an advice column that I had not heard of before this morning, a man laments his girlfriend’s decision to let her legs and pits go wild and free. Her excuse is the usual – shaving is a male chauvinist plot.

You know… I don’t really keep up with these things but isn’t letting your fur grow as a protest against the patriarchy a little outdated? A lot of men are going smooth now days, a trend that does not exactly have my enthusiastic approval. I mean, it’s okay on TV I guess but I’m not sure I would like living in a world where all men look like Ken dolls. But anyway, it’s not like only women are removing body hair these days.

One interesting thing about the Advice Goddess’s answer is that women and men have been shaving, or using other means to remove hair for a long, long time.

…way back before there was Cosmo, there was Ovid, the Roman poet, advising women looking for love: “Let no rude goat find his way beneath your arms” (don’t let your underarms get stanky like a goat), “and let not your legs be rough with bristling hair.” Archeological evidence (including hair-scraping stones and an impressive set of Bronze Age tweezers) suggests that women — and often men — have been shaving, depilating, and yanking out body hair since at least 7,000 B.C.

So you can stop blaming American women for this custom any time now.

No one enjoys the hair removal process and I have to confess that I have my moments when I wish we didn’t have to do it but, honestly, hairy legs and especially hairy armpits on a woman look disgusting. Why? Is it merely cultural? I think it’s more than that. After all, there was some reason why someone thousands of years ago decided to start removing hair in the first place. I don’t think it was a male vs. female thing. That came later. Perhaps our ancestors (and we still today) wanted to distinguish themselves from the animals. Perhaps at first only those people who were more hirsute than normal shaved and other people liked the smooth look and started shaving also. Maybe it started with athletes, wrestlers. Or maybe there was a male dominance element. Maybe, in an age of child brides and polygamy women wanted to continue to look like children to compete with younger wives. Maybe it was all of these things. Whatever. Ladies, get rid of the leg and underarm hair. It looks gross.


Travels to Faraway Places and Times

Thanks to Amazon’s monthly “$3.99 or Less” Kindle specials I have discovered some good books that I would not normally have searched for. One of these is Daughters of the River Huong by Uyen Nicole Duong, a novel about four generations of Vietnamese women. I grew up in the 60′s and 70′s, seeing images of the Vietnam war on TV every night. That formed my own mental picture of the country of Vietnam. I would like to be able to say that this novel has forever changed that picture but it hasn’t. It’s too firmly fixed. But it did introduce me to an earlier and much different Vietnam.

The novel begins in New York, with the central character, Simone, a Vietnamese-American, a successful corporate attorney, then quickly goes back in time to her childhood in 1960′s Vietnam, then further back to the time of her great-grandmother, a royal concubine. Later the book looks into the lives of her mother and grandmother and finally back to the present. I have to admit that I enjoyed the history parts of the story the most and found Simone’s teenage and adult years quite tiresome but, overall, it’s a good story and I’m glad that I read it.

A few 19th century photos of Vietnam

Next up? Well, I’m really craving a good sci-fi novel. It’s been a while.

Reading: Other Times and Places

I have been reading The Middle Stage occasionally for a number of years, with the natural result that I got it into my head that I wanted to read an Indian novel. It took me a while to get around to it but I finally decided on This is Not That Dawn (reviewed here) as my first. That Chandrahas called it ” a plausible contender for the greatest of all Indian novels” as well as the fact that it is over 1000 pages made it irresistible for me.

The book begins at the funeral of an elderly woman in Lahore (now in Pakistan) and follows two members of the family, a brother and sister, through the years around and after the Partition. I quickly got caught up in the lives of the characters and started to care what would happen to them and that, to me, is an essential characteristic of a good story. The author was deeply sympathetic to the hardships faced by women in male dominated societies, especially during times of war and unrest. The book also explores changing moral values and the conflict between generations. Nothing really surprised me. I’ve already read enough to have a small clue as to what life in that part of the world is like but, lacking an actual time machine, nothing can take you to another time and place like a good book.

The only difficult thing about the book was that the names, nicknames and honorifics sometimes made it hard to keep up with who was who among the supporting characters. Also there were a lot of unfamiliar words for clothing and food which had me going to the dictionary often at first but Kindle’s dictionary does not know most of them so I soon gave up on that but I occasionally pulled out my smartphone to look something up on Wikipedia. I love modern technology, don’t you?

The English translation contained quite a few errors: “their” instead of “there”, “off” instead of “of”, singular when plural is called for and a lot of other things like that. Being somewhat OCD about such things myself I found this distracting. Overall though, it was a good book. I’m glad I read it and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in 20th century history, exploring other cultures, or who just likes a good story.

I have two more trips to two different Asian cultures waiting on my Kindle (both from Amazon’s monthly $3.99 or less specials) and I haven’t decided which one I will read next.

Shirley Temple

I have only seen two or three of Shirley Temple’s movies but my mom greatly admired her. She used to talk about what she had read about her and about what a great child star she was. She was just a couple of years older than my mom and I can almost imagine my mom as a little girl sitting in a theater watching a Shirley Temple movie.

The Changing Picture

Kelly Sedinger has some thoughts on selfies. And so have I.

First of all, about the word “selfie.” Generally, I hate that people shorten everything to just one or two syllables but sometimes it seems appropriate. A quick, usually poor quality, picture snapped with a phone does not deserve the formality of the term “self portrait.” So I actually sort of like the word “selfie.” It’s a new thing so we actually need a new word.

I don’t have anything against selfies at all but I am a little sad about the way the custom of picture taking has changed. Look at any old family photo album. Mostly you will see pictures of people standing in front of houses and cars. They were usually taken from too far away, due to the inaccuracy of viewfinders on cheap cameras. When I was a kid it always seemed that picture taking was a bit of an event. When someone wanted to take a picture the subject or subjects would stop what they were doing, go to an appropriate place and pose for the picture. Now days all that is just too much of a bother for most people.

People used to have to put more thought and care into taking pictures so they wouldn’t “waste film”. Most commonly, there were 12 or 24 shots on a roll of film so most people wouldn’t take a chance on candid photos which might turn out badly. When you wanted to take pictures of your relatives they would usually cooperate because they cared enough to not cause you waste a picture. With digital cameras we are freed from the limits of film. We can take as many pictures as we want and delete the bad ones. This is a good thing. I love digital cameras. They’re a dream come true for me. But, unfortunately, as with any technology, there’s a down side. People rarely cooperate when you want to take a picture of them. You have to be content to take a quick pic wherever they are. Posing for pictures is just too early 20th century.

The very purpose of picture taking has changed. We used to take pictures of friends and relatives so we could preserve an image of them at a particular time in their lives so that, in the future, we could look at the pictures and remember. With selfies it’s more about showing where we are, what we’re doing, who we’re with. It’s not about preserving and remembering; it’s about communicating. And that’s okay. Really, it is. I just wish we didn’t always have to lose the old thing in order to have a new thing. In this case at least, there’s no reason why we can’t have it both ways.

Benjamin Franklin’s Birthday

Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706. If you’re my age you probably learned in elementary school that Franklin talked to the French, “discovered electricity,” invented the lighting rod, and wrote a few wise and witty lines, such as “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” And that was just about all. But, as adults, we have learned that he did quite a bit more than that. One of his many inventions was the glass armonica.

And here is a modern composition for glass armonica and orchestra.

Lazy Photo Blogging

I intend to continue my regular Friday series, Quotes From Here and There, since a couple of people seem to like it and it’s sort of fun to do, but I haven’t been doing much Internet surfing to find things to quote, so maybe next week.

For today, here’s another picture.

Do you recognize it? It’s a sewing machine! This was sitting outside one of the shops in Silver Dollar City. Just sitting there outside. If I owned such a thing it would be well cared for and treated like a treasure. But that’s sort of a thing at Silver Dollar City. Everywhere you look they have all these rusty old antiques sitting around like they were abandoned there.

As you can see from the leaves around it, it is very small. I don’t know anything about it – when it was made, etc. I would love to have the chance to handle one like it and have a really good look at it.

Modern Christmas

I want to clarify and expand on something I said yesterday: If every day was like Christmas, Christmas would no longer be special. In fact, I think, in some ways, all the wrong ways, every day is like Christmas. Kids no longer have to wait for Christmas to get toys or special treats. Most kids get toys and treats throughout the year, often as bribes to “be good”. And we adults don’t wait to treat ourselves either.

I like to shop and I love shopping for gifts and I’m not going to stop. I like being able to, within reason, buy what I need as well as little unnecessary things all year long and I don’t want to live a lifestyle of constant deprivation nor do I want anyone else to live that way. But, because most of us are not in any way deprived, we may feel like we have to really go over the top to make Christmas special. Spend, spend, spend, and eat, eat, eat! I love it. I really do. But I think, for some people, Christmas still seems to be lacking something it used to have when we were kids.

We expect there to be magic in Christmas and we spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars trying to buy it. But the magic in Christmas is not in how much we spend. It’s in the people we spend time with. It’s in traditions like decorating a Christmas tree with special ornaments that we’ve had for years. It’s in making, not necessarily a lot of food but foods we don’t eat at any other time of year. And gifts? The best gifts are not the most expensive ones. The best gifts, for adults, are those little things about which people say, “I love that but I don’t need it.” Most of all, the magic is inside us. If we want it to be there, it is.

Also, I must say this: I have no patience for those people who say things like, “People forget the real meaning of Christmas.” The “real meaning” is different for different people and that is OKAY! If, to you, it means shopping that’s just fine as long as you enjoy it and you’re not just shopping because you “have to” or because you’re desperately trying “bring back the magic” by spending more than you can afford.

I said when every day is like Christmas, Christmas is no longer special. The way to make it special is to make it different, in some way,from the rest of the year. If rushing around spending lots of money isn’t doing it for you try some quiet little traditions instead.

Better Than Blue

It can be a little embarrassing to admit that you like Elvis Presley. There’s a good chance that someone will assume that you are one of those people. And some of his best songs are neglected in favor of the more catchy, and in some cases annoying, songs. Take, for example, Blue Christmas. (Please!) I absolutely hate, loathe, and despise that song. Maybe if they didn’t play it so much around Christmas. It is not really a Christmas song. It’s a broken-hearted love song that just happens to mention Christmas. (not to mention that the background is seriously annoying which might be the worst thing about it. I usually like Elvis’s background singers but on this one they sound like… well, I can’t think of anything else that bad right now.)

Elvis recorded at least one whole album of Christmas songs but Blue Christmas is the only one you ever hear. Unless you go looking for them yourself. This is one of my favorites, even though I don’t entirely agree with the sentiment. If every day was like Christmas, Christmas would no longer be special. In fact, I think, in some ways, all the wrong ways, every day is like Christmas. Kids no longer have to wait for Christmas to get toys or special treats. Most kids get toys and treats throughout the year, often as bribes to “be good”. And we adults don’t wait to treat ourselves either.

But anyway… sorry for the rant. Here’s the song. I love the gentleness of it.

The Holiday Just Passed

We had a nice little Thanksgiving, enjoying the traditional Thanksgiving activities of eating too much, telling stories, and watching the Packers lose. Some people I was expecting were unable to come because of an illness in the family. Others just didn’t want to drive all the way out here. But I think it was one of my favorite Thanksgivings. Thanksgiving is really one of my favorite holidays. There are no special obligations attached, except to just get together with family and for one day to just eat and hang out and not worry about anything.

Of course I was overly optimistic about how many people might come so I made too much food and have huge amounts of leftovers. I managed to give some away but my refrigerator is still very full. I got compliments on three of the dishes I made and I might share the recipes later on, though I think one is probably copyrighted so I don’t know.

Thankgiving Week

Thanksgiving is this Thursday in the U.S. I don’t how much blogging I will do this week. Almost definitely nothing on Wednesday or Thursday and call it a 50-50 chance on Tuesday and Friday. I’m having the Big Thanksgiving Dinner at my house and I’m nervous, worried and excited. Worried that hardly anyone will come, worried that hoards of people will come and I won’t have enough food, worried that some disaster will happen, etc. etc. etc. But I am excited to see everyone and sort of proud to have it at my house even though I’m a little bit ashamed of my house.

I’m not good at planning Big Things. Holidays at my house when I was a kid were always relatively little things, even though they were big to me as a child. My mother made a big Thanksgiving dinner just for the four of us and we had delicious leftovers for what seemed like nearly a month, although it probably wasn’t really that long. But my in-laws have big get-togethers for holidays, although they’re nowhere near as huge as they used to be, and I feel that that’s the way it should be – huge, that is, like we used to have.

Happy Thanksgiving, America, and to the rest of the world, a good week.

Fifty Years and Two Days Ago

I did remember what day it was Friday, and I was going to write this then, but a lot of real life stuff tends to happen on Fridays, and on Saturdays and Sundays, so…

I do remember where I was when we heard that President Kennedy had been shot. I was at my grandmother’s house. I was five years old and I only remember a small slice of that day. There were a number of people there. Everyone was sitting around talking and the phone rang. I can’t remember who answered the phone or what was said but suddenly someone turned on the television and at the same time someone else turned on the radio and someone said, “Are we going to watch it on TV or listen to it on the radio?” They decided on the TV. And that’s all I remember clearly.

I remember there were a couple of things I wondered about but even at five I was aware that there were certain times when it was not good to ask questions. I wondered why America had a president instead of a king or queen like in all the stories. It’s possible I had wondered that before. And I wondered what happens when a president dies. How would we get a new one. Of course I learned the answers to these questions and others in time.

Even at that young age I somehow perceived that the world had profoundly changed. The one thing I noticed was that people didn’t seem to like President Johnson as well as they liked President Kennedy. They actually criticized the President of the United States which, at the time, seemed like a really big deal to me. I wasn’t supposed to criticize adults (Things were different then.) and people criticizing the president seemed like sort of the same kind of thing to me. Of course, now we know that criticizing those in authority can be a good thing; at least it’s a good thing to be allowed to. But beyond that the world just suddenly felt different to me and, strangely, I still feel a bit nostalgic for that other world that I never really knew.

Old House Features

Old Fashioned House Features We Were Wrong to Abandon. These are all nice features. (except the intercom which is more of a tacky 80′s thing) but the one thing I see and think, “I’d really like to have that in a house,” is the transom window. Note that the one pictured is above an interior door.

I also like the old-fashioned five panel doors. I’ve never seen reproductions of those. You can get six panel doors but not five panel.


Meet Hilda. Isn’t she delightful? I think the third pic, the one with the frog, is my favorite.

Some people will find this offensive but I think it’s cute and funny. I suppose it’s probably weird for a woman to like classic pin-up art at all but I do, for different reasons than the men who like it, I’m sure, and a cute, happy, plus-sized pin-up girl is a wonderful creation.


Well, you know what day it is. I’m just going to post this photo again. I took it in 1982 when we were in New York. I like the way the towers are barely visible in the haze. Like ghost towers. Or like a memory.

Brooklyn Bridge, 1982

Big Book

Yesterday I finished reading War and Peace. This is the quintessential Really Long Book, often referred to jokingly as such. If you want to say you had to wait a really long time you say that you could read War and Peace while you’re waiting. For this reason, I have always wanted to read it. I like long books. On the other hand, I have always been put off by the title. Books about war generally don’t appeal to me. (Unless there are space ships) But Kindle and Project Gutenberg make these things so easy.

I actually rather enjoyed it, for the most part, though there were parts that I found less interesting. I almost immediately got interested in the characters and their lives and started to care what happened to them and for me this is the number one mark of a good novel. On the negative side, the book ends with two lengthy epilogs, the second of which consists of nothing but Tolstoy blathering on and on and on and on about history and, of all things, free will. He made a pretty good point that in the present we believe we have free will but the farther back we go in history the more people’s actions seem inevitable. This point could have been made in a paragraph or two or, at most, a few pages but it took Tolstoy twelve chapters. Perhaps this is why people think of War and Peace as being interminably long.

And just how long is it? According to this Wikipedia List of Longest Novels, 1440 pages. (I had to look it up because Kindle doesn’t give you page numbers.) That’s long but really not exceptionally long. James Michener’s novels, for example, are typically over 1000 pages. And there are many trilogies with total page counts that easily equal that of W&P. And yes, I think that’s a fair comparison when the trilogy is one story in three books. This list of 10 Longest Novels in the English Language has a 10 volume work as #1 and numbers 2 through 6 are also longer than W&P.

This is not intended as an attempt to knock War and Peace down from its pedestal. I only want to say that maybe using it as a metaphor for “really long” doesn’t make as much sense as we assume it does. And, don’t be afraid of long books. Long is good. The longer the book the longer you get to stay in that world.

I Will Wear Purple…

There’s an interesting “by the way” in one of Erin’s Hundred Dresses posts.

I’m not a fan of purple, not really sure why. I understand it’s a color that grows on you when you’re older; I saw some research somewhere about how your eyes perceive different wavelengths or perceive the same wavelengths differently or something (could I be more vague? no, I could not) and it somehow explained the tendency of older women to wear more orangey lipsticks. Which I thought was probably complete and utter BS, but that factoid has stayed with me and here we are, no better off than we were before, but prepared for the possibility, however remote, of someday feeling more kindly towards purple.

Of course that sent me googling but I wasn’t able to come up with anything except for several articles saying elderly people lose some of their ability to see colors. I’m not sure I believe that or maybe I just don’t want to believe it but I have never noticed anything to suggest that in the older people I have known.

I did come across a couple of interesting color related things though. This one about Ancient Greek Color Vision seems bizarre.

And… Don’t take this test if you are confident in your ability to distinguish different colors. I didn’t do really bad but not nearly as good as I expected. I might try it again later.

My “favorite colors” change from time to time but overall I don’t really have a “favorite” color. I used to think blue was boring but I like it much better now. I like purple but it’s never been one of my top favorites. I’m attracted to pink, yellow, orange, and red. But I also like brown.

Picturing Pre-History

Science has pretty well established that we are all part Neanderthal as well as part African, which I’m sure is highly disturbing to some people. There’s nothing in this article that is very new or surprising. What’s interesting and kinda funny is the picture accompanying the article. It shows a blonde, modern European woman and a dark, brutish pre-human male nose to nose looking adoringly into each other’s eyes. Mouseover the image and read the annotations, especially #’s 3 and 5.

History has never been as pretty as we would like it to be.

Old Fashioned Etiquette

I can’t remember how I found this Ladies Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness, originally published in 1860. I expected to be amused by outdated and restrictive rules, and if I read far enough into I probably would be, but, reading the Introduction I was struck by the validity, timelessness, and wisdom of the opening paragraphs.

In preparing a book of etiquette for ladies, I would lay down as the first rule, “Do unto others as you would others should do to you.” You can never be rude if you bear the rule always in mind, for what lady likes to be treated rudely? True Christian politeness will always be the result of an unselfish regard for the feelings of others, and though you may err in the ceremonious points of etiquette, you will never be impolite.

Politeness, founded upon such a rule, becomes the expression, in graceful manner, of social virtues. The spirit of politeness consists in a certain attention to forms and ceremonies, which are meant both to please others and ourselves, and to make others pleased with us; a still clearer definition may be given by saying that politeness is goodness of heart put into daily practice; there can be no true politeness without kindness, purity, singleness of heart, and sensibility.

Many believe that politeness is but a mask worn in the world to conceal bad passions and impulses, and to make a show of possessing virtues not really existing in the heart; thus, that politeness is merely hypocrisy and dissimulation. Do not believe this; be certain that those who profess such a doctrine are practising themselves the deceit they condemn so much. Such people scout politeness, because, to be truly a lady, one[4] must carry the principles into every circumstance of life, into the family circle, the most intimate friendship, and never forget to extend the gentle courtesies of life to every one. This they find too much trouble, and so deride the idea of being polite and call it deceitfulness.

True politeness is the language of a good heart, and those possessing that heart will never, under any circumstances, be rude. They may not enter a crowded saloon gracefully; they may be entirely ignorant of the forms of good society; they may be awkward at table, ungrammatical in speech; but they will never be heard speaking so as to wound the feelings of another; they will never be seen making others uncomfortable by seeking solely for their own personal convenience; they will always endeavor to set every one around them at ease; they will be self-sacrificing, friendly, unselfish; truly in word and deed, polite. Give to such a woman the knowledge of the forms and customs of society, teach her how best to show the gentle courtesies of life, and you have a lady, created by God, only indebted for the outward polish to the world.

The “ceremonious points of etiquette” have changed but politeness never goes out of fashion. And I really think most people do believe in being polite but are often too hurried or distracted to practice politeness.

The Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” can be a bit problematic in our multicultural society because what we would have others do might not be the same as what they would have us do. For example, if you were having a cookout you might consider it polite to invite your neighbor over and offer him a big, juicy steak but if your neighbor, unbeknownst to you, happens to be a vegan he would be horrified at your gesture of politeness. I think a part of politeness is to not be offended by innocent mistakes, or at least to not make a big show of being offended. The fact that it is so easy these days to innocently offend someone makes us wary of reaching out to people. It creates barriers between people. And it causes many people to feel “why bother” about politeness.

Oakley… Annie, That Is

I have been getting hundreds of spam comments with the name Annie Oakley, apparently a bizarre attempt to distract me from the fact that they are really trying to sell overpriced sunglasses. One of these comments asked the question: “Did Annie Oakley have any children?” No. No, she did not. She was born Phoebe Ann Moses. She married Frank Butler. They did not have any children. Oakley was just a stage name.

Annie lived into the silent movie era so I wondered if there were any films of her and found this one made in 1894.

Anything Goes?

I saw this at Male Pattern Boldness, on a post about men’s pants length…

… and it started me thinking. What if the songwriter and the singer and the people who listened to this song back in the day, could have seen into the future to our day, when truly anything goes? But then I thought, what will people fifty or a hundred years from now think of our times? What “rules” do we have now that will be considered silly in the future? Or will we, at some point, start going in the other direction, toward more rules, a return to modesty and propriety? Or will things just be… different?


(This post is a week overdue.)

Last week I finished reading the second book in the Hellhole trilogy and discovered that, apparently, the third book isn’t out yet. Darn.

So I started something I have been wanting to read for at least three-quarters of my life, the quintessential Really Long Book, War and Peace. I have never been put off by the length. I’ve read lots of long books. I like long books. It was just one of those things that I hadn’t got around to yet.

All I can say at this point is that I’m not bored yet. The Kindle status line shows that I am 14% of the way through the book, which means that I’m averaging 2% per day. The first part was about vapid aristocrats. Now I’m into the war part of the book. The vapid aristocrats were more entertaining. I’m generally not attracted to books about war unless there are spaceships involved. But I’m hanging in there. I’m thinking we might eventually get back to the vapid aristocrats.

By the way, here’s a list of longest novels. It shows that War and Peace in paperback is 1440 pages. I have read novels by James Michener that were over 1500 pages.