Till Up Then Started Young Tam Lin

October 31, 2007

One of the oldest – if not the oldest – Halloween stories extant is also one of the best. Anyone who’s spent a lot of time hanging around the library fantasy section has probably had an indirect encounter with Tam Lin, because the story has been adapted and novelized so many times – Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin, set on a seventies campus, has probably gotten the most attention but at least ten others have published on the subject. It’s easy to see why these writers wanted to use the story, and also why some wanted to modernize the setting. A song with rape (maybe), accidental pregnancy, attempted abortion (or was it?), fairies, and human sacrifice ending with a curse all in one supernatural Halloween is hard to resist. But inevitably something is lost in translation, and the original version is still the most powerful – or so I’d say if it were certain which was the original version! There are about fifty versions out there, five or six of which have genuine claims to being very old. You can read them, and a lot of other things, at this site which is a Tam Lin gold mine and to which I’m shamelessly linking for the text of Child Ballad 39A, tentatively supposed to be the oldest extant version. According to the website, it was recorded in 1729, and probably had been around for a few hundred years before that. And now that you’ve read it …

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Only 56 shopping days left!

October 30, 2007

I love the holidays as much as the next person.

In fact, I might love them *more* than the next person. I have so many plans for Thanksigiving that I can’t wait the three weeks and two days until it actually happens.

I have most of my Christmas presents figured out.

But… things are a little ridiculous. I’m growing used to seeing Christmas in stores before Halloween. (Especially after living in Europe, where they lack the Thanksgiving holiday buffer.) But tonight was not cool. Not cool at all.

What I’m not used to is living someplace where we might actually get trick-or-treaters, so tonight I stopped off at the grocery store to get some candy for tomorrow.

Only, all the Halloween candy was gone, and there was only Christmas candy.

Dear Children of Northern Virginia,

I apologize for the Christmas colored York Peppermint Patties you will be recieving if you come to my house this year. Next year, I will buy my candy in September. It might be a little stale, but it won’t feature snowflakes.

Forgive me,


–posted by kidsilkhaze

Shakuhachi: Fighting Flute, Meditation Tool, Musical Instrument

October 30, 2007

Last week, I went to a lunch talk in a series running at the university where I work on the subject of “Globalization and the Artist.” This particular talk was by James Schlefer, one of the few non-Japanese people to be recognized as a Grand Master player of the shakuhachi, a traditional Japanese flute. He played two pieces and talked about the history of the instrument and how it has changed over time. (The title of his talk, after all, was “The Evolving Shakuhachi.”)

Like many cultural items in Japan, the shakuhachi originally came from China, in the form of the xiao. The xiao, though, traditionally has six finger holes, whereas the shakuhachi has only five. When asked when and why the sixth hole disappeared, Schlefer said that there is about one hundred years (or more, I forget) of lost history between the arrival of the flute and its first real appearance in Japanese writings.

The shakuhachi was originally predominantly used in Japan as a Buddhist meditation tool. Schlefer described the practice as one that encourages the player to concentrate on breathing, individual notes, and the silence between the notes and phrases. The Buddhist monks who used the shakuhachi the most were also itinerant monks, and many of them were ronin, or samurai who had lost their masters, but were still required to keep up their status as members of the samurai class. Becoming a monk was allowed, but they might still need to defend themselves, and for this, the shakuhachi was handy. The end of the flute is the root end of the piece of bamboo the flute is made from. Musically speaking, this is because the hollow inside the flute needs to taper toward the end, which bamboo naturally does at the root. But practically speaking, the type of bamboo used to make the flute is quite thick, and if you leave the root end unshaved, you can get a nice club. A manly flute, it was.

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Diplomatic Draft to Occur in Iraq

October 27, 2007

The Washington Post reports today that due to foreseen shortfalls in the number of diplomats volunteering to serve in Iraq, up to 50 foreign service officers may be “drafted” into service.

Over 10% of the diplomatic core has already served in Iraq, which “has become the largest U.S. Embassy in history.” It currently employs nearly 6000 people and has only gotten larger since its reopening in 2004, says the Post.

The “recruits” are tipped to fill positions with the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), which were intended to be staffed by diplomats and civilians. When the relatively small State Department couldn’t muster enough employees, the Pentagon sent staff to work instead. The State Department has continued to seek volunteers for the positions, but nevertheless came up short.

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Hugo Chavez: Ex-hero of the people?

October 26, 2007

It’s catalog season again! As a young single person who’s been moving a lot since college, I don’t get nearly as many as, say, my parents, but since I’ve been living in my current apartment for slightly more than 2 years now, they’re starting to roll in. One that I’m actually legitimately on the mailing list for is the Syracuse Cultural Workers, since I ordered some buttons from them at one point. Full of feel-good, liberal, power to the people “tools for change,” it’s got some fun stuff to look at. But I’ve been torn over one item they’ve had for a while: the Hugo Chavez poster.

Syracuse Cultural Workers Hugo Chavez poster

If you click on the image, you can better see the poster’s message, which reads, “The hurricane of revolution has begun, and it will never be calmed. -Hugo Chavez, presidente de Venezuela.” Given how much Chavez and Venezuelan politics have been in the news lately, I flipped through my latest SCW catalog the first time specifically to see if they still had the poster listed. They didn’t, though, as you can see above, they do still appear to have it on the website. I don’t actually know if this was a conscious decision on their part, or simply due to the fact that they’re a non-profit and can’t afford to put every item in the print catalog every time. If it was a conscious decision, though, I can certainly understand.

For those who may not have been keeping up with Latin American politics, Chavez has proposed a bunch of constitutional reforms that are due to go up for a ratification soon. Here’s a recent BBC article summarizing what’s happening right now. In a nutshell, two of his main reforms would be removing presidential term limits and increasing the current term from six to seven years. (See Hilary’s post on presidential term limits for further discussion of that particular issue.) Other reforms would increase presidential control over the central bank. He is currently in his second term, having been reelected last year, but the opposition party so strongly objected to his policies that they (unwisely) protested by withdrawing from those elections, leaving only his supporters in parliament. Sort of does away with the idea of checks and balances, doesn’t it?

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The financial state of the union (part IV)

October 23, 2007

What’s changed in the nine months since I first started entering my expenses into a spreadsheet? Back then, you’ll remember, I was afraid of writing down a budget, I had no health insurance, I didn’t feel like I could track my money with an irregular income, and I always felt guilty about paying for things. Now, I have a budget that I’m working towards, I have health, dental, and an IRA, I set things up so that I can budget my income as if it were regular, and I know when I have enough money to buy things so I feel less guilty. Best of all, I no longer feel like my money is just disappearing. I still don’t make all that much money (less than $1000/month), but I have a much better handle on where it’s coming from, where it’s going, and how I can use that to prepare for adverse situations.

My current setup isn’t sustainable, of course, but it doesn’t have to be. This is just a stepping stone on the way towards the life I want. Eventually, I’ll be in a place where I can get rid of my car, I’ll own a house, and I’ll be making enough money that I can set aside more for retirement. Until then, I’ll keep sticking to my budget and suffering the pitying stares and rolled eyes of those who just don’t understand.

If I leave you with one thought, let it be this one: controlling your finances is a long process and a hard process, but it’s a great process.

When you’re ready to take the plunge, there are all kinds of resources that make it easier. One of the best is Get Rich Slowly, a daily financial blog for normal folks.

Other posts in this series:
How I learned to love my budget (part I)
Lattes are expensive, but cell phones are worse (part II)
Failure is still success (part III)

— Will

Failure is still success (part III)

October 22, 2007

By this point, I had several months’ worth of expenses recorded in my simple spreadsheet. I sat down one weekend and read through it all, sketching out general categories. Despite all of the reading I’d done online, I ended up with a budget that was entirely my own. A budget is a very personal thing and even the categories that you choose help you figure out where you’re spending more than you want and where you want to spend more (often savings and retirement, but it might also include hobbies).

In my case, I ended up with: fast food, groceries, entertainment, car insurance, gas, miscellaneous, restaurants, rent, snacks, vacation, cell phone, utilities, and gifts. As I focused on problem areas (like my car) and brought them under control, I merged them with other categories. I also added some categories for saving and modified some categories for joint spending with me and my fiancé. Right now, my budget has: joint expenses (rent, utilities, groceries, dates, etc), fast food, snacks, miscellaneous, entertainment, insurance, cell phone, and savings. My budget is a living document and I change it as my goals and living situations change.

At first, my budget was literally just set up to mirror my average costs. It was descriptive rather than prescriptive, which let me keep the illusion that it wasn’t really a budget at all. Of course, by trying to keep my costs at or below their average, I was still managing to reduce my expenses.

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Halo 3

October 22, 2007

Late evening fill-something-up post…

Halo 3 rocks. Well, the Forge, in any case. There’s nothing more amusing then creating random items to smash my competitor to death.

Death by Scorpion-crushing, anyone?

Does the NYTimes hate Russia?

October 21, 2007

I criticize Russia as much as the next person (or maybe more so, since I’ve lived with more crazy old Russian women than you can shake a stick at), but the NYTimes is really invective today.

First, Clifford J. Levy writes an article about Russian computer crime that contains the following statements:

Russia has become a leading source of Internet ills, home to legions of high-tech rogues who operate with seeming impunity from the anonymous living rooms of Novosibirsk or the shadowy cybercafes of St. Petersburg. . . .

Yes, I’ve been in those “shadowy cybercafes of St. Petersburg.” They’re filled with sweaty, pube-mustachioed, foul-mouthed teens playing multi-player games. Computer access is around $1/hour.

. . . the Russian government . . . seems to show little interest in a crackdown, as if officials privately take some pleasure in knowing that their compatriots are tormenting millions of people in the West. . . .

Perhaps they are “privately tak”ing some money from the largest cybercriminals? Maybe it’s not about spite, it’s about profit? Or perhaps it’s because the vast majority of Russian society doesn’t have a computer, credit cards, or use the internet, so cybercrime is relatively intangible. Could it be ignorance on the part of local law enforcement rather than ubiquitous hatred of the West?

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Lattes are expensive, but cell phones are worse (part II)

October 19, 2007

As I wrote my budget down, I started realizing that most of my big expenses were fixed expenses: rent, Internet connection, cable TV, car expenses, cell phone. Rent was my largest dollar cost, of course, but it was reasonably low since I lived away from town with roommates. My Internet and cable costs were tied up in that as well because of the roommates and car expenses didn’t seem under my short-term control.

So I started with my cell phone. I’ve never been a big talker, so it was a natural place to cut costs. I looked through six months of statements to figure out my average and peak monthly usage (150 and 300 minutes). With that information in hand, I searched around for the cheapest plans possible. In the end, I got a T-Mobile pre-paid phone and 1250 minutes for $140. I’ve since paid 30-50% of my previous bill each month without changing my calling habits at all.

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