Category: Miscellanea

Massage diary: Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam

One of the hundreds of massage shops in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

China: Kunming

As my jumping-off point for a four-country Southeast Asia tour, I thought I’d begin with a few words about the massage scene in one of China’s more attractive cities, Kunming, in southwestern Yunnan Province, conveniently located a few hundred kilometers from the borders of Vietnam, Laos and Burma. There is a key point of contrast between massage in China and the rest of Southeast Asia, however. Although it’s big business in both regions, in the former it is largely targeted to domestics, in the latter to foreigners. In your typical Southeast Asian hotspot, massage shops proliferate wherever tourists are to be found, jostling for attention with similarly catchy English-language signs and menus, among all the bars, cafes and restaurants, while in your typical Chinese city, massage shops are scattered uniformly in most neighborhoods, touristy and not, and their shop signs are in Chinese (though the Western word “Spa” is standard code for the full panoply of massage services).

Facebook, rococo vulvas, and the pornographic imagination

A rococo vulva, which apparently violates Facebook’s ads policy.

Authors who publish independently on the subject of relationships and sexuality are soon acquainted with the industry’s strictures. They boil down to two: 1) If the content of your book contains graphic descriptions of sex, it will likely get involuntarily pegged as “erotica,” even if you thought you were writing something literary. 2) If the cover of your book is too sexually suggestive, it’s also likely to get pegged as erotica or simply turned down for distribution altogether. And then there’s Facebook, which is not less but far more comprehensive in its family-friendly guidelines and requires a considerably steeper learning curve. But first a few observations on book content before moving on to our primary concern, book covers, and finally Facebook.

New Book Release: American Rococo

What do seashells, obesity, graffiti, and the American ghetto have in common? Nude hot springs and the Japanese theater? Atheists and family-values conservatives? Why do atheists go on religious pilgrimages? How have schools infantilized our understanding of Shakespeare, and the textbook industry conspired to turn our language’s history into agitprop? What is the single most dangerous sexual idea that even the liberated can’t handle?

Ranging across centuries and continents, Isham Cook’s far-flung essays, whether discoursing on the most radical or homespun of topics, are guided by the notion of the “edge.” The edge represents the limits of conventional understanding, the zone beyond stereotypes and groupthink; it is​ where received ideas are recast in fresh and striking ways.

“Food for thought, elegantly prepared.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Reminds one of an etching that has been precisely scribed to create a sharp effect.” — Michael Collins, author of St George and the Dragons: The Making of English Identity

“Imagine a conversation over thirteen evenings with a perceptive and erudite companion.” — James Lande, author of Yang Shen: The God from the West

Anglish and English: Why our language is 750 and not 1,500 years old

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Sample text of Anglish (Anglo-Saxon), circa AD 1000

How English arose is a captivating story with a great cast of characters, though they happen to be groups of people and texts rather individuals. It emerges out of the mists seemingly from nowhere, flounders, and changes into something else, before finally catching wind and taking over the planet as the first truly global language. It’s also a story that’s been told and retold by many authors and scholars. And it increasingly appears that for the past 100 years most of those telling the story have gotten it wrong.

The Celtic problem

Let’s begin at a starting point far enough back in time to take in the larger view, the situation of the British Isles some 2,000 years ago. One or two million Britons populated the land, scattered about in hamlets or homesteads, and the story goes, speaking various Celtic languages and dialects, about which there is much uncertainty as they were never written down. It’s assumed the Celts crossed over from the Continent in successive waves over the previous several centuries, bringing a new version of their language each time. The hostile tribes known as the Picts, for instance, who had been pushed up to northern Scotland by newly invading Celts, may have spoken an earlier form of Celtic. Collectively the Celtic tongues of Britain have been termed “Insular Celtic,” “Brittonic,” or simply “British,” to distinguish them from the Celtic on the Continent.

An American talisman

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A talisman has appeared in twenty-first century America, one with astounding magical powers. Fitting in the palm like a mini crystal ball, it can bring people to life on its screen. To young kids submerged in the dreamy developmental phase of childhood, this glass amulet must seem utterly bewitching and miraculous, a veritable Wonderland of miniature toy stores and colorful games. With parent’s permission, it even sends real toys and snacks to one’s home.

When they reach their early teens, kids begin adapting to the adult world of reality. The talisman soon becomes jaded and the magic fades. Still, it remains an engaging, multifaceted toy, capable of shooting videos and photos with incredible ease and realism, playing movies and music from an infinite list and packing more information at the fingertips than the city library.

If someone from the future had attempted to describe this mysterious thing to me back when I was a teenager in the 1970s, I would have found it pure science fiction and more or less incomprehensible, as we all would have. I refer of course to the smartphone, now the most mundane of objects. In the US, however, this talisman has a very peculiar status and function. For American teenagers, and only American teenagers, the smartphone retains its magical and untamable powers—of the black magic variety. It is a very scary, indeed terrifying object.

My problem with the atheists (it’s not what you think)

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Courtesy of Maddy (MadE14 on DeviantArt)

Group marriage does not look quite so terrible as the philistines, whose minds cannot get beyond brothels, imagine it to be.
— Frederick Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State

Nothing need be said

Donatien Alphonse François de Sade, aka. the Marquis de Sade, has his first taste of prison at the age of twenty-three when he’s arrested for blasphemy, after forcing a prostitute to hurl abuse at Christ. At twenty-eight, he lures a homeless woman to his chateau, where he binds and whips her and pours hot wax in the gashes in her flesh he made with a knife; she escapes, and he does as well—from the police. He is never idle. While on the run he haunts the brothels of France. Five years later he organizes a sadomasochistic orgy with a bevy of prostitutes in Marseilles, one of whom almost dies after overdosing on the Spanish fly he’s forced down her throat. By this point the thirty-two-year old aristocrat has become fodder of Continental proportions for the tabloid press (by then already a well-established industry). His wife’s family, also of nobility, secure a letter de cachet from the King to have Sade put away and save the family reputation. He manages to return to his chateau and seduce his wife’s younger sister, who flees with him to Italy. She returns early; he’s arrested in Sardinia but escapes from his prison and wends his way back to his chateau in France. Two years later he conspires with his wife to hire a series of unsuspecting female servants on whom to act out yet more sadomasochistic fantasies. The orgies and the cat-and-mouse game with the authorities drag on for several more years, until he is finally incarcerated for a lengthy prison stay with a freshly issued letter de cachet, at the age of thirty-seven.