Friday, June 29, 2012

A Tragic Love Story

Amanda Cushman, tr., Zarma Folktales of Niger (Niantic: Quale Press, 2010), pp. 73-74:
In a village there was a very beautiful girl. Her beauty was incomparable. Every time the boys came to her house to chat, she would do nothing but fart until they ran away. But nothing stopped the boys from coming. Soon she had killed twenty boys with her farts. If a boy presented himself there, his relatives knew they needn't prepare a dowry. The family declared that if a boy beat her at a farting contest, she would become his wife without any fanfare.

One day, a young man heard about the girl and prepared himself to go chat. His relatives opposed him. "Would this girl kill a boy she invited to come talk to her?" he asked.

"You may not go."

The boy refused to obey. He went into the forest and ate some gum arabic. Returning to the village, he bought a calabash of raw peanuts and green beans and asked to have it all boiled. After eating it, he searched for glue to seal his anus, then waited impatiently for night to fall so he could visit the girl. When night fell, he went to her house.

"Salaam aleikum."

Welcoming him, the father and the mother told him that the girl usually chatted outside her hut. He went to the hut, and the girl came out to meet him. She spread a mat, and they sat. The girl did not talk but immediately began to fart: "Atibuum buum, atibuum buum buut.” After her third volley, the young man reacted. He stood to remove the gum from his anus, and began a bombardment. His fart said, "Gaddu, gaddu, gadal, ga du, duut." Both fired off a few rounds of exchanges. The girl was soon exhausted. She died, totally weakened.

Monday, June 25, 2012

A Treasure Trove of Information

Mark Bowden, "The Measured Man," Atlantic (July/August 2012), on computer scientist Larry Smarr:
"Have you ever figured how information-rich your stool is?," Larry asks me with a wide smile, his gray-green eyes intent behind rimless glasses. "There are about 100 billion bacteria per gram. Each bacterium has DNA whose length is typically one to 10 megabases—call it 1 million bytes of information. This means human stool has a data capacity of 100,000 terabytes of information stored per gram. That's many orders of magnitude more information density than, say, in a chip in your smartphone or your personal computer. So your stool is far more interesting than a computer."

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Pantheon in an Outhouse

Letter from Robert Southey to Mrs. Hughes (December 6, 1827), in Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, ed. John Wood Warter, Vol. IV (London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, & Roberts, 1856), pp. 74-76:
We were passing a few days at Netherhall, close by Maryfort,—a strange old house, part of which is known to have been standing in the reign of Edward II., and probably something has been added to it, or altered in it, in every generation since. When first I knew it the entrance was half filled with heathen gods, and the long passages, of course, infested by ghosts. The gods were not modern statues, but good, venerable, old heathen deities, dug up in a Roman station close at hand, upon the estate. A great many monuments were built into the front of the house as long ago as in Elizabeth's days, when Camden saw and described them. More was afterwards found than the hall could conveniently contain; the late Mr. Senhouse, therefore (a singular old man), instead of building a room for their reception, appropriated to their use (I must tell the story) a certain apartment in the garden, which I must not further describe than by saying that it was the oddest place in the world for a museum. And thither, with the imperturbable serenity of an antiquarian, he used to conduct his guests, and explain the inscriptions to them, without ever considering how the guests or the gods liked it. To be sure there was some oddity in this; but, although the place was ill-chosen, he took care to choose his times and seasons well, and so, except in accidental cases, there was no inconvenience arising.

But Lysons the antiquary undertook, as you know, some five and twenty years ago, to compile a "Magna Britannia," and, in the course of his travels for that object, he came into Cumberland, and proceeded, as Camden had done before him, to Netherhall. He was interested with the stones which had been built in the wall, sadly as they had suffered then by the weather; he was delighted with the antiquities in the hall, but when he came to the Pantheon he was enchanted. Enchanted I say, because he forgot everything except the altars and gods before him. On the following morning before breakfast, there he and the draughtsman whom he had brought with him, took their seats. There, after much search, they were discovered after breakfast had long been kept waiting for them; but there was no occasion to make further search, for thither they returned the instant they rose from the breakfast table; there they remained till dinner. Time being precious to travellers they wasted no time after dinner, but resumed their occupation, and the evening sun went down upon them there. The next day it was the same. Never had these gods been so faithfully delineated, never had the inscriptions been so accurately copied, and so patiently investigated. But think of the inconvenience of the family!—There was the old lady of the house, a most regular person! there was her daughter-in-law, and her little grand-daughter, there was her niece, there was Lady (what is her name?), Lord Stanhope's daughter who married the country surgeon, there were I know not how many ladies besides visiting at Netherhall, for it was in the summer season of touring and visiting. And all day long, all the long summer's day, did these determined antiquarians keep their seat. A watch was kept at the windows, but in vain. The children were despatched to look in from time to time, even that hint was disregarded; Lysons and the draughtsman went on with their work, and so it continued during their whole stay; and in the traditions of Netherhall the visit of the antiquarians is remembered as the greatest event that ever occurred there, since one of the family was killed at the door of the tower by the Scotch marauders.