Does one yell out, "NaBloPoMo!" the same way one yells out, "Bingo!"?

We did it! Here we are at the glorious end of NaBloPoMo, and we can look back upon our blog postings with pride, by which I mean embarrassment. Okay, I speak only for myself.

For this post, I propose we make the following predictions:

- Republican winner of Iowa caucuses
- Democratic winner of Iowa caucuses
- Ultimate Republican nominee
- Ultimate Democratic nominee
- Bonus: predict vice-presidential candidates as well

I'll kick it off in the comments....


The (Apparently Accentless) Texan in Me Wants to Convene an Angry Mob

A Hoax Turned Fatal Draws Anger but No Charges

DARDENNE PRAIRIE, Mo., Nov. 21 — Megan Meier died believing that somewhere in this world lived a boy named Josh Evans who hated her. He was 16, owned a pet snake, and she thought he was the cutest boyfriend she ever had.

Josh contacted Megan through her page on MySpace.com, the social networking Web site, said Megan’s mother, Tina Meier. They flirted for weeks, but only online — Josh said his family had no phone. On Oct. 15, 2006, Josh suddenly turned mean. He called Megan names, and later they traded insults for an hour.

The next day, in his final message, said Megan’s father, Ron Meier, Josh wrote, “The world would be a better place without you.” Sobbing, Megan ran into her bedroom closet. Her mother found her there, hanging from a belt.

She was 13.

Six weeks after Megan’s death, her parents learned that Josh Evans never existed. He was an online character created by Lori Drew, then 47, who lived four houses down the street in this rapidly growing community 35 miles northwest of St. Louis.

That an adult would plot such a cruel hoax against a 13-year-old girl has drawn outraged phone calls, e-mail messages and blog posts from around the world. Many people expressed anger because St. Charles County officials did not charge Ms. Drew with a crime.
But a St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department spokesman, Lt. Craig McGuire, said that what Ms. Drew did “might’ve been rude, it might’ve been immature, but it wasn’t illegal.”
In response to the events, the local Board of Aldermen on Wednesday unanimously passed a measure making Internet harassment a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine and 90 days in jail.

“Give me a break; that’s nothing,” Mayor Pam Fogarty said of the penalties. “But it’s the most we could do. People are saying to me, ‘Let’s go burn down their house.’”

St. Charles County’s prosecuting attorney, Jack Banas, said he was reviewing the case to determine whether anyone could be charged with a crime. State Representative Doug Funderburk, whose district includes Dardenne Prairie, said he was looking into the feasibility of introducing legislation to tighten restrictions against online harassment and fraud.
In seventh grade, Megan Meier had tried desperately to join the popular crowd at Fort Zumwalt West Middle School, only to be teased about her weight, her mother said. At the beginning of eighth grade last year, she transferred to Immaculate Conception, a nearby Catholic school. Within three months, Ms. Meier said, her daughter had a new group of friends, lost 20 pounds and joined the volleyball team.

At one time, Lori Drew’s daughter and Megan had been “joined at the hip,” said Megan’s great-aunt Vicki Dunn. But the two drifted apart, and when Megan changed schools she told the other girl that she no longer wanted to be friends, Ms. Meier said.
In a report filed with the Sheriff’s Department, Lori Drew said she created the MySpace profile of “Josh Evans” to win Megan’s trust and learn how Megan felt about her daughter. Reached at home, Lori’s husband, Curt Drew, said only that the family had no comment.

Because Ms. Drew had taken Megan on family vacations, she knew the girl had been prescribed antidepression medication, Ms. Meier said. She also knew that Megan had a MySpace page.
Ms. Drew had told a girl across the street about the hoax, said the girl’s mother, who requested anonymity to protect her daughter, a minor.

“Lori laughed about it,” the mother said, adding that Ms. Drew and Ms. Drew’s daughter “said they were going to mess with Megan.”

After a month of innocent flirtation between Megan and Josh, Ms. Meier said, Megan suddenly received a message from him saying, “I don’t like the way you treat your friends, and I don’t know if I want to be friends with you.”

They argued online. The next day other youngsters who had linked to Josh’s MySpace profile joined the increasingly bitter exchange and began sending profanity-laden messages to Megan, who retreated to her bedroom. No more than 15 minutes had passed, Ms. Meier recalled, when she suddenly felt something was terribly wrong. She rushed to the bedroom and found her daughter’s body hanging in the closet.

As paramedics worked to revive Megan, the neighbor who insisted on anonymity said, Lori Drew called the neighbor’s daughter and told her to “keep her mouth shut” about the MySpace page.

Six weeks later, at a meeting with the Meiers, mediated by grief counselors, the neighbor told them that “Josh” was a hoax. The Drews were not present.

“I just sat there in shock,” Mr. Meier said.

Shortly before Megan’s death, the Meiers had agreed to store a foosball table the Drews had bought as a Christmas surprise for their children. When the Meiers learned about the MySpace hoax, they attacked the table with a sledgehammer and an ax, Ms. Meier said, and threw the pieces onto the Drews’ driveway.

“I felt like such a fool,” Mr. Meier said. “I’m supposed to protect my family, and here I allowed these people to inject themselves into our lives.”

The police learned about the hoax when Ms. Drew filed a complaint about the damage to the foosball table. In the report, she stated that she felt the hoax “contributed to Megan’s suicide, but she did not feel ‘as guilty’ because at the funeral she found out Megan had tried to commit suicide before.”

Megan had mentioned suicide several times, her mother said, but had never attempted it, and no one who knew her, including her doctors, felt she was suicidal.
On the advice of F.B.I. agents who did not want the Drews to learn of their investigation of the hoax, Ms. Meier said, her family said nothing publicly about the case for a year. Today, the Meier and the Drew families continue to live four houses from one another on a winding suburban street.

“There are no words to explain my rage,” Ms. Meier said. “These people were supposed to be our friends.”

Mailer Wins Bad Sex Scene Award

This is from a book about Hitler, and I think this is a niece and uncle pairing. And just look at the name of the club --

The winner of the dreaded Bad Sex Award was announced today at the In & Out Club in London: the late Norman Mailer, The Guardian reported. Mailer's The Castle in the Forest beat out seven other shortlisted titles, all with cringe-worthy sex scenes. "Then she was on him," Mailer wrote on the offending excerpt from The Castle in the Forest. "She did not know if this would resuscitate him or end him, but the same spite, sharp as a needle, that had come to her after Fanni's death was in her again. Fanni had told her once what to do. So Klara turned head to foot, and put her most unmentionable part down on his hard-breathing nose and mouth, and took his old battering ram into her lips. Uncle was now as soft as a coil of excrement."

"It was the excrement that tipped the balance," said Philip Womack, assistant editor of the Literary Review, which judges the annual prize, according to the Guardian. "That, and the line about Alois [the male character] being 'ready at last to grind into her with the Hound, drive it into her piety'. That was pretty awful."The award was launched in 1993 by Auberon Waugh, who was then the editor of the Literary Review, in order to "draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it." This is the first time the award has been given posthumously.

The award's shortlist, the Guardian reported, included Jeanette Winterson's The Stone Gods, Ali Smith's Girl Meets Boy, Gary Shteyngart's Absurdistan, Clare Clark's The Nature of Monsters, David Thewlis' The Late Hector Kipling, Richard Milward's Apples, and Christopher Rush's Will.

Breakfast with Bill

Bill Clinton paid a surprise visit to the Hamburg yesterday morning. Check out the photo gallery. Former Hamburg patrons will recognize Amit, who apparently was Bill's server.

Dutch high school students rampage against extra hours

First of all, since when do high school kids have a union? Since when do 16 year-olds go on strike? The national government is making them stay in school for a certain number of "useless hours" per year -- corralled into boring study halls when there is no teacher available. So the kids went on strike. They texted and IM'd and organized and threw eggs at Parliament, tipped a car and set it on fire, clashed with riot police in several cities. Police dragged a kid into a van, and the other kids rescued him. Some coverage here and here. Video of a police water cannon being used on the children is here. In my day, it never would have occurred to us to go on strike and take to the streets in protest of study hall hours. I, for one, was too busy sleeping in study hall.


Please Don't Issue #1 is now online

Congrats to Pete et. al on a fine-lookin' launch! Two other Goats are involved in this, the inaugural issue of the newest online quarterly lit mag. When you're done reading it, don't forget to check out the "Submissions/Pitches" link.


What American accent do you have?

If you're American, you do indeed have a specific American accent. It's just a question of which one. A short, easy test can determine it, supposedly. (It sure got mine right: a "Midland" accent -- "You have a good voice for TV and radio." That is so true.)




I think one of my New Year's resolutions in 2004 was to improve my vocabulary. Thus, while I had long received word-a-day emails from Wordsmith and Merriam-Webster, I just that year set up a folder in my email account called Words. Every time a word that I thought could be useful in my writing or in insults hurled during revenge fantasies, I moved it into that folder. And then, of course, I forgot about it. I now have 405 words in there, only a few of which have actually been used in my writing. So I don't think we can call this resolution a success.

To try to make some progress (a few years late), I present to you a few randomly selected words from said folder. You literati out there probably know and employ them all already, but perhaps a wandering philistine will come upon this page and be enlightened.

operose (OP-uh-roas) adjective 1. Tedious; diligent. 2. Requiring great effort.

haptic \HAP-tik\ adjective *1 : relating to or based on the sense of touch 2 : characterized by a predilection for the sense of touch

esprit d'escalier (e-SPREE des-kal-i-YE) noun, also esprit de l'escalier Thinking of a witty remark too late; hindsight wit or afterwit. Also such a remark.

callithump \KAL-uh-thump\ noun : a noisy boisterous band or parade

caliginous (kuh-LIJ-uh-nuhs) adjective Dark, gloomy, obscure, misty.

marplot \MAHR-plaht\ noun : one who frustrates or ruins a plan or undertaking by meddling

sortilege (SOR-tl-ij) noun 1. Divination by drawing lots. 2. Sorcery; magic.

velleity (vuh-LEE-i-tee) noun Volition at its faintest.

parrhesia (puh-REEZ-i-uh) noun 1. Boldness of speech. 2. The practice of asking forgiveness before speaking in this manner.

nival (NY-vuhl) adjective Of, growing in, or relating to, snow.

sequacious \sih-KWAY-shus\ adjective : intellectually servile

peneplain (PEE-nuh-playn, pee-nuh-PLAYN) noun An area of nearly flat, featureless land formed by a long period of erosion.

That takes us up to the end of 2005. Since there's still nearly a week of NaBloPoMo, a random assortment of the randomly liked words of 2006 and 2007 may appear in this space soon.


Commerce Collective

Perhaps that's an oxymoron, but maybe it's time for us MFA types to band together while the WGA members and the studios are locked in battle. Yes, we can become writer-entrepreneurs. I know Gilly and Brando and T-Bone are in; who else?

I am full of good ideas. Surely some of you can act, edit, etc. The world is our oyster. Yea, go with me unto the dawn, or morning in America, or something!

Tidbits from the NYT

1. Somehow, this headline just sums up America these days: Retail Desperation on Display in Early Hours.

2. This movie sounds interesting, but what's more interesting is that AO Scott calls the book it's based upon "near-perfect." Have any of you read it? I'm embarrassed to say I'd never heard of it.


In case you're no longer teaching...

...and miss anecdotes about the antics of Iowa undergraduates (most of whom are not like this, of course), here are a couple:

1. One of my husband's students failed to turn in her paper. After a week had passed and he hadn't heard anything from her, he emailed her. In reply, she wrote, "I apologize for my slowfulness."

2. Two of EG contributor MSF's students recently misspelled the word "answer." They both left out the W. For those of you who know where MSF works, this should be particularly unsettling.


A quickie

1. Thanks to everyone for keeping NaBloPoMo alive!
2. No one reads anymore.
3. I just finished Antoine's book. It was excellent! I will be giving it as a Christmas gift, along with PJKM's Trendy But Casual (see buying info on right near top), which is also excellent!

Your library in your hand?

And what do we think of this?


Write What You Know

MEXICO CITY — Forensics experts said Monday that flesh found on a plate, fork and frying pan in the apartment of an aspiring horror novelist was human, and that DNA tests were planned to confirm whether it came from the body of his girlfriend.

Dr. Rodolfo Rojo, chief medical examiner for Mexico City's prosecutor's office, said muscle found on the plate and frying pan in suspect Jose Luis Calva's apartment corresponded to parts missing from the corpse of his 32-year-old girlfriend, Alejandra Galeana.
Police found Galeana's body in a closet in the suspect's apartment last week after her family lead police to the building.

When asked if Calva had eaten the woman, prosecutor Octavio Romulo Salas said: "That is the assumption that exists."

Authorities found pieces of lime beside chunks of flesh in the apartment, leading them to believe that Calva seasoned Galeana's forearm with the fruit after he allegedly strangled, hacked, and then fried up parts of her body, Rojo said.

Two or three days passed between Galeana's death and her grisly discovery — too much time to test Calva's digestive system for traces of her flesh, Salas said.
Police discovered the lower part of a leg presumed to be Galeana's in the refrigerator of the apartment. They also found knives, a box cutter, blood stains and a pair of shoelaces that may have been used to strangle her, prosecutors said.

Their search uncovered an unfinished novel by Calva entitled "Cannibalistic Instincts." On the cover page, a masked image of "Silence of the Lambs" killer Hannibal Lecter had been altered to resemble Calva's face, Salas said.

One witness, whose name was withheld, told prosecutors that Calva was fascinated by animal porn, witchcraft, and the explicit and sadistic novel "120 Days of Sodom."
Calva supported his cocaine and alcohol habits by forcing another girlfriend to sell handmade copies of his novels and poems for about a dollar (euro) a piece on city streets, prosecutors said.

The surviving girlfriend, whose name was also withheld for her protection, told police that Calva was initially charming, winning her trust with poetry. But he soon turned jealous, controlling and obsessive, and once attempted suicide, the woman said.

Prosecutors said Calva may have killed two other women whose dismembered bodies were found crammed in cardboard boxes and suitcases in Mexico City in 2004 and 2007. Like Galeana, both were strangled.
One of those cadavers, found in April, was missing its hands and feet, prosecutors said.

The other body, found in 2004, was that of Calva's former girlfriend, Veronica Martinez.
Calva, arrested last week, is being treated at a local hospital for head injuries he suffered while trying to escape police by swinging down balconies from his upper-floor apartment.
He will likely be charged with homicide counts that carry a maximum sentence of 50 years in prison, Salas said.


Technically a post

I got nothing, but I'm happy. Pyromania on vinyl thanks to Traca, brother arriving tomorrow... if you let enough go, all the real things come back. I don't want your photograph, I don't need your photograph, ALL I'VE GOT IS YOUR PHOTOGRAPH.


Denis Johnson, Robert Hass win National Book Awards

Tree of Smoke won best novel at the National Book Awards. Mr. Johnson couldn't attend the ceremony because he is "on assignment in Iraq." Hopefully, this will give his writing the wide appreciation it so thoroughly deserves.

Robert Hass's Time and Materials won for poetry.

Denis graduated from the IWW in 1974, and both gentlemen have taught there.

Sherman Alexie won for young people's literature with his book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.



I'm taking an evening Dutch class here in Haarlem. The instructor, Gerard -- tall, skinny, mid-40s, sense of humor, fine enunciating voice, patient and calm -- never gives the feeling that he's just doing his job. If I ever teach English here, I hope to emulate him. With ease he handles all of us, with our different advantages and difficulties, from Poland, Iraq, Spain, Morocco, Romania, South Africa, Guatemala, Venezuela, Turkey, and the U.S. (there's one other American).

Anyway, for his contact info he gave us his URL. The class has been going for months, but it wasn't until last week that I, on a lark, typed it in. Turns out he's a writer who has published three novels and three books of stories and done other writerly stuff. One of his links in particular caught my eye, in which he recommends books "for a foggy fall afternoon." Among them: Cheever's stories, books by Tobias Wolff, David Leavitt, Nabokov, A.M. Holmes, Raymond Carver ... and Ethan Canin (Emperor of the Air, which was pubbed in Dutch as Nachtreizigers (from the story "We Are Night Travelers").

Next class, I approached him after the bell and said, "I checked out your Web site and see you are a writer. I really liked your list of books and was pleased to see Ethan Canin in there."

"Oh!" he gushed, in raptured English. "Eth-uhn Cahn-uhn is my idol! Better than Carver!"

"Do you read those books in English or Dutch?"

"Sometimes English, but my English is not that good. I've read most of those books in Dutch."

"That's funny because ... Eth-an Can-in" -- (I actually hedged on this, falling somewhere between the correct pronunciation and the Dutch one) -- "was my teacher!"

His eyes bulged. "Oh, but this is rare! Whatever happened to him?"

"He's teaching and still writing. He's written a few movies. I think he has a new novel coming out." (He does, aimed for next June.)

"How old is Eth-uhn Cahn-un?" Then he looked a little worried. "Do you say ... Eth-un Cahn-un, or...?"

"EEETH-an CAYN-an. I believe he's 46 or so."

"Oh, good." Nodding soberly. "Then there will be more. I bought that book of stories when it came out here. I think it flopped, but I went around to everyone I knew and said you simply have to read these stories."

I asked if he had read The Palace Thief. No. Or heard of Richard Yates, who would fit right in on his list. He had not. So next class I brought The Palace Thief and Eleven Kinds of Loneliness to loan him.

"I will bring for you next time the Eth-uhn Cahn-uhn stories in Dutch." Here's where I caught the twinkle in his eye. "Perhaps I should make your extra assignment to read them?"

So that should be interesting. The most advanced book in Dutch I've tackled is Pietje Bell in Amerika, by Chris van Abkoude, one in a kind of wry, comical Dutch boy's adventure series (that is actually reminding me of the Chums of Chance in Against the Day). Takes me about half an hour to fully understand every word on a page of Pietje Bell. At that rate, it will take me 89 hours to read Nachtreizigers. Hopefully knowing the stories will help me get better faster at the language! Who woulda thought?

"Next time you see Eth-uhn Cahn-un again," he added as we were leaving, "tell him in Holland he has at least one fan, but he is a great big fan."


NaBloPoMo continues (for now)

Okay, I have to post today, but really I want you guys to keep posting about the caucuses (see below).

Here are a couple of points of interest to me, however:

1. This is an article on the collateral damage caused by the writers' strike. You wouldn't usually associate writers with dry cleaning, but they are indeed linked!

2. I am going to Chicago and NYC this weekend. Although apparently the massive copper pipes that make up the Internets do indeed extend into these metropolises, I may not be able to keep up my rampant, inane posting this weekend, and this means our (my) dreams of NaBloPoMo are imperiled. If some of you smartypantses out there could post Fri., Sat., Sun., and Mon., I would appreciate it. If not, well, so be it. RIP, dreams.


A simple request

If you were still living in Iowa and could caucus on 1/3/08, for whom would you caucus and why? I am soliciting input.


Sometimes, if not all the time, the desperation and craziness inherent in writing really gets to me

And here's some crazy (go to Comment # 32) --

But who will speak for the crackhead hippos?

The Associated Press

GAUHATI, India -- Paris Hilton is being praised by conservationists for highlighting the problem of binge-drinking elephants in northeastern India.

Activists said a celebrity endorsement such as Hilton's was sure to raise awareness of the plight of the pachyderms that get drunk on farmers' homemade rice beer and then go on a rampage.

"The elephants get drunk all the time. It is becoming really dangerous. We need to stop making alcohol available to them," the 26-year-old socialite said in a report posted on World Entertainment News Network's Web site. Her comments were picked up by other Web sites and newspapers around the globe.

Last month, six wild elephants that broke into a farm in the state of Meghalaya were electrocuted after drinking the potent brew and then uprooting an electricity pole.

"There would have been more casualties if the villagers hadn't chased them away. And four elephants died in a similar way three years ago. It is just so sad," Hilton was quoted as saying in Tokyo last week. She was in Tokyo to judge a beauty contest.

Her publicist couldn't immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

Hilton promised to improve her bad-girl image after she completed a jail term in June for violating probation in an alcohol-related reckless driving case.

She announced plans to do charity work in Rwanda, but the trip was postponed until next year.

Sangeeta Goswami, head of animal rights group People for Animals, told The Associated Press: "I am indeed happy Hilton has taken note of recent incidents of wild elephants in northeast India going berserk after drinking homemade rice beer and getting killed."
"As part of her global elephant campaign, Hilton should, in fact, think of visiting this region literally infested with elephants," Goswami said.

Another conservationist said elephant alcohol abuse was just a symptom of the real problem.


Writers' strike

Here's an interesting (and, in my opinion, mostly spot-on) analysis of the situation that has led to the writers' strike.


The wired world

I saw this article in today's Sunday Styles. While this guy is full of shit about a four-hour workweek, I was heartened to see (at last) someone point out a very obvious fact: IMing is productivity-destroying. Fine, it's fun, but it very rarely helps you get your work done faster or better, in my opinion. But then again, I'm 35, so maybe this is just one of those "In my day..." diatribes.


Norman Mailer has died

Obituary here. Kakutani thoughts here.

A choice quote from the obit: "Mr. Mailer belonged to the old literary school that regarded novel writing as a heroic enterprise undertaken by heroic characters with egos to match." I'd like to see a renaissance of the first part of that sentence (novel writing seen as heroic enterprise), but I think the idea of writers as heroic, egostical characters has probably caused more problems than progress by emphasizing this over the enterprise itself. It seems to me that, for instance, certain writers succeeded in spite of the fact that they were drunks and/or assholes, not because of these traits. But it's seductive for a younger writer to think there's some causality there. Now that I think of it, this notion probably led to all of reality television, too. In fact, it explains all of America today. QED.


Only 21 more days of NaBloPoMo

Let's face it: we're all getting older. Some of us more than others. Like Grendel, for instance. Anyway, today I had one of those horrifying moments when it became clear that not only was I doing something my mother does, but I was doing something my mother does that I have frequently decried as unacceptable and probably indicative of a steep decline into insanity. What I did was to take some of the clutter from our house and put it into my car since we're having visitors this weekend. Now, that sentence looks banal, but the content is, frankly, horrifying. It means that I have crap that I cannot organize, crap that I am also perhaps irrationally unwilling to dispose of, so I am placing it in my car as though my car is a storage facility. And speaking of storage facilities, my mother has several - God only knows what shit is in there. Before you know it, I'll be collecting worthless magazines, and the guest room will be filled ceiling to floor with them, which is not something my mother does but is something one of my friends' mothers does, and all of the mothers' neurotic behaviors really start to blend together after a certain point.

But let me get to my question, which is the following: in what ways have you manifested disturbing behavior reminiscent of your parents? And, as a follow-up, is anything more unsettling than this, other than perhaps anything involving Dick Cheney? Don't leave me hanging, ye goats of the earth.


In my day, all we had is Pop Rocks and Coke

WASHINGTON - Millions of Chinese-made toys have been pulled from shelves in North America and Australia after scientists found they contain a chemical that converts into a powerful “date rape” drug when ingested. Two children in the U.S. and three in Australia were hospitalized after swallowing the beads.

With only seven weeks until Christmas, the recall is yet another blow to the toy industry — already bruised by a slew of recalls last summer.

In the United States, the toy goes by the name Aqua Dots, a highly popular holiday toy distributed by Toronto-based Spin Master Toys. It is called Bindeez in Australia, where it was named toy of the year at an industry function earlier this year.

Moose Enterprises said Bindeez and Aqua Dots are made at the same factory, which is located in Shenzhen in China’s southern Guangdong province. Last week the Chinese government announced an export ban on more than 700 toy factories in the region because of shoddy products.

The company said that the product is distributed in 40 countries but that it was up to the individual countries and distributors to determine whether the product would be pulled. The toy beads are sold in general merchandise stores and over the Internet for use in arts and crafts projects. They can be arranged into designs and fused when sprayed with water. Scientists say a chemical coating on the beads, when ingested, metabolizes into the so-called date rape drug gamma hydroxy butyrate. When eaten, the compound — made from common and easily available ingredients — can induce unconsciousness, seizures, drowsiness, coma and death.

Naren Gunja from Australia’s Poisons Information Center said the drug’s effect on children was “quite serious ... and potentially life-threatening.”

The recall was announced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission on Wednesday several hours after published reports about the recall in Australia.

The two U.S. children who swallowed Aqua Dot beads went into nonresponsive comas, commission spokesman Scott Wolfson said Wednesday. A 20-month-old has recovered completely while the other child, whose age was not known, has been released from a hospital after five days and is recovering, he said.

“To prevent any other child from being hurt, we are calling upon parents to take the product away immediately,” Wolfson said.

In Australia, the toys were ordered off store shelves on Tuesday when officials learned that a 2-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl were hospitalized after swallowing the beads. A 19-month-old toddler also was being treated.

The news jolted the toy industry because Aqua Dots has been one of the few bright stars of the toy selling season, which, along with overall retailing, has gotten off to a sluggish start. The item, which had been heavily advertised, had appeared on many toy experts’ list of must-have holiday toys, and toy sellers are now in the midst of canceling advertising and scrambling to figure out how to replace it.

Chris Byrne, a New York-based toy consultant, noted that the incidents could have been isolated, and Spin Master may be erring on the side of caution.
“This is something that they could not have foreseen. This is an extremely hot toy. ... It’s a little scary,” Byrne said.

In a statement, Toys “R” Us Inc., said that it issued on Tuesday a “stop sale” on the entire Spin Master Aqua Dots product line in its North American stores and on its Web site after it learned of the news. “We understand that Spin Master and U.S. regulatory authorities are investigating this product and we have asked Spin Master to fully explain what it believes happened,” said the toy seller in a statement.


The local news

Yesterday, there was a local election here in the IC. There was record turnout, not because of the hotly contested city council race, but rather because there was an ordinance on the ballot that would have required all bar patrons to be 21. (You may recall that 19-year-olds can get into bars here but are not supposed to drink, which, in turn, means a steady stream of revenue for the city since there are about 10,000 arrests for possession of alcohol under the legal age in the police blotter every day.) Anyway, students registered and voted in large numbers, and the ordinance failed.

Now, what I'm wondering is whether this surge in registration will translate into high student turnout at the caucuses. I've noticed a curious thing among my students, which is that they'll be all into Barack Obama or Ron Paul or whomever, but when I ask if they're planning to caucus, they say no. Young people, being a Facebook or MySpace friend of a candidate doesn't mean that they'll win! You have to show up!


So, I was doing a little research for the next installment of Alcoa Ruskin ...

How to Build Your OwnPersonal Programmable Sex Android or RobotWarning: Some sexual content. Not suitable for minors.

This android is controlled from your computer using USB connection (see USB Central for USB developer resources) or you can use the very simple (although nearly obsolete) parallel port interface. Motors and other parts can be purchased at specialty stores or over the Internet. For everything here (excluding the doll) should cost you under $100 (for the parallel port model).

Vibrating motors are used to provide stimulation since this simplifies things a lot. Vibrators are small to fit easily inside your doll and just need a pair of wires for control. Vibration is a reasonable substitute to mimic the pressure created by the muscles and by the pressure of vasocongestion. At high frequencies vibration is felt as a continuous pressure. See Biomechanics and Functional Anatomy of Human Female Genitalia and Contemporary views on female pelvic anatomy for more info about the muscles of the female genital tract and how they work. This particular android does not move, movement requires much more in terms of power output (bigger motors), gears and other mechanics. If you would like movement, build this first, then experiment with movement after you get used to working with the electronics and the programming.

For help in soldering your circuit see the ApogeeKits FREE Illustrated Guide to Electronics Soldering. Well written guide to electronics soldering. Lubricating fluid is pumped into the cervix of the doll with a micro fluid pump (the one illustrated at this link is being developed to cool computer chips). To control the amount of fluid delivered use a return line to the lubricating fluid storage tank and a valve on the line going to the doll. This prevents your pump from flooding the doll or from the motor squealing if you obstruct its flow. Lubricating fluid is a 0.9% saline solution with glycerine added (900mg of sodium chloride per 90ml of distilled water and 10ml of glycerine). Warm to body heat; use an insulated container to retain the heat. See the photos of the parts to understand how everything works. You'll need four 12 volt controllers with opto-isolators. The tiny pager vibrator motors are rated at 3.0 volts and around 100mA current draw so you can operate two of them in series (to drop the voltage to each down to around 2.5 volts) from one output of the ULN2803. When operating motors from the 5 volt supply of the interface connect the ULN2803 Pin 10 to the +5 volt power supply to connect the internal clamping diodes of the ULN2803. Pager motors generally sell for $2.00 each as do the 5 volt mini-fan and the medium power 12 volt motors. The pump was $10.00 (a windshield washer pump from a Japanese car). To find out more about pager vibrators go here. Place a 100pF ceramic capacitor across the terminals of each motor to help cut down on the noise generated by the motor brushes. The 8 outputs control the following:

3 volt vibrator motor (2) right and left labia majora mimic labial vasocongestion/erection (Note: these low voltage motors are wired in series and can be operated directly from the ULN2803 output)
3 volt vibrator motor (2) mimic vaginal plexus vasocongestion (as for vibrator motors above)
3 volt vibrator motor (2) mimic superficial muscles encicling the vaginal opening (as for vibrator motors above)
5 volt mini-fan, scent (mimic perfume vapour from warm skin) (run directly from ULN2803 output)
12 volt motor mimic levator ani/pubococcygeus muscles (requires opto-isolator/power transistor)
12 volt pump, vaginal lubrication (requires opto-isolator/power transistor)
12 volt motor mimic anal sphincter muscle (requires opto-isolator/power transistor)
12 volt motor mimic rectal musculature (requires opto-isolator/power transistor)

Each of these locations will be determined by the size and build of your doll. The descriptions above refer to anatomical locations; see the "Biomechanics and Functional Anatomy of Human Female Genitalia" (see link for this free publication above) for where these locations are.
Each input is a microswitch usually using a piece of flexible plastic tubing. When triggered, it connects the normally open (NO) lead to ground or common (COM) lead of the switch(see the interface booklet for more information). The microswitches are located at:

mons veneris
labia majora (2 switches, one for each lip, wired in parallel)
vaginal entrance
2cm inside vagina
deep vagina

As you can see the doll can sense what is going on. These switches cost between $0.75 and $1.00 each so the entire nervous system will be under $10. Place a 100pF ceramic capacitor across each switch's contacts to help cut down on any high-frequency noise generated by the switch or picked up by the wires running back to the interface.

All in all, about $30 for the motors, $20 for the motor controllers, $10 for the micro-switches, $20 for the parallel port interface (more for the USB interface) and $15 for a 12 volt power supply or about $95 in total. I haven't included the cost of the doll or any stuff you'll need to attach the motors etc. since this will vary by the motor type, the doll and your own skill level. In most cases the small vibrator motors can be placed in aluminum tubes, secured with epoxy cement and the ends of the tube sealed with small plastic caps or tape. Dip these in latex or liquid PVC and attach where needed. Suspend internally with springs to provide a resting tension). For the fan motor, mount it over a hole in a small project box. Inside the box, a small piece of sponge with some perfume on it supplies the scent. Make one-way valves from thin pieces of acetate plastic (used for page protectors) so when the fan is not running the openings in the box are closed. When the fan is turned on, it sucks air through the holes, over the sponge and distributes the scent.

Programming. Use any language you're comfortable with, see the examples in the parallel port booklet for how to address each input/output. You can address the parallel port using the Java language Java Communications API. For more info see http://java.sun.com/ Free programming tools for sex androids and robots are available at the Maria Script website. The Maria Scripting Language is a language specifically designed for describing sexual behaviors.

The basic controllers are shown above. Starting at the bottom and moving counter clockwise are the parallel port board which has its own 5 volt power supply built in and a ULN2803 transistor array. The ULN2803 can handle power up to 500mA per output. At the top of the photo is an AC (alternating current) controller for 117 volt AC. It uses an optical isolator to isolate the high voltage from the interface and a triac with a heat sink to control the power. It is controlled from the ULN2803 on the parallel port board. At the right side of the photo is a dual 12 volt controller with its own regulated power supply and two power transistors. Schematics for the opto-isolator circuits are here on the parallel port page and should be fairly straightforward. I've used a 4N38A opto-isolator with 2N6044 power transistors for the DC controller and an MOC3011 opto-isolator with a a BT137 triac for the AC controller. You can use other opto-isolator combinations depending upon what your suppliers have available (the control signal comes from the ULN2803 on the parallel port board). As you can see, all the boards are simple to build. To control a beefy 12 volt motor should cost you $5.00 or LESS in parts (resistor, opto-isolator, power transistor, diode)

Above is a schematic for a simple 12 volt positive regulator which takes DC or AC input from 15 to 24 volts and outputs 12 volts DC. Heat sink the 7812 regulator for maximum output. Depending upon the size of the motors you may want to construct a separate regulator for each motor and run all regulators from a common unregulated supply. You can also use the same schematic with a 5 volt regulator (LM7805)

The photo above shows the three types of motors used. On the upper left side, the large black motor is actually a 12 volt pump from the windshield washer of a car. Used for lubrication. At the bottom is a 6 to 12 volt motor outfitted with a weight made from a brass bushing. This motor is used to replicate the actions of large muscles (levator ani/pubococcygeus and the anal sphincter and rectum). The tiny motor to the left of the last motor is a pager vibrator. This motor is shown in more detail in the next photo.

The pager vibrator motor (used to mimic vasocongestion and the muscular lining of the vaginal walls) and the microswitch (used for the android's "nerves) are shown in the photo above next to an ordinary pencil for scale. The vibrator motor comes with the weight attached. The microswitch has normally open and closed contacts; the red button is the actual switch part. It doesn't take much pressure to trip this switch.

Shown above is a tiny 5 volt fan that can be used to waft perfumes or other scents into the air.

Available at some computer parts stores

Second me

After editing a book about it, I couldn't resist trying it out. Of course I, Xochi Weatherwax, chose the fox head.

That's me sitting among some ruins on a beautiful island.

Found a place to do some meditation.

And some hocus-pocus.

I decided to try being a zebra. That's some guardian robot checking me out, somewhere.

Here's what it looks like when I fly as a zebra.

Meeting traca for the first time in SL. Took her about half an hour to get set up.

It's free to join SL, but you are homeless. To have your own place costs a little bit. Haven't spent money yet, but I'm thinking of buying a little plot. Maybe an Earth Goat Island, with a virtual Fox Head, where we could hang out anytime, would always be a place to go? Would anyone else agree to try out this wacky thing if I did? It wouldn't cost you anything.


Opportunity strikes

So, the TV and movie writers are officially on strike. Despite the disruption that this will cause my evening routine, I think it represents an opportunity for our very own Brando. I propose that he film a daily news clip or two and post it on YouTube. A frenzy of adulation will ensue, and he'll be the next Jon Stewart. And then we can ride his coattails into "Stars: They're Just Like Us" (where Brando will be photographed getting a butter burger at Culver's, and maybe we'll be partially visible in the background). Who agrees with me? Other than, um, EVERYONE?


College towns

I'm keeping our dreams of successfully completing NaBloPoMo alive. In today's New York Times, there was some good news for those of us who remain in the hinterlands: college towns have emerged from the subprime mortgate mess relatively unscathed. Iowa City is numero dos on the list of towns that find themselves in good shape, mortgage-wise.

I'll try to come up with something better for tomorrow. But perhaps YOU have something you can contribute? Signs point to yes.


Vampiro, Jr.

A Mini-Me emerged into the world for Vampiro and his lovely wife Halloween morning. A 7.5-pounder, the boy is fetching and is already displaying 'tude by starting out with a "faux hawk" do. Congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Vampiro!



So our much-richer brethren, the TV and movie writers, are going on strike. I'd say good for them, except that this apparently immediately threatens my personal enjoyment of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Also, it will apparently dry up the market for options on books, since there won't be any writers available to adapt them into screenplays.

Still, I think we can safely say that, like the music industry and the publishing industry, the movie/TV industry may be in need of a serious shakeup. Thoughts? Maybe the TV writers will take this opportunity to crank out some novels. I have no opinion as to whether that would be good or bad.

(My favorite part of the above article is that it notes that Starbucks expects to see an uptick in business in the LA area as underoccupied writers look for places to hang out.)

Updated to add: Incidentally, you may not be aware that a certain frequent visiting faculty member with the initials C.O. got a sweet deal writing for Alan Ball's new HBO show. I'm not sure how this affects him - ie, whether all the episodes had been written already or not.


All about me

Well, I've been a bit absent lately, as I was waging an honorable but ill-fated war against Blogger. Fine, I lost: I set up a Google account and am back in business.

So, like, what's up with you guys? Are you aware that today is the kickoff of National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo)? A hundred and fifty years ago, when I was still a city-dweller, I participated in this event and cranked out a nonsensical 60,000-word yarn entitled Thinly Veiled. It was published on my office printer and bound in the finest vinyl binder I had on hand. When I was in the midst of writing this, my only completed novel to date, I followed a couple of simple guidelines: (1) when the action lags, add a talking animal, and (2) if you can't tie up all the threads at the end, make everyone die in a blimp accident. Yes, I agree that this sounds more appealing than anything I've written since, though it isn't quite as entertaining as the Amorous Adventures of Alcoa Ruskin.

I'm considering participating again this month, given that I have four (4) incomplete novels just itching to be finished so that we can definitively say that they were a waste of time instead of merely suspecting it. Anyone with me? If not, what about having this blog participate in National Blog Posting Month (aka NaBloPoMo)? That means a post a day for the month of November, which hath only 30 days. We can do it!

In other news, we still live in Iowa. We are continually claiming that we are on the verge of moving to LA, or SF, or Austin. Politicians are swarming the state, and we are looking forward to caucusing. We're undecided and open to lobbying/bribery if you'd like us to caucus for your preferred candidate, Mike Gravel. When we go on walks with our very handsome baby son, we pass many of your old domiciles and think wistfully about the snows of yesteryear. And then we go home and watch TiVo. And then everyone dies in a blimp accident.