Ill Winds: On Fan Death

lead_960Had a nice interview with Katie Heaney for her story at The Atlantic:

Is My Electric Fan Going to Kill Me in My Sleep?

When I was a kid, someone told me that running a fan too close to my face was dangerous to my health, and I’ve kind of believed it ever since. For the 20-some years since, I’ve assumed that person was one of my parents, but when I mentioned this to them recently, neither had any idea what I was talking about. “That doesn’t sound like something I’d believe,” my dad said, and he’s right, it doesn’t. But I know someone in my home once told me to move my fan further away from my bed so I wouldn’t get sick overnight, and if it wasn’t my parents, then who was it? My best guess at this time is a paranoid babysitter. No matter that I never encountered any substantiating evidence; the idea of a fan’s concentrated breeze making me sick held enough intuitive sway in my childhood psyche that it stuck there. Even though I know now that it isn’t exactly true, I wonder if there’s something to the idea—it had to come from somewhere. Right?

In fact, many cultures across the globe have their own stories of wind-based illnesses, says Frank Bures, author of The Geography of Madness. In his book, Bures writes that some ancient Chinese medical texts warned readers of “wind insanity” and even “wind stupidity.” Variations on these beliefs persist today, too; in Italy, people wear scarves around their necks to protect against colpo d’aria (a hit of air), and in the Czech Republic, some people fear the wind from air conditioners and refrigerators, believing they cause rheumatism, among other health issues. Most (if not all) Americans have been told not to go outside with wet hair lest we “catch a chill”—a belief in a cause-and-effect model with little scientific backing. Perhaps the most extreme form of these supposed illnesses can be found in Korea, where they call it something else: fan death, or the belief that running a fan in an enclosed room will actually kill you.

Read the rest here.

 

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Creepy Clowns, Pizzagate and American Panics

526388637From Powells.com

To a village dweller on Hainan, the Great American Clown Panic of 2016 would certainly seem strange, while the 1985 ghost panic of Hainan would make a certain amount of sense. This was largely because they had heard the stories about genital-stealing ghosts before. Older residents “vividly remembered previous epidemics in 1948, 1955, 1966 and 1974” that had also affected hundreds of people. Our culture is the ecosystem of narratives that we belong to. One study found that the difference between victims and non-victims was 100 percent of victims had prior knowledge of the danger of the fox ghost, and 100 percent of them had a fear of death due to genital retractions. Culture-bound syndromes and mass panics emerge from the stories that we believe could be true.

Dark CarnivalFor the same reason, the clown panic makes a certain kind of sense to us: we have heard this story before. “The story always sounds real,” says Robert Bartholomew, author of Outbreak! The Encyclopedia of Extraordinary Social Behavior and many other books on the topic. “A pedophile or sadist trying to lure people into the woods. Yet when you look into it, these stories go back for centuries. Folklorists have a name for them: bad clown narratives, or killer clown, phantom clown, stalking clown. For me, phantom clowns are the bogeyman in another guise. They are living folklore. They are a modern myth in the making.”

Clowns, in our culture, have a long and complicated history. According to Bartholomew they were viewed positively until the late 1800s, when they began to appear in operas as murderers. Around the Great Depression in 1930, traveling circuses hit hard times, so they spun off into smaller sideshow carnivals. These were called “Dark Carnivals” (like the Ray Bradbury novel of the same name) and there clowns were dark, creepy, and scary.

Read the rest here.

Clowns._America

Photographs and Memories

oct-Cutler2014078-1From The Rotarian:

In the middle of Hong Kong Island is a mountain known as the Peak. A cable car climbs the slope from the city, arriving at a building called the Peak Tower. Take the escalators to the top and you’ll find one of the most breathtaking views in the world.

On one side is the forest of skyscrapers that makes up the megacity of Hong Kong. On the other, trees cover the mountain as it sweeps down to the ocean, which itself stretches out to the horizon. A cool wind from the sea washes over Peak Tower, and on the currents above, raptors drift, looking for prey. Below, through Hong Kong’s hazy air, helicopters fly, and further out boats slip through the harbor across giant waves that look almost gentle from the Peak.

I stood there for almost two hours when I was in Hong Kong recently. I didn’t want the experience to end. I wanted to soak it up, not knowing if I would be back. I took a few photos, but most of the time I just looked out over the edge.

Before long, the other tourists in my group left and new ones arrived. This happened several times, and the more I watched, the more puzzled I became. Over and over, I saw people stand at the edge with their phones and cameras. They would take one picture, look at it, delete it, then take another.

Some people did this again and again until they got the right one. When satisfied, they left. Another time, I watched an entire family take some photos, then sit down on a bench and stare at their phones for half an hour. They barely seemed to know where they were.

Read the rest here.

Riding the Kingdom of Bicycles

BikingHainanFrom the Financial Times:

High in the mountains of China’s southernmost province – the island of Hainan – I walk into a long room full of bikes. They’re a far cry from the lumbering machines that once led to China becoming known as the “kingdom of bicycles”.

These are a new breed: mountain bikes and road bikes, all made of high-end carbon fibre. They are light and fast and not one of them has a rack for carrying sacks of rice. These bikes are built for speed, for the joy of riding and nothing else. They are a sign of all that has changed in China.

“Those were good bikes,” says Frank Ji, when I ask him about the old ones. “They would go and go and go but nobody buys them any more.” Ji is owner of Velo China, a bike rental and touring company based in Wuzhishan, and has agreed to show me why Hainan, the so-called “Hawaii of the east”, has become a magnet for cyclists.

Read the rest here.

Strange Stones (Review)

SSFrom The Rotarian:

In the hills outside the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, writer Peter Hessler found himself at a restaurant specializing in a particular delicacy: rat. Not everyday city rat, but freshly caught mountain rat, the kind that spends its days eating the fruits of the forest.

This is typical of the places Hessler likes to take his readers – that is, wherever ordinary people are eating, joking, talking, living. He spent 10 years in China after arriving there as a Peace Corps volunteer in the mid-1990s, and his books, including River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze and Oracle Bones, led to a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2011. His newest book, Strange Stones: Dispatches From East and West (Harper Perennial, 2013), is a collection of stories set in China, in rural Colorado (where he and his wife moved in 2007), and in Japan.

Read the rest here.

Are You Experienced? On investing in memories

Cutler2013139-1-620x620It was after 17 hours – in no fewer than 10 vehicles – along a jolting, washed-out road between Thailand and Cambodia that I first appreciated some basic things about air travel. In a plane, there is no rain. There are no bags of fruit leaking unknown juices onto your backpack. There are no bruised tailbones from an entire day spent hammering over rocks and potholes. And on a plane, when you cross an international border, drinks are on the house.

I ran over this list of perks as I hung off the back of a pickup truck, watching my right foot disappear under layers of mud. My other leg was twisted underneath me, with no feeling left in it. My arms ached as I gripped a leaky plastic tarp that looked like it had been used for target practice by the Khmer Rouge. Periodically, the tarp pressed down in an inverted parachute that threatened to smother us all. Bridgit, my wife, was perched next to me, holding onto nothing but my pant leg.

Eventually we arrived in Cambodia, where our $3 room with a ceiling fan and a cold shower felt like the Ritz-Carlton on Maui. The next day, we walked around the ruins of the Angkor Kingdom.

I thought about that trip recently as Bridgit and I (now with a house in Minnesota and two daughters) sat down to look at our retirement planning. If you were an investment adviser, you would have been clicking your tongue and shaking your head. Bridgit, an accountant, clicked her tongue and shook her head.

Read the rest here.

Forgotten Ally (Review)

Forgotten AllyWhen the popular World War II board game Axis & Allies was released in 1981, China was not on the board as either Axis or Ally. It wasn’t for another 20 years that the country would be incorporated into the game, and even then only as a separate power directed by the United States player.

This was far from the reality, as historian Rana Mitter points out in his new book, Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937-1945 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013). China, he writes, was not only a fourth Ally fighting the Japanese but key to the Allies’ victory.

History needs this correction for a variety of reasons. World War II was costly for the United States, but for China it was worse. For America, the war lasted four years. For China, it dragged on for eight. America lost almost half a million people in the fighting, while at least 14 million Chinese were killed. And while America had almost no combat on its own soil, China did, and it had nearly 80 million refugees as a result.

Read the rest here.