Wedding Announcement: perm and redbus81

A big CONGRATULATIONS!! to perm and redbus81, who were married today at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.


In Memoriam: Stiletto One – by CrazyRantingGirl

Frank Chen, also known as Stiletto One

(and the creator of Magical Brownies)

20 January 1986 – 12 February 2007

Rest In Peace


About a year ago, a friend of mine took his own life. Known to most of us as Stiletto One, I also knew him as Frank Chen.

I first met Frank, or at least first encountered him, in the Internet Infidels Photo Thread. His presence almost dominated the thread for a time, but in a good way. Every time I signed in, I saw his familiar face, and I quickly felt like I knew him. After a while of having funny little conversations via private messages, we became Facebook friends. I noticed that Frank’s profile picture on Facebook was a photo of him swing-dancing. I had been learning how to swing-dance, too, and we talked about meeting in the summer to go dancing. But we never did go.

When I found out he had died, I couldn’t believe it. I cried on and off for weeks. Sometimes, when I think about him, I still cry.

Some people might find it silly that I was so affected by the death of someone I had never even met, but I knew Stiletto for years and we were friends. I had never before experienced the death of a friend, or of anyone close to me, except my grandfather. Perhaps that explains why I was so affected by Stiletto’s death. You see, my grandfather also committed suicide. I was too young at the time to realize or foresee his death, but with Frank…I knew about his obsession with guns, I knew about some of his personal problems, I knew he was depressed! But…it is pointless to consider what if’s and might-have-beens. I wish I had been able to tell Stiletto how much his friendship meant to me. He wrote in his blog that he thought he was “replaceable.” That is absolutely not true. I will never forget my friend Frank.


Related threads can be found at

Stiletto One’s LiveJournal

The Firing Range Wiki

Freethought Forum


Rants ‘n Raves Wiki

Something Awful


News articles: here

If you have any links that you would like to add, please contact any of the staff at NN, and we will include them for you.

Kani Gohan (Crab Rice) – by Harumi

When I stayed with one of the Japanese teachers during New Year’s, I was fed something they called kani gohan, literally crab rice. The Japanese often flavor their rice as they cook it in the cooker. It’s not unusual, and it’s really quite good. I’ve had a few that were cooked with lotus roots, bamboo shoots, and mushroom. Kani gohan as expected, is flavored with crabs.

To make this dish, you need:

1. Rice cooker

The ingredients are thus:

1. Female crabs (If you can get one with eggs, even better) – 2 or 3 (depends on the size of your rice cooker)
2. Soy sauce – 1/2 cup (or as desired)
3. Cooking wine/rice wine – 1 cup
4. Sugar – 1 tsp
5. Asian rice – 2 and 1/2 cup (I made a whole lot for my three crabs, so you can adjust depending)

Optional ingredients:

1. Shitake mushrooms – 5-7 (or as desired)
2. Bamboo shoots – 1 cup (or as desired)
3. Sesame oil – 1 tsp

Finely chop mushrooms and bamboo shoots. I actually grated the bamboo shoots instead, though any way is acceptable. Carrots and any other vegetable can be substituted, for example, button mushrooms or baby corn. Then I washed the rice, and placed it in the rice cooker pot. I then added all the ingredients except the crab, using my rice paddle to mix everything evenly. Then I added water until it was about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch above the actual rice, depending on how soft you want it. It is better to have a little more water than too little. Some ingredients may float to the top. Don’t worry, since you can mix it back in later.

Now comes the crabs. Mind you, I got mine extra fresh in Japan, so the ones I had were still alive and kicking. The Japanese don’t bind them with rubber bands (you have to remove them anyway), and provided no tongs to grab them at the market. I was a bit wary, but they had been laying on ice, and so they were all quite sluggish. I figured putting them in the plastic bag and tying a knot would kill them, but a half hour later found them still quite alive.

Since you will be putting the crabs, as is, directly on top of the rice, you might think rinsing them with water is a good idea (At least I did). Bad idea. The water was warm and my crabs came alive. I managed to get the first one and second one in, but the third one stiffened its legs and glared at me above the rice pot. It. Would. Not. Go. In. While the other two were docilely stuck in the brown colored water, that one continued to snap and click its claws menacingly. And it was already a tight fit with two other crabs, so trying to get it down was a challenge. In the end, I poked it with chopsticks until it backed down, but I was more than a little scared. I’d never killed my food to eat before!

So finally I got it into the pot, forced the lid down, and depending on your rice cooker, you set it to cook. It should do so automatically. Mine gave me a bit of trouble, and the tab that showed it was cooking jumped up a bit too soon. This is okay, so long as the crabs are dead. I took that chance to take the crabs and rip the top shell off.

This is where things changes depending on preference. I did not bother with the meat in the legs or body. Instead I merely scraped the eggs (which are bright orange) and the brains (a darker, murky, yellowish-brown) into the pot. I also ripped off a few legs, as is, back into the pot for extra flavoring. I mixed up the rice and set it back to cook. It should cook for at least 15 minutes, or until the water has boiled away and the rice is soft and sticky. Of course, if your rice cooker was well behaved and did not give you trouble, leaving the mixture without pausing to remove the crabs is also acceptable. Once done, I mixed everything up again for good measure. If you had added crab legs back in for additional flavoring, now is the time to remove them.

This is the result:


I ate it with salmon, but it can be eaten as is. It comes out mild, so naturally it can be eaten as normal rice with other ingredients. If you notice the orange, it’s the eggs, which as far as I’m concerned, is the best part of the meal.

This is what it looked like when I prepared it for my bento (Japanese lunch box) on the following day.


Now, I leave you to try this unique Japanese winter dish on your own!

Book Review: Oliver Sacks’ “Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain” – by Don Alhambra

musicNeurologist Oliver Sacks is well known for his ability to write about case histories in his own compelling lyrical style. Probably his most famous work is his 1989 book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, a fascinating and seminal exploration of the weird world of neurology. Drawing on his clinical experience with neurological patients, Sacks’ vivid descriptions of his patients’ behaviour and the realities behind the mask of ‘brain damage’ that society places on these people are fascinating and strangely humbling. It’s the kind of book you come away from and think: wow, the brain really is awe-inspiring, and incredibly mysterious.

There is no shortage of either awe or mystery in his latest book, Musicophilia. Subtitled ‘Tales of Music and the Brain’, Sacks makes a concerted attempt to understand another great mystery of humanity: why in the world do we like music so much? The book is wide-ranging and deals in part with the stories of neurological patients familiar from The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. For example: the patient in the title role of that book, a keen musician with neurological stroke damage, could only live a seemingly normal life when accompanied by music. Sacks comes back to this theme continually, noting that for many patients seemingly lost in their own worlds, music can be a real way for them to communicate and get back some of what they have lost.

Sacks notes that music therapy in particular, though largely ignored in clinical rehabilitation programmes, can be of great help to those patients who do not respond to other treatments. For example, Parkinson’s patients who are ‘frozen’ and unable to initiate movements can be trained to use a rhythmic beat to help them to walk and therefore regain much of their lost freedom. Music therapy is also known to be effective with certain aphasic patients (i.e. those who have lost the power of speech).

Other chapters focus on such topics as musical hallucinations (see this thread on the Heathen Hub), which while initially interesting and exciting to experience can soon become frightening and irritating. I was struck by how suddenly these disorders can strike, which brings home just how fragile our poor brains are, and how complex they have to be to go wrong in such interesting ways! Sacks also investigates such seemingly prosaic topics as earworms, tunes that get stuck in the head; literal bolts from the blue, such as the man who became a keen musician after being struck by lightning, despite having little interest in music prior to this; and the fascinating and almost alien abilities of autistic musical savants.

Musicians are known to have different-sized brain structures to non-musicians, so is it the experience of playing music from childhood that leads to these changes due to the plasticity of the brain? Or is it that people born with brains specialised for music tend to grow up to become musicians? The answer, surprisingly, is not as simple as one might think. Certain people have greater aptitude for music than others, and there are deficits (atonia and tone deafness, for example) that render either the appreciation or production of music impossible.

Most strongly of all, Sacks challenges the infamous pronouncement by Stephen Pinker that music is merely “auditory cheesecake” that piggybacks on the highly evolved linguistic capabilities of the human brain. Pinker’s thesis is that musical ability is not evolutionarily important. Not so, Sacks argues: music is bound up with the operation of the human brain, and is one of the things that separates us from other animals. No other animal shows such affinity, such natural rhythm and such appreciation of music as we humans. There must be some evolutionary reason why our brains impose patterns on our sensory experience, and an inherent sense of rhythm is one of the things that results from this. For example, we hear clocks going tick-tock, tick-tock even though the sound of both the tick and the tock is the same. It is as though we unconsciously impose a ‘beat’ on the world.

With so much of human experience seemingly dependent on the production and appreciation of music, perhaps that is what makes us truly human. Musicophilia is an excellent book, and I highly recommend it for not only musicians and neuroscientists but non-specialists as well.

Don Alhambra is a Research Fellow in Neuroscience at the University of Birmingham, UK. He can be found mainly at the Heathen Hangout and the Heathen Hub.

Melody Febble – by RexT

“Melody Febble” is my most recent tune, an instrumental much inspired by RnR’s very own Febble, (a.k.a. Lizzie) a very talented classical musician. Febble is an exceptionally calm and gentle person. I have come to admire her greatly. She sent me a piece of her own music and suddenly a piece I had been playing around with for awhile transformed into something with a slight classical tint, expressing a bit of how Febble makes me feel.

The piece uses acoustic rhythm and lead guitar, organ, pan flute, voice orbs and a bit of drums. I play both guitar parts and wrote the notes for the other instruments using a MIDI program and recorded the whole thing using a microphone and studio software on my laptop.

Melody Febble

Glosse – by orpheus last chant

To see a lover’s eyes of mist
I trace the lines upon your brow
to read the bowline of your thought,
to see it wane or tense in fraught,
I glance upon your arching back
as in love we twine and twist.

As in love we twine and twist,
arduor takes its turn with languor
thousand sighs upon you bless,
thousand demons you possess.

I glance upon your arching back
curves in movement of a nature
stars in spheres can but amiss
neither gods can reminisce.

To see it wane or tense in fraught
our love, a weed of winterborn,
it bows its head to all mistreat
with bloom the summer will it greet.

To read the bowline of your thought
I seek its many messengers
the science of your smiles in turn
with colours of your storms I learn

I trace the lines upon your brow
of times that past between us,
what did they catch, when they were cast
kiss and laughter, first and last?

To see a lover’s eyes of mist
’tis privilege, delight and yearning
endless golden rays explode,
velvet whispers overflow

As in love we twine and twist
I glance upon your arching back,
to see it wane or tense in fraught
to read the bowline of your thought
I trace the lines upon your brow
to see a lover’s eyes of mist.

Secular Books for Kids – by Octavia

I work in a children’s library, and to be honest I don’t do all that much. Mostly I just skulk amongst the picture books. Hey, I like picture books! Anyway, one day I came across Michael Rosen’s Sad Book, so to fill my day I went around looking for other picture books that dealt with death – and didn’t have any mention of religion.

It was surprisingly hard. Lots of books mentioned church services, prayers, heaven, and God, although many confined these things to a throwaway line, or an illustration of a church funeral. The books that were open-minded enough to say “No one knows exactly what happens” almost always included religious viewpoints with the non-religious ones. Even my perennial favourites (Judith Kerr’s Mog books) had Mog the cat return as a ghost to help her family adjust to her death. It wasn’t specifically religious, but it was definitely after-lifey. I found that the picture books that were completely non-religious in tone were mostly the ones that dealt not with death itself, but with the grieving process afterwards.

So this month’s kids section is on secular picture books about death. I’ve picked the best ones that I know (both fiction and non-fiction) and there’s a list of links at the bottom to others.


Sad Book by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Quentin Blake

rosenMichael Rosen is currently the UK’s fifth Children’s Laureate, a position he will hold until 2009. The Sad Book benefits not only from Rosen’s writing, but from the illustrations of the first elected Children’s Laureate, Quentin Blake (who most kids will know by picture if not by name as “the guy who illustrates the Roald Dahl books”).

The Sad Book is a picture book about dealing with grief – and it is a true story, dealing with Rosen’s reaction to the death of his 18 year old son, Eddie, from meningococcal septicaemia in 1999.

Rosen is brutally honest about his reactions to his son’s death. There is nothing pretty about the anger or depression or the desire to “disappear” – reactions that continue to haunt him as the seasons change. It’s the passage of time that is one of the most interesting facets of this book. It doesn’t address Eddie’s death itself, or his funeral, just the long, dreary months afterwards and the ongoing grief of the author.

There’s no happy ending, of course. How can there be? What ending there is is bittersweet – the author sitting in the dark staring at a picture frame that we can only see from the back, with only a candle to provide light.

It’s depressing. In many ways, it’s also a picture book for adults, one of the few that crosses the generation gap. So why add it to your child’s bookshelf?

For one thing: the sheer genius of Quentin Blake. Blake’s illustrations are simple but wrenching – the most affecting being a blank box, symbolising the end of Eddie’s life. The first illustration in the book was drawn fifteen times before Blake got it right. It accompanies the words “This me being sad. Maybe you think I’m being happy in this picture. Really I’m being sad but pretending I’m being happy. I’m doing that because I think people won’t like me if I look sad” and shows Rosen with a big cheesy grin – but look a little closer, and you can see the grin is too broad, the eyes too manic. Those eyes will degenerate into scribbles as memories overwhelm the narrator. Blake uses a muted palette, matching the mood of the text to the illustrations, often showing a progressively more washed out scene where the similar pictures barely change apart from the lack of colour, and the tones reflect perfectly the understated text. It really is a tour de force of illustration; there is nothing in the Dahl books that comes close to matching it.

Primarily, though, it is Rosen’s sparse commentary that gives this book its emotional punch. His feelings are made quietly plain without hysteria or melodrama, and are easily translatable across the generation gap, and his attempts to explore different ways of making himself stop feeling sad all the time, interspersed with his memories of his son, are heart-breaking, and wholly understandable. There’s even a touch of black humour (exactly what did happen to the cat, and why is it unfair on it to tell?) amidst the bleakness. There is also, strangely, hope. This resonates particularly well with children. It tells them they are not alone, and that the desire to disappear into their sadness need not be a permanent one.

If you only get one book for your kid to teach him or her how to deal with grief, make it this one. The grateful reviews from parents on say it all. It really is wonderful.


The Very Best of Friends by Maragret Wild, illustrated by Julie Vivas

Winner of the 1990 CBC Book of the Year Award, Australian Margaret Wild’s book tells the story of farm couple Jessie and James, and James’ spoilt moggy, William. When James suddenly dies, William is left alone with Jessie, who is not fond of cats. While she doesn’t exactly mistreat William, she becomes very unfriendly to him – almost completely ignoring him, and this treatment, combined with his own grief for James, turns William into a wild cat: “He grew mean and lean, and hated everything and everyone.”

Kids who read this book are likely to initially feel sympathy only for the unhappy cat. This is helped along by Vivas’ illustrations, which change from rounded, bright shapes to darker and spikier pictures. She has an interesting eye, and all her animals (including the humans!) are particularly good. What sets this book apart from the rest, however, is its subtle portrayal of Jessie’s grief, and it’s here where Mum and Dad might need to step in to help expand their child’s sympathy past William. Parents who read this book with their kids will be able to point out that Jessie has fallen into a deep sadness, and cares for herself no more than she cares for William. Their eventual reconciliation emphasises the need to treat bereaved family members and friends with care, even when they hurt you in their grief.

A Little Bit of Rob by Barbara J. Turner, illustrated by Marni Backer
This book explores the idea of the death of a child from the perspective of the surviving sibling. A month after Rob’s death, his little sister Lena and her parents go crab fishing for the first time without their son and brother. The family is obviously struggling to deal with Rob’s death, and Lena is afraid to show her grief or even mention his name in case it upsets her parents even more: “If I cried, Mom would, too. Maybe even Dad. And we were all trying to be strong. We were all trying to pretend nothing had changed.”

Obviously, the fact that the book is narrated in the first person by a child gives it an immediacy to young readers that many books of this kind don’t have, and it allows them to easily sympathise with Lena. The unusual setting – night fishing for crabs – also gives interest, especially as the illustrations resonate with the text. Backer’s evocative oil paintings are rather sophisticated illustrations for a picture book, but the initial darkness is punctuated by the lights meant to draw out the crabs (reflecting the reminders of Rob that begin to seep through the family’s reluctance to directly address his death) and ends with a more golden palette as dawn approaches and the family take comfort in remembering Rob.

Lifetimes by David L. Rice, illustrated by Michael S. Maydak

This one’s a bit of an odd duck to include, as it more about life than death. I’m adding it into this section, however, because of its emphasis on the cycle of life and death as part of the natural world – although the naturalness of death is more implied than stated outright.

Lifetimes focuses very strongly on the natural world and the differences between the lengths of life in different species – and even, at the end, the Earth and the Sun. It begins with the mayfly: “A lifetime for a mayfly is about one day.” A brief life cycle follows, with some interactive questions included to get kids to wonder about a life that length: “Tell about a time when you got a lot done in just one day.” This sets the pattern for the rest of the book, which includes such lifetimes as a hermit crab, a Venus flytrap (18 years!), a chimpanzee, bacteria, dinosaurs, and the universe.

It’s a nice, factual little book that strongly emphasises life cycles, science and environmentalism. An especially interesting touch is the questions, experiments, and activities suggested by each creature/object. The illustrations are bright and interesting, although in all honesty they are fairly generic, and don’t rise to the level of Blake or Vivas (both of whom have styles that could be instantly recognised at ten paces).

Other secular picture books on death
(with thanks to Ana H. for providing the list):

If you and your kids have come across any books that would fit well here, drop us a line and we’ll add your find to the list. Books should be either completely secular or (if including some references to spirituality) be so vague as to not cause offence to nontheists.

Am I Still a Sister? – Alicia M. Sims
The Fall of Freddie Leaf – Leo Buscaglia
Gentle Willow: A Story for Children About Dying – Joyce C. Mills and Cary Pillo
The Gift of a Memory – Marianne Richmond
The Goodbye Boat – Mary Joslin and Claire St. Louis Little
Goodbye Mousie – Roby H. Harris and Jan Ormerod
Help Me Say Goodbye – Janis Silverman
I Miss You: A First Look at Death – Pat Thomas and Leslie Harker
Losing Uncle Tim – Marykate Jordan and Judith Friedman
The Next Place – Warren Hanson
Sad Isn’t Bad – Michaelene Mundy and Robert W. Alley
Sun and Spoon – Kevin Henkes
Tear Soup – Pat Schweibert, Chuck DeKlyen, and Taylor Bills
Water Bugs and Dragonflies – Doris Stickney
What on Earth Do You Do When Someone Dies? – Trevor Romain
When Someone Very Special Dies – Marge Heegaard
When Your Grandparent Dies – Victoria Ryan and Robert W. Alley