Thursday, December 30, 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Meditation at Lagunitas


All the new thinking is about loss.

In this it resembles all the old thinking.
The idea, for example, that each particular erases
the luminous clarity of a general idea. That the clown-
faced woodpecker probing the dead sculpted trunk
of that black birch is, by his presence,
some tragic falling off from a first world
of undivided light. Or the other notion that,
because there is in this world no one thing
to which the bramble of blackberry corresponds,
a word is elegy to what it signifies.
We talked about it late last night and in the voice
of my friend, there was a thin wire of grief, a tone
almost querulous. After a while I understood that,
talking this way, everything dissolves: justice,
pine, hair, woman, you and I. There was a woman
I made love to and I remembered how, holding
her small shoulders in my hands sometimes,
I felt a violent wonder at her presence
like a thirst for salt, for my childhood river
with its island willows, silly music from the pleasure boat,
muddy places where we caught the little orange-silver fish
called pumpkinseed. It hardly had to do with her.
Longing, we say, because desire is full
of endless distances. I must have been the same to her.
But I remember so much, the way her hands dismantled bread,
the thing her father said that hurt her, what
she dreamed. There are moments when the body is as numinous
as words, days that are the good flesh continuing.
Such tenderness, those afternoons and evenings,
saying blackberry, blackberry, blackberry.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The video isn't great but the song is.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo

"All my best thoughts were stolen by the ancients."

Pretty Pretty Princess Camp

Ah, a new twist on the classic rags-to-princess-riches tale: An American woman dreams of royalty, moves to London, continues to obsess about royalty, meets the man of her dreams, and... starts a luxury princess camp. Yes, royal enthusiast Jerramy Fine has launched Princess Prep Camp. Now, for just £3,995 (that's $6,194.69) per child—girls only, natch—the eight-year olds in your life can live at the height of excessive opulence, complete with a butler named Jeeves, for one week (airfare not included). According to a profile in yesterday's Daily Mail, Princess Camp has been in the mind grapes of Jerramy Fine since she was a girl in the decidedly un-princess-y state of Colorado. That didn't stop her, though:

She said: 'When I was growing up, I was completely convinced that I had been swapped. For as long as I can remember I have known that I should have been a princess and something went terribly wrong. So I have spent the majority of my life intent on becoming royal and marrying Prince Peter. I decided to do my masters at the London School of Economics just so I could be in England. As soon as I got here it just felt like home. I loved the palaces, the parks, and the cute men with gorgeous accents. A lot of people my friends and family included thought I was completely mad but I could see no reason why my dream might not become a reality.'

Well, at least she was able to get into a prestigious graduate program with the sole intent of becoming a princess! (I hope she called it something else in her cover letter.)

Fine and a cutout of Prince Charles

Judging by this photo of her as a teen, Fine knew early on that her life's work would lie in providing an artificial version of the Princess Experience.

Not to get all wicked queen-y on Princess Camp, but I'm sure I don't have to tell you about the problems that go hand-in-formal-glove with the Princess Industrial Complex. They include: gender stereotypes, heteronormativity, materialism, classism, and sexist ideals (like moving to another country and getting a master's degree so that you can meet a prince and get him to marry you) along with a whole host of other shenanigans. Sure, girls (and boys) like to play dress up, but is an exorbitantly expensive camp that promotes unrealistic and potentially harmful gender and class expectations really the way to go here? (No, it isn't.)

Of course, Fine goes on to extoll the virtues of princess living, among them being charity work, good manners, and "wearing great dresses." She started Princess Prep Camp because she knew there were other girls out there who were making princess-ing their life's goal (she wrote a book on the subject after all), and it turns out she was right: Once the royal engagement was announced a few weeks ago, her roster completely filled up for this summer. Apparently there are a lot of parents out there who are encouraging of something like this, since it's not like the girls can sell enough lemonade to cover their own expenses.

Speaking of dollars, doesn't Princess Camp seem kind of like a rip-off? All that cash and your girl gets a tour of the palace and the chance to watch some princess movies with a nanny. For $6,194.69 (not even factoring in airfare costs) you could send your eight-year old daughter and 24 of her friends to Girls Rock Camp instead, a much better investment of your dollars and in her future. And speaking of Rock Camp, Fine is also thinking of opening up a Princess Prep Camp for adult women. Because every adult woman wants to put on a tiara and dream of marrying a 17-year old boy, right? (No, we don't.)

Princesses have long been a part of children's fantasy lives, and that's where they belong (along with a million other fun, imaginary characters). We do not need to make the societal pressures girls face all the worse by adding princess-level expectations to the lot. And we certainly don't need to further monetize the Princess Experience with a totally unnecessary "luxury camp." Girls can live just as happily ever without it.

The book. It's all about the book.

Iconography: Harry Potter and the Girls Who Weren’t Chosen Ones

The series may be barely over, but we all knew from about the fourth book on that Harry Potter is the children’s literary icon of its time. Let’s take a look at its author, J.K. Rowling, and the young ladies of the series.

J.K. Rowling is called that because her publishers insisted that boys wouldn’t want to read a book written by a woman. Jo Rowling’s story is a famous one, of writing in cafes while trying to take care of her daughter by herself. She’s now the only person in the world to have become a US dollar billionaire through writing books. She’s well known for her charitable work, particularly in aid of children in poverty, and for being extremely nice to her fans. And never mind her fiction, Rowling’s The single mother’s manifesto is one of the best things I’ve read this year.

Rowling said something in an interview with O Magazine in 2001 which I think really rather telling:

I had been writing the first book for six months before I stopped and thought, 'Why's he a boy?' And the answer is, He's a boy because that's the way he came. If I had stopped at that point and changed him to Harriet, it would have felt very contrived. My feminist conscience is saved by Hermione, who's the brightest character.

The hero of the piece is a boy, fair enough. He doesn’t have the most heroic qualities–he can be petty, selfish, and so forth–which is pleasantly unusual and realistic. It’s not Rowling’s fault in particular, but she’s playing into a pattern in which even the most unheroic boys in children’s fiction get to be the main character rather than the most fitting of girls. Even the most heroic girl characters get shoved to the sidelines, because girls are a specialty but everyone can relate to boy characters, right? In the case of Harry Potter, some of the most iconic characters are the girls surrounding Harry, Hermione, Ginny and Luna in particular.

Hermione Granger is Rowling’s feminist presence in the novel, of course. We’re continually hit over the head with how clever she is, and it’s Hermione’s intelligent thinking that so often saves the day. Hermione is always guided by a strong set of ethics: She cares about social justice, as particularly embodied in her commitment to house elf rights where most of the wizarding world wouldn’t think twice about their status. She nurses a passion for Ron, her best friend with Harry, but never loses her dignity for it. (Her "Just because you've got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn't mean we all have" line will never lose its punch.) And she’s brave. Hermione has a fierce kind of commitment to the fight for peace and justice running through the series, even when that means modifying her parents’ memories and sending them to Australia so they will be safe. She made it cool to be smart and forthright for a lot of girls.

Where Hermione has to fight the stigma of being a Muggleborn (of non-magical descent), this is a world Ginny Weasley was born into. That doesn’t mean she has it easy: She’s the only girl in a family with six older brothers. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, she’s possessed by the evil Lord Voldemort and is forced to hurt her classmates. She comes out fighting, and develops into a mature, savvy young woman. I love that she’s in charge of her own sexuality, unapologetic about dating other boys when she decides to leave her feelings for Harry be. Of course, she ends up with him eventually, but where Rowling could have so easily gone with making Ginny a pathetic character, hopelessly in love, Ginny is her own person. She’s sporty, practical, and sharp. As a shy young girl, I related to her a lot, and loved seeing her develop as the years went on into the kind of person I hoped I’d be.

Luna Lovegood is the strange girl in all of us who doesn’t fit in anywhere. There’s a hilarious sequence in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in which she temporarily acts as the Quidditch commentator–except she tends to comment on things like cloud shapes rather than the actual game. She doesn’t have many friends, as she frequently points out, to Harry’s discomfort. She believes in the weird and wonderful, and Luna’s incisive insights cause a few disagreeable yet clarifying moments for the other characters. My favorite Luna scene is when she dances by herself at a wedding in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which perfectly captures her absolute disregard for what anyone else thinks. Wandering about with her wand tucked behind her left ear, she’s an independent sort, and pretty cool for that.

It’s the girls of Harry Potter who make the magic happen for me!’t-chosen-ones

11 Celebrities Who Were Secretly Total Badasses

Daniel Day-Lewis

As an actor, Daniel Michael Blake Day-Lewis has won two Academy Awards and blown the mind of anyone who ever enjoyed a milkshake with his Kubrick-esque portrayal of Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood.

His was the face that launched a thousand memes.

The Badass:

We're actually not sure if he's badass or just insane. Daniel Day-Lewis never met a role that he didn't become in real life.

Boxer, butcher/street brawler, wheelchair-bound cerebral palsy sufferer, last Mohican, Puritan preacher, all of them. He became all those things. For the 1997 film The Boxer, for example, he trained with former boxing world champion Barry McGuigan, who later remarked that Day-Lewis "could have turned professional" by the time their training was over.

It's really tough to figure out at which point he is acting.

For his performance as Christy Brown in My Left Foot, Day-Lewis refused to leave his wheelchair and had to be spoon-fed by the crew. For The Last of the Mohicans, he lived off the land for six months. He slept in an abandoned jail and ate only prison food for In The Name of the Father. For The Crucible, he "lived in the film set's replica village without electricity or running water" and built his character's house using 17th-century tools.

This man has spent a lot of time pooping in the woods.

The dude actually worked in a butcher shop to prepare for the character Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York, caught pneumonia after refusing to change out of his period clothing and spent most of his time off-camera sharpening knives, which he learned how to throw with deadly accuracy. While still in character and, from the sound of it, in costume, Daniel/Bill the Butcher reportedly traipsed about picking fights with strangers during the filming of Gangs of New York.

Monday, December 20, 2010

You - you strange, you almost unearthly thing! - I love you as my own flesh.

"I must, then, repeat continually that we are forever sundered - and yet, while I breathe and think, I must love him."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Senate votes to end ban on openly gay troops. I have tears in my eyes.

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a historic vote for gay rights, the Senate agreed on Saturday to do away with the military's 17-year ban on openly gay troops and sent President Barack Obama legislation to overturn the Clinton-era policy known as "don't ask, don't tell."

Obama was expected to sign the bill into law next week, although changes to military policy probably wouldn't take effect for at least several months. Under the bill, the president and his top military advisers must first certify that lifting the ban won't hurt troops' ability to fight. After that, the military would undergo a 60-day wait period.

Repeal would mean that, for the first time in American history, gays would be openly accepted by the armed forces and could acknowledge their sexual orientation without fear of being kicked out.

More than 13,500 service members have been dismissed under the 1993 law.

"It is time to close this chapter in our history," Obama said in a statement. "It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed."

The Senate voted 65-31 to pass the bill, with eight Republicans siding with 55 Democrats and two independents in favor of repeal. The House had passed an identical version of the bill, 250-175, earlier this week.

Supporters hailed the Senate vote as a major step forward for gay rights. Many activists hope that integrating openly gay troops within the military will lead to greater acceptance in the civilian world, as it did for blacks after President Harry Truman's 1948 executive order on equal treatment regardless of race in the military.

"The military remains the great equalizer," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. "Just like we did after President Truman desegregated the military, we'll someday look back and wonder what took Washington so long to fix it."

Sen. John McCain, Obama's GOP rival in 2008, led the opposition. Speaking on the Senate floor minutes before a crucial test vote, the Arizona Republican acknowledged he couldn't stop the bill. He blamed elite liberals with no military experience for pushing their social agenda on troops during wartime.

"They will do what is asked of them," McCain said of service members. "But don't think there won't be a great cost."

How the military will implement a change in policy, and how long that will take remains unclear. Senior Pentagon officials have said the new policy could be rolled out incrementally, service by service or unit by unit.

In a statement issued immediately after the vote, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he will begin the certification process immediately. But any change in policy won't come until after careful consultation with military service chiefs and combatant commanders, he said.

"Successful implementation will depend upon strong leadership, a clear message and proactive education throughout the force," he said.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he welcomes the change.

"No longer will able men and women who want to serve and sacrifice for their country have to sacrifice their integrity to do so," he said. "We will be a better military as a result."

Sen. Carl Levin, a chief proponent of repeal, said he has received a commitment from the administration that it won't drag its heels.

"We hope it will be sooner, rather than later," he said.

The fate of "don't ask, don't tell" had been far from certain earlier this year when Obama called for its repeal in his State of the Union address. Despite strong backing from liberals in Congress, Republicans and conservative Democrats remained skeptical that lifting the ban could be done quickly without hurting combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In February, Mullen provided the momentum Obama needed by telling a packed Senate hearing room that he felt the law was unjust. As chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mullen became the first senior active-duty officer in the military to suggest that gays could serve openly without affecting military effectiveness.

"No matter how I look at the issue," Mullen said, "I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens."

With Mullen's backing, Gates ordered a yearlong study on the impact, including a survey of troops and their families.

The study, released Nov. 30, found that two-thirds of service members didn't think changing the law would have much of an effect. But of those who did predict negative consequences, most were assigned to combat arms units. The statistic became ammunition for opponents of repeal, including the service chiefs of the Army and Marine Corps.

"I don't want to lose any Marines to the distraction," Gen. James Amos, head of the Marine Corps, told reporters. "I don't want to have any Marines that I'm visiting at Bethesda (Naval Medical Center) with no legs be the result of any type of distraction."

Mullen and Gates counter that the fear of disruption is overblown and could be addressed through training. They note the Pentagon's finding that 92 percent of troops who believe they have served with a gay person saw no effect on their units' morale or effectiveness.

But even with backing from Gates and Mullen, the bill appeared all but dead this month when Senate Republicans united against it on procedural grounds. In last-minute wrangling, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was able to revive the bill during the rare Saturday session with just days to go before the lame-duck session was to end.

The Republicans who voted for repeal said the Pentagon study on gays and assurances from senior military leaders played a crucial role.

"The repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' will be implemented in a common sense way," said Ohio Republican Sen. George Voinovich. "Our military leaders have assured Congress that our troops will engage in training and address relevant issues before instituting this policy change."

Advocacy groups were jubilant following the Senate's initial test vote that passed 63-33 and set up final passage. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network called the issue the "defining civil rights initiative of this decade." Supporters of repeal filled the visitor seats overlooking the Senate floor, ready to protest had the bill failed.

"This has been a long-fought battle, but this failed and discriminatory law will now be history," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

At least 25 countries allow gays to serve openly in the armed forces, among them Britain, Canada and Israel, according to the Palm Center, a research institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Friday, December 17, 2010

This makes my heart beat faster.

Solstice Lunar Eclipse

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Dec. 17, 2010: Everyone knows that "the moon on the breast of new-fallen snow gives the luster of mid-day to objects below."

Solstice Lunar Eclipse (redmoon, 200px)
A similar lunar eclipse in Nov. 2003. Credit: Jim Fakatselis. [more]

That is, except during a lunar eclipse.

See for yourself on Dec. 21st, the first day of northern winter, when the full Moon passes almost dead-center through Earth's shadow. For 72 minutes of eerie totality, an amber light will play across the snows of North America, throwing landscapes into an unusual state of ruddy shadow.

The eclipse begins on Tuesday morning, Dec. 21st, at 1:33 am EST (Monday, Dec. 20th, at 10:33 pm PST). At that time, Earth's shadow will appear as a dark-red bite at the edge of the lunar disk. It takes about an hour for the "bite" to expand and swallow the entire Moon. Totality commences at 02:41 am EST (11:41 pm PST) and lasts for 72 minutes.

If you're planning to dash out for only one quick look - it isDecember, after all - choose this moment: 03:17 am EST (17 minutes past midnight PST). That's when the Moon will be in deepest shadow, displaying the most fantastic shades of coppery red.

Solstice Lunar Eclipse (map, 550px)
From first to last bite, the eclipse favors observers in North America. The entire event can be seen from all points on the continent. Click to view a world map of visibility circumstances. Credit: F. Espenak, NASA/GSFC.

Why red?

A quick trip to the Moon provides the answer: Imagine yourself standing on a dusty lunar plain looking up at the sky. Overhead hangs Earth, nightside down, completely hiding the sun behind it. The eclipse is underway. You might expect Earth seen in this way to be utterly dark, but it's not. The rim of the planet is on fire! As you scan your eye around Earth's circumference, you're seeing every sunrise and every sunset in the world, all of them, all at once. This incredible light beams into the heart of Earth's shadow, filling it with a coppery glow and transforming the Moon into a great red orb.

Back on Earth, the shadowed Moon paints newly fallen snow with unfamiliar colors--not much luster, but lots of beauty.

Enjoy the show.