Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Starhawk diet

"To renew the world, we must become like the vulture, who feeds on waste, who is the aspect of the Goddess that eats the obstacles to love."

From Truth or Dare: Encounters with Power, Authority, and Mystery, by Starhawk (HarperCollins, 1990.)

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Neil Morris, courtesy of Chaya

The irrepressible Chayaruchama, aka Ida, has sweetly sent me samps of two new scents from Neil Morris, a Boston perfumer who specializes in custom fragrances. He's getting into the retail business in a serious way, and if this pair of 'fumes is any indication, that's good news for scent freaks.

Le Parfum d'Ida--yes, named for Ms. Chaya--is a truly classic floral/leather/aldehyde. Ida says it's "skanky," and so it is, but in the most genteel sense. (Note to normal people: Perfumistas smile on skanky, within limits. Don't try to figure it out.) This baby is a real throwback to the great scents of the pre-WWII era. Think of the vivid richness of the classic Lanvins combined with the earthy sensuality of Tabu. But there's a bit of post-war wit and sparkle, too. Imagine the love child of Scandal and Miss Dior, and you'll have a notion of Le Parfum d'Ida.

Taj is a gourmand rose, rich with chocolate--very rich with chocolate, to my nose. Ida mentions "loads of patch," but before you Angel-phobes panic, rest assured that Taj bears little resemblance to Mugler's drag queen. (Thank god for the metaphorical genius of Luca Turin.) No, Taj is sweet and gentle, refined without being bland. There's nothing cute about it, nor is it a sugar-soaked mess. It strikes me as a dream chocolate scent for the woman who loves Tocade.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, October 28, 2007

I'm afflicted with some sort of inner Puritan...

...who doesn't approve of hanging around the house on a Saturday night watching a DVD. I have this notion that I should either be out and about, or else hunkered down reading something hefty. The worst acceptable option is that I spend the evening writing a book review. Just lazing on the living room floor watching a mediocre movie with Dave seems like something an old and boring person would do.

So, I guess I'm getting old and boring, because last night Dave and I stayed home and watched Inside Man, Spike Lee's workmanlike yet incoherent thriller from 2006. It wasn't terrible, there just wasn't much meat in it. It was Lee's usual stew of New York corruption and ethnic squabbling with a side order of indecipherable conspiracy theory. The really distressing thing was that the luscious Clive Owen was masked in nearly every scene, while Jodie Foster and Denzel Washington were made to look as old and tired as possible. That is a serious waste of three pretty people, if you ask me. At least we got to see plenty of Chiwetel Ejiofor, looking cute as he can be. He's supposed to be in Danny Glover's upcoming film about Toussaint Louverture. I'll be in the theater for that one, for sure.

Terence Blanchard did the music for Inside Man. He's worked with Lee a lot, and did the score for a Lee movie I really love, 25th Hour. (You can sample the soundtrack at Amazon.) 25th Hour got very mixed reviews when it came out, but I think it's a profoundly sad, moving film. It wasn't until I listened to this interview last week with Blanchard that I realized how much his score had to do with my response to the movie. Edward Norton's performance is wonderful, but I'm not sure the film would work at all without Blanchard's music. I need to watch it again--but it will have to wait until another Saturday when I'm feeling old and boring.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Misogyny, here and there

"In fact, there is nothing inherently "Western" about women's rights. Women in the Middle East have a century-long history of political struggle, popular organizing, jurisprudence, and scholarship aimed at securing rights within their societies. As for the "clash of civilizations," no one is predestined to be on one side or the other by virtue of her culture, religion, or nationality."

Those are the words of Yifat Susskind, communications director for MADRE, from a recent post on Counterpunch. Do click over and read the whole thing. It pretty much gets to the heart of why the war on terror has nothing to do with protecting the rights of women.

If you failed to track on "Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week," you'll get the gist of it from this Nation editorial by Barbara Ehrenreich. For vile propaganda from the source, click here.

One sentence perfume review: Allure, Chanel

Like a pretty little girl with bubblegum in her hair--sweet and cute, yet slightly repulsive.

Notes per Chanel: Bergamot, Mandarin, Water Lily, Magnolia, Jasmine, May Roses, Vetiver and Vanilla.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Jim McGuire

Jim McGuire has been photographing the country music world for 35 years. There's a great collection of his stuff currently touring museums around the US. You don't have to be a country music fan to admire the way he captures the spirit of his subjects. Click here to see "The Nashville Portraits." Click on the photos to read captions.

When the Opry abandoned the old Ryman Auditorium in 1974, McGuire spent several months shooting the final performances there, and those photos have been collected in a book, Historic Photos of the Opry. It's a fascinating document of a particular moment in country music, and I was amazed at the way it took me back to the Nashville of my childhood. I did an interview with McGuire about the book, which you can read here.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

You can't make up this shit

If I wrote for hundred years, I'd never create a parody as exquisite as this news story from today's Houston Chronicle. Read the whole thing, along with the comments, to get the full effect. God bless America.

(Brought to you courtesy of Dave, Chronicle reader and crackberry addict.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Perfume: Foolish frippery, or moral refuge?

Last night I attended the annual autumn dinner held by Nashville's Slow Food convivium. If you click here for the local events calendar, you'll get an idea of what these gatherings are like--and what they cost. Last night it was $40 per person, an extra $35 if you opted to have the wines with each course. The quarterly dinners (we were a little late for the Equinox this year) are held in one of the best restaurants in town, Margot Cafe, and the food is always excellent. Most of it is locally produced, and the farmers generally make a brief appearance so we can applaud their hard work before getting back to the cider-braised pork.

All in all, the dinners are an exercise in righteous foodiehood, and I'd be a liar if I said I didn't enjoy them. I always go with farmer friend Jenny, who sometimes provides the meat, and she brings me up to date on the latest drama at the farm. (There's always drama at the farm.) It couldn't be nicer to share a fine meal with a friend in a lovely place, and feel connected to all the people that made it possible.

But I wouldn't be my tiresome self if I didn't think about the irony of the whole thing. There we all sat, basking in the warm glow of the wine and our own virtue, enjoying our affluence and patting ourselves on the back. The "eat local" movement draws in people from across the political spectrum, and many of the people involved with Slow Food really take an interest in global agriculture policy. But events like the autumn dinner are heavily attended, as you might expect, by the hardcore foodie contingent, for whom the Slow philosophy is more fad than commitment. It's another way of showing how serious they are about eating. These days, the homegrown tomato has all the cachet of caviar and none of the guilt.

I don't really begrudge the foodies their virtuous posturing. How could I, since I'm right there with them? It's just that there's something about their ferocious gourmet passion, their excessive investment in the delights of eating, that makes the ethical question harder to put aside. It just seems wrong to care so much about the pure pleasure of food when so many people are going hungry, or are growing obese on lousy, nutrient-poor food because it's all they can afford.

I'm not opposed to pleasure--this is BitterGrace the perfume freak talking. The thing about perfume, though, is that we all know it's ultimately frippery and foolishness. There's very little at stake, and you don't have to grapple with any big questions when you get obscenely excited over a new scent. Perfume is never a matter of life or death. Food always is, for somebody.

I just wish someone had said that last night. I wish I'd said it. But that would make me a buzzkill. And then they might not let me come back next time...

*Food and agricultural policy issues are so labyrinthine--to me anyway--that I make only intermittent attempts to understand them. Here are some interesting websites, in case you want to give it a shot:
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Ag Observatory

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

One sentence perfume review: Ambre Russe, Parfum d'Empire

Image from Aedes De Venustas

Makes me think of sucking raw cake batter from the finger of a cavalry officer's well-worn glove.

Notes per NowSmellThis: champagne, vodka, amber, tea, leather, spices and incense.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Charity is dangerous

When I was in college in the early 80s, there was a student--I'll call her Darlene--who would periodically trot around the dorms soliciting donations to the Irish Northern Aid Committee. The usual response she got was "Fuck off!" shouted through a closed door. It wasn't that we didn't like Darlene, or that we were particularly opposed to a united Ireland. No, the problem was that we all knew NORAID was a front for the Provisional IRA, and nobody was eager to fork over money to keep the Troubles going. (Darlene, by the way, absolutely refused to believe in any wrongdoing by NORAID. I wonder who she's raising money for these days.)

I was reminded of Darlene today when I heard that the case against members of the Holy Land Foundation had ended in a mistrial. If you click on the link above, you can follow the NPR links back to stories that give the history of the case. In a nutshell, HLF was at one time the largest Muslim charity in the US. Back in 1993, it came under investigation as a suspected front for Hamas, the militant Islamist group that won the Palestinian parliamentary elections last year. In 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration froze the charity's assets, and in 2004 brought charges against key members for supporting a terrorist organization.

That was the case in which the judge declared a mistrial today, although the news reports say one defendant was acquitted of most of the charges against him. Apparently, "not guilty" verdicts were read for the other defendants, but a couple of the jurors disputed those verdicts when they were polled--it's all rather strange and confusing. In any event, the feds are expected to pursue further prosecution.

Obviously, it's a problem if fictional charities are funneling millions of dollars to buy weapons for militant groups. Who knows whether the Holy Land Foundation was actually doing that? The jury clearly doubted it. In any case, there's nothing wrong with legal action against bogus charities; however, the Bush administration's zealous prosecution of charities that might have unsavory political connections--especially within the Islamic world--strikes me as another of their stealth attacks on civil liberties, as well as a form of soft warfare against civilian populations. (The HLF prosecution, by the way, is just the most high-profile case of its kind. Read about another one on this blog.)

It's very easy to smear a humanitarian organization that operates in any community the US government regards as hostile. I'm not naive enough to think that there's no chance some of the HLF's money wasn't misused; but at the same time, I don't see how a group can pursue humanitarian work in a place like the Palestinian territories without engaging to some extent with the various factions that vie for power there--including Hamas. The mere fact that HLF members met with Hamas proves nothing about the charity's legitimacy, but the US case against them has now prevented any real help they might have offered the Palestinians, who badly need it.

Legal harassment and prosecution of individuals who are associated with such organizations is a good way of stifling dissent and direct action generally. When I think about how easily my money might have gone to fund the IRA, it's no stretch for me to imagine myself in the place of someone who innocently donates a few dollars to help the Palestinians, and then suddenly finds herself accused of "supporting terrorism." Up to now, the US hasn't gone after small individual donors, but there doesn't seem to be any legal barrier to doing so. The mere possibility is enough to create a chilling effect, especially within the Muslim community, where people already feel singled out for scrutiny. You only have to send a few people to jail to get the message across that there is a high price to be paid for supporting unpopular causes. It's a great way to shut people up.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Hummers and other things

I was looking out my kitchen window Saturday afternoon, thinking I ought to take down my last hummingbird feeder since I hadn't seen any hummers for more than a week--and damn if one didn't fly up just then and start battling with a bee for a place at the feeder. I felt very guilty that the nectar hadn't been changed in days. I put out some fresh juice, and he came right back. He spent most of the afternoon eating.

This happens almost every year. Just when I think I'm finished feeding hummers I get a straggler who decides he likes it here. (FYI, according to bird experts, feeding hummingbirds does not discourage them from migrating. In fact, it aids their survival during migration. Some of them are just pokier than others, and they'll move on when they get ready.) I really don't mind cooking for one, although it's always slightly distressing to see the little guys hanging around in the cold. I kinda hope he clears out before we go to Scotland

Image from Apollonius.net

After I took care of the bird, I drove to a shopping strip in a little city west of here. There's a tiny department store there with a Lauder counter, and I was looking for some Cinnabar lotion. They didn't have any, but I did find a penis in the parking lot. Actually, I think it would be safe to assume there were a number of penises attached to their owners in the parking lot, but there was one just lying on the pavement unsupervised. Okay, some kid had spray-painted PENIS very neatly at the end of a parking space; but, as Charles Peirce explained and the kid instinctively knew, sign and object are not really separable.

It was one of those baffling graffiti moments: Why is this here, and what does it mean? If I'd seen it on the street in Chicago I'd immediately assume some snarky little art student had been at work, but there aren't any snarky little art students in Dickson, Tn. This was the work of a kid--well, I hope it was a kid--simply expressing himself. (Or herself. I think it was a boy, though, because a girl would write in pretty cursive and put a heart-shaped dot over the "i." And she'd write Vagina in the next parking space with another heart-shaped dot. Girls are very holistic in their thinking.)

It got me thinking about how the penis, as word and thing, is still regarded with such superstition. It's sort of the last taboo. Think about it. The V word is all over the place. We've got The Vagina Monologues, and there's a steady stream of plain-speaking ads on TV for ways to cure whatever ails your vagina: vaginal dryness, vaginal odor, vaginal yeast infections.

Where are The Penis Confessions? And how come the little blue pill is for "erectile" dysfunction? You don't pop the Cialis because your erection is dysfunctional, but because it's non-existent. It's the penis that's dysfunctional. So why not say that? Maybe because it would remind us that the penis not a magic wand or an overseer's weapon, just a part of the human body. We can't have that, can we?

I feel a lot of sympathy for the little vandal who left his penis in the parking lot. He just wants a bit of respect and recognition for the appendage nature gave him. He's trying to reclaim the worth of his body, and reject the false currency of cars, guns and paychecks. You go, honey.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Ron Horton on YouTube, at last!

If you've been following my blog for very long, you know I'm a big fan of trumpet player Ron Horton. Dave's going to see Ron perform tonight in New Haven. I'm sitting here in Tennessee feeling lonesome, so I wandered over to YouTube just to check yet again for a video of Ron, and voila! Here he is, playing with Ben Allison at the Green Mill in Chicago--hands down my favorite club anywhere. Enjoy.

One sentence perfume review: 10 Corso Como

Photo from Lucky Scent

I'm in the camp that finds this one sacred and spiritual, though it's more kindly Mother Superior than Zen master.

Notes per Lucky Scent: sandalwood, frankincense, musk, rose, geranium, vetiver and rare Malay oud wood oil

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Venus Riding a Satyr, Dirck de Quade van Ravesteyn, 1608

Courtesy of Web Gallery of Art

Polly and Iggy

I try hard to shield myself from bullshit like the Ellen DeGeneres dog adoption controversy, but of course I haven't been able to resist clicking over to stories like this. The whole thing is so unbelievably stupid it defies commentary, though Tim Padgett managed to churn out this pretty sensible column for Time. (Thanks to Margaret for the link.) Whatever happens, I feel certain that Iggy, the repossessed adoptee, will have a sweet, cozy life.

I've already had my say around here about the particular brand of insanity that afflicts those of us who rescue animals. It can be a beautiful insanity, of course. Anybody who works to alleviate suffering--any suffering--is on the side of the angels. The problem comes when the rescuer gets so tied up in righteousness she can't get her head out of her ass.

An incorrigible rescuer who most definitely doesn't have that problem is my friend Jenny. She saved our beloved Nio from certain death, and she has rescued countless dogs, cats and horses over the years. She's a farmer who takes wonderful care of her livestock. She deserves a medal and a million dollars for all the good she does; nevertheless, she periodically has to take grief from members of the vegan/animal rights contingent, who think anybody who would raise a critter for meat must be the personification of evil.

Jenny sent out the message below this morning, which I'm sure she won't mind me sharing with you. It's a great reminder that you don't have to compare Iggy's situation to the plight of poor children to see its absurdity. Most dogs don't have it half as good as Iggy.

"Last week I found a dog standing by the side of the road in a very deserted area. As I stopped to look at her, I was HORRIFIED to see that someone had shot her in the muzzle! After a trip to the vet, I brought her back to the farm for TLC and, (as described by the vet), a 50/50 chance of making it. For two days she was not in good shape at all, but once she turned the corner, she has been a tail wagging success!

I would like to find a home for Polly. She is very good with other dogs, all livestock, poultry and cats. Her kind disposition leads me to think she would also be good with children. She is black with white toes on her back feet and short haired. Her 30# size would lend itself to being a nice indoor or indoor/outdoor dog.

Polly has not been spayed, and needs this done ASAP as she was cycling when I picked her up. Please feel free to pass along this information and let me know if you'd like to see a picture!"

If you live in the Tennessee/Kentucky/Alabama area and would be interested in adopting Polly, just click on my profile and email me. I'll put you in touch with Jenny.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

He's back

Chocolate Jesus, that is. Only, it's not the real chocolate Jesus:

"The sculpture is actually a new version of "My Sweet Lord," created with 200 pounds of chocolate over three days. The original was stored in a Brooklyn facility where mice nibbled away at its hands, ears, nose and feet, forcing Cavallaro to toss the original and recast the sculpture."

(That's just their cover story. The Christian Taliban hired a gang of premenstrual women to polish it off.)

Today's history lesson...

...is how easily history is forgotten. I've been browsing through an advance copy of On the Road to Freedom: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail by Charles Cobb, Jr. It's exactly what the title implies, a rundown of the major events of the civil rights movement in each state, taken city by city. Cobb is a journalist, not an academic, so the book is pretty lively and heavy on anecdotes--good qualities if you're looking for a painless way to learn the history of the movement.

I thought I had a pretty good grasp of Civil Rights 101, but I'm learning quite a bit from Cobb's book. For instance, I didn't know much at all about organizing in Maryland, and Cobb has a great little chapter on it. He gives special attention to Gloria Richardson, who led a very confrontational movement against discrimination in Cambridge, Md. in the early 60s. Unlike the majority of activists, who were students, Richardson was a woman in her thirties who got involved via her teenage daughter. Martin Luther King and the rest of the national leadership didn't like her because of what they considered her abrasive style and inadequate commitment to nonviolence. If you click on her name above, you'll see a photo of her facing down the National Guard. Awesome woman.

The city of Cambridge was essentially under martial law for a year as a consequence of Richardson's work, and organizing continued there until the late 60s; yet, according to Cobb, "There is not a reference anywhere in Cambridge to these tumultuous events. Gloria Richardson simply does not exist in the city's official history."

The Maryland chapter of Cobb's book offers another instance of historical amnesia--or maybe I should say historical fantasy: One of the catalysts for civil rights organizing in Maryland was a series of incidents involving African diplomats. Ambassadors from Sierra Leone, Niger and Chad were denied service--and in one case, assaulted--when they tried to enter restaurants along Route 40, on their drives between New York and Washington. Cobb quotes former senator Harris Wofford, who was special assistant to President Kennedy on civil rights, talking about the issue in an interview from the oral history archive at the Kennedy Library. His account is pretty seriously at odds with the reputation JFK still enjoys as a great champion of integration.

"Angie [Duke Biddle, State Dept. head of protocol] gets a call from the President. The President said, 'I just read that hell of a story about that ambassador not being able to drink on Route 40.' Angie says, 'Yes, Mr. President. We're working very actively. I've made six speeches up on Route 40. We know we haven't succeeded yet, but we think we're really making headway.' Duke was talking about all the progress he had made, and Kennedy said, 'Well that's not what I'm calling you about. I'm calling to tell you to tell these African ambassadors to fly.' He said, 'You tell them I wouldn't think of driving from New York to Washington. It's a hell of a road, Route 40. I used to drive that years ago. Why the hell would anyone want to drive down on Route 40 when you can fly there today? Tell them to wake up to the world and fly.' And he hung up."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Things that smell

I have a compulsion about getting outside first thing in the morning, and this time of year that means wandering around in the dark. I actually enjoy that. I know the trails well enough that I don't worry about falling, and being out so early means I get to hear lots of owls and meet the occasional raccoon. Among other things.

This morning I had just started charging along when I heard something rustle ahead of me. I instinctively stopped, and a big ol' skunk stepped out onto the trail, completely oblivious to my presence. He was close enough that I was afraid of startling him if I hollered, so I just turned back to the trail head and chose another route. I hadn't been walking more that a couple of minutes when I saw something moving along about 20 feet away. It was so big I thought at first it was a raccoon. Nope, another polecat. He was walking toward me, so I said, "Hey, skunk!" thinking it would send him scurrying off. Not only did he not stop, he quickened his pace in my direction. I had to back up, circle around him, and then climb down a bank and across a creek bed to resume my walk. I had gone maybe a half mile down the trail, and it was beginning to get light, when damn if I didn't see a third little stink beastie about 20 yards ahead. Fortunately, he just ambled on his way and I was able to do the same.

Seeing three skunks in a row can't be quite as happy an omen as Mary's deer. Not that I have anything against skunks, I just can't remember one ever bringing me good news.


While we're on the subject of things that smell, I've been meaning to mention my latest bargain-hunting prize: a bottle of Maison Berdoues Ambre Oliban, snagged at TJ Maxx. I have a tough time with heavy, ambery orientals, even in cold weather, which lord knows we haven't had much of around here. But MB Ambre Oliban, though it's got respectable richness and power, is extremely wearable. To my nose, it resembles AA Winter Delice, only minus the gingerbread-soaked-in-Pine-Sol element that makes WD nothing but expensive air freshener at my house. If you can't luck up on a bottle at TJ's, they've got decants at The Perfumed Court.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Reading around

In case you missed it, John Burns, who was the New York Times bureau chief in Iraq until recently, had a wonderful essay in yesterday's paper, "What Cats Know about War." You can read it here. Burns is a very interesting character. You'll find an interview with him from The Independent (a UK paper) here, and there's a long conversation with him on video at the Frontline Club.

Alexander Cockburn delivered a nice skewering of Al Gore and the Nobel Committee in Counterpunch over the weekend. Click here to read it. Cockburn is a skeptic on the subject of anthropogenic global warming, but even if you can't follow him there (I can't), he's still dead on about Prince Al and the Peace Prize.

If the recent posts about Congo have gotten you interested in that troubled place, you might want to check out Christian Parenti's article in a recent issue of The Nation, "The Fight to Save Congo's Forests." You'll find it here, along with a video. The Nation has also posted a 1953 Congo story from its archives. I haven't read it yet, but it looks worth reading. It's here.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A seat in the lifeboat

Photo from The National Archives

I spent a good chunk of today at an outpatient breast clinic in Nashville, getting a follow-up to a suspicious mammogram. Dave came along and was admirably cheerful about getting stuck in a waiting room for hours. The news, when it finally came, was good. I'm feeling lucky, happy, and relieved. I'm also feeling very rich.

The breast center is part of a huge medical complex that serves this entire region. People routinely drive from as far away as Alabama and Kentucky to get care there. But the women crowding the waiting room today didn't look anything like a cross-section of the people hereabouts. There were very few black faces, no Latinas at all, and the affluent end of the prosperity spectrum was definitely overrepresented.

Over our celebratory lunch, Dave and I wondered aloud about the missing women, especially all the ones who aren't poor enough for Medicaid and have no health insurance. How many of them ever get a mammogram? I tend to view conventional medicine with a wary eye, but there's no question that catching cancer when it's a miniscule dot rather than a palpable lump increases your odds of surviving it. Because of a past health problem, we have to pay an exorbitant amount for my health insurance, but an experience like this mammogram scare makes me extremely grateful that we can pay it. I feel as if we've managed to buy me a seat in the lifeboat. (You can find U.S. Census data on all the people who don't get a seat here.)

I was curious when I got home, and started hunting around the web to see where one goes to get a cut-rate mammogram in Nashville. There are a number of places, as it turns out. The billing for my initial mammo was $580, and you can see from the list that there are several clinics in town that will do a self-referred one for $50, which appears to include the reading. Still, $50 is a lot of money if you are just scraping by--plus, you need a physician to receive the results, which will cost something. Of course, all this begs the question of what you're going to do about paying for treatment if it turns out you need it.

It's all just a reminder of how "women's issues" are inseparable from larger issues of social justice. Periodically there's a flurry of press about how women are underserved by the medical establishment, either because too much research ignores them, or because sexism creates barriers to adequate treatment; but even a system that served women perfectly would still be useless to all the women who are locked out of it from the start.

*A little aside here on the larger issue of women's health: The New York Times has an article today about abortion rates around the world, which includes the unsurprising fact that women in poor countries are more likely to have abortions, and more likely to die from them. Lack of access to both contraception and safe pregnancy termination means more death, no matter how you look at it. All the "pro-lifers" who oppose foreign aid for anything but teaching abstinence ought to think about that.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The holiday spirit

Image from T-Shirt du Jour

The snakeroot is blooming and the mushrooms are popping up. Yup, the woods are full of poison, which means Samhain is almost upon us. I've been trying to get myself in the mood to make some preparations, but the weather's been warm, I've been busy, and the spirit of the season is elusive. It seems to happen this way every year. I always want to be excited about planning something special for Samhain, but I never feel any enthusiasm until the night itself. Of course, I've had some wonderful experiences puttering around in the dark doing some solitary, impromptu ritual. Maybe that's all I'm good for and I should be okay with it, but one of these years I swear I'm going to do it up right.

The one thing that is giving me a little spiritual inspiration these days is our resident feral cat. She's lurking underneath the bird feeders nearly every evening at dusk, and more often than not I watch her eat her dinner as I eat mine. I guess that sounds a little gruesome, and maybe surprising coming from a bird lover like me, but bitter experience has taught me that it is best to regard the feral cats as the wild things they are. I don't feed them, and I don't resent the fact that they kill to survive. Watching that little gray tabby tear into her prize every night is a reminder of how the world works, a vicarious chthonic ritual that lets me touch something dark and elemental. Death can be a horror--see the Congo posts--or it can be beautiful. Understanding that beauty is what Samhain is about.

Which reminds me, as much as I blush to admit it, of the William Cullen Bryant poem, "Thanatopsis." I don't know if schoolchildren in the rest of the world have to grapple with it, but I don't think it's possible to get through high school in America without reading it. I actually had to memorize it, which tells you just how ancient I am.


To him who in the love of Nature holds
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
A various language; for his gayer hours
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides
Into his darker musings, with a mild
And healing sympathy, that steals away
Their sharpness, e're he is aware. When thoughts
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
Over thy spirit, and sad images
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;—
Go forth, under the open sky, and list
To Nature's teachings, while from all around—
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air,—
Comes a still voice—Yet a few days, and thee
The all-beholding sun shall see no more
In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,
Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears,
Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist
Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim
Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again,
And, lost each human trace, surrendering up
Thine individual being, shalt thou go[Page 13]
To mix for ever with the elements,
To be a brother to the insensible rock
And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain
Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak
Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould.

Yet not to thine eternal resting-place
Shalt thou retire alone—nor couldst thou wish
Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down
With patriarchs of the infant world—with kings,
The powerful of the earth—the wise, the good,
Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,
All in one mighty sepulchre.—The hills
Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun,—the vales
Stretching in pensive quietness between;
The venerable woods—rivers that move
In majesty, and the complaining brooks
That make the meadows green; and, poured round all,
Old ocean's gray and melancholy waste,—
Are but the solemn decorations all
Of the great tomb of man. The golden sun,
The planets, all the infinite host of heaven,
Are shining on the sad abodes of death,
Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread
The globe are but a handful to the tribes
That slumber in its bosom.—Take the wings
Of morning—and the Barcan desert pierce,
Or lose thyself in the continuous woods
Where rolls the Oregon, and hears no sound,
Save his own dashings—yet—the dead are there:
And millions in those solitudes, since first
The flight of years began, have laid them down
In their last sleep—the dead reign there alone.
So shalt thou rest—-and what, if thou withdraw
Unheeded by the living, and no friend
Take note of thy departure? All that breathe
Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh[Page 14]
When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care
Plod on, and each one as before will chase
His favourite phantom; yet all these shall leave
Their mirth and their employments, and shall come,
And make their bed with thee. As the long train
Of ages glide away, the sons of men,
The youth in life's green spring, and he who goes
In the full strength of years, matron, and maid,
And the sweet babe, and the gray-headed man,—
Shall one by one be gathered to thy side,
By those, who in their turn shall follow them.

So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, that moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

From Poems by William Cullen Bryant, 1854. Via Project Gutenberg

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

News, then and now

"I think very few Americans would argue with the notion that we are at least for the moment the most powerful and strategically important country, and I think for us not to lead the world in the coverage of the world in which we presume to be the leader is a very bad thing. Unless the world is fully reported to Americans, we don’t have the real facts we need in order to hold our leaders accountable." Gene Roberts

Gene Roberts was managing editor at the New York Times in the mid-90s, and before that spent nearly 20 years as executive editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer. As a reporter, he covered the Vietnam war and the civil rights movement. He's coming to Nashville this weekend to promote The Race Beat, which won the Pulitzer Prize for history this year.

The quote above is from an interview I did with him, which is up on the Scene's website. Click here to see it. I feel obliged to warn you that it's long, but I wanted to put the whole thing up because I thought he had some interesting things to say about the way journalism has changed, and why. Nashville readers can see a shorter version in the paper.

The Race Beat is a very good read, and worth checking out if you have any interest at all in the history of the civil rights movement. Media coverage was crucial to the success of the movement, and the book gives you a clear sense of the journalists' role in events. Karl Fleming, who covered civil rights for Newsweek, figures prominently in The Race Beat. His memoir, Son of the Rough South (see my review to the right), is a personal perspective on the same story, and makes a fine companion to Roberts' book.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Don't hold your breath

"The current catastrophic situation in Iraq is completely and wholly the fault/result of the ill-judged military adventure initiated by your Idiot-in-Chief GW Bush and the cabal of war-profiteering NeoCon vultures surrounding him."

That's a snippet of what "Lindsey" had to say in reply to an article about Blackwater in last week's Scottish Sunday Herald. Actually, Lindsey (from Scotland) was responding to "Amanda" (from the US), who was bitching about unfriendly media coverage of the war.

As much as I admire Lindsey's vivid way with the language--and as much as I sympathize with his/her exasperation with American Amanda--something about that remark rings false to me. I haven't been able to put my finger on what, until yesterday. There was a guy ahead of me in the checkout line at the supermarket, 80 years old if he was a day, and he was wearing a black T-shirt with "BUSH SUCKS" in big white letters. Of course, my first reaction was delight. Surely it's the end of all political hope for the Bush/Cheney "cabal" when old white guys in the suburbs of Nashville, Tn. turn against it.

Then it hit me. I realized that in spite of my pretensions to having some kind of semi-sophisticated political ideas, I have been secretly nursing the dream that things are going to change after the 2008 musical chairs in Washington. I've gotten sucked into the hope that Bush is the leader of some special demonic tribe, and when we get rid of them the world will be rosy again. Or at least rosier.

I do think things might get slightly rosier domestically. It's just possible that a Democrat will do something about health care, and it's just possible that a handful of people not sickened by the idea of civil liberties will be allowed in government. But when it comes to American foreign policy, it's going to be more of the same. We're not leaving Iraq any time soon, no matter who's president. (FWIW, I am of the opinion that the plan from the get-go was to establish a permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq. The Republicans and Dems alike expected the work would be done and the natives pacified long before the 2004 election, which is why they were all so freakin' gung ho for the invasion.)

As for attacking Iran, HRC is all for it. Obama talks it down now, but he has supported surgical strikes in the past. Edwards is about as cagey on the subject as it is possible to be, but he's always been a good little imperalist, and there's no reason to think he's going to change.

And what about Dennis Kucinich? Let's face the fact he will never, ever be president of this country unless 30 or 40 million of his buddies on another astral plane get their shit together and register to vote. More to the point (and please don't take this personally, Kucinich supporters) that little bastard scares me. Do we really want a guy who teams up with Marianne Williamson to promote a U.S. Department of Peace running a big chunk of the world? Frankly, I don't want Dennis and Marianne's spiritual values imposed on my life, any more than I want Pat Robertson's or the Pope's. And I don't want the U.S. government trying to impose those values around the world, just as I deplore the neocons' ideas about "spreading democracy." Let's quit cultural imperialism cold turkey, shall we?

So, that's my gloomy rant for today. If anybody out there sees a reason for hope, feel free to share. I won't tell you you're wrong, but I have to warn you that I'm tough to convert.

Monday, October 8, 2007

More on the Congo conflict

The Frontline Club website has a slide show of Marcus Bleasdale's stunning photographs of the war's impact. See it here

"They Are Destroying the Female Species in Congo"

Congolese human rights activist Christine Schuler Deschryver appeared on Democracy Now today, talking about the plight of women in DRC during the long war there. Click here and follow the "segment" link to hear what she has to say.

Yesterday's New York Times has an article on rape in Congo, and you can read some basic facts about the toll of the conflict on the International Rescue Committee's website. Read more about what fuels the war at the Global Policy Forum's website.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

"Futuristic Sexual Fetishes for Web-Savvy Weirdos"

BitterGrace has been slogging away at work all day, and her brain is about kicked. (That's why she's talking about herself in the third person.) When her brain was functional, she found this column from Wired very funny. At least, that's what she seems to remember.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Hunter Berry, Rhonda Vincent, Kenny Ingram

I realize that bluegrass is not all y'all's cup of tea, but these guys are hellacious--especially Hunter Berry on the fiddle.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

It's getting so easy to be an outlaw

Husband Dave sent me a link to this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about students at one of the Cal State campuses lobbying for a ban on perfume. I figured it was just a matter of time before the fragrance-phobes staked out some territory in the academic world, and sure enough, the article reports that 2 colleges have already gone scent-free. (I could say something old fartish here about young people protesting perfume when there's a war on that their children might well wind up fighting. But I'll restrain myself.)

The comments on the article are of the predictable "us versus them" variety, with each side accusing the other of insensitivity and oppression--and in fact, the accusations are correct in both directions. The pro-perfume crowd can get quite rude and nasty in their dismissal of the whole MCS business. I know I've never had a lot of patience for the sufferers' claims, mostly because I can't figure out why perfume is so much more of a threat to them than the wide array of scentless toxic fumes we're all breathing in 24/7. That's no reason to dismiss people who say they're sick as neurotic control freaks, though. If they say they're sick, they probably are, and it wouldn't kill us to be considerate.

For their part, the MCS folk are ridiculously hostile and judgmental toward scent lovers. They take on a very aggrieved attitude, as if perfume had been invented just to torment them. They're very quick to enlist authority on their behalf, rather than taking the time and trouble to negotiate with the people around them about the issue.

It seems laughable to say so, but I think it's just a matter of time before the perfume police really start rolling. I'd take bets on an airplane ban sometime in the next few years, and I think we'll start seeing little "no fragrance" signs on the doors of doctor's offices and some public buildings. More rules, more official advisories--yeah, just what we need. The good news is that most people will probably flout any fragrance ban, as they do so many others. That'll be a good thing. We could all do with a little less respect for authority.

*Image courtesy of noFragrance.org

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Apollo's Fire

Michael Sims, whose name has been dropped a time or two on this blog, has a terrific new book out. Michael, like a lot of us, doesn't see any reason why rational thought can't coexist with joy and wonder. That enlightened sensibility shaped Apollo's Fire, which manages to be both a science primer and a prose poem. It's a fun, smart book, and those don't come along very often, so do check it out if you get a chance. Click here to read my full review.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Let's go someplace gray and damp

Photo by Ron Almog via Wikimedia Commons

This is the Tolbooth Steeple in Glasgow. Dave and I are headed to Scotland over Thanksgiving. Glasgow will be home base, but we'll go to Edinburgh and who knows where else. We don't know, because that would involve planning, which is not really our best thing. We're cheerful, slothful tourists. We like to travel long distances just to hang out. It's not that we're opposed to seeing things. We just like to see them more by accident than design. I do, anyway, and after twenty years with me, Dave has pretty much resigned himself to my slacker mode of travel.

Why go to Scotland at the end of November? You might well ask. We expect to be cold and to get rained on a lot. I'd like to say that we chose the date out of sheer contrariness, but that's not quite true. There's a band here in Nashville that Dave sits in with from time to time, and they were supposed to have a gig there that week. They invited Dave to come over and join them, and I invited myself. Then the gig got postponed, but by that time I was stuck on the idea of going. I don't plan, but I do fixate. Indulgent husband Dave said we could make it a birthday trip for me, since I'm going to say goodbye to 45 that week.

So, I'll greet another year in the land of my ancestors, while Dave makes a pilgrimage to the birthplace of Presbyterianism. On the off chance that we're feeling energetic when we get there, I'd love to get some suggestions on things to see/do/ avoid. Chime in on the comments here if you know Glasgow, Edinburgh, etc. If you're shy, click on my profile to the right and email me.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Nan Goldin Thing; or, How Dangerous is a Naked Little Girl?

Once again, the righteous have decided that the children of the world must be protected from art--or more accurately, from pedophiles who frequent art galleries. I thought pedophiles frequented playgrounds and Boy Scout Jamborees, but what do I know? (For those of you who haven't been following the story of the Nan Goldin photograph seized from a UK art gallery, you can get up to speed with this Times Online story. If you go to this BBC page, you'll see a link in the upper right for a video that actually shows a cropped version of the offending photo.)

I've already gotten in trouble recently for being soft on pedophiles, but I've got to say that I'm horrified at the idea of prosecuting anyone who makes or displays a photo like this one. So far all the police have done is confiscate the picture, and even that is completely inappropriate, if you ask me. Of course, there's no question that a pedophile with a thing for little girls would find the picture stimulating. So what? He'd probably get a hard-on watching ads for My Little Pony. Think we should ban them?

Censoring a picture like Goldin's does absolutely nothing to protect children. It protects adults who are either 1) irrationally fearful of the dangers of sexual predators; or 2) offended by nudity and the unselfconscious play of young children, which often has a perfectly natural (and healthy) erotic element. There's a world of difference between free-spirited play between two kids and the coerced sexual encounters depicted in true child pornography. People whose thinking is so clouded by repression that they can't understand that difference are certainly too stupid to be put in charge of protecting public safety.

I am sympathetic to one element of the prudes' reasoning, which is that it's inappropriate to display such an intimate image since the child in it is unable to consent. But I'm not sure I think there should be a law saying that a nude photo of a child can't be exhibited until its subject is eighteen. That would, among other things, prohibit a lot of valuable documentary photography, such as the famous photo of Kim Phuc Phan Thi.

I'll be interested to see how this finally plays out. I hope somebody has some sense, and they let the whole thing drop. This case is a classic example of the sort of thing I worry about when the feminist anti-porn brigade starts marching. Laws that prohibit expression inevitably wind up being used to censor artists (especially women artists) who make the mainstream nervous, while barely touching the scumbags who actually abuse and exploit kids..