Saturday, July 26, 2008

What I'm Watching #155

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
"J'embrasse Pas" is the second André Téchiné film this week. "I Don't Kiss" pre-dates "Les Roseaux Sauvage" by 3 years and presents a storyline in a way more consistant with what I think of as a franco-centric, perhaps existential cinematic norm. You meet someone in a certain place and time, stuff happens, and you leave them without knowing if the questions that troubled them are ever answered, if the events that they've just slogged through bring them to a new or better place -- it's very much like life in general, and so I feel French films, in general, are more dependent upon the strength of their characters.

This film tells the story of a country boy, Pierre, who is both optimistic and angry (the angst of youth?). He up and leaves home in the Pyrenees for a life in Paris, and life in Paris is not what he had hoped for. Eventually he finds himself hustling his body to make ends meet and oddly, that's when he finds time to pursue his life with more energy than just living in a survival mode.

With his newly earned autonomy, he defiantly sets his sites on the affections of a fellow whore, Ingrid, but her pimp will have none of it. He kidnaps and rapes Pierre to teach him a lesson. Pierre joins the french paratroopers, serves his stint, and then walks to the Mediterranean and goes for a swim....cut to credits.

I told you, it's French. And I've left a lot out...since you can't spoil the ending, there should at least be stuff in the middle left for you to discover! The lead is played by Manuel Blanc and he's a sweet piece of eye-candy, also the performance of Hélène Vincent as a middle-aged nurse who become's Pierre's first lover when he arrives in Paris is very subtle and effecting.

As Manuel's debut performance, it won him a César in as "Meilleur espoir masculin," and he has been a staple of French cinema ever since.

Presidential Race 2008 #06

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
Another busy week in the polls and the numbers have narrowed slightly as McCain comes out on top in Ohio and North Dakota for a total gain of 23 EC votes; however, this was off-set by Florida's return to the tied column for a loss of 27 EC votes. Additionally, McCain's numbers in South Carolina have strengthened considerably with a 53% to 40% margin over Obama. According to the Research 2000 poll, the story in South Carolina is the white vote which is tracking 85% to senator McCain.

While McCain ate bratwurst in the gay enclave of Columbus, Ohio known as German Village (Great Brats! BTW); Obama shot hoops with Jordanians and gave a little speech to 200,000 Germans. And one of the interesting things from last week is that both candidates took net losses in their EC vote counts...go figure! Obama saw support slip in New Hampshire and Minnesota, but his numbers strengthened in Pennsylvania. And the story for Obama in the polls for me this week is Colorado. And actually it's the story for McCain, too.

In one of the continuing series of McCain campaign odd moments, the Arizona senator gave a speech in Denver about the War and his hawkish policies, then tooled off to have a pow wow with the Dalai Lama, noteworthy globe trotting peacenik. On the day of his visit, NPR reported that McCain had taken a slight lead in the polls in Colorado. I searched for this poll and I think that they were refering to the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute poll that showed voters sentiments as McCain 46% to Obama's 44% (within the traditional margine of error).

HOWEVER, the day after McCain visited Colorado and appeared thoughout the state via TV news covereage and newspaper articles concerning his speeches and interactions, the Rasmussen Organization took a pole with the following results: Obama 49% to McCain's 42%. 7% difference = Moderately Obama. Sorry, John.

Friday, July 25, 2008

"Stay"cation PC

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
Another nice thing about a summer spent at home is hearing from friends who are out and about!

TOP: Riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas

BOTTOM: Anaheim, California

Thursday, July 24, 2008

What I'm Watching #154

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
"Les Roseaux Sauvage" a.k.a. "Wild Reeds" is the 1995 award winning film by André Téchiné. It's set in a small southern French village in the summer of 1962, and tells the story of 4 almost, post-adolescent "friends".

Maïté (Élodie Bouchez) is the daughter of a highly respected local English teacher and along with her mother operates the local Communist political headquarters...a rather quite place, but their ideology sets them apart in the community. Henri (Frédéric Gorny) is the fatherless son of a French-Algerian expatriate who was brutally murder in the war between France and the O.A.S. backed Algerian liberationist. He holds to Fascist beliefs and wears his anger on his sleeve. Serge (Stéphane Rideau) is the son of itinerant Italian laborers. His older brother has enlisted in the French army as a way of opening the door to his family's immigration to France, but fate intervenes, and his brother is killed in the war in Algeria. Serge is left with a bouquet of conflicting emotions/options. And finally, there is François (Gaël Morel) a young man who is coming to terms with his homosexual orientation. A desire that challenges his life-long friendship with Maïte, finds expression in a one off encounter with Serge, and remains unrequited if better comprehended through his friendship with Henri.

This is a really beautifully conceived and executed film about four friends whose lives entwine with and impact one another in a certain place, at a certain time. In the end, you understand not only the essence of the lives of the friends, but also the time and place.

I first saw this film years ago...I'll guess 1995 or 96. It since went out of print, and only now has been re-issued. It's a great movie, well worth the effort to find.

Brookside Gardens View #5

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
The entire gardens were free with the exception of a butterfly exhibit. I decided not to pay for it, and in my wanderings around the place encountered many, many butterflies free of charge.

Brookside Gardens View #4

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
One of the many "points of interest" is this "Reflection Terrace" with its view of the Japanese Tea House in the distance. The stone directly in front of you in this photo contains the following quote:

"Linger here and reflect on those lost to violence
Hope for a more peaceful world
Seek a reverence for life among all people"

Turn to your left and you'll encounter a larger stone inscribed with the history of the sniper attacks that terrorized MD-DC-VA back in October of 2002. Look to your right and ensconced upon a third stone are the names of those who's lives were so violently and senseless taken.

And while I stood taking all of this in, a very aggressive red-winged blackbird strafed me over and over again in spite of my gentle verbal banter in response. Which just goes to show you, "one man's sanctuary is another bird's home".....

Brookside Gardens View #3

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
In the area called the Formal Yew Gardens, the magnificent hedgerows were gilded with lush displays of sun-loving perennials.

Brookside Gardens View #2

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
At the entrance to the park I chose was a gift shop and conservatory. Not the largest conservatory I've ever been to, but filled with florishing tropical beauties. It encouraged me in my latest trendency of augmenting my outdoor gardens and flower beds with plants that are more traditionally seen as house plants.

"Stay"cation: 5 Views Of Brookside Gardens ~ View #1

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
Today was a picture perfect day in the wake of a cold front that brought quite a wonderful display of lightning and thunder the previous evening (as well as, a mason jar with evidence of nearly 2" of rain!) It was a day that just begged me to do something I've been thinking about for a couple of months now: a visit to Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland. Located a stone's throw from where I've lived for the past 14 years, and I'd never taken the time to check it out.

My loss!

It's a beautiful place to take a walk, or to bring a book, or a friend. Many beds of annuals mix with perennials and ornamental bushes and trees along side expanses of well-manicured lawns. The copious paths lead you through dedicated gardens, around several ponds, amidst a wooded area filled with shade loving plants, and to several points of interest. It's a mere 50 acres, but feels very much grander.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Random Quote #92

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
"When we truly discover love, Capitalism will not be possible and Marxism will not be necessary."

~ Will O'Brien, 1878 - 1945

Monday, July 21, 2008

Zoo Stories

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
It's summer time and the living is easy! Besides books to read, DVD's to watch, and Gardens to tend; there is this beloved home of mine to clean.

1968 - And while cleaning today I happened upon this photo. Taken in the Spring of that year, it’s me (1st kid on the left) and four of my classmates on our first grade field trip to the Detroit Zoo. Other than the photo, I really don't remember that much about the mother was a chaperone (probably the person behind the camera), the animals were in these cages without bars--if I remember that correctly. It was my first experience of a zoo, but not my last.

1983 - I was hired as a summer youth director by the Epworth United Methodist Church in Savannah, Georgia. It was my first experience as a church employee and my first extended visit to Georgia. I have to assume that neither are typical of either experiences, but at the time it was all I had to deal with.

The job turned out to be nothing more than a glorified baby-sitter for a mostly bunch of spoil white kids in one of America's most putrid backwaters of 19th century blue-blood hegemony....but I am starting to tell another story, so back to the zoo.

In my role as naive tour guide and recreational planner I scheduled a visit to the Columbia, South Carolina Zoo. The core audience for this day was the church's primary children. On the day of our departure we were joined by a flaming redheaded adolescent cousin of one the kids. His easy southern grin and crystal blue eyes naturally captivated me. Little did I suspect.... He turned out to be one hell of a total terror. At one point in our visit, I literally had to climb into the artificial habitat of some sort of a condor and drag him off of a faux concrete butte for his (and the bird's!) protection.

It was then that I removed my belt. I grabbed him by the back of his pants and before the assembled church group and God as my witness, I strung my belt through two loops on my pants and 2 loops through his and told him, "That's it. We're attached at the waste and this is as far as you're getting away from me again."

It was the last time I every saw that kid or his cousins at church.

1990 – The real thing: I had the pleasure of traveling to Africa. I visited the nations of South Africa and Zimbabwe, and while in Zimbabwe spent two days on Safari at Hwange National Park. I remember the drive in as the Landrover rambled along a dirt road phalanxed by herds of giraffe and zebra, while an horrific thunder storm spat flashes of lightening and rain and hail stones all around us—YES, golf ball-sized chunks of ice in the heart of Africa.

Once there, we road out to view animals on the first day. We saw huge heards of herbivores: Gnu, Impala, Grant’s Gazelle, Zebra and all animals with new borns in tow. At one watering hole we sat still and watched the most amazing heard of Elephants arrive and drink and bathe. At another point, we encountered a lone male. Apparently somewhat frisky, he quickly sprouted a fifth “leg” – and it was an honest to God LEG! In its proportions.

On the second day I participated in a walking safari and we encountered a wart hog up close and personal – the walk was cut short when our tracking of leopard turned into the Leopard’s tracking of us.

2000 – It was part of my Birthday Present. My ex- and I visited the New Orleans Zoo in late January. As zoos go, not the worst place for animals to live. As our trip went, one of my more pleasant memories was this wonderful exhibit of Louisiana flora and fauna, as well we, a Central American habitat. The primates were the worst aspect of the zoo – never an excuse for treating cousins so poorly.

2001 – For years my ex- and I planned monthly outings with his grandmother. In the summer of 2001, these excursions included a visit to the Baltimore Zoo. One of the oldest zoological parks in the United States, it was a great walking experience. The zoo part, which is to say the animal part, was less spectacular.

I remember feeling very sorry for the penguins and seals as they lethargically hung around their concrete ice berg. We spent some time around the chimpanzees who weren’t all that available or interested in us (in most zoos, it’s the primates that I pity the most). And there was this interesting prairie dog exhibit, but the prairie dogs were all as fat as Santa Claus! Chubs ready for leather bars, but hardly representative of their cousins in the wilds of Kansas and Nebraska!

Random Quote #91

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
"They deem me mad because I will not sell my days for gold; and I deem them mad because they think my days have a price."

~ Khalil Gibran (Gibran Khalil Gibran bin Mikhael bin Saâd) 1883 - 1931

[photo by Fred Holland Day, c. 1989]

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Senatorial Races 2008 #01

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
For the second biennial cycle in a row the Republicans have everything to loose and the Democrats are poised to make some amazing gains.

Democrats have 4 states solidly in their grasp: Colorado, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Virginia. This places another woman in the senate! Yeah!! The first brother duo. Wow. And Virginia will have two of the most respected and influential junior senators in the nation.

Add to that races in Alaska, Mississippi, and Oregon that are leaning toward the Democrats; along side races in Georgia, Kentucky, Maine, and Minnesota that are within the realm of the Democrat's grasp...and you could be talking about an 11 seat gain. That's why the Republicans are now investing in Depends diapers! All they got to crow about is tough and sweet Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, and I will predict that she will weather this hexannual storm better than New Orleans vs Katrina.

I will post about the senate races on Sunday's when there are changes in the polls. No post, no change.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

What I'm Listening To #38

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
Sitting here in my beautiful home on a hot but not overly oppressive summer evening, I'm working on analyzing data from my school's latest round of state assessments (we did really well! Better than last year with an over group of students who had greater needs.)

In this context I'm listening to the soundtrack from the original Broadway production of "Into The Woods" by Stephen Sondheim. Perhaps a facet of my rambling intellect, I'm crunching numbers and creating graphic representations of my school's data while I'm again struck by the immense and profound work of art that this musical is.

Its cast was so perfectly appointed that each of them became THE icon of their character. The themes are so intensely rich and universal a representation of what it means to be human, to be alive, to know love, loss, forgiveness.... grace.

Of all the artistic creations of the past 20th century: "Guernica" by Picasso, "The Rite of Spring" by Stravinsky, the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, the Sydney Opera House in Australia, or "Where the Wild Things Are" by Maurice Sendak...(the latter was added to express the absurdity of the premise, which, in turn, only highlights the profundity of the observation that)..... "Into The Woods" will always percolate to the top of the pool.

It's so rich in ideas and archetypal images. A wealth that only the convergence of hundreds of years of folklore-established ideas passed down, first in the oral tradition and later codified by the likes of Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm among others, combined with broader more contemporary themes of what it means to be alive and give expression to that meaning. I never tire of listening to it.

Presidential Race 2008 #05

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
The last couple of weeks have been generally slow, a little movement here a little movement there. But this week was full of movement And most of the good news went to the Democrats. Postive movement toward Obama totals: 68 EC votes while positive movement toward McCain totals: 22 EC Votes.

Obama states that are hardening:
Washington 10, Oregon 7, Minnesota 10, Iowa 7

Obama states that are softening:

Obama pick-up states:
Nevada 5

States that went to tied from Obama support
Virginia 13

McCain states that are hardening:
Arkansas 6, Alaska 3

McCain States that are softening:
South Dakota 3, North Carolina 15

McCain pick-up states:

States that went to tied from McCain support
Missouri 11

Additionally, two more senate races have turned in favor of the Democrats: Alaska and Oregon; two others softened toward the Democrats Maine and Minnesota. As all 35 races (both seats are being contested in Mississippi and Wyoming) currently stand in the poles the Democrats are poised to pick up six seats: Alaska, Colorado, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon and Viriginia. (and the race for the open seat in Mississippi is too close to call....)

Friday, July 18, 2008

What I'm Watching #153

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
Is a documentary. "101 Rent Boys Uncut" is a series of interviews with male prostitutes and hustlers in Los Angeles back in 2000. It's poignant, it's titilating, it's at points disturbing.

Above all, I was struck by just how unflattering it was to its subjects; how like caged animals they were treated and coaxed to perform.

So ultimately I found the work sad. A sadness rooted more in the filmmaker's ability to present their subjects, than in the subjects ability to perform for the camera.

Art I'm Seeing #30

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
Back to the NGA, this time to spend time with the works of Martin Puryear. His stabile "Ladder for Booker T. Washington" rises up into the light in the center of the museum's pantheon dome.

Puryear's works demonstrate an extreme care to craftsmanship, a love of order mixed with organic forms and a rigorous belief that art is at its heart about ideas. This is a very important show and one that I plan to experience again and again before it moves on to San Francisco in the fall.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Our Latest American Hero #121

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
Army Pfc. Sergio S. Abad, 21, of Morganfield, Ky.; assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 503d Infantry Regiment (Airborne), 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Vicenza, Italy; died of wounds sustained when his outpost was attacked by small-arms fire and rocket propelled grenades from enemy forces in Wanat, Afghanistan, on July 13. Also killed were 1st Lt. Jonathan P. Brostrom, Sgt. Israel Garcia, Cpl. Jonathan R. Ayers, Cpl. Jason D. Hovater, Cpl. Jason M. Bogar, Cpl. Matthew B. Phillips, Cpl. Pruitt A. Rainey and Cpl. Gunnar W. Zwilling.

"Ky. Soldier Among 9 Killed In Afghanistan"

A Kentucky soldier was among nine who were killed when their remote outpost in eastern Afghanistan was attacked, the military said Wednesday.

The Defense Department said Pfc. Sergio S. Abad, 21, of Morganfield, died Sunday in the deadliest incident for U.S. forces in Afghanistan since June 2005, when 16 American soldiers were killed as a rocket-propelled grenade shot down their helicopter.

The soldiers died from wounds suffered when their newly built outpost in Wanat was attacked before dawn by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.

They were assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne), 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team based in Vicenza, Italy.

A former provincial governor in the region said scores of attackers included a mix of Afghan- and Pakistan-based militants, some with al-Qaida links.

A NATO official said they used houses, shops and a mosque for cover during the hours-long battle before American soldiers managed to drive out the attackers and call in air support from attack helicopters. The official said dozens were killed and about 40 were wounded.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What I'm Watching #152

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
A 1997 film from China called, "Happy Together". It's an ironic title. The movie tells the story of two adventurous men who start out as lovers, but end up spending a lot more time together than happy. And all of this played out in Argentina. Go figure?

It's an odd and ambitious film from an unlikely part of the world, filmed in an even less likely part of the world. There are many layers through which to understand "Happy Together" and in the end it intrigues me enough to spend a little energy exploring them. But it is not an easy film to comprehend and any simplistic approach will likely prove disappointing.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Cleaner

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
Yeah! Benjamin Bratt has a new series!

After suffering through "Love in the Time of Cholera," he owes me something good. Hell, he owes himself something good!

Monday, July 14, 2008

What I'm Reading #10

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
Here's an amazing memoir.

Kate is the chaplin for the Maine State Foresty Department. Her vocation came from the sudden, random, and tragic death of her first, beloved husband. The book shares her journey, her in-sights. It's raw, it's tender, it's epiphinal.

We all need you......

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Mid-July Gardens #4

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
Two other winter survivors are these beautiful red-leafed banana palms. When I bought the pair back in June of 2007, they were in six inch pots and all of 12" high!

By last October they were 7' tall. And even though the winter wasn't easy, they accepted the accommodations and faded very slowly; so that their therapy upon returning outside back in late April was to slowly trim away the dying and weak fronds while feeding them and in both cases stake them up for the first 6 weeks. TLC that has clearly paid off!

Mid-July Gardens #3

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
With the inauguration of a weather proof sun room, I was able to over-winter several containers of temperate plants. Here on my front "porch" are two of the containers. Last year I kept them on the sunnier back deck, and they did alright, but this year on the shadier stoop they are positively going nuts! The Oxalis in the front pot completely hides its host in its lavish layers of shamrock-shaped foliage.

Mid-July Gardens #2

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
The Lilies, Poppies, Bee Balms, and Astilbes of June have been supplanted by the Black-Eyes Susans, Cleomes, Phlox and Cone Flowers of July. And the best part of all: these beauties appear all over the yard and are the offspring of progenetors purchased a decade or more ago and long, long gone. The flourishing colonizers appear and thrive in places nowhere near the original locales. It seems that they know better where they belong than I do, which is all fine by me!

Mid-July Gardens #1

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
My buttery yellow hybiscus has been blooming prolifically all summer long. And now this one opens and is tinged with peach and pink! Exquisite.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

What I'm Watching #151

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
Wow! Did I stumble upon a wonderful film?!

"Shelter" is the brainchild of Jonah Markowitz: he wrote it, he directed it.

It's a very straightforward picture, whose plot lines fall before you like a wad of toothpicks spilled on a table. There's the irresponsible older sister, Jeanne, who can't help but assert her authority, even though being in-charge is the last thing she's willing or able to do. There's her son, Cody, who takes the life he's been given and just goes with it--but at 5, that's not so unusual. There's her kid brother, Zach, guilt driven to do what's right for others while struggling to discover what's right for himself. There's his longtime girlfriend, Tori, best friend, still a virgin after all these years. And there's the older brother (Shaun) of his best friend, Gabe; both young men living on the "other" side of the tracks--90210 side of the tracks--and Shaun's homosexuality a known but little valued fact in this circle.

Like the toothpicks the members of this world cross paths here and there and through it, the kid-brother Zach, manages to not only liberate himself from his fears, but everyone else he cares about, too.

This is such a beautiful movie. I can't recommend it enough.

There's a cool trailer online @:

My only caveat is in the sex scenes between Zach and Shaun. And it's the kissing. The kissing is so frankly fake. Peck. Peck. Peck. -- No passion. But as complaints go, it's not going to stop me from enjoying this film again or sharing it with friends.

Presidential Race 2008 #04

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
A relatively quiet week vis a vis polls. Two states shift.

Washington softens as an Obama state with a July 9th poll that gave Obama 51% to McCain's 43%. Not a big deal.

And North Dakota in a July 8th poll came up dead even with each candidtate garnering 43% of the voters' support. This represents a one point loss in support for McCain, and a 5 point increase in support for Obama compared to the previous April 3rd poll conducted by Dakota Wesleyan University. The July 8th poll was conducted by the Rasmussen organization.

Friday, July 11, 2008

What Can I Say?

If nominated, I will accept. If elected, I will serve!

What I'm Listening To #37

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
Sam Sparro's "Black and Gold" is thrilling.....

It's music that weds techno with ballad and every muscle in my body responds with an intrinsic joy. Whether I wobble or jump around like a fool, the music infects my soul.

Need a reason to get happy? Get this CD.

Chinese Fortune

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
"A thrilling time is in your immediate future."

Hmmm... Do TELL?

My Quilting Ways #07

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
Found this image of my old "Ohio Tipsy-Star".

It now rests on the swing in my Sun Room, and comforts me as I lounge there reading.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Our Latest American Hero #120

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
[My random selection of heros continues, now with 120 to represent over 4,500.....]

Army Spc. Joshua L. Plocica, 20, of Clarksville, Tenn.; assigned to the 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas; died June 25 in Baghdad, Iraq, of wounds sustained when his vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device.

"Soldier Followed Family’s Military Service"

A Clarksville soldier was following in the footsteps of his family members when he enlisted in the Army, his family said.

Spc. Joshua Lee Plocica died Wednesday in Baghdad of wounds sustained when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb. The 20-year-old graduated from Rossview High School just a few months before he enlisted in August 2006.

Lisa Thompson, his mother, said he wanted to follow his grandfather, Army retired Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael T. True, and his uncle, Master Sgt. William C. Clark II, in serving his country.

Thompson said he would want his friends and family to celebrate, not mourn, his death.

Plocica is also survived by his father and sister..

What I'm Reading #9

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
Ann Patchett is an amazing author. She possesses the ability to create diverse, archetypal characters placed in worlds that you see as clearly as you see the robin flitting about the birdbath in your own backyard. And into that world, she invites you in a way that is hard to describe as anything other than intimate. You, the reader, belong there.

Her genius as a writer is found in her characters. Each handled with such tender affection; and nowhere in her few novels more so than here, in "Run". With each word, with each gesture she reveals their essential humanity in a way that begs the reader to forgive their foibles and embrace their goodness.

As I am reading this book, I savor it a chapter at a time, sometimes reading it twice before moving on. Her words are just that good. And when the prodigal son took the fragile hand of the broken black woman in the hospital room, I cried without shame. It was the same when the diva sang her aria before the Japanese Ambassador in "Bel Canto". Reading Ann Patchett is visceral in a way that few other authors are or have been to me.

The first time a novel had such power was Tolstoy's "Anna Karinina." It was a scene where Vronsky was running along side of Anna's Carriage as it approached her summer dacha. And wham! There I was, out of the blue, running with him and just as filled with a joy so tangible that I was laughing and crying at the same time.

"Run"'s only irony is that I am happy to crawl my way through it. To enjoy every turn of the page, every peeling back of the onion to reveal something more lovely than the layer that came before.

Presidential Race 2008 #03

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
It was a happy Fourth of July for both candidates. Florida got off the fence and Montana responded to Obama's visit. Both candidates acquired points, and the gap between them narrowed to a mere 100 points. New England grew firmer for Obama and McCain's hold on the South strengthened.

Obama states that are hardening:

New Jersey 15
Connecticut 7

Obama states that are softening:


Obama pick-up states:

Montana 4

McCain states that are hardening:

Georgia 15
Louisiana 9

McCain states that are softening:


McCain pick-up states

Florida 27

Friday, July 04, 2008

A Patriotic Idea

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
Once upon a time, the U.S. court system deemed the art of "gerrymandering" unconstitutional. Ah, the good ol' days!

Gerrymandering is the carefully, calculated drawing of congressional district boundaries in order to manipulate the impartiality of democracy. What could be more heinous in regards to our system of governance?

The manipulation of Congressional Districts occurs for many reason, and granted, not all of them are necessary bad. Some state legislatures feel that it's a good thing to group like-minded, like-socio-economically situated, like ethnically identified, like-demographically concerned people together in order to allow representation that otherwise their diffuse participation in arbitrarily designed congressional districts would doubtless not allow for. At the same time, states can be honestly accused of drawing districts in order to establish and maintain party hegemony (who can forget the shenanigans perpetrated upon the citizens of Texas back in 2005?).

And that's precisely why Democracy demands and requires a politically blind justice to create geographically compact and ideologically ignorant congressional districts. In politics there should be no short cut to campaigning for one's ideas and right to represent. No minority within any district should be made to feel like they are up-against a deck stacked by the present incumbent regime with resources obtained by their majority status. We do not crown kings and queens in America. Neither should they feel favored or entitled by a manipulation of the system. A system like ours owes it’s very life and legitimacy to the principle of FAIRNESS. A principle that has never been more eloquently expressed than in the maxim: “one man/(woman), one vote”

By way of background, this post is predicated upon the results of my most recent self-motivated study of all of the 110th congress’ congressional districts. As a teacher, I almost feel like issuing a report card reflecting my findings! And perhaps even NEGATIVE awards for ballsy gerrymandering above and beyond all credulity. The winners would not reflect red states over blue states. My own beloved Maryland would be a mega-looser in this constitutional contest. Ergo my related study of population records from the U.S. Census Bureau and subsequent proposed redrawing of Maryland's Congressional Districts to better reflect my heartfelt ideals.

Districts with unbelievably convoluted geographic boarders include the following:

CA 23, AZ 02, IL 15, 17 & 04, GA 01, 08 & 11, FL 16, 19, 20, 22, 21 & 23, NC 01, 02, 03, 06 & 12, TN 07. and MD 02, 03, 04, 06 & 07.

And this only names the MOST egregious districts. Yet, then there are some states that have been not all that bad about the process. I would commend Mississippi, Michigan, Washington, and Oregon.

But on the 8th Fourth of July in the 21st century, why is any state guilty of preferring partisan priorities over patriotic paradigms? One truly non-partisan and totally patriotic expression of our love for the United States on this or any 4th of July would be an expression of outrage over gerrymandering and a demand that both courts and state legislatures not tolerate this manipulation of the very essence of democracy.

Shame on any politician who feels otherwise!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Smithsonian Folklife Festival 2008

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
If it's the 4th of July, then it's Folklife Festival time in DC. The festival is an annual event that spotlights folklife from three venues: A state, a country, and a science-based idea or organization. This year the three are:

1) Texas: A Celebration of Music, Food, and Wine

2) Bhutan: Land of the Thunder Dragon

and 3) NASA: 50 Years and Beyond

This year's a real mixed bag, I share some photos to follow and some thoughts, but in a word or phrase here's the shorthand review of the exhibits. Texas: LAME! Bhutan: ROCKS! NASA: A Science Geeks' Paradise!

If you live in the DC area and want a fun stay-cation, come to the National Mall by the 6th of July.

Folklife: Texas 01

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
Of the 5 five big tents in the middle of the Mall for the Texas portion of the festival, three were food oriented: barbecue, noodles, and Tex-Mex; the other two were music oriented. One was set aside for dance, but I never saw anyone performing there at any point during my 3 hours on the Mall; the pavillion called "Opry" was given over to a Mariachi band which was honestly very good. And later I heard a Honky Tonk performer.

Folklife: Texas 02

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
There you have it, the whole of the "wine" claim from the Texas monocre. There was one other pavillion with a Texas chef talking about Texas cuisine. It was honestly embarrassingly lame.

Folklife: Bhutan 01

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
Traversing the Mall from the capitol toward the Washington Monument, you enter the Bhutan area and the first thing you see is this replica of a traditional monastic chapel. Granted, in Bhutan the building would be hugging some precarious precipice along a steep mountain trail in the Himilayan there is a little need to use one's imagination. This need dissolves once you enter and experience the dual-tone humming/chants of the monk chior as they demonstrate prayer, worship and meditation. It was a line well worth standing in!

My next stop was the Bhutanese food pavillion. I snacked on an order of traditional pork dumplings called Momos. The dumplings were steamed and came with a stewed tomato side dish liberally spiced with medium hot chilies. It gave me a certain pause. You're talking Bhutan. The MOST isolated nation on the planet, and yet a dish made of Tomatoes and Chiles is considered traditional--fruits unknown to the whole of Asia, Europe or Africa until after the invasion of the America's by Europeans in the 16th century.... folklife indeed!

Folklife: Bhutan 02

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
Under the grand pavillion called "Tsechu" a constant parade of song, music and dance. The performers were bedecked in lavish traditional costumes. The music and songs celebrated life and the majesty of Bhutan's Himilayan homeland; it's faith, it's mythology, it's harmony. Outstanding!

Folklife: Bhutan 03

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
A traditional healer stands before an altar has he shares his cultural practices with a tourist. The pavilion was filled with historical charts like those behind him. They reflect a melding of traditional Bhuddist and Hindu metaphysicality with reflexology and the use of herbs and minerals.

Folklife: Bhutan 04

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
A traditional story teller with the help of a pantomine actor, tells stories of Bhutanese culture and traditions. Such fun!

Folklife: Bhutan 05

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
Of the dozens of art and craft displays, this one featuring Bhuddist monks and finely ground colored sand was perhaps my favorite. Although it's a close call. There was weaving, murals, embroidery, baskets, clothing, painting, home building, cooking, incense making,.....

Bhutan really does ROCK!

Folklife: NASA 01

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
Keeping with a recent trend, the third folklife theme is science-based. "NASA: 50 years and beyond" is a science geek's paradise! Here is a model of the international space station. Other displays focused on Hubble images, the agency's history, exploration of the moon, of mars, NASA technologies, Global mapping, etc. Lots of kid friendly activities, too. Well done.