best when viewed in low light


Let's Call It "Leviathan"

How satisfying is it when scientists discover proof of real things that should be imaginary?!

On the other hand, since when have scientists been naming prehistoric beasts marketing-ready, sensation-titillating titles like "Leviathan?" I am disturbed by this.

But that's a really really big, toothy whale! And it's awesome!

I also like knowing that these somewhat mythical/mystical fears of deep, dark places come from some ancient universal knowledge of death. Or the means of death by large, unpredictable, meat-eating creatures. Now we're just afraid of the idea of the threat.

Wonder Woman Is Dead!

Thanks, DC Comics. Thanks a lot.

You've basically taken the only morally and intellectually respectable superheroine from your pantheon and tarted her up.

How the fuck am I supposed to take her seriously now?

Not only is she NOT a real goddess, she has some teen romance novel genesis that surely involves exposure to potential rape/molestation and gang violence. Cause now she's gonna be "tough".

You idiots. You keep hiring men to write these stories when the vast majority of male writers have proven time and time again that they have no idea what women are really like.

You know, there are more young women growing up relatively privileged in the suburbs [myself included, without question] than there are girls who are somehow abandoned by their family and grow up fighting off the dangers of the streets. We need idols too.

The Wonder Woman genesis story is what makes her universally relatable. That she chooses to be a fucking badass on the side of good is what makes her admirable. That she fucks up occasionally is what makes her human. And the fact that she does it all in a hot bustier and star spangled shorts makes her a true heroine.

So don't give me some post-modern psychological struggle, I've had enough of that [and I enjoyed Twilight very much, thank you]. Don't give me dark eye make-up and a leather jacket as stand-ins for true mental and physical toughness, I can read Cosmo for that.

I need a heroine. I need to know that there is something greater that is possible, even if only in my imagination. I need a model for myself as a woman that doesn't rely on Freudian fixations or some attempt at compensation for the phallus I lack.

Give me a goddess, or give me death!


This half-assed creative purgatory is too awful to endure.


Fine, I'll give it a try. But it's not looking promising.


Body Type Imaging

Last summer at around this time I was in killer shape. I was swimming over a mile every day and running somewhere between 3-5 miles roughly five days a week. I walked everywhere. I was eating vegetables and protein, the occasional beer and burger, and even using soy creamer in my iced coffee (a nutritional and gastronomic tragedy). I felt great and I looked fucking amazing.

This is not last summer. I can cite many reasons for my current physical shape, but really it all comes down to being lazy (and I'm sorry, but there's nothing better than half and half in iced coffee - I am never going back). Well, it's a lot more complicated than laziness, maybe I should cite the reasons.

OK, so first it was this guy... We started seeing each other pretty much every day almost immediately (sometimes it just happens like that, despite all my better judgment...more of that to come, sadly). After a lifetime of running track, he was ready to kick back, watch movies, eat pizza and get fat. And, you know, understandably. I tried for a while to encourage him to go to the gym - mostly so that I could get my ass there and not be tempted by the distractions of infatuation. But - and this brings me to a whole other rant-tangent along which I will not proceed for the moment, but which needs to be gotten into at some point - he wasn't into it. He wanted to sit around. And I ended up doing a lot of sitting around with him.

When I was deciding to apply to the Marine Corps - the results of that process are another wonderfully long tangent that I will also get into at another time, but, needless to say, helped get me to this point right now - I was working out really intensely. I was getting up at 6 every day [yes, in answer to your unstated question, the boy was not in my bed every night at this point] and doing 3 day-cycle super sets (dude, it's the best: back & biceps, legs, chest & tris, one day off a week..anyway) in the weight area that, at this time, was occupying the sw corner of the Wildermuth auditorium. Some time between 3 - 6pm I was running 3 or more miles. But eventually, as the thesis loomed larger and the days got shorter, I wasn't really running. But I was building a truckload of muscle. Seriously, it was impressive.

Then the magnitude of completing my thesis hit me in the face like a freight train because, you know, I procrastinated like a motherfucker.

And I spent the next 8 weeks or so in the library for like, 16-20 hour days. Eating kind of whatever and whenever, and looking at the gym, and walking by the gym, and just not being able to take the additional demands of discipline that would get me in there to just DO something. Ugh. My brain's fat sometimes, too.

So, that and the post-graduation month of self indulgence later, and I feel gross. But I am kind of fat - for me; this is not a normative judgment of other people's bodies - and I think I look FANTASTIC! My boobs and butt and thighs are huge, and I look overripe and delicious.

But I am missing my very active lifestyle. But I just want to move around a lot, like I did when I was riding my bike around new york everywhere. The gym is great for its sweaty, focused, grungy awesomeness (well, it's gotta be the right kind of gym obviously - no chichi shit) and I love my muscles. It's really kind of Wonder Woman...

Riding around, or walking around, or playing games, however, is mentally and physically stimulating in a different kind of way. Play is just different.

And I want to start doing triathlons. Which is a whole different caliber of "doing something". I'm talking superhero shit. Where you can run and jump and climb and live physically present. Word.


Summer Reading: Merlin Stone

I wanted to find "the world as seen and recorded by women". Order up!

When God Was A Woman is a feminist rereading or reinterpretation of ancient history. And Stone's critics have argued that it is all speculation. May be. But, as a woman and a feminist, how am I to read history but as a whitewashing of women's roles and importance? Fortunately, Stone agrees, and more importantly, she goes about dissecting the (purposeful, incidental, and/or embedded) misogyny of the long trail of white men who have been telling us who we are for centuries.

She begins with language. As an 18th, 19th, 20th century Western man, how could you come across evidence of a single, universal divinity that was female and acknowledge it as "God"? Easy. You wouldn't. You might call it, "a fertility goddess" and the belief of all her faithful "fertility cults". When She and her Priestesses practiced highly spiritual ritualized sex as part of their religious practice, you might call the Goddess a "virgin-whore deity", and her respected followers "temple prostitutes". Because, if you were a Western man raised in the Judeo-Christian-Islam phallus-death cult, how could you explain it any other way?

Lucky for you, Stone has undertaken to explain its significance in great detail.

[Before I begin an all-out harangue, let me state that I am not a women-are-superior/all-men-should-die feminist. I want equality. Not just the kind of "we'll give 'em the vote and maybe that'll shut 'em up for a while" equality we have now, where images and morality tales of subjugated women are woven into popular consciousness as subtly as a Paris Hilton snatch-shot, but true equality where we don't all act out of fear, or really even consider gender as being associated with certain abilities/characteristics.]

More important, I think, than the consistency of archeological data to support her theory that early civilizations were based upon a Goddess worshiping matriarchal culture is Stone's suggestion that the language and belief systems of the cultures that followed consciously and methodically suppressed women's rights in a number of ways. The creation of the world became a product of a single male deity. Leadership at all levels of society became - by virtue of their closer contact with this father figure - the sole right of men. Sexuality and reproduction became the property and territory of men's oversight, regulated by them to achieve certainty of paternity. Property and trade were conducted almost exclusively by men. The result of all these choices was that women had no economic, religious, or social power with which to exercise individual freedoms or choice.

In addition to the functional aspects that this phallocentric worldview dictated, there was the necessity of inculcating a belief in women that they were inferior. With this moral training, women would eventually be able to regulate themselves according to the wishes and whims of the men who dominated them. Using the story of Eve as the centerpiece, Stone describes the (totally contradictory) traits that were assigned to women in this framework. Some of the most insulting: inferior intellect, deceitfulness, weakness (of mind, body, and spirit), inconstancy, profligate, etc.

Whether Stone's conclusions are based in archeological fact or not, I appreciate the value of a convention-challenging perspective.


Tangential Lines of Inquiry: At Sea

I spent about six hours yesterday researching famous sailing ships. I am quite enamored of all things boat related now.

Sadly, these two images did not merit inclusion there, but they do here:


Let's All Move to Sweden!

In Sweden, the Men Can Have It All

SPOLAND, SWEDEN — Mikael Karlsson owns a snowmobile, two hunting dogs and five guns. In his spare time, this soldier-turned-game warden shoots moose and trades potty-training tips with other fathers. Cradling 2-month-old Siri in his arms, he can’t imagine not taking baby leave. “Everyone does.”

From trendy central Stockholm to this village in the rugged forest south of the Arctic Circle, 85 percent of Swedish fathers take parental leave. Those who don’t face questions from family, friends and colleagues. As other countries still tinker with maternity leave and women’s rights, Sweden may be a glimpse of the future.

In this land of Viking lore, men are at the heart of the gender-equality debate. The ponytailed center-right finance minister calls himself a feminist, ads for cleaning products rarely feature women as homemakers, and preschools vet books for gender stereotypes in animal characters. For nearly four decades, governments of all political hues have legislated to give women equal rights at work — and men equal rights at home.

Swedish mothers still take more time off with children — almost four times as much. And some who thought they wanted their men to help raise baby now find themselves coveting more time at home.

But laws reserving at least two months of the generously paid, 13-month parental leave exclusively for fathers — a quota that could well double after the September election — have set off profound social change.

Companies have come to expect employees to take leave irrespective of gender, and not to penalize fathers at promotion time. Women’s paychecks are benefiting and the shift in fathers’ roles is perceived as playing a part in lower divorce rates and increasing joint custody of children.

In perhaps the most striking example of social engineering, a new definition of masculinity is emerging.

“Many men no longer want to be identified just by their jobs,” said Bengt Westerberg, who long opposed quotas but as deputy prime minister phased in a first month of paternity leave in 1995. “Many women now expect their husbands to take at least some time off with the children.”

Birgitta Ohlsson, European affairs minister, put it this way: “Machos with dinosaur values don’t make the top-10 lists of attractive men in women’s magazines anymore.” Ms. Ohlsson, who has lobbied European Union governments to pay more attention to fathers, is eight months pregnant, and her husband, a law professor, will take the leave when their child is born.

“Now men can have it all — a successful career and being a responsible daddy,” she added. “It’s a new kind of manly. It’s more wholesome.”

Back in Spoland, Sofia Karlsson, a police officer and the wife of Mikael Karlsson, said she found her husband most attractive “when he is in the forest with his rifle over his shoulder and the baby on his back.”

In this new world of the sexes, some women complain that Swedish men are too politically correct even to flirt in a bar. And some men admit to occasional pangs of insecurity. “I know my wife expects me to take parental leave,” said a prominent radio journalist who recently took six months off with his third child and who preferred to remain anonymous. “But if I was on a lonely island with her and Tarzan, I hope she would still pick me.”

In 1974, when Sweden became the first country to replace maternity leave with parental leave, the few men who took it were nicknamed “velvet dads.”

Despite government campaigns — one featuring a champion weightlifter with a baby perched on his bare biceps — the share of fathers on leave was stalled at 6 percent when Mr. Westerberg entered government in 1991.

Sweden had already gone further than many countries have now in relieving working mothers: Children had access to highly subsidized preschools from 12 months and grandparents were offered state-sponsored elderly care. The parent on leave got almost a full salary for a year before returning to a guaranteed job, and both could work six-hour days until children entered school. Female employment rates and birth rates had surged to be among the highest in the developed world.

“I always thought if we made it easier for women to work, families would eventually choose a more equal division of parental leave by themselves,” said Mr. Westerberg, 67. “But I gradually became convinced that there wasn’t all that much choice.”

Sweden, he said, faced a vicious circle. Women continued to take parental leave not just for tradition’s sake but because their pay was often lower, thus perpetuating pay differences. Companies, meanwhile, made clear to men that staying home with baby was not compatible with a career.

“Society is a mirror of the family,” Mr. Westerberg said. “The only way to achieve equality in society is to achieve equality in the home. Getting fathers to share the parental leave is an essential part of that.”

Introducing “daddy leave” in 1995 had an immediate impact. No father was forced to stay home, but the family lost one month of subsidies if he did not. Soon more than eight in 10 men took leave. The addition of a second nontransferable father month in 2002 only marginally increased the number of men taking leave, but it more than doubled the amount of time they take.

Clearly, state money proved an incentive — and a strong argument with reluctant bosses.

Among the self-employed, and in rural and immigrant communities, men are far less likely to take leave, said Nalin Pekgul, chairwoman of the Social Democratic Party’s women’s federation. In her Stockholm suburb, with a large immigrant population, traditional gender roles remain conspicuously intact.

But the daddy months have left their mark. A study published by the Swedish Institute of Labor Market Policy Evaluation in March showed, for instance, that a mother’s future earnings increase on average 7 percent for every month the father takes leave.

Among those with university degrees, a growing number of couples split the leave evenly; some switch back and forth every few months to avoid one parent assuming a dominant role — or being away from jobs too long. The higher women rank, the more they resemble men: few male chief executives take parental leave — but neither do the few female chief executives.

Parents may use their 390 days of paid leave however they want up to the child’s eighth birthday — monthly, weekly, daily and even hourly — a schedule that leaves particularly small, private employers scrambling to adapt.

While Sweden, with nine million people, made a strategic decision to get more women into the work force in the booming 1960s, other countries imported more immigrant men. As populations in Europe decline and new labor shortages loom, countries have studied the Swedish model, said Peter Moss an expert on leave policies at the University of London’s Institute of Education.

The United States — with lower taxes and traditional wariness of state meddling in family affairs — is not among them.Portugal is the only country where paternity leave is mandatory — but only for a week. Iceland has arguably gone furthest, reserving three months for father, three months for mother and allowing parents to share another three months.

The trend is, however, no longer limited to small countries. Germany, with nearly 82 million people, in 2007 tweaked Sweden’s model, reserving two out of 14 months of paid leave for fathers. Within two years, fathers taking parental leave surged from 3 percent to more than 20 percent.

“That was a marker of pretty significant change,” said Kimberly Morgan, professor at George Washington University and an expert on parental leave. If Germany can do it, she said, “most countries can.”

If the Social Democrats win Sweden’s election on Sept. 19, as opinion polls predict, they will double the nontransferable leave for each parent to four months, said Mona Sahlin, the party leader who would become Sweden’s first female prime minister.

Mrs. Sahlin, who had three children as a member of Parliament with her husband sharing the leave, knows that this measure is not necessarily popular.

“Sometimes politicians have to be ahead of public opinion,” she said, noting how controversial the initial daddy month was and how broadly it is now simply expected.

The least enthusiastic, in fact, are often mothers. In a 2003 survey by the Social Insurance Agency, the most commonly cited reason for not taking more paternity leave, after finances, was mother’s preference, said Ann-Zofie Duvander, a sociologist at Stockholm University who worked at the agency at the time.

Ann-Marie Prhat of the TCO employee federation said she had been determined to share the parental leave with her husband. After many discussions, “we practically signed a contract — six months for me and six months for him.”

Five months into the leave, she was enjoying her son. Could she stay home a couple of months longer, she asked her husband? “In the end,” she said, “I negotiated one extra month.”

Eight in 10 fathers now take a third of the total 13 months of leave — and 9 percent of fathers take 40 percent of the total or more — up from 4 percent a decade ago.

The numbers tend to look more impressive in urban areas, like Stockholm, but there are some surprises. Owing to extensive government campaigns, the northern county of Vasterbotton, where the Karlssons live, has repeatedly topped the "daddy index" of average leave the TCO federation publishes every year, says its president, Sture Nordh.

For Carlos Rojas, 27, a Swedish-Spanish entrepreneur who runs one of a host of new father groups campaigning for more paternal say at home, that is not enough. His 2-year-old twin sons, Julian and Mateo, call him Mama. He and his now former wife shared parental leave by alternating days at work and at home.

Fathers at home “are still often second-class parents,” since the mother usually stays home first and establishes routine, Mr. Rojas said.

“How many dads cut their children’s nails?” he asked, admitting that he does not. “I know she’s going to do it and so I don’t bother. We have to overcome that if we truly want to share responsibility.”

In Sodermalm, Stockholm’s trendy south island, the days of fathers taking only two months are clearly over. Men with strollers walk in the park, chat in cafes, stock up at the supermarket or weigh their babies at walk-in daycare centers.

Claes Boklund, a 35-year-old Web designer taking 10 months off with 19-month-old Harry, admits he was scared at first: the baby, the cooking, the cleaning, the sleepless nights. Six months into his leave, he says, he is confident around Harry (and cuts his nails).

“It’s both harder and easier than you think,” he said.

Understanding what it is to be home with a child may help explain why divorce and separation rates in Sweden have dropped since 1995 — at a time when divorce rates elsewhere have risen, according to the national statistics office. When couples do divorce or separate, shared custody has increased.

Fredrik and Cecilia Friberg both went part time soon after their daughter Ylva was born last Christmas Eve. He works Monday, Wednesday and every other Friday, his wife the remaining days. It helps that both are civil servants. “I wanted to be there from the start. So much happens every week, I don’t want to miss out,” said Mr. Friberg, 31.

Every once in a while, former traditions surface. “I get complimented on how much I help at home, Cecilia gets no such gratitude,” Mr. Friberg said.

Some, however, worry that as men and women both work and both stay home with kids, a gender identity crisis looms. “Manhood is being squeezed” by the sameness, argued Ingemar Gens, an author and self-described gender consultant.

So is the Swedish taxpayer. Taxes account for 47 percent of gross domestic product, compared with 27 percent in the United States and 40 percent in the European Union overall. The public sector, famous for family-friendly perks, employs one in three workers, including half of all working women. Family benefits cost 3.3 percent of G.D.P., the highest in the world along with Denmark and France, said Willem Adema, senior economist at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Yet Sweden looks well balanced: at 2.1 percent and 40 percent of G.D.P., respectively, public deficit and debt levels are a fraction of those in most developed economies these days, testimony perhaps to fiscal management born of a banking crisis and recession in the 1990s. High productivity and political consensus keep the system going.

“There are remarkably few complaints,” said Linda Haas, a professor of sociology at Indiana University currently at the University of Goteborg. With full-time preschool guaranteed at a maximum of about $150 a month and leave paid at 80 percent of salary up to $3,330 a month, “people feel that they are getting their money’s worth.”

Companies, facing high payroll taxes and women and men taking leave in unpredictable installments, can be less sure.

Tales of male staff members being discouraged from long leave are still not uncommon, although it is not fashionable to say so. Mr. Boklund said his office “was not happy” about his extended absence.

Bodil Sonesson Gallon, head of sales at Axis Communications, an IT company that specializes in video surveillance, admits that parental leave can be disruptive — for careers and companies. She laments that with preschools starting at 12 months and little alternative child care, there is huge pressure for parents to take at least a year off.

Small businesses find it particularly tricky to juggle absences, said Sofia Bergstrom, social insurance expert at the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, which represents 60,000 companies. Worse than parental leave, she says, is the 120-day annual allowance for parents to tend to sick children, which is impossible to plan and which is suspected of being widely abused.

“The key issue for business is planning ahead,” said Ms. Bergstrom.

But in a sign that the broader cultural shift has acquired a dynamic of its own, a survey by Ms. Haas and Philip Hwang, a psychology professor at Goteborg University, shows that 41 percent of companies reported in 2006 that they had made a formal decision to encourage fathers to take parental leave, up from only 2 percent in 1993.

Some managers try to make the most of the short-term openings to test potential recruits. Others say planning longer absences is easier and encourage fathers to take six months rather than three. A system of flexible working hours has evolved. Even senior employees may leave at 4:30 p.m. to collect children from school, but are expected to log on at home at night. A growing number of employers top up the salary replacement the state pays parents to 90 percent of their salary for several months.

For many companies, a family-friendly work pattern has simply become a new way of attracting talent.

“Graduates used to look for big paychecks. Now they want work-life balance,” said Goran Henriksson, head of human resources at the cellphone giant Ericsson in Sweden, where last year 28 percent of female employees took leave, and 24 percent of male staff did. “We have to adapt.”

Summer Reading: Laura Ingalls Wilder

My summer reading campaign is in full swing, and I had forgotten how wonderful it was to be inundated with books that aren't necessarily about media. [But of course, to a media scholar and storyteller, everything is about one or both.]

[The Ingalls (from left: Ma, Carrie, Laura, Pa, Grace, Mary)]

I began with the seven book series of autobiographical adventures in pioneering America by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

[The little house in the big woods]

From the moment Little House in the Big Woods begins, we are transported to a time where life was simple, work was labor intensive, and wise old sayings actually have the ring of truth and insight. It's easy to romanticize, but there is nothing blurry edged and sepia toned about her life or the events that occur as her family moves from Wisconsin to Indian Territory to Minnesota to Dakota Territory, chasing the horizon and a life of self-sustaining freedom.

[The log cabin in Indian Territory]

More a vivid documenting of events than a memoir, the weaving and reweaving of stories into the ongoing narrative is an effective device as much as it is an invitation for the reader to become part of the family and its mythologized past. In the same way that the events in our own families become the stuff of legend, so do the almost unbelievable events of the Ingalls' dance with nature and civilization. There is the time in the Big Woods when Grandma Ingalls makes maple candy in the snow. And the time in Indian Territory when a black doctor saves them all from malaria. The Christmas that Pa spends three days buried by a blizzard less than a hundred yards from the house on Plum Creek. The prairie fires, the Indian war counsel, the starvation, the debt, the harvests, and all the large and small things that each family member does to care for each other.

[The homestead on the shores of Silver Lake]

On the back cover of this volume of the series are comments from a number of literary critics from the fifties, and it is clear that they find the moral certainty and family-focused tone of the books instructive. Harking back to a time when people had values, they glorify the rigidity and repetitiveness of a concerted effort to survive. And it is, of course, amazing.

[De Smet, Dakota Territory]

What I've so loved about these books since they were first read to me as a kid is not only the lifestyle that seems so divorced from our day to day experience, but that Laura seems so unhampered by the restrictions of gender, age, morality, technology, and social expectations. She's no wild child, but she is introspective, honest, and determined in a way that seems as modern, independent and individualistic now as any other contemporary figure. This at a time when women couldn't even vote.

These books have set me on a quest: The world as seen and recorded by women.

Onto the next!


mstrmnd in the movies

I was watching Soderberg's the girlfriend experience and saw this


Crow Indian

From a straightforward and informative site: First People

In the past...