Monday, June 30, 2008

Eye Babies

Every once in a while I run across something so stupid, so off the charts that I have to make some comment on it. This one starts as merely insane, but then takes a nasty political twist.

"Sabrina Poirier, a student at Pensacola who withdrew in 1997, was disciplined for what is known on the campus as "optical intercourse" — staring too intently into the eyes of a member of the opposite sex. This is also referred to as "making eye babies.""

The above quote is from a mind-popping article at the Chronicle for Higher Education talking about Pensacola Christian College. The article really, truly needs to be read in full. Go ahead and follow the link. I'll wait.

*twiddles fingers*

Welcome back. And why, you might ask, is this of any importance, much less of political importance? Because it goes to show just how whacked out fundamentalist Christians can be, and then you discover that graduates of this whacked out "education" process are currently in positions of power. You see, the Justice Department is currently in hot water because it has come to light that they were illegally filtering applications based on left- or right-leaning affilliations. Put bluntly, if an applicant was a member (or had ever been a member) of a group deemed too liberal, then their application would be passed over. Only righties were selected. And that's illegal. And the woman in charge of this process, and apparently the destruction of those same hiring records, is one Esther Slater McDonald. She is, of course, a graduate of Pensacola Christian College.

I posit that ANYONE who can successfully graduate from a nut-job university like PCC, is, herself, a nut-job and therefor unsuited to selecting future justices. The proof is in those two words: Eye babies.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Incus Revels in the Street

Along with the lovely daytime dancing at the festival posted below, there was a delightful evening of the band and the dancers holding forth in the road in front of their camp. It was a night of on-the-fly music and in-the-moment improvisational dance. It was a really magical couple of hours.

Jason and Katy
Jason and Katy of Incus

The band's music is highly suited to a barely lit venue. The light here was a couple of tiki torches, and one battery lantern on a table. Passers-by were barely illuminated, and capturing the players and dancers was a test of my ability, and the range of my lovely 50 mm f/1.8 lens.

Twilight Gypsies
Night Revels

If you haven't followed the link to Incus' site (above), do so and get a feel for their music. It's dark, deep, and compelling. It brings out whatever dance motivation you have and sets it free.

The lovely and talented Kira Meade on cello

While the players were playing, the dancers were dancing. They were harder to shoot, as they seldom gave me a dramatic pause to work with. But oh, when they did it set my shutter a-tripping!

Jessamyn with Veil
Jessamyn with Veil

I must have taken a couple of hundred photos to get a scant handful of good shots. It was worth every second of effort.

Jessamyn and street scene

These were taken on my Nikon D40 with a Nikkor 50 mm prime lens at f/1.8, ISO 800, hand held at 1/10 second with no flash. There are more at my Flickr site.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Jessamyn and Naraya

I am extremely blessed in that my life is often populated with lovely dancers. I recently had a chance to meet and hang out with these two amazing women at a music fest. They were traveling with a band - Incus - and performed at their shows as well as in a more "street performer" way that was casual and fun. Each is a delightful dancer in her own way, and my life is better for having encountered them.


Jessamyn is a veterinarian as well as a dancer and fire spinner. All that, and kick-ass brains as well!


Naraya is a 100-year old dancer hailing form the east coast. She is touring with Incus all summer and you can find out more at her myspace page linked above.

As always, there are more photos at my Flickr site in this album.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Lupa Luna

Every once in a while, I get a photo that really stands out. Not always because it's technically perfect, just because of the mood or feeling it captures or evokes. This photo of my friend Lupa was taken in very low light - a pair of tiki torches about 12 feet apart - with the camera hand held. The focus is a little soft, but oh, what a look. The glow of her skin, the pop! of the cowrie shell necklace, the enigmatic glance and the vague surroundings all add up to a really nice shot.

Lupa Luna
Lupa Luna
(Nikon D40 with 50mm fixed-focus lens, 1/10 second, f/1.8, ISO 800, no flash)

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Monday, June 23, 2008

My New Hero

This is important:

" [snip] President Bush, our Commander-in-Chief, perhaps unwittingly, perhaps not, started the U.S. down a slippery slope, a path that quickly descended, stopping briefly in the dark, Machiavellian world of “the ends justify the means,” before plummeting further into the bleak underworld of barbarism and cruelty, of “anything goes,” of torture. It was a path that led inexorably to the events that brings us here today, the pointless and sadistic treatment of Mohammad Jawad, a suicidal teenager. "
"February 7, 2002. America lost a little of its greatness that day. We lost our position as the world’s leading defender of human rights, as the champion of justice and fairness and the rule of law. But it is a testament to the continuing greatness of this nation, that I, a lowly Air Force Reserve Major, can stand here before you today, with the world watching, without fear of retribution, retaliation or reprisal, and speak truth to power. I can call a spade a spade, and I can call torture, torture."
"Sadly, this military commission has no power to do anything to the enablers of torture such as John Yoo, Jay Bybee, Robert Delahunty, Alberto Gonzales, Douglas Feith, David Addington, William Haynes, Vice President Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, for the jurisdiction of military commissions is strictly and carefully limited to foreign war criminals, not the home-grown variety. All you can do is to try to send a message, a clear and unmistakable message that the U.S. really doesn’t torture, and when we do, we own up to it, and we try to make it right." ~Major David J. R. Frakt

Read the rest.

Perhaps now we the people can begin restoring America's dignity and honor. We can defend ourselves - as we have until recently - and still keep to the high road, the road that made America a shining star.

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Ahhh, vacation!

I'm freshly back from a week of vacation, and my batteries are recharged. The week was filled with music and dance, ritual, and reconnecting with my larger spiritual community. In short, it was everything that work is not. I was at the annual Pagan Spirit Gathering, one of the larger festivals of its type.

For me, the week starts with a quiet, 6 AM loading of the car on Saturday, the weekend prior to the summer solstice. We have a VW Beetle, so camping for a week, with three drums included in our must-have gear list is an exercise in logistics. We use the hollow bodies of the drums as suitcases to pack clothing into. There simply isn't room to take three empty drums if we also have suitcases or duffles for our clothing. We pack knocked down cardboard boxes and garbage bags to set up as in-tent suitcases when we arrive. After stuffing the car with our large dome tent, 2 each of sleeping bags, pads, pillows and chairs, plus food, tarps, cooler, and the miscellany needed for a week in a tent city, we hit the road around 7:15 AM. Our destination is a nature sanctuary in southeastern Ohio, approximately 600 miles from home. Our route is now quite familiar. We head south on I-39 to Bloomington, IL, then east through Champaigne, Indianapolis and on to Dayton. There we head southeast through Xenia, Washington Courthouse, and Chillicothe. We have generally found that we find friends in the area - others arriving for the gathering - if we have dinner in Athens, OH, at a fun worker-owned restaurant called Casa Nueva. A good meal in the company of friends we seldom see, washed down with local microbrews is a great way to knock the travel dust off our brains and start to settle into a more relaxing head space. We camp that night at a handy state park, not bothering to unpack. We do a bare essentials style camp: Tent, bags, pads, and pillows. Nothing else comes out of the car. The next morning we're off to the gathering.

Entering the Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG) starts with a transition from mundane to something other. There is a gate, and without prior registration one doesn't get in. This keeps out the merely curious, the media, and those fundamentalist types who are intent on saving us, even if that means doing us harm. Yes, such things really do happen (watch the video at the link), and the gate is the first and generally effective layer of our defense. Once in to the gathering, a genuine transformation takes place. We are now camped with a thousand or so like-minded people, all together to share sacred moments, learn from each other in workshops on topics ranging from esoteric to mundane, and generally let down the psychic armor we all have to keep in place most of the time to deal with people who insist on thinking we're evil or simply don't belong in America. That in itself is a magical experience. In Madison I don't run into too much of that sort of trouble, but I pretty routinely field questions from people who simply assume that Pagan equates to godless heathen ("Not that there's anything wrong with that.") and by extrapolation, I'm one of those people that their preacher (or Fox News pundits, or any televangelist you care to name) warned them was trying to destroy America. So knowing that I can let go of that omnipresent defense mechanism for an entire week is pretty special.

A typical day at PSG goes something like this:

For the early risers, someone will be leading morning yoga, tai chi, or meditation. At 10 AM there is a morning meeting for (theoretically) the entire community in which any changes to the day's schedule are announced, musical acts featured that day give a sneak preview, and calls for assistance for unmet needs are made. The meeting is "announced" with a dozen or so drummers playing to draw people, and for movers like me, to provide a motive for starting my day dancing. From 11 AM to 1 PM, casual meetings and ritual planning happen, along with lunch and so on. From 1-2:30 PM and 3-4:30 there are workshops offered. Topics are hugely varied and cover things like minister training or Pagan scholarly pursuits to making pagan-y craft items. There are more than a dozen such workshops offered at each time slot, each day, so by the end of the week there are 140-150 workshops offered. After dinner there is some sort of large-scale community ritual, such as an opening ceremony, a ritual to honor the drumming/dancing/singing/music aspect of Paganism, separate mens and womens rituals (which vary in form and content hugely depending on who crafted the ritual), and of course, a ritual to celebrate the summer solstice. Late night there is typically a musical performance, and also drumming and dancing around the bonfire until dawn.

So there is a brief skech of How I Spent My Summer Vacation. Photos are permitted, but posting said photos is a no-no, so don't expect to see any here. Photos and posts from my regularly-scheduled life will resume shortly!

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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Marquette Waterfront Festival Music

Pagee Go Go - the hot samba band from Madison, WI - opened the line up of bands on Saturday at the Yahara Waterfront Festival. It may have seemed like a humble slot to play, but the weather turned ugly in the middle of the afternoon, and it turns out that only PGG and one other act got to play. While the crowd was light when they took the stage at the crack of noon, PGG pulled the crowd down to hear their fun, up-tempo samba sounds.

Pagee Go Go at the Waterfront Festival
Pagee Go Go at the Waterfront Festival

Of course, I could be a tad biased about PGG, as my lovely wife Reena plays in the band.

Reena in Pagee Go Go

The other act to play was fronted by Tani Diakite, "a master craftsman and player of several Malian instruments. He both makes and plays the kamelon ngoni, a traditional, stringed instrument from his homeland in Mali. His Malian Blues Band plays an infectious Tuarog desert trance music made popular by the band Tinariwen." (quote from the festival home page). These guys were tight, and really good! Local jazzman Tony Castaneda accompanied Tani, along with a host of other talented musicians.

Tani Diakite Jammin'
Tani Diakite

Nation Beat from Brooklyn, NY, was supposed to headline at the festival until torrential rain and tornado warnings ended the day. They ended up playing two rousing sets at the Crystal Corner bar that night to a happy crowd. Liliana Araujo has a great voice!

Liliana Araujo
Liliana Araujo of Nation Beat

When Scott Kettner started playing the pandeiro solo, my jaw nearly hit the floor. This guy is amazing! Truly, he did things with that "simple" drum I would never have thought possible, and it was clear as he played that a lot of the time he was just toying with us, giving a cool riff and backing off, only to showcase some other cool thing a few seconds later. Truly a stunning moment in bar-band history. It's worth going to Nation Beat's webpage to see what they're all about.

Scott Kettner
Scott Kettner of Nation Beat

As the night came to an end, Nation Beat came out in the crowd and continued to play, working the dancers for a final few minutes. A great night of music at the Crystal Corner bar salvaged what could have been a disappointing day.

Nation Beat

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Saturday, June 7, 2008

So, um, do you wanna, you know?

What can I say, really? I'm on board with the program. So, um, do you, you know, wanna fool around?

So, um, do you wanna, you know?

Hell yeah!

UPDATE, 7/3: On a related note, I spotted a young woman wearing this t-shirt at the Farmer's Market on Saturday.
Finding Pleasure in Our Differences
Finding Pleasure In Our Differences"

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Monday, June 2, 2008

The Deed Is Done, They Are One! The Marriage of Megan and Jess - Part Four

Well there were no cold feet to be found on Saturday morning. The brides were ecstatic, and the weather held (barely!) and so on went the wedding! The ceremony was conducted on a beach near Falmouth, Cape Cod. We made a smallish circle outlined by beach rocks, and energetically "smudged" the boundary to establish a space of welcoming. A half-dozen chairs were set up for the moms and those few who otherwise weren't comfortable on the ground. For all the rest we put down straw mats. Everything had to be weighted down with rocks because the wind was howling. On the upsind side of the circle, we created a smaller circle for the participants. Flanking them were two bamboo poles stuck into the sand.

The Deed is Done, and Now They're One
Jess and Megan - Now married!

After a short opening welcome by Yours Truly, Reverend Nataraj, each of the bride's Best People made a statement about their friend, and about their marriage. It really was sweet, and demonstrated that Jess and Megan had chosen each other wisely and their closest friends knew it. Next the two exchanged their vows to each other. They were quite moving, and both managed to say them loud and clear so that all could hear. Next I led them through a series of vows taken, at their request, from Buddhist tradition.

The Brides and the Rev
The Brides and the Rev

Earlier, most of the guests had an opportunity to write wishes for the couple on a ribbon. After the vows, the guests were invited to tie their ribbon onto one of the bamboo poles. Anyone who had not created a ribbon in advance had a chance to do so on the spot. With the strong wind, the beribboned poles were really something to see. The ceremony ended with the brides exiting the space through a passage of friends and families blowing bubbles.

 The Wedding Party
The Wedding Party - Stephanie, Megan, Jess, Jim, and Derek

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