Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Defense of Marriage

Lucia and I have both written about how much we like and admire Jon Stewart, and how smart we think he is. But smart doesn't necessarily mean right. A couple of nights ago, he set up a great joke on the irony of a mixed-race president supporting the states' right to establish their own laws for marriage. The irony, of course, is that at the time Barack Obama was born, his parents' marriage, and thus his own birth, was illegal in several states. It took federal action -- the landmark Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia -- to end states' ban on interracial marriage.

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Funny. Ironic. And there's a very good case to be made that marriage laws ought to be federal, because marriage is a basic human right that everyone should enjoy. Ever since the Fourteenth Amendment, no state -- in theory anyway -- has had the right to abridge its citizens constitutional rights.

But there's also a good case to be made that Obama's stance is the better one. He opposes DOMA, but does not support using federal law to establish a right to marriage.

What's DOMA? In 1996, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) into law. Previously, states had always set their own marriage laws, but a marriage in one state was legal everywhere else in the country. DOMA took away the guarantee that no matter where you got married, your marriage would be accepted in all states. Under DOMA, the federal government defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and declared that no state would be required to accept a same-sex marriage from another state. In 1996, no states had same-sex marriage, but DOMA set off an avalanche of state laws -- including California's notorious Proposition H8 -- which limited marriage rights and declared that the state would not accept single-sex marriages performed in other states.

A year ago, a federal court ruled DOMA unconstitutional. The Justice Department could have appealed the decision, but the president decided he, too, believed it was unconstitutional, and chose not to do so. House Republicans, however, may still do go there.

So that's where we are right now: We have a law on the books making gay marriage essentially illegal, but it's been declared unconstitutional. That decision may or may not get appealed to a higher court. At the same time, six state governments, as well as the District of Columbia, have legalized same-sex marriage, while 41 have specifically outlawed it. It's a legal maze.

As I said, there's a good case to be made for straightening the whole thing out, either by the Supreme Court ruling -- as they did in Loving v. Virginia -- that discrimination in marriage rights is still unconstitutional, or by congressional action.

But there's an equally good case to be made for hanging back, and, in a very persuasive essay on all the ways Barack Obama has supported gay civil rights issues, Andrew Sullivan makes that case:
Civil marriage has always been a state matter in the US. That tradition goes all the way back; it was how the country managed to have a patchwok of varying laws on miscegenation for a century before Loving vs Virginia. The attack on this legal regime was made by Republicans who violated every conservative principle in the book when they passed DOMA, and seized federal control over the subject by refusing for the first time ever not to recognize possible legal civil marriages in a state like Hawaii or Massachusetts. Defending this tradition is not, as some would have it, a kind of de facto nod to racial segregation; it is a defense of the norm in US history. And by defending that norm, the Obama administration has a much stronger and more coherent case in knocking down DOMA than if it had echoed Clinton in declaring that the feds could dictate a national marriage strategy.

More to the point, until very recently, if we had had to resolve this issue at a federal level, marriage equality would have failed. The genius of federalism is that it allowed us to prove that marriage equality would not lead to catastrophe, that it has in fact coincided with a strengthening of straight marriage, that in many states now, the sky has not fallen. That is why a man like David Frum has changed his mind - for the right conservative reason. Because there is evidence that this is not a big deal and yet unleashes a new universe of equality and dignity and integration for a once-despised minority. Obama's defense of federalism in this instance is not a regressive throw-back; it is a pragmatic strategy.

Sullivan is arguing two points. The second, I agree with strongly: Obama's position is politically smart -- not "politically smart" as in taking a position likely to help you get elected, but "politically smart" in the sense of likely to accomplish something. The decision may -- probably will -- eventually make its way through the courts, but that will take time, and in any case, the president has already taken the best course of action here, in refusing to have the Justice Department defend DOMA.

And when it comes to pushing to federalize marriage laws -- whether or not it's right, it's not going to happen. When the Speaker of the House is considering defending the indefensible DOMA, and Senate Republicans hold enough seats to block everything, while the Presidential candidates most appealing to the base see bigotry as a political résumé builder (remind you of anyone?), expecting to move the legislative branch toward approval of marriage rights would be a fool's errand. It's more likely to go the other way. Push for marriage rights, and you will get marriage discrimination more deeply embedded in law, and give Republicans an issue to run on in the elections next year.

Morally right, maybe. Politically dumb, certainly.

The second argument Sullivan makes is a conservative one -- that change works best when done on a local level, in part because it gives people a chance to try things out on a small scale and see how they work. Gay marriage becomes less threatening when people see that it can happen in some states without the world falling apart.

In general, I think the phrase "states' rights" is just code for allowing states to discriminate against its citizens. But there's a principled, conservative argument to be made for moving slowly through the states, and Andrew Sullivan makes it here.

I'm not a conservative, though, and I think it's wrong to make basic rights wait for public approval. Moreover, I think we've already arrived at the point of public approval. In 1968, a year after Loving v. Virginia, a Gallup poll showed 3/4 of Americans still disapproved of interracial marriage. It didn't get majority approval until 1997! In contrast, today 53% of Americans think gay marriage should be legal.

If the right to interracial marriage operated on the same principal Sullivan is proposing for gay marriage, Barack Obama's parents' marriage would still be illegal.

The Supreme Court needs to establish this fundamental human right, and I think eventually it will take on the issue.. And unlike our dysfunctional Congress, the Supreme Court, however conservative and opposed to the rights of ordinary Americans it has proven itself to be recently, has shown signs of being open to an important decision:

Most observers believe that any decision on gay marriage by the current court would probably come down to the opinion of Justice Anthony Kennedy. But that is no cause for pessimism. The gay equality movement has had few judicial friends more staunch than Kennedy, the author of the court’s two leading decisions honoring that cause.

In addition to writing Lawrence in 2003, Kennedy wrote a significant opinion for the court in Romer v. Evans, seven years earlier. That decision invalidated an amendment to Colorado’s constitution that prohibited treating homosexuality as a class deserving protection from discrimination. Kennedy pointedly began Romer by citing Justice John Marshall Harlan’s much-celebrated dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 case that validated “separate but equal.” With that exquisite citation, Kennedy demonstrated that he understood the movement for gay equality to be a legitimate heir of the movement for racial equality. His concern about society’s treatment of gays extends at least as far back as his days as a circuit court judge. In fact, an opinion involving gay rights that he wrote for the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in 1980 caused some Reagan administration officials to find the prospect of placing him on the Supreme Court deeply disconcerting.

The Supreme Court's recognition of same-sex marriage rights is something to hope for. In the meantime, though, I find Andrew Sullivan's argument for political pragmatism compelling.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Do They Ever Listen?

Every election season, it's the same story -- a politician (or at least someone in the campaign) decides that a certain song fits the image he or she is trying to sell and starts playing it at campaign rallies, and the songwriter immediately turns around and says, in sum, stop ruining my song by associating it with your dirty politics.

Michelle Bachmann -- Meet Tom Petty.

The really funny thing about these incidents is how often whoever chooses the songs for campaign rallies pays no attention to the lyrics of the song. Michelle Bachmann wanted to identify herself as an "American Girl." Does that vision include these lyrics:

"God it's so painful when something that's so close is still so far out of reach."

The complexity is one of the things that has made Tom Petty interesting throughout his career. You reach for a dream, you never get it, but the jingle-jangle goes on.

Somehow I don't think that a lonely girl thinking desperate thoughts on a balcony far from home is exactly the image Michelle Bachmann wanted to go for, but maybe she's deeper than she looks. Maybe she spends her time during Botox treatments thinking about the meaning of life. Maybe she's already planning to end up losing, and is planning what music she'll listen to after she gives up and goes home.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

So You Think You Can Dance

A confession: Lucia and I are both So You Think You Can Dance addicts, although probably less so than in past seasons. Instead of being riveted to it when it airs, we DVR it and watch it when we're in the mood. We did that last year as well, but that was because we were in Italy when the first few episodes aired, so we taped it and had a So You Think You Can Dance marathon when we returned. This year, it feels more like we're interested in the show, but not enough to watch it immediately, not enough to sit through commercials. This week, we ended up watching Wednesday's and Thurdsay's episodes on Friday and last night.

There are several things I love about the show. For one, the judging seems honest. The judges neither fawn over the contestants nor tear them down. That's true of the regular judges anyway; the "celebrity" judges' sweetness could leave you needing insulin injections. Compared to some other reality shows -- ahem, American Idol, which we gave up on long ago -- that honesty is really refreshing.

The most important thing, though, is that, despite the cheesy reality show conventions, everyone involved in the show really does seem committed to celebrating its art form in all of its diversity. Sure, there are dances where the choreography is something you've seen a thousand times (especially if you're at all interested in dance beyond this show), and times when the choreography is pretty good, but the dancers can't rise to the occasion, neither technically nor emotionally; but on the whole, the choreography is excellent, sometimes just fun, sometimes visually stunning, and sometimes genuinely challenging and moving. While American Idol never exposes its audience to much beyond imitations of what it already knows from current radio (with an occasional throwback to what was on the radio decades ago), So You Think You Can Dance -- perhaps because dance is a less popular art form and people bring fewer preconceptions about what they like to it -- exposes viewers to a great variety of what can be done with dance. The show demonstrates that dance, like any art, can just entertain you, and make you giddily happy for a few moments, can break your heart and shake your soul, and can sometimes even alter the way you view the world.

The costumes can also be pretty amazing, especially this year, but Lucia could probably explain that better than I could.

It also uses a wider variety of music than most "music" shows, which I really appreciate.

Thursday's elimination show provides an example. Yes, you had to sit through the cheesy drama of the eliminations (which, I admit, I get sucked into: You saved Ryan? Ryan????? Really? Why?) But as a reward, you got a terrific Dave Scott-choreographed routine, which the dancers pulled off beautifully:

It wasn't one of the more visually or intellectually challenging pieces they've done on the show. But it was a visual feast. That final slow-motion bit was especially great.

The choice of music was also fabulous. I'm very much in favor of more people being exposed to Nina Simone, even in a re-mixed version. Re-mixes can be horrible, but this one does nothing to dim the power and soul of Nina Simone's voice and piano. Maybe nothing can.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Summer 2011

Only four more posts, until I'm caught up with Mom!

I decided to make some goals for this summer. I am aware that Summer has started already, but I guess I procrastinate too much. I always figure out my New Years Resolutions in February, anyway.

1) Practice Guitar:

It sounds simple enough, but after almost six months of lessons, I've probably on practiced seven or eight times. I started guitar because I believe playing an instrument is important. To possibly quote the persuasive speech I wrote in sixth grade, music makes you a better learner. After I quit piano lessons, and the school band, there was an empty gap in my day. I filled it with more television, computer, video games, and other unchallenging activities. I started high school, and signed up for a guitar class to fill the performing art requirement. After a few months of "learning to read notes" (...again), I quit; I liked the instrument, not the class.

A week before my sixteenth birthday this year, I began taking private lessons. It's a twenty minute drive from home to a funky, little building with a guitar shop and several classrooms. As for practicing, I decided to use the the time slot right after dinner, in my bedroom due to the lack of distractions. The past two days, I have honored this promise, and almost mastered can-play-without-stopping-to-look-at-my-fingers-too-much "Sweet Virginia".

2) Read Books:

Mom and I signed up for our local library's Summer reading program. I remember doing simplified versions of this when I was younger. Basically, you read books, of your choosing, during the summer and then you're entered for prizes and whatnot. The difference is with the adult program (Wait? Am I an adult?), you read books in specific categories.

Need to do these things by August 31st...
  1. Read a mystery set in another country.
  2. Read a travel memoir.
  3. Read a fiction book that includes train, boat, or airplane travel.
  4. Read a nonfiction book about the history of another country.
  5. Read a biography of someone who is not American.
  6. Read a book that has been translated from another language.
  7. Read a nonfiction book about the arts--music, dance, or fine arts.
  8. Watch a foreign film.
  9. Read a book of your choice.
We watched The Mirror, (#8)an Iranian film from 1997, about a little girl who...has a tantrum. It was very funny, and worth seeing once. I can guess that it probably wouldn't hold up a second time. I also finished reading Me Talk Pretty One Day (#9) by David Sedaris. Mom read it about two years ago, and liked it. It's a series of anecdotes about Sedaris's life told with a wonderful sense of humor, that I really liked. I also started Lipstick Jihad (#2) by Azadeh Moaveni, which I've been lagging on, a bit. It's interesting, but like guitar practicing, I need to make time to read.


3) Do Not Buy Craft Suplies:

...Is probably the most difficult to accomplish on my list. A few summers ago, I cleaned (HA!) a corner of our three car garage, and set up a craft room alcove. Originally, I had a pathetic, dirty, old fold out table, but later I " upgraded" to a desk, that is likely older than further comment. It's a beautiful desk, that I probably destroyed in under twenty-four hours, with paint, stickers, and candy wrappers (see bottom left drawer). Even later, I added some shelves (stolen from other parts of the garage). In the process of about two years of hoarding craft materials and other bits and bobs, I ended up with a physical mess. What you see in the picture below, is actually after I got rid of some stuff. My goal this summer, is to stop buying craft supplies. I'm trying to avoid buying stuff I "need" like plastic letter beads for keychains that say "my other ride is a TARDIS" or something, on them. Instead, I'm turning this into the Summer of Stashbusting. I'm going to save money, clean up a giant mess, and most importantly, make cool stuff.


I have some smaller goals including #4: go for a picnic and #5: take a short roadtrip, but nothing that I want to cover in large detail, and I've written enough. If you've made it through my post, congrats, go have a snack.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Galliano and the Big Machine

Earlier this year, the French fashion house Christian Dior fired designer John Galliano after a bizarre anti-Semitic outburst in Paris. Not longer after, Paris prosecutors announced that he would face a trial for his remarks.

There are a number of things that were interesting about this case, among them the oddity -- to an American -- of a French law that allows someone to be prosecuted for what they say. You could also note, as Rhonda Garelick did in the New York Times, the historic relationship between fashion and fascism: Isn't haute couture, with its "cult of physical perfection," anti-democratic -- essentially "fascist" -- to its core?

But the latest developments are just sad. Galliano has two defenses. First, alcohol and drugs made him say things that were completely out of character. Second, he couldn't possibly be anti-Semitic because as a gay man he knows what it is like to be discriminated against.

This is hard to explain, but I think those explanations are both deeply true and utterly false.

On the one hand, this feels honest to me:
Under questioning, he said his addictions to alcohol, sleeping pills and Valium were a crutch to cope with extreme work pressures and financial crisis.

“The drinking started in a cyclical way. After every creative high I would crash,” Mr. Galliano said, adding that the death of a friend and key aide, along with work pressures, exacerbated his drinking.

“Dior is a big machine and I didn't want to lose Galliano,” he said of his own label, which is majority owned by Dior. He complained about suffering panic attacks as he struggled to raise new revenues for his brands for everything from children’s underwear to menswear.

That creative people are prone to drug abuse and precarious mental states is a stereotype, but I think there really is something in the creative process that requires total immersion in what you're doing for awhile, shutting the world out, and then trying to crash back into the world. It's not something people who live a more regulated life understand. That's my experience of what writing poems and stories is like anyway, and I can only imagine how much more difficult it must be in a world as high-pressured as the fashion industry. It is one hell of a Big Machine.

On the other hand, I don't think drugs and alcohol make you into something you're not. Drugs may bring out an anti-Semitism that normally you'd keep hidden, but it doesn't create the sentiments. That doesn't necessarily mean I think John Galliano is a closet bigot outted by Valium. I think every human being has dark places in his soul, some he doesn't want the world to know about, some so deep he doesn't know himself that they exist. Sometimes that dark place pushes through into the world. I think that's what happened here.

Maybe that's why the idea of restrictions on speech bothers me. I understand how dangerous hate speech can be. I remember George Wallace, playing a game with racism, and in the process inflicting wounds on this country that still haven't healed. According to the Times article on Galliano, the law under which he's being prosecuted "ordinarily ensnares far-right politicians with a clear ideology." French George Wallaces. But when you have a law like that, ordinarily it won't be used against the powerful, the really dangerous people who regularly toy with hatred, but against someone whose dark place just emerged.

It will be used by the Big Machine.

Basically, I don't like the idea of singling individuals out as bigots. I doubt there is a single person on earth who is immune to bigotry. We all have biases. We all hold to unexamined stereotypes. The danger is not from people who let one of them slip out in a drunken rant. The danger is manifest when those biases and stereotypes alter the judgment of people in power, or worse, when people in power -- like George Wallace -- prey on bigotry, making it all that much harder to do away with.

So, in this instance, I have more sympathy than disdain for John Galliano.

I feel similarly about his claim that as a gay man, he has experienced and therefore despises bigotry. This is sad:

“I know what it feels to be discriminated against,” Mr. Galliano testified, noting that his real name is Juan and that his mother is Spanish. “We moved to south London when I was 6 years old and aware that I was gay. I was sent to a difficult English boys school and you can imagine that children can be cruel.”
Indeed. I can't help but care about that 6-year-old child, and even the 50-year-old man who carries that child around in his bruised heart. But the world is full of victims who turn right around and victimize others. We have a long history in this country of poor whites lynching blacks, and immigrant groups inching their way into the mainstream and hating the new immigrants. Hell, that last one is such a cliché we made a musical out of it:

If experiencing pain made people determined to never cause pain, the world would be painless.

It is not.

Such Is The Duality of The Southern Thing

I'm working on one of my insanely long posts, where I try to stitch together a lot of scraps that don't seem to mix. It'll probably take a few days, but in the meantime, I thought I'd post some of the bits and pieces, or at least related items, as a sort of Coming Attractions. Or maybe pieces from the cutting room floor.

Up today: Three of my favorite subjects -- history, politics and music.

The Drive-By Truckers have been one of my favorite bands for years, and their third studio album, Southern Rock Opera, is a masterpiece, a concept album of related songs, on the surface about Lynyrd Skynyrd, but underneath a Bildungsroman (for younger readers, that's a fancy -- but useful -- German literary term for a novel about a person moving from youth to maturity) about what it's like to be a white boy from Alabama, with its complicated heritage of racism, class prejudice, and kickass music.

One of the odd gems of the album is actually two songs blended into a unit -- the recitative “The Three Great Alabama Icons” followed by "Wallace," a gloriously angry and funny song that cheerfully envisions George Wallace in hell.

George Wallace's power era was mainly the 1960s, and he died in 1998, so maybe a little introduction is in order for younger readers. If you think of the '60s as an era of hippies, and civil rights marches, of increasing openness in society, and experimentation in design and the arts, you'd be partially right. But the '60s belonged to George Wallace as much as the hippies, artists, and pacifists. Maybe more so. At the moment, there is certainly more of his legacy in our politics than theirs.

"The Three Great Alabama Icons" gives a great introduction to Wallace, and why he is both important, and one of the more disturbing figures in American history, but I want to add a few details.

He first ran for governor in 1958, speaking out against the Ku Klux Klan. This was brave, but not likely to make you popular in Alabama in late '50s, and he lost. Vowing that he would never be "outniggered" again, he ran a second time in 1963, as a fervent segregationist, and won. In his inaugural address, he proclaimed that he would fight for "segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever," and he seemed to keep the promise a few months later, when he tried to stop African-American students from enrolling at The University of Alabama.

In 1954, the Supreme Court had handed down its landmark decision in the Brown vs. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas case, which declared school segregation unconstitutional. That meant that The University of Alabama could no longer legally refuse to admit black students, although it did everything in its power to fend off integration until 1963, when a federal judge ordered three African American students admitted to the university.

That's an important thing to remember when you study history: A law means very little unless you have the will and the means to enforce it.

In an act of political theater -- trying to make Alabama voters, and racists across the country, think he was one of them -- he stood in the doorway leading to the university's registration office, flanked by armed Alabama state troopers, and, with television cameras rolling (as he knew they would be), he gave a speech about how the federal government was usurping "states' rights."

That would be the state's "right" to discriminate against some of its citizens. Almost fifty years later, you'll still hear politicians use that expression, "states' rights." It still means the same thing. There are still politicians for whom George Wallace remains a role model.

Anyway, once the cameras were gone, Wallace stepped aside and allowed the students to register. It wasn't a defeat for him. He didn't care whether the University of Alabama was integrated. In his heart, he may actually have approved. He got what he wanted -- publicity. Not just Alabamians, but the whole country, on national television, had seen him as the face of opposition to integration, the image of white resistance to black aspirations.

In 1963, that was something to put at the top of your political résumé.

Later that year, Wallace sent state police into several Alabama cities to keep schools from opening, because the federal government had ordered the schools desegregated. At least one person died in the resulting civil disturbances.

In early September, 1963, he told a reporter for The New York Times that in order to stop integration, Alabama would need a "few first-class funerals." A week later, four children died in the bombing of a Baptist Church in Birmingham.

In 1965, demonstrators marched three times from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama's capitol, to demand that the governor protect African Americans attempting to register to vote. George Wallace called the planned marches a threat to public safety, and said he would take all measures necessary to stop them. He did, and this is what happened:

Governor Wallace was not happy with the nationally televised images of that police riot, but his sympathy was not with the people who were brutally beaten. His only concern was the event's potential to tarnish his image.

Nevertheless, he continued to believe that there was a political career to be made out of racism, and he was right. He served as Governor of Alabama, on and off, until 1987.

And his success was not limited to Alabama. In 1968, he ran for president as the American Independent Party candidate. He got 13.5 percent of the popular vote, and 46 electoral votes. It was the first time a third party candidate had actually won any states since 1948, when Strom Thurmond also ran a racist campaign as the candidate of the "States' Right Democratic Party" (more commonly known as the Dixiecrats) and carried 4 Southern states with 39 electoral votes.

More importantly, when he saw Wallace's growing success, the winner of that 1968 election, Richard M. Nixon, adopted what was called the "Southern Strategy" -- appealing to racism in the south in order to win what had traditionally been Democratic states. It worked. The south has voted almost solidly Republican in presidential elections since 1968, and appeals to racism have played a large part in that. George Wallace didn't win the election, but to some extent his ideas did.

In 1972 he ran again, this time for the Democratic Party nomination. He was a major candidate, winning primaries in North Carolina, Michigan, Maryland, Tennessee and Florida, but ended his campaign after an attempted assassination, which left him paralyzed for life.

Later in his life, when history had already turned against him, and overt racism fell out of fashion, George Wallace renounced his own racist past, making it clear that he'd never really believed the things he'd said, he just said them to win votes. He told his story as one of redemption -- times had changed, and the very embodiment of Southern racism had seen the error of his ways. Much of the press bought it.

The problem with that narrative is that he obviously knew that "error" in 1958, when he ran as a somewhat progressive gubernatorial candidate. He just chose, for ambition's sake, to pretend he didn't know it. And in the process, he fed racism, he told racists that they were right, that they were "the good people" who Northerners and "liberals" and "pointy-headed intellectuals" were trying to oppress. He helped make racism an acceptable belief, and an acceptable political strategy, which helped keep racism alive.

And in the process, people were brutally beaten. People died.

So, what's worse, a moronic racist who doesn't know any better, or a smart one who uses racism to further his own ambitions?

The Drive-By Truckers have an answer to that, and it's one I agree with. (I've posted the lyrics to "Wallace" after the video because Patterson Hood is a great writer, but not exactly a great enunciater.)

Performed by The Drive-By Truckers
Written by Patterson Hood

Throw another log on the fire, boys, George Wallace is coming to stay.
When he met St. Peter at the pearly gates, I'd like to think that a black man stood in his way.
I know "All should be forgiven", but he did what he done so well.
So throw another log on the fire boys,
George Wallace is coming…George Wallace is coming.

Now, he said he was the best friend that a black man from Alabama ever had,
And I have to admit, compared to Fob James, George Wallace don't seem that bad.
And if it's true that he wasn't a racist, and he just did all them things for the votes,
I guess Hell's just the place for kiss ass politicians who pander to assholes.

So throw another log on the fire, boys, George Wallace is coming to stay.
I know, in the end, he got the black people's votes, but I think they'd still vote for him that way.
Well now, Hell's just a little bit hotter, 'cause he played his hand so well.
Well, he had what it took to take it so far,
Now the Devil's got a Wallace sticker on the back of his Cadillac.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Define "worst"

You'd have to be dense not to say Lady Gaga's fashion isn't at all interesting. I've always found "worst dressed" lists to be pretty funny. Apparently, in their mind, anybody who does anything that isn't typical glamour, is ugly. I saw this picture of Lady Gaga, this morning and was kind of fascinated. On a whole, it's not my favorite of hers, but there was an interesting factor: color. I remember her saying she tends to play with shape a lot (hence this and this). The outfit at the far left, is hopefully the start of Gaga color and pattern. This may have not been my favorite choice, but you have to start somewhere.

More about Best/Worst dressed lists...the people who do them don't seem to believe in personal style. Hearing the the criticizers takes me back to Lizzie Mcguire when Kate insults Lizzie, basically, "the annoyingly perfect girl" bullies "normal harmless girl". As for Helena Bonham Carter, can you really picture her in a Jennifer Lopez type outfit (and vice versa!)?

Helena Bonham Carter has a wonderful unique sense of style. When asked about her mismatched shoes at the Golden Globes (above), she said, "Indecision". She doesn't seem to focus on standard looks and trends, and I really respect that. I may just wear to different colors of converse sometime, to honor her.

The Bias For Stupid

Awhile ago, Lucia wrote about our addiction to The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. She made it sound as if she thought dumbed down, funny news was all she could handle, but then, ironically, made a very smart comment on the shows:
While not just making fun of the craziness of the world, Stewart and Colbert, also make fun of the coverage of the insanity.
That's pretty much exactly what makes The Daily Show a treasure -- the coverage of the coverage.

Over the weekend, Jon Stewart went on Fox news and gave a mostly serious interview, in which he tried to make that same point. The Daily Show and Fox news both point out "bias" in reporting, but Fox pretends there's a "liberal" bias that doesn't exist at all, while The Daily Show catches the real bias -- for shallowness, sensationalism, and stupidity.

The funniest part of this interview is Chris Wallace's complete inability to understand the points Stewart makes simply and eloquently.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Speeding In Priuses

Lucia and I were driving recently, and one of us, I forget who, make a joke about the pathetic reputation of Priuses. Not that they're bad cars. I love my Prius. But my Prius is a lot like my produce bags (ugh, plastic) and vegan cookbooks (ugh, animal cruelty and factory farming). Careful. Earnest. Practical. Well-meaning. Geeky. Eco-lefty. A stereotype even before I added the Amnesty International and Obama bumper stickers. Good. Not cool.


But then I told Lucia the story about Al Gore's son, who was stopped a few years ago while speeding in a Prius. Nobody should laugh at a story about speeding -- especially when there are drugs involved, and especially if you are careful, earnest, practical, and well-meaning. And a mother. Even eco-friendliness enters into the mandate to suppress giggles: Do you know how much gas speeding wastes?

But when a story's funny, it's funny, and there's not much your earnest, careful little heart can do about it. First, wouldn't you know that the Prophet of Global Warming's son would drive a Prius? Funnier still, who knew you could speed in a Prius?

You can, of course. Sometimes when you don't want to.

And now this story goes in an entirely different direction, because it's about a conversation, and any conversation worth having will veer off in unexpected directions.

I asked Lucia if she knew who Al Gore was. God knows, she's a lot smarter than the average kid her age, but the last time Gore held office, she was in kindergarten, so you never know. Even smart kids have gaps. (Even smart adults have gaps.)

"Ran for president?" she said, with an obvious question mark squiggling at the end of the sentence.

"Or ran for vice-president?"

"Or was vice-president?"

"Obsessive ecology guy?"

Except for the last point, that's probably what I would have said when I was her age if someone had asked me who Thomas E. Dewey was. At least she was right on all counts, if a bit sketchy. We both could have added "Loser in an unusual and surprising election," but didn't.

I think history begins to make sense when some of the names of people you've heard your parents talk about begin to have some concrete facts, and more importantly, some stories attached to them. At least that's the way it worked for me. As a teenager, I needed to understand who Roosevelt, and Lindbergh, and Truman, and Dewey, and Father Coughlin, and Stalin, and Joe McCarthy, and the Rosenbergs were -- all the people who colored the worldview of people who came of age in the few decades before I was born -- in order to grow up. Fortunately, I had a mother who wanted to explain. Like most people, I never would have learned much history if I'd depended on school to pour it into my brain.

We're all such tiny parts of human existence. It seems a waste to inhabit only the bit of it that your life's experience encompasses. I would have hated to miss out on history.

That was a detour. Writing, like conversations, does not stay on a straight path, no matter how many middle school English teachers try to convince you otherwise. You use a map only if you're not interested in discovering new places.

Back to Al Gore. Geeky, eco-lefty that I am, I had to add that he didn't just run for president. He was elected president. He just didn't get to become president. It was not one of our finer moments as a democracy.

"Yeah, I never understood that," Lucia said. "What exactly happened in Florida?"

Oh, my darling, you have no idea what a hard question that is to answer.

Just the simple facts of the case are as complicated as the plots on The Prisoner. Even looking back at it, eleven years later, it's hard to figure out what's real and what isn't, who is on who's side, and who's number one, or is there even a number one? Remember The Prisoner episode where Number 6 runs in an election to be Number 2, which turns out not to be any kind of election at all? That was simple in comparison.

But trying to sort out facts, when facts are in dispute, isn't the only problem. There are a lot of extraneous issues involved. What's a vote? When does a vote count, and when doesn't it? Does everybody get to vote? How do you stop people from voting without anyone noticing, and how does that effect an election? None of those things directly address the issue of who won and who lost that election, but they tell us a lot about how our government, and our election system, works, and how it fails. And maybe it tells us that the failure isn't an accident. But while the questions aren't directly relevant, they're actually much more interesting than the cold facts of the case, and they're all things you need to understand if you're going to be a functioning adult citizen of this country.

One of the things we learned from the election of 2000 is that we have a lot of non-functioning citizens in this country. And it's not always they're fault.

And finally, there is the fact that even though almost eleven years have passed, I doubt many people can think about what happened then without huge emotions welling up. There's nothing wrong with emotion, of course, but anger can get in the way when you're trying to think about something clearly, honestly, and fairly. Then again, you ought to be angry about injustice.

It's a paradox. You need a certain intellectual detachment to understand injustice, but intellectual detachment in the face of injustice is inhuman.

It's like this: Your brain is a nice, steady, reliable Prius that tries to follow a straight path to a familiar place at a reasonable speed, and suddenly it's whizzing down the freeway and all sorts of bits and pieces of stuff you barely recognize are flying past you, and you don't know what to do. You don't even know what's flying past you.

A long time ago, when I was teaching writing, I realized most people face one of two difficulties. The first is having nothing to say. That happens when a teacher tells you to write a page on the most interesting thing that's happened in your life, and suddenly you feel that nothing interesting has ever happened in your life. Or you think the things that interest you wouldn't interest anyone else. Or lots of interesting things have happened, but you don't want to tell anyone about them.

Or you need two pages on the fall of Rome and you don't give a damn about the fall of Rome.

So the page stays blank.

The other problem -- the one you're going to encounter more often if you keep writing -- is having too much to say. Thoughts race and whiz by, and you're pretty sure they connect in some way, but you're not sure how. In order to figure that out, you start writing....

Friday, June 17, 2011

I Don't Hate To Cook. Much.

I'm pretty sure the only cookbook my mother owned when I was growing up was Peg Bracken's The I Hate To Cook Book. The funny thing is, I don't think she ever used it. I can't remember having eaten any of the dishes in it, at least not until I was in college, borrowed the book, and tried out a few recipes, which were not great (that is, of course, an enormous understatement), but quick and easy enough for someone working and going to college at the same time. I guess my mother hated to cook even more than Peg Bracken did. She was also a single, working mother. That doesn't leave a lot of time for cooking. It doesn't leave a lot of money either.

Well, the point of the book was never the recipes, anyway. It was the attitude. When Peg Bracken died a few years ago, the New York Times obituary described her book, first published in 1960, as "subversive" -- a little appetizer for the women's movement that was already cooking:
Long before the microwave became a fixture of every home, “The I Hate to Cook Book” was creating a quiet revolution in millions of kitchens in the United States and abroad. Three years before Betty Friedan touched off the modern women’s movement with “The Feminine Mystique,” Ms. Bracken offered at least a taste of liberation — from the oven, the broiler and the stove.
Yeah, sure, Julia Child had better recipes, but she couldn't write like Peg Bracken:
Put the lid on and put the casserole in a 275 degree oven. Now go back to bed. It will cook happily all by itself and be done in five hours.
-- Recipe for "Stayabed Stew"

I'm pretty sure I never learned anything about cooking from Peg Bracken, but I learned something about writing: Get to the point as quickly as you can.

Of course, that's an aspiration I almost never achieve.

Reading the book as a feminist college student in the seventies, one little thing about it annoyed me. Peg Bracken was a working writer and copy editor. But a lot of her comments suggest that not wanting to cook isn't a matter of having other things to do. It's just laziness. For instance, from that same recipe for "Stayabed Stew":
This is for those days when you're en negligee, en bed, with a murder story and a box of bonbons.
Or maybe at the office all day and then home trying to get the kids to do their homework?

Sometimes the first step in a revolution is very, very small.

Nevertheless, I still have my mother's old copy of the book. It lost both front and back covers years ago, and I certainly never use the recipes, but I can't quite bring myself to toss it out.

Back to my mother and cooking. She was very big on frozen fish sticks and hamburgers on payday and mayonnaise sandwiches or "concoctions" on the days before payday. "Concoctions" consisted of whatever bits of things she could find in the house thrown together in a casserole and baked.

Sometimes they were actually edible.

Not always.

The indigestibility of my mother's concoctions has always made me wary of creativity in cooking. With a recipe, you know that most times you will end up with a product that people can actually eat. It may be great, it may be so-so, but you rarely need to just toss it in the trash. I like the reliability of recipes. Or maybe I just don't trust my own cooking skills enough to let go.

I mean, I inherited my mother's shortness, thin hair, tone-deafness, and her passion for books, history, and politics, why should I be any better than she was at concocting recipes?

But for the past few years, we've been eating almost entirely vegetarian meals, which means there are a lot of vegetables around. I often make something good from a vegan cookbook, but end up with a vegetable bin holding half a bunch of kale, and half a red pepper. And then there's some roasted butternut squash in a ziploc box. I'm not as poor as my mom was, but I still don't like throwing out perfectly good food. What do I do with all the bits and pieces of leftovers?

Oh, God. Not a "concoction." Concoctions are dangerous -- or at least indigestible.

And yet, somehow, this one came out pretty good.

Kale and Butternut Squash Salad
1 Tbl. sesame oil
1 cup red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
4-5 cups chopped kale
1 cup roasted butternut squash, cut in 1/4" dice
1 piece (3.5 oz) Trader Joe's savoury-flavored baked tofu
1 tsp. rice vinegar
1 tsp. tamari sauce
1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 Tbl. sunflower seeds.

Heat the oil in large pan. Add onion and red pepper, and saute for 3-4 minutes, until the onion is soft. Add the garlic and kale and cook until the kale is wilted.

Add all the remaining ingredients.

You can eat it hot, let it come to room temperature, or refrigerate it for later.

It's all good.

Almost as easy as a Peg Bracken recipe, too.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Pioneer of Modern Television

I would like to thank Mary Richards (played by Mary Tyler Moore) for being a feminist. Once you get past the cheesy theme song (and the famous "hat throw"), the show's pilot begins with Mary moving into a new apartment in Minneapolis. We then learn Mary had broken an engagement with her boyfriend of two years. Later in the episode she is hired as Associate Producer of the "Six-O'clock News" (SPUNK!) Quick summary: female television character is single, has job and most importantly, is happy.

The housewife, Laura (also played by Mary Tyler Moore, about ten years earlier) that we see on Dick Van Dyke is essentially who Betty Draper wanted to be: happy, graceful and loyal to her husband. The interesting part is, if Laura was a real person, she would there's a chance she would have been more like Betty Draper.

The character of Betty Draper is depressed and cranky, though she has every right to be. She is stuck at home doing dull chores, taking care of her kids, and then finishing her day attempting to look like she came straight out of Dial M for Murder...well, not exactly the scary part

Which is why Mad Men is so fascinating. Much of the sixties is associated with glamorous Hollywood, and Mad Men seems to prove (by the example of Betty Draper) that regular women were socially required to do the work of a mother and housewife, all while looking and acting with the gracefulness Grace Kelly displays on screen.

Mad Men is a twenty-first century historical fiction television show. It's been about "fifty years" (playing by the television setting) since Betty Draper had emotional breakdowns, and shot pigeons. Mary Tyler Moore began in 1970, a few years after the second wave of feminism had began. Even though feminism was real, the transition to fictional television was a bit slow.

There was another character on Dick Van Dyke, named Sally Rogers (played by Rose Marie). Alongside Robert Petrie, Sally Rodgers was a comedy writer for the Alan Brady Show (Yes, Dick Van Dyke is a sitcom about a comedy-program writer). Though she made (and wrote!) jokes, the character was obviously written to be an unhappily single woman; suggesting that women can't be happy unless married.

I love Mary Tyler Moore, partly because it was funny, well written, well cast, and you will find some of the best characters ever on television (Lou, Rhoda, Georgette,...). Though what made Mary Tyler Moore so great is the confident, independent yet still humble character of Mary Richards, a strong, yet still feminine woman. At age thirty, I hope to display the same attitude in real life, that Mary Richards does on screen.

Not Just For Gays Anymore

I have no comment on this, except to say that it's awesome. Bonus points for Glee slam.

Turning the phrase around to things that are not just for straights anymore -- well, moving in that direction anyway: marriage. A federal judge rejected the idea that Judge Vaughn Walker, the judge who overturned California's ban on same-sex marriage last year, did not need to recuse himself from the case just because he was gay and supposedly had an "interest" in the result of the case. That argument wasn't just stupid, it was profoundly bigoted.

It's also nothing new in American history:
In the late 1970s and early 1980s—as a bumper crop of minority federal district judges appointed by President Jimmy Carter presided over employment-discrimination cases brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—recusal motions were filed by defendants seeking to remove black judges from hearing these cases. Black judges pushed back firmly against attempts to question their impartiality and framed what has become the universally accepted understanding among the bench and bar: that judicial bias cannot be assumed based on the racial, gender or other status of the judge.
In one of the most pathetic such efforts ...litigants in 1975, representing the law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell, attempted to bounce federal district judge Constance Baker Motley off a suit brought by female lawyers at the firm alleging gender discrimination. The firm argued that Motley would be biased as a woman, an African-American, and a former civil rights litigator. Motley's response is as true for Walker today as it was for herself in 1975: "If background or sex or race of each judge were, by definition, sufficient grounds for removal, no judge on this court could hear this case, or many others, by virtue of the fact that all of them were attorneys, of a sex, often with distinguished law firm or public service backgrounds."
There are people who will never see Americans who aren't exactly like them as equal citizens, or even equal human beings. You can't change their minds. But little by little, legally, you can try to make their bigotry irrelevant.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Good News

Mom and I haven't missed an episode of The Daily Show or The Colbert Report this entire year (that I know of). I make jokes that John Stewart and Stephen Colbert are my only source of news, but they're almost true. News can be very depressing and occasionally covered in such a stupid way, that other people feel the need to ridicule it. Maybe I'm too cheerful and don't want my mood to be ruined by a depressing news story, so I put my attention to Comedy Central, with hope that I'll get the major news stories in an hour, and then leave without a feeling that "the world sucks, and then you die".

While not just making fun of the craziness of the world, Stewart and Colbert, also make fun of the coverage of the insanity. I was watching CNN in the late afternoon-early evening (before the "comedy/news hour") a few weeks ago and some anchor-person was talking about Sarah Palin and Donald Trump meeting for dinner. The person said something like "I know the viewers are all dying to know where they ate", well, not that really all that's happened in the world today?. Granted, if you're a news show, you don't want to switch stories from something like "so-and-so died today" to "the spread of E. coli", but isn't there any lighter but worthwhile news.

One of the funniest things on the Daily Show recently (other than "the blender") was...

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Me Lover's Pizza with Crazy Broad
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

The purpose of most television shows is to entertain, while the purpose of a news show is to inform. I have never heard someone say, "My favorite television show is -insert news program here-". Both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report mix comedy and news very well. They allow me to not be a clueless idiot, while still keeping my (I'll admit, short) attention span, and most importantly to someone my age, making me laugh.


You get to a certain age, and just keep seeing things come back again and again, altered a little -- sometimes for the better, sometimes not.

I was reminded of this a couple of days ago, looking at Lucia's post on the color-blocking trend. The word threw me. Looking at the pictures, I don't see a lot of "blocking," just bright colors. The exceptions are the bag and the top, where a splash of contrasting color is introduced in a single item. Those are the two I like the best. There's something surprising in the contrast. Also, I like the fact that I can visualize the shirt as something Lucia would make by putting two t-shirts together.

Of course, I guess if you put the bright pink dress with the orange shoes, you've color-blocked an outfit. But the designer didn't.

In any case, the term color-blocking, and the idea of placing bold colors next to each other, brought to mind the obvious (well, obvious if you're old enough to remember the sixties): Yves Saint Laurent's famous "Mondrian" dress from 1965. It was so iconic that not long after it was introduced, Simplicity had patterns based on it made for children. (For some reason, the idea of mother-daughter matching Saint Laurents cracks me up. Itsy bitsy haute couture is suddenly a lot less haute.) Curiously enough, Forever 21 knocked off the dress only a few years ago, proving that they can rip off dead designers just as easily as current ones. (Exceptionally curious, considering the showy Christianity of Forever 21's owners. The last time I checked Thou shalt steal was not in the 10 Commandments. Maybe they have a different Bible.)

As I said, everything old comes back again, including theft, since Saint Laurent's "original" dress, was itself, of course, a theft. That's why it's called the Mondrian dress. His design was based on the work of the 20th century Dutch artist Piet Mondrian. Oil paint becomes wool jersey.

Of course, Mondrian was not interested in decorating bodies with splashes of color. Like the Changs, the owners of Forever 21, he was deeply religious -- but in a very different way. He wasn't a Christian, but a theosophist. The theosophists studied many religions, searching for a core truth that permeated all of them, some deep spiritual reality that existed underneath material reality. The philosophy was popular among several twentieth century artists besides Mondrian, including Paul Klee, and Wassily Kandinsky, all of whom moved from early works of representational art to greater and greater abstraction, with a strong emphasis on color (in Mondrian's case, the purest of the pure -- primary colors). They saw themselves as beginning with the colors and forms of nature, and then moving to something deeper and purer than a perfect representation of what was in front of your eyes. The idea was to look to nature for inspiration, but then transcend it, finding what it was in nature that truly touched human beings -- the colors, the shapes, the forms -- not just reproduce them as they were.

In essence, it's not the tree or the ocean that grabs you; it's the green and the blue.

It's not the horizon; it's the straight line.

To put it in another way, the first abstract artists used paint the way musicians used notes. A piece of music isn't about anything, it just is. Something about the arrangement of sounds moves us. You don't, for instance, listen to Duke Ellington's "Take The A Train" and try to find the train in it. No train, just music. Great music. Mondrian, in the same way, meant to strip art of its ties to representation so it could find it's pure essence of shape and color.

One of the best introductions to Mondrian I've seen is a video set to music that shows the development of the artist's work over the decades, moving from somewhat representational to highly geometric and abstract. It's less than a minute and a half long, and I think captures the beauty and spirituality in Mondrian's development.

I'm not sure what Piet Mondrian would have thought of Saint Laurent's knockoff (he died two decades earlier), let alone Forever 21s (or others). There's a long history of art mixing with crafts and pop culture, but that's a topic for another day.

The interesting thing to me right now is just the deep roots of our attraction to color.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Two Women

Billie Holiday never would have made it on American Idol. She had a small, somewhat thin voice, and not a lot of range. I don't know if she could hold on to a note until it begged for mercy or make it dance up and down her throat -- the kind of thing that causes Idol judges to swoon -- but I know she had too much good taste and common sense to do so, or maybe too much respect for the music.

I've heard it said that she was lucky in the timing of her birth, because if she'd been born a generation earlier, before microphones made a booming voice that could reach the back of a theater unnecessary, she wouldn't have had a career. I usually think of technology in music as dehumanizing -- something that gives a lot of contemporary singers the robotic voices you hear on Glee (honestly, how much money does that damn high school have that they can afford to autotune everybody in the choir?). But technology and humanity aren't always at odds. Microphones allowed singers to sing more than shout, to be more subtle, more nuanced. It brought more complex humanity to singing, allowing them to express real emotion.

Nobody -- no singer to this very day that I know of -- ever made better use of that nuance. A musician could certainly explain the technique a lot better than I could. She sings off the beat and emphasizes words in ways other singers don't. At the beginning of the video I've posted below, she says she never sings a song the same way twice, never sings the same tempo. I don't think that's really true. If you listen to alternate versions of songs she cut at a single session, there's very little difference in her performances, as if she knew what she wanted on the first take and barely strayed from that vision. But it was true over time. Often she recorded the same song several times over the years, and each time the tempo and phrasing, and even the tone of her voice, changes enormously. It's almost as if a different person came to the song fresh each time.

I don't understand the musicianship behind her timing and phrasing, but I understand the result. She's committed to the song. Every single word has meaning. It's an amazing amalgam of instinct and technique.

This is probably my favorite video of Billie Holiday, singing one of her own compositions, "Fine and Mellow." It's from a television show, "The Sound of Jazz," made in 1957, only two years before her death at the age of forty-four. Time (and a lot of drugs and alcohol) had taken a toll on her voice, which is not as supple or sweet-toned as it was when she was young, but also has a special poignancy and ache to it.

The video is more than eight minutes long, but watch the whole thing. Another reason Lady Day could never have survived American Idol is that you can't squeeze her genius into a minute and a half. Watch her body and her face as she feels -- not just hears, feels -- each of the musicians, including her long-time (but at this point estranged) friend Lester Young (the second saxophonist to come in) take their solos. I swear you can see the music move through her veins; it's that deep inside her. And as she feeds off her fellow musicians, she just keeps getting better.

Commitment. Passion. A belief that at this moment the only thing in the world that matters is this song. A willingness to put your whole soul on the line in the service of your art.

There are very different ways to bring those qualities to a song. Billie Holiday did it by holding back a lot. There's enormous emotion in her delivery, but it's reined in, often even toyed with, so that she sings a happy song with an undertone of melancholy, or a torch song with an element of endurance, even strength. Janis Joplin couldn't have been a much more different singer. She doesn't hold anything back, and the emotion is laid out flat on the stage.

This video has pretty poor sound quality, and the video isn't any better (although I'm kind of fond of the photographer's weird obsession with Janis's feet -- the way she slams the music with them is actually pretty interesting). But it's still one of the most brilliant moments in music ever captured on film.

I get goosebumps every time I watch that performance. The most fierce and honest thing I've ever seen.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


When I think of "spring clothes" I always think pale colors and loose shapes. When I think of summer clothes, I think of t-shirts and shorts. What? I live in California.

 While browsing online stores lately, I'm loving all the bright colors I'm seeing. While I find clothing trends mostly annoying (because the majority of people that follow them, all look the same), I'm really liking the color-blocking trend. It's less of a season "trend" rather then being able to find clothes in the colors I like, then wearing them for years. I like color; I always have and always will.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Lucia's Epic Yarn...Tree

Yes, I stole borrowed from Kirby. Today, June 11th 2011, is the first international yarn-bombing day. "Bombing" (not the violent, destructive, bloody kind) is a slang term for creating street art, and is usually associated with graffiti. A canadian knitter named Joann Matvichuk created the day as a way to connect knitters in an "adventurous and quirky and artsy" way.

My way of yarn-bombing was not exactly adventurous, as I didn't venture far from my own house. Right outside of our standard suburban home, is one of the most pathetic trees you will ever see. Almost as old as me (and don't say that's old!), the tree stands at about 20 feet and is scrawny as can be (I nicknamed it after Twiggy).

What I did was grab all my tiny bits of yarn, tie the ends together, and roll up a big ball. Then I wound it around the tree. Then I made about fifteen or twenty pom-poms, attached to a crocheted chain and hung them from the branches.

I wish I'd taken some progress shots. It probably would have been funny to see me out in the dark wearing pajama pants and my Berkeley hoodie wrapping yarn around a tree.

^At night, just after finishing. (Hey, my camera takes decent night shots!)

^Pom-Poms...and a car.

^Close up of the yarn-wrapped trunk.

^More pom-poms...and cars.

^Day after, me with my tree.

^One of the rare pictures, where I look reasonable.

^Full tree in daylight.

^Tree trunk, with a view of some hanging pom-poms.

Considering, I prepared and planned this in less than four hours, and set it up in under one hour, I'm pretty pleased. But next year......