Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Ring of fire


Austin's not burning - yet. Sure looks as though everything surrounding Austin is on fire, though. It was only a matter of time; the entire state is crispy.

Suddenly, selfishly, I'm glad we never got the energy to move from our convenient-but-sorta-boring place in central Austin after the girls grew past the stage of having to be chauffeured everywhere. About once a year I used to fantasize about a cabin in the Hill Country surrounded by junipers and wild grass. Not this year.

I'm also glad that so many of our neighbors have been flouting the water restrictions and keeping their lawns green.

Clearly disaster is not good for the soul (mine anyway). I guess I'd better do penance by collecting clothes and stuff for the people who've been burned out already.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Lusitania - finally finished!


Actually, it's been done for a while; I've just had a hard time making myself set up photo lights in the sewing room. Now I've caught up and have reasonably good pics of all my recent stuff.

I had to soak Lusitania in a tub of water for 3 days to get all the Solvy out, but I'm happy with the way it turned out. So happy, in fact, that I'm going to inflict a lot of pictures on you.

Here's a shot of the whole thing:

This is what the face looked like after overlaying the sheer fabric. I was hoping the overlay would blur the texture of the embroidery stitches a little more... oh, well.

These two detail shots of the coral show some of the painted laces under the overlay and others on top of it...trying to create a feeling of depth here.


And finally, this super-detailed shot shows how the painted lace pieces merge into the machine embroidery.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Why did I waste time worrying about the earthquake?

Now Hurricane Irene is pointed directly at Manhattan, and what are the Fashionista and her boyfriend doing? They're driving back from the shore to his parent's house in Connecticut, after which they plan to take the train back to NYC and collect her cat, after which they might take the train back to Connecticut. Assuming that it isn't already full up with people desperately trying to get out of NYC. Alternative: hole up in her 3rd floor apartment on the Lower East Side with a bathtub full of water, a box of MRE's, a flashlight and the cat.

Connecticut may not be such a great place to ride out the storm either.

At least there is a windowless room in the apartment. Her bedroom.

I have no fingernails left; I'm gnawing my way down to the first knuckle. Oh well, the yoga teacher keeps telling me not to rest any weight on my fingers; by next week that may no longer be an issue.

UPDATE SAT. MORNING - The good news: they've decided not to go back to New York. The bad: I was wrong about them being on the road to Hartford today. The kids are STILL leisurely packing up at the rented beach house in Rhode Island.

I wonder if it's occurred to them that a lot of other people are going to be headed inland today?

UPDATE SAT. EVENING - They're in Hartford. With his parents. And the six dogs. Could get interesting there if it floods.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mary Ruth Smith workshop

This workshop was a couple of weekends ago; I finally got the sewing room cleared enough to put up the lights and photograph a lot of new stuff, which I'll be posting as I edit the pictures.

This woman does amazing things with stitchery. With her it's not embellishment; it's like overlaying a whole new surface over a patchwork of fabrics, or using close-packed black stitches on white fabric to define shapes in negative space, or screen-printing a face onto fabric and then totally covering it with French knots. I don't have a picture of the French-knots face, but here are some snapshots of samples she brought to the workshop:

I think this first piece was all worked in back stitch on a black fabric, but can't remember. The stitches here are so close together, it's like tapestry.

In this piece she's working within the shapes defined by patchwork, and the stitchery doesn't completely obscure the background but adds dimension and interest.

Figures in negative space, with no stitching or very open stitching. Notice the one in the middle that looks as if it was cut from a black-and-white print of bubbles? Those are actually individually hand stitched circles.

The contrast between simple applique circles at the center and closely hand stitched concentric circles radiating out makes the lines of stitchery appear to shimmer.

And here's the piece I started in the workshop.

I wasn't actually trying to make something like a tree, but the strip of dyed cheesecloth up the center insisted on looking like a tree trunk. After contorting it various ways I said, "Ok, be a tree if you insist!" and rearranged some blobs of transfer-dyed lace to be the crown of the tree. I even started stitching the cheesecloth in wood-grain-y patterns (just visible at top right of the detail).

I should probably mention that Mary Ruth doesn't work exactly the way I did. She likes to work on a piece of fabric stapled taut to a frame of stretcher bars. I wrestled with that damn 18" square frame for the entire first day of class. It's not me. I quilt without a hoop. I embroider without a hoop. On the second day I quietly borrowed a screwdriver and liberated my fabric. I'm just bringing this up because if you want to stitch as heavily and closely as she does, a frame might be the only way to keep the work in shape. For the level of stitching I'm putting into the piece, though, it's not really necessary.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A shot of adrenalin

Whoooeee. I was just coming home from the fabric store, turned on the news right at the words "...White House and Pentagon being evacuated," and I thought...well, you know what leapt to mind, especially considering we're coming up on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. A few seconds later they said it was a 5.8 earthquake near Richmond, and such was my state of mind that I thought, "Oh, good, it's just an earthquake."

No reports of injuries or damage yet, just a lot of people all up and down the East Coast saying oh yes, they felt it. All the way up to New York.

The phone lines are probably jammed right now with people who have much better reason than I to be worried. But I do wish my daughter in, at the moment, Rhode Island, would call home.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mindless entertainment



Steve and I spent an enjoyable couple of hours in other people's air conditioning (a treat in itself) watching a movie I would never, ever have gone to if he hadn't read about it and told me its premise. Which is hilarious. "Attack the Block" posits that aliens mount a swarm attack on one of the few places in England that is actually dangerous: a council block. (For those unfamiliar with the term: a council block is kind of like the worst housing project you've ever avoided walking through, except that it is, literally, a block - a solid cube of crummy apartments.)

The film was low-budget, which meant that instead of admiring their wondrous computer graphics, the filmmakers actually had something resembling a plot - for instance, there turns out to be a reason why the aliens are concentrating their attack on this unpromising site; I won't tell you, because it would give away too much of the story. Yes, there actually is a story. And suitably scary fast-moving aliens composed mostly of black fur and glow-in-the-dark teeth. And an ironically realistic ending that is probably exactly what would happen in modern-day England, where you can get arrested for defending yourself against a subway assault with a pocketknife or shooting a thug who breaks your front door down.

Even for those of you who live north of the Mason-Dixon Line and aren't trying to save electricity by using somebody else's air-conditioning, it's worth the time. It's probably even better if you can understand more than a third of the dialogue (I don't speak council-block English).

Maybe next week we'll go see Cowboys and Aliens.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Yikes! The freeway's on fire!



I had to go out this afternoon to get stretcher bars for an embroidery workshop I'm taking over the weekend, which meant either a longish freeway drive northeast or a longish freeway drive south or taking surface streets across town and hoping the itsy bitsy art shop on the Drag had them. I picked the freeway south.

Not a good idea. Okay, the blackened shoulder right at the freeway entrance didn't slow me down, it just made me acutely aware of the fact that our house is exactly half a mile from the location of that particular grass fire. It was the first fire south of the river that stopped traffic; I could actually see flames leaping up from half a mile away, which I figured was Nature's way of telling me to get off the freeway and take South Lamar.

Turns out that a loooong stretch of South Lamar is reduced to one lane for some reason. Also, a lot of other people took the hint from Nature and headed over there.

On the way back it was freeway all the way, allowing me to see that there were actually two separate big blackened chunks of shoulder south of the river, both still being sprayed down by fire crews.

And that's how it can take 3 hours in 107 degree heat to buy 8 stretcher bars.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I want to go water the roof of the house. Just in case.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

"Terrorist" is everybody's Word of the Day

Apparently the hateful terrorist analogies weren't just something that was dreamed up by a local contributor. They seem to have become a constant refrain in the media:

Steve Rattner on MSNBC: “It’s a form of economic terrorism…These Tea Party guys are like strapped with dynamite standing in the middle of Times Square at rush hour saying either you do it my way or we’re going to blow you up, ourselves up, and the whole country with us.”
William Yeomans at Politico: "It has become commonplace to call the tea party faction in the House “hostage takers.” But they have now become full-blown terrorists."
Maureen Dowd in The New York Times: "[M]any Democrats...yearned to see the president beat the political suicide bombers over the head with the Constitution."
Thomas Friedman in The New York Times: "If sane Republicans do not stand up to this Hezbollah faction in their midst, the Tea Party will take the G.O.P. on a suicide mission."
Martin Frost at Politico: "We now have a group of U.S. politicians seeking political purity, who seem to have much in common with the Taliban. They are tea party members..."
Margaret Carlson on PBS' "Inside Washington": "[T]hey’ve strapped explosives to the Capitol and they think they are immune from it. The Tea Party caucus wants this crisis..."

Strange how the same metaphor is suddenly popping up all over the place. You'd almost think they had gotten together and agreed on the line to take....naah, that could never happen.

H/T: Verum Serum for most of these links

Friday, July 29, 2011

Stay classy, Austin American-Statesman

Today's local paper had two opinion columns that make for interesting reading when juxtaposed. The first, by Thomas Palaima, was written as a plea for more civility in political discourse:
Leach pinpoints "the increasingly hostile and ad hominem tone of national politics" characterized by "anger and name calling" that "damage our social cohesion."...Recognizing you in me and me in you would be a first step toward making mutual plans for a better future, toward moving forward in mutual respect. A first step toward bringing decency and humanity back into our public actions, before it is too late.

This is followed by John Young's column, which I suppose the editors felt epitomized the mutually respectful tone Palaima was calling for, with comments like these (bolding mine):
By air, the missiles of a warring party — the tea party — are observed registering red on the map, anti-tax drones beep-beep-beeping their way toward the mainland.....

The president seeks to rally the nation with a prime-time address. A menacing House Speaker John Boehner follows, pulling out a golf shoe, hammering it on the lectern, and implies that unless the White House and Senate capitulate to Republican demands, in so many words: "We will bury you."
(Funny, I watched all two minutes of Mr. Boehner's address yet somehow managed to miss the Khruschev imitation. If we weren't being so mutually respectful and all, I might call John Young a liar at this point. But that wouldn't be nice. I'll settle for respectfully wondering what medications he's on.)
As President Barack Obama said Monday night, the voters asked for a divided government, not paralyzed government. Fiscal jihadists in the House are dedicated to the latter, with belts of explosives hugging their hips.

Way to go, Austin American-Statesman. I'm so proud that my local paper doesn't promote any name-calling or hostility.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A modest proposal

I assume by now everybody has heard more than enough of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal and its subsequent shut down. I just want to mention that this morning an article in the paper gave me a brilliant idea. It seems the Taliban are claiming that text messages announcing the death of Mullah Omar are false and that somebody has been hacking into their phones.

I have no idea about the truth of this, but it does seem to me that hacking into the Taliban's phones would be a Good Thing with lots of possibilities for causing dismay and disruption. And since we suddenly have all these unemployed journalists with much experience along these lines....couldn't Britain install them all at, say, Bletchley Park, and set them to work serving their country?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Place your bets (on our fiscal future)



Today I love this quilt by dellastella; first because I'm shooting for a dimensional effect in my next bed quilt (of which more later) and second because the image of blocks falling out of the sky and piling up uncontrollably (at least, that's what happens when I play Tetris) seems like a perfect metaphor for our financial dilemma.

Normally I don't say much about economic issues, because they're big and complicated and I'm not an economist. But after reading the last week of pronouncements from pundits, I'm not so sure they understand economics any better than I do. I've read all of the following predictions and probably some more that I've forgotten:

1) There will be no debt ceiling raise, old people and military families will starve, the credit rating of the US will crash, Armageddon is coming and it's all the fault of the Republicans for refusing to raise taxes. (The default Democratic position.)

2) Ditto, ditto, ditto, ditto and it's all the fault of Obama and the Democrats for not putting forth any budget at all, let alone agreeing to spending cuts. (The default Republican position, except they usually leave out the part about starving Grandma.)

3) Ditto, but it's no big deal because the government has plenty of money coming in to pay interest on the debt, Social Security, and military pay; we'll just have to immediately cut almost all other spending. (Sounds to me like, "I've maxed out my credit cards but it's no big deal because I can pay the interest and the rent on my apartment as long as I quit using electricity and eat only once a day.")

4)Even if the debt ceiling is raised, our credit rating is going to crash because we have a ginormous debt and a humongous deficit and no credible plans for dealing with either. (Standard and Poor's position, I think.)

5) The economy will be saved by a flat tax and spending cuts, but we're not going to fight very hard because we're afraid nobody will love us. (Republicans)

6) The economy would be destroyed by a flat tax and spending cuts, so we're absolutely not going to agree to anything along those lines. (Democrats)

7) Look, we've agreed to compromise and allow some spending cuts, why won't you cooperate? (Democrats)

8)You say "everything is on the table," but won't say what, specifically, that means; we're not going to sign on to vague generalities. (Republicans)

9) Eric Cantor is childish and a lousy negotiator (Democrats)

10) Oooh, look, Obama just banged his sippy cup and threw his strained peas all over the room (Republicans)

Now why would I think that none of the pundits have a clue? One thing for sure - they can't all be right.

I am somewhat annoyed that we're sinking into a bottomless sea of debt and the folks on Capitol Hill seem to be interested in pointing to the other guy and shouting, "It's his fault! Look, people. If I'm about to drown, how about you stop arguing about who pushed me overboard and somebody throw out a life preserver?

I do notice a couple of things that would seem to weaken the Democrats' position (but then I would, wouldn't I?)

1) We've been told and told and told that Social Security funds really do exist, inside a sacred lockbox that is never ever opened for any other purpose. Now Obama says we may not have funds to cover Social Security in August. I wonder who's lying?

2) Historically, tax revenues have hovered at around 20% of GDP. So I'm not at all sure that tax increases would produce more tax revenues. Eliminating, say, the Department of Education would certainly result in less spending.

Not that it matters, because Armageddon is coming on August 2... or is it? Faites vos jeux!

Friday, July 15, 2011

What to do with all that leftover yarn



Now this would have been more creative than simply putting the stuff in sacks for the Elder Spawn's yard sale. On the other hand, I didn't have anywhere near that much yarn. I might have been able to yarnbomb a chopped Harley, but not a bus.

This week's excuse for not getting much done is that the Younger Spawn, aka the Fashionista, is favoring us with a visit from New York. Today the two of them are off having a Sister Day so I went to Barton Springs...ah. They're back, looking all tan and sleek. They went to Barton Springs too, but later in the day, so they got in on the excitement. Apparently the lifeguards started blowing their whistles and screaming, "Get out of the pool! Get out of the pool!" which never happens there. Then all the lifeguards dived in and went underwater. Apparently somebody had lost track of a child.

That's a big pool. And much of the bottom is covered with water weeds. If it had been my child, I'd have had a heart attack.

Happy ending: they report that the missing kid reappeared safe and relatively dry, having (I assume) simply wandered off somewhere else without mentioning it to the parent. There are enough sloping green banks and trees and bushes around that pool that a child can easily disappear without ever going near the water.

Nothing exciting like that ever happens when I go swimming. Probably just as well; see heart attack, above.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Virtually scintillating

The Austin American-Statesman has come to the rescue of us fireworks-deprived people in thirsty Texas* with an interactive virtual fireworks show. No, really. Check the link. They do suggest that for a really good simulation of the Independence Day show you should first turn off the air conditioning to get the full experience of being outdoors on a July night; then, after watching the virtual fireworks, go sit in your car for 45 minutes to simulate the post-show traffic jam.

I think I'll stay in the AC and re-read the Declaration of Independence. It still reads pretty well.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

You tell 'em, Mr. Jefferson.

I hope that, as a country, we still have the collective spine demonstrated by the 56 gentlemen who signed this document, many of whom paid dearly for having done so.

(*Round Rock and Georgetown are going ahead with their fireworks shows. If Austin goes up in flames because of a straying Round Rocket, we're going to declare them colonies and tax the bejasus out of them.)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Oops

Some time after writing the previous post, it occurred to me - not that it matters - that I'm probably not getting my eyes checked tomorrow. The optometrist's office probably won't even be open tomorrow. Reset alarm clock for Tuesday morning.

Now I'm even more confused; I don't know whether it's tonight or tomorrow night that we're not having the traditional lakeside fireworks show because Texas is so dry that we don't light matches outside this summer. Heck, we even avoid heated argument and inflaming rhetoric. Nobody wants to be the one to send Central Texas up in flames in the middle of the Dryest Summer in Living Memory. It's actually worse than 1951. It's time to recycle my father's old joke from the Seven Year Drought:

Bartender says, "I give up, it's never going to rain again."
First man in the bar says, "I'll bet you twenty-five bucks you're wrong."
They shake on it and first man leaves.
Second man in the bar says, "Are you crazy? There's no way you can win that bet."
Bartender says, "No, you're crazy; I've collected on that bet three times already."

It's never going to rain again.

The trouble with invisible thread...

...is that it's really, really hard to see.

I will bear this in mind next time I machine-quilt something. Is the time it takes to change threads for different areas of the quilt really more of a nuisance than constantly chasing a thread that's so fine I can't see what I'm doing?

Heck, a lot of the time I had trouble seeing the quilted line. It's easier now that I've worked my way down to the bottom of the quilt, where there's a layer of Solvy covering the top layer of corals. Still, I'm looking forward to a switch to brightly colored threads as I do some FME to finish the bottom edge.

Meanwhile, I'm getting my eyes checked tomorrow. Although I suspect the doctor will tell me the current prescription is already as good as it's going to get and the only problem is that I'm OLD. It's hell getting spare parts for something that was made in 1947.

Friday, July 1, 2011

How well do you see color?

Test yourself here.

I got a 27, which isn't disgraceful for someone over 60, but I had expected to do a lot better.

(Via Ann Althouse.)

The die is cast.


Les jeux sont faits. The Rubicon has been crossed. I've drunk the Kool-aid....I've spray-adhered the beautiful ombred sheer fabric onto the front of the piece and have begun quilting.

Above is a close-up of the "improved" corals after I added those transfer-painted bits of lace. Everything above the bottom edge of the quilt will be somewhat obscured by the sheer overlay, then I'm going to put some more coral pieces on top of it. In fact, production is momentarily stopped since it occurred to me late last night that it would be a heck of a lot easier to spray-adhere the new corals down and quilt them into place rather than applique-ing them down later. So I'm back to the stage of pinning stuff up, wandering around the room and saying, "Hmmmm...." Fortunately, since the Great Clear-Out, there is actually some floor space in which to wander; I wonder how long that will last?

Taking snapshots of the piece and downloading them to the computer seems to help me figure out what arrangements work. Anybody know why this is helpful? I haven't a clue.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The most interesting window curtains you'll ever see



After pinning up some painted lace "coral" and staring at the results for a while, I felt it needed some brighter colors and some lighter lace dripping off the bottom edge. So I went thrift-shopping and came home with an armload of polyester lace curtains, and got out the transfer paints the girls had given me Christmas before last, and which had been sitting unused and unloved during the months of depression.

These paints are a delight to use. First you squeeze out a few drops of different colors, moosh them around on a piece of paper, and let them dry. (You can also paint very delicate, precise designs if that's what you want; in this case I just wanted a general look of glowing colors.) Any kind of paper will do; I used the back sides of a first draft, because I have a lot of first and partial drafts lying around. That was plain old cheapest-available copy paper from the office supply store, and it worked fine.



Once the paint's dry, you can start having fun. Cover your ironing surface with newsprint, lay out your polyester fabric, put the painted paper color-side down, and start ironing color onto fabric. G&S Dye, the source for these particular paints, says you can expect to get two good transfers out of every painted page, but with lace you get a lot more; I painted four pages and used only one. The stuff has no detectable hand at all, which will be useful if I ever want to drape the lace gracefully.



The whole piece is under the sewing machine right now, where I'm tacking down the pinned-on laces as a subtle hint that I'd like them to stay right where they are during the next phases.

Thrift shops have a ton of polyester lace curtains; I didn't use a third of what I bought. One piece even has sea motifs - starfish and shells and whatnot - worked into the lace. I'm saving those for the next water-themed piece, which is clear in my mind but not yet so good in Poser Figure Artist.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Just Beachy



And very pleasant it was, too. Warm enough to slosh up and down in the water, cool enough to sit on the balcony and watch the waves rolling in. Despite the warning signs, I encountered no rattlesnakes and only one moribund jellyfish. And I now have a world-class collection of images of water foaming over sand.

When not in the water I was reading, among other things, Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, for no particular reason than that I'd never read it before and occasionally I get this incomprehensible desire to become better educated. And no, that wasn't all I took down to read on the beach, but you really don't want to hear about the old John Grisham thriller or the new sex-and-shopping trashy novel. Huh? You do? Well, too damn bad. Go buy your own soft porn. I want to talk about Edmund Burke. Who was not only an extremely good writer, but almost prescient.

A lot of Reflections can be summarized and translated into modern English as follows: "You idiots, you had a system that was (sort of) working, and instead of trying to improve it, you broke it. Oh, my God, did you ever break it. This is not going to turn out well. There is no way this can possibly turn out well."

Bear in mind that he's writing in 1790, before the execution of Louis XVI, before the Reign of Terror.

He also had things to say that are eerily applicable to the present day: "Nations are wading deeper and deeper into an ocean of boundless debt." Needless to say, he didn't think that was going to work out so well either.

But what really impressed me was this:

"In the weakness of one kind of authority, and in the fluctuation of all, the officers of an army will remain for some time mutinous and full of faction, until some popular general, who...possesses the true spirit of command, shall draw the eyes of all men upon himself. Armies will obey him on his personal account....But the moment in which that event shall happen, the person who really commands the army is your master - the master of your king, the master of your Assembly, the master of your whole republic."

He wrote that in 1790 - and in 1799, two years after Burke's death, what did the French get? Napoleon Bonaparte.

I expect his spirit was looking down from Heaven and saying sadly, "I tried to tell you."

Friday, June 17, 2011

In progress...



I've been happily applying clumps of bamboo fiber and long water-weedy trails of dyed ribbon to "Drowned Woman." Now it's time to step back and...ok, first I need to pick out and re-sew that one piece of ribbon that has an angle in it. And then I get to pin up various bits of painted lace that look, I hope, very coral-ish, and stare at the thing, and try to decide if that's too much, and pin up the ombre sheer that's to overlay the whole piece and see how it looks. The thing is, I painted a lot of lace, and I don't think there's room for more than 3 or 4 pieces, and...oh, well. I can see another water-themed quilt in my near future; I've got to do something with all the leftovers from this piece, hand-dyed sparkly ribbon and silk ribbon and gauze and organza and painted lace.

Probably won't make a decision before we leave for the beach, where I plan to spend several days placidly bobbing up and down in salt water, alternating with hand quilting "Shrine Composition II."

Sunday, June 12, 2011

For one brief shining moment...

...there was actually something like Cleanliness and Order in my sewing room. I've been clearing out my stash and classifying/putting away the pile of Things I Don't Know What to Do With that had gradually engulfed the cutting table, the little table beside it, and was encroaching upon the sewing machine table beside that. The Elder Spawn is planning a yard sale and was happy to carry away 2 large boxes of fabric and 3 bags of yarn; that helped considerably. Anyway, today I was feeling almost-done... and then I got ambitious. "That quilt I started yonks ago and got stuck on... the pieces and possible trims are filling up two big plastic boxes. I really ought to toss it and put away the fabric and then I'd be able to get, say, the two boxes of silk scraps off the floor and into the closet."

Well, whaddaya know, I'm not "stuck" any more. I've been happily stitching down cheesecloth "hair" on the floating figure.

A bit of background: this piece was inspired by a WWI poster based on the sinking of the Lusitania and a poem by Elinor Wylie. I'll spare you the poem (for now) but here's a scan of the poster:



So, you see, the "hair" has to look as though it's floating. I'm reasonably happy with the result:



And sewing is a LOT more fun than folding fabric and deciding what to do with various odds and ends.

And now my cutting table looks like this:



But there was that moment, earlier today, when the table was actually clear of everything but a cutting mat, a ruler, an iron, and the box for Mistyfuse scraps.

I should have taken a picture.

Monday, June 6, 2011

As the dust clears...



So this week’s excuse for not blogging is that I've been shoveling out the sewing room, which is boring enough to do without writing about it too. Also, I’ve been trying to wait until I wouldn’t be lured seduced tempted to make tasteless puns. It’s really hard difficult to avoid feeling a certain relish satisfaction schadenfreude at seeing how thoroughly Anthony Weiner has cooked destroyed himself with a week of De Nile lies climaxing culminating in today’s arousing exciting surreal press conference. Ok, this is too hard difficult; I need a stiff strong drink.

And the picture has nothing to do with anything, except that with the sewing room in the state of chaos created by a serious cleaning and reorganization, about all I can do is fool around in Photoshop, combining a picture of some arches in Jaipur with a view of water churning behind the Seattle ferry.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Sky Stairs, and a stray flippant thought



I opened up my news browser to a flurry of headlines saying that the Japanese seriously underestimated the tsunami risk when they built Fukushima.

A while ago, there was a story in the New York Times claiming that along the east coast of Japan there are carved stones set into the earth at intervals with inscriptions that translate roughly to "Don't build below this stone for fear of tsunamis." The story was about one village that actually read the manual and followed the instructions. They survived the tsunami.

So maybe the Japanese should go back to those stones and add a footnote: "Especially if you're building something with the potential to glow in the dark for the next ten thousand years."

And no, the picture doesn't have anything to do with all this. I'm just playing around a lot more in Photoshop now that I've got SuperPrinter and can, at least theoretically, print out images large enough to see the details without actually having your nose right up against the quilt. This is a staircase and a planet "built" out of a Hubble space photo.

As for how SuperPrinter and I are getting along...well, let's discuss that some other time. I think we're building a relationship, but it is fraught with frustration.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

AutoPrez?

Apparently President Obama didn't actually sign the four-year extension of the Patriot Act. After all, he's in Europe. It would be inconvenient.

Instead, he authorized having it signed by the Autopen, which is used to reproduce his signature on things like letters from the White House.

Making history. Indeed.

Inquiring minds begin to wonder: We've got the TOTUS (Teleprompter Of The United States) and the ASSUS (Automatic Signature Signer of the United States) on this side of the Atlantic.

Maybe Obama could just stay in Europe, and leave TOTUS and ASSUS to run things over here?

Monday, May 23, 2011

President speak with forked tongue

OK, okay. Everybody and his brother, including Mr. Netanyahu, seems convinced that President Obama really truly meant that Israel-Palestine negotiations should start with the indefensible pre-Six-Day-War borders. Has nobody explained to this man (I mean our leader, not Israel's) that you don't start negotiations by announcing what one side has to give up? My grandfather the horse trader could have taught him a thing or two. But then, my grandfather the horse trader could have traded Abbas a blind mule in return for giving up the right of return and recognizing Israel...and he would have made the PA leader think he was getting a good deal. It's really unfair to expect the constitutional law professor from Harvard to dicker as well as a semi-literate poor white man.

But that's not the forked tongue part. That came during his speech to AIPAC.

First: I indicated on Thursday that the recent agreement between Fatah and Hamas poses an enormous obstacle to peace. No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction.

Very next paragraph: And yet, no matter how hard it may be to start meaningful negotiations under current circumstances, we must acknowledge that a failure to try is not an option.

So...Israel can't be expected to negotiate with Hamas/Fatah, except Israel must negotiate with Hamas/Fatah ?!?!?

Oh, well. Every so often I start to get upset about the President's predilection for backing Israel into a corner before peace negotiations even start. Then I remember that it's all froth upon the water, because as even he agrees, you can't negotiate with somebody who will accept nothing less than your total destruction.

But it's poisonous froth. Israel's position is perilous enough without creating the world perception that America no longer supports her.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Yes, but which 1967 borders?

Everybody I know is jumping up and down and screaming about Obama's comment that Israel should return to "the 1967 borders." I'm curious about the ambiguity here. Does he mean the borders of May 1967, when Israel was about 9 miles wide in the middle and had the West Bank and the Golan Heights looking down on them? Or does he mean the borders of July 1967, when Israel had Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and all of the Sinai? See, there was this little war in June 1967. It changed the shape of the map quite a bit.

A purely intellectual question, this. There is no peace process. Israel cannot make peace with people whose avowed object is to destroy Israel. As long as Palestinian kindergartens teach their children hatred and "martyrdom," all this haggling about borders and settlements is like the Federal government going after medical marijuana while an apocalyptic drug war sweeps up from Mexico and across our southern borders....Oh, wait. That's happening too. Um, it's like cutting $53 billion from the budget when we're over 14 trillion in debt?...Oops, another bad analogy.

Where are the grownups when we need them?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

It's here!

The wide-format printer, that is. It's... um... large. Very large. And heavy. All I've accomplished so far is scrubbing the place where it's going to sit, because it's pretty clear I'm not going to be picking this sucker up every week to dust under and around it. And I have retired to the living room to peruse the 150 page manual.

Fortunately, a quick glance at the manual reassures me that I don't have to absorb anything like 150 pages of information. Wide borders, lots of space between paragraphs, lots of diagrams, and the usual safety instructions for morons. Like,

"This printer weighs 43 pounds. If you use a stand for the printer, make sure it can support at least 43 pounds."

"Take care not to spill liquid on the printer."

"For California customers only: The lithium batteries in this product contain Perchlorate Material." Which raises rather more questions than it answers. Is Perchlorate Material dangerous only in California? Or do they ship non-Perchlorated batteries to the other 49 states? And this thing plugs into the wall, in fact they're quite frantic about using the provided power cord and no other - so what the heck are the batteries for?

And, my personal favorite: "Do not drink the ink in the cartridges."

Enough hard thinking for one day; I'm going out for Mexican food with husband, one of my many brothers-in-law who happens to be in town, and the Elder Spawn, who just arrived after a hectic day at work and fell on the couch saying, "I need a drink. And food. And did I mention a drink?"

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A magical evening




Okay, it's not my favorite opera. In fact, it's probably my least favorite Mozart opera. The music is great, but the pompous, misogynistic libretto always annoys me. So this weekend's performance offered a threefer. A ballet choreographed by Stephen Mills. Mozart's music. And no words! Just ninety minutes of wonderful dancing and innovative scenes (they used shadow-puppet type screens for things like the serpent at the begining and Pamina and Tamino's trials by water and fire at the end.) Papageno was brilliantly done, with a flock of dancers in brilliant tutus following him as his "birds" - a lot better than having him carry the traditional cage. The pas de deux of repentance and forgiveness between Pamina and Sarastro brought tears to my eyes.

Just one quibble, and it's a minor one. Sarastro is supposed to be a great, wise, benevolent magician, the foil to the evil Queen of the Night (which always leads me to speculate: if he's all virtue and she's all vice, how did they get together to beget Pamina?). Anyway, I've never heard a Sarastro who was half as impressive as the Queen of the Night, but I thought that might be the fault of the pompous, mystical, misogynistic lines he's given.

Alas, even in ballet he just isn't very convincing. Maybe that's because of the intrinsic difficulty of portraying Good vs. Evil. (After all, in Paradise Lost, Lucifer has all the best lines.) Then, the costuming for this production didn't help: difficult for any man to look great and impressive in a white dress and ballet slippers. When he was joined by six priests in slightly shorter white dresses and they all started pirouetting around the stage I found myself thinking that it's been a long time since I read Greenmantle, and that triggered what they reminded me of: whirling dervishes.

Anyway, apart from the whirling dervishes, it was a fine ballet and I hope it has many more performances. Even Steve enjoyed it, though being ignorant of the plot he seldom had any idea what was supposed to be going on. I did try to explain to him that the "plot" of this particular opera is of such mind-numbing stupidity that it's impossible for the human brain to retain it, but he kept squinting at the program notes and trying to make sense of it. Having heard the opera enough times to know there is no sense to be made, I was able to just relax and enjoy the dancing.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The joy of digital printing



I'm getting a wide-format printer!!!

I'm in the middle of making my second art quilt using digital photos (the first is lying around waiting for me to add some hand embroidery and beads and stuff, which is why I haven't posted any pictures of it yet) and have decided that I really really love incorporating photographs into my work and want to do more of it. A lot more. And being limited to an 8x11 size is frustrating in a lot of ways, not least being that I frequently want to print non-rectangular images and these get pretty darn small when you squeeze them down inside an 8x11 rectangle.

So...Wide format. Pigment inks. It's in the hands of FedEx even as I write this.

The possibility of being able to print nice large 16x20 images has revived my interest in digital photocollage; I did a lot of that some years ago but eventually lost interest because I couldn't print the collages out large enough to make the imagery really part of the quilt. I like to play around with masks and layering and subtle merging of images, and something like the photo above would only look like a small dark blotch at 8 x 11. This would be even worse:

Monday, May 2, 2011

Champagne and Fireworks

That's how Austin was feeling last night, when the news of Osama Bin Laden's death was announced. Who says revenge is a dish best eaten cold? I would have preferred this revenge served up hot and sizzling on September 12, 2001. But even after nearly ten years, it's pretty tasty. It's not an end to much of anything - I'm sure the Taliban and Al-Qaeda aren't going to beat their AK-47's into ploughshares just because Dear Leader is gone - but it's a tasty morsel all the same.

It would have been even tastier if the President had used this as an occasion to announce, "Our work here is done and we're bringing our troops home from Afghanistan." Sounds so much better than "We've been here for ten years and we're not making any progress and we're leaving," which would be my second-choice announcement. Oh, well.

(Now if I were Osama, I'd have stashed away, oh, 40 or 50 non-event-specific videos ranting against the Great Satan with instructions to release them slowly over the next ten years just to keep Americans doubting and worrying. Let's hope Bin Laden wasn't as sneaky as I am.)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Shrine Composition #1

...because I really suck at making up titles, and last year when I thought I was going to do a whole series of quilts around the idea of shrines this seemed like a great way to avoid the title problem forever and ever, that's why. Unfortunately for this plan, after Shrine Composition #2 (now being hand quilted I veered off in a totally different direction. Anyway, here's a not-very-good picture of #1; when the design board's clear again I'll put up the photo lights and take a better picture.



Here's a look at the central section of woven tubes:



And here are a couple of those dangly strings of beads I was whingeing about making:



and here's a really detailed closeup of three beads so that you can appreciate their full, craggy, glitzy, comples, multilayered glory.


Looking at the pictures reminds me that I really do love these beads.

I just don't want to make any more of them for a while.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Basket of Beads



This is what happens when you don't think things through carefully:

I made a few of these beads with painted Tyvek and embossing powder and loved them and finally figured out a way to incorporate them into a quilt. The middle section of the quilt is composed of woven tubes and every other square is tied down with a short Tyvek bead. That required 40 beads. All well and good. I went on cheerfully designing with some strong verticals that looked sort of like columns, planning to decorate each column with a string of 8 or 9 longer Tyvek beads which I would, of course, have plenty of time to make while quilting the thing...

...Fast forward: I got to the binding stage and then remembered oh yeah, I have to make some more multi-layered, holey, embossed Tyvek beads to finish the thing.

I have now become quite painfully aware that it takes fifteen minutes to make each of these little suckers - and that's with the "efficiency" of actually making a three-bead-long tube and slicing it into sections.

I think I've got 63 beads now, albeit of charmingly varied dimensions. If I don't have that many, some of the inner columns will have shorter bead strings than the outer columns because I don't ever want to see Tyvek or embossing powder or a heat gun again!

(This is actually not literally true. During the final bead-making effort, a slip of the hot knife revealed a whole new world of possibilities to explore: mokume gane Tyvek beads! It is, however, true that I am quite willing to wait a few weeks before launching the exploration.)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Truly amazing altered books

Normally "altered books" make me a little uncomfortable, because I am, or was, a writer; and I'm still a reader; and I'm kind of attached to, you know, the actual contents of books. But these pieces by Brian Dettmer take the concept of altered books into a whole new dimension. Go take a look. They're wonderful.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A lot of poorly dressed people bashing at each other

And no, I'm not referring to the Wisconsin protestors, who by all accounts have been very civil. It's a movie: The Eagle, based on Rosemary Sutcliff's YA novel The Eagle of the Ninth. I've always liked the book, and the trailer for the movie looked okay, so Steve and I went to see it the other day.

And oh, dear Lord, what a lousy job they made of it; replacing virtually every element of the plot with a cartoonish exaggeration. The opening was actually pretty good, but after that...what were they thinking?

Book: young Roman who's been invalided out of the army and who speaks some British wants to go north of the Wall with his British slave, disguised as a traveling eye doctor, to find out what happened to his father's legion - the Ninth Legion that disappeared ten years ago.

Movie: "Hey, let's have him speak absolutely no British, and let's not give him a cover story, and let's not give him a better plan than just heading north at random, and let's have him and his slave arguing loudly in Latin for weeks before anybody notices!"

Book: they find the lost Eagle of the legion and devise a sneaky way to get out of the village and disarm suspicion. (I don't want to spoil the book for anybody)

Movie: they snatch the Eagle and get the hell out of Dodge at dawn, because it's going to be so much fun to be chased the length of Scotland by furious British tribes.

Book: they encounter one soldier from the lost legion who survived by surrendering and marrying into a British tribe.

Movie: There's not just one survivor from the lost legion, there are forty of them! And none of them have really bad rheumatism yet! And they show up just in time to help our heroes fight off the furious British tribes! They couldn't do that ten years ago when they had a whole legion, but they can do it now because they really, really care! And they're not the least bit worried about what this will do to their relationship with the tribes once our heroes have gone their way!

Okay, for the end of my rant I'm going to reverse the order, and give you a quotation from the book first. This is how Rosemary Sutcliff illustrated the cultural divide between British and Romans:

"Esca thought for a while, staring straight before him. 'Look at the pattern embossed here on your dagger-sheath,' he said at last. 'See, here is a tight curve, and here is another facing the other way to balance it, and here between them is a little round stiff flower; and then it is all repeated here, and here, and here again. It is beautiful, yes, but to me it is as meaningless as an unlit lamp.'

Marcus nodded as the other glanced up at him. 'Go on."

Esca took up the shield which had been laid aside...'Look now at this shield-boss. See the bulging curves that flow from each other as water flows from water and wind from wind, as the stars turn in the heaven and blown sand drifts into dunes. These are the curves of life; and the man who traced them had in him knowledge of things that your people have lost the key to - if they ever had it.' He looked up at Marcus again very earnestly. 'You cannot expect the man who made this shield to live easily under the rule of the man who worked the sheath of this dagger.'"

Movie: I HATE YOU ROMANS! I WANT TO KILL ALL ROMANS!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Snow day - Austin style



When I got up this morning there was a beautiful white frosting over everything and Littlefield Fountain had frozen overnight. It isn't lasting, of course. This is a snapshot out of our front window taken around 11:30. It's already melted off the streets and cars are zipping past as usual. But never mind - the city has officially shut down for today. The public schools are closed. Austin Community College is closed. The University of Texas is closed. State offices are closed.

The rest of the country can now laugh themselves silly at the concept of a city that shuts down at the first hint of snow.

I think the real reason is that snow is so rare here, everybody wants to run out and play in it. Grownups too. It would be cruel to deny them the opportunity.

Now I'm going to go out and make a couple of snowballs before it all goes away.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Egypt Burning


(Image from SkyNews)

...and possibly the rest of the Middle East as well. No, I don't have any idea what's going to come out of this. I guess it's not a foregone conclusion that Mubarak's going to fall...wait a minute, let me just check Al Jazeera's live blog...Nope, they're still calling for him to step down.

I'm just waiting with my jaw dropped, along with most of the rest of the Western world.

It's really hard to combine hand quilting with a constant compulsion to open my laptop and check the latest news, though.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Coming soon to a courtroom near you?

There's a growing list of people who have been prosecuted in various European countries for speaking negatively about Islam. One whose trial is ongoing is Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff. (Yeah, I know, it's hard to spell. So inconsiderate of those Europeans to have funny-sounding names.)

She was originally charged with "inciting hatred” following a seminar she gave on political Islam which was blatantly misreported by an Austrian journalist who attributed quotes from other people to ESW, and also quoted remarks during the breaks as if they were parts of the seminar.

On January 18 her lawyer insisted on playing the tapes (made without ESW's knowledge or consent) of the seminar. There are four hours of tapes, but Dr. Rami felt that the first forty-five minutes were enough to demonstrate that there was no incitement to hatred; on the contrary, the tone of the seminar was one of sober respect.

The response? The judge decided to add a charge of “denigrating religious symbols of a recognized religious group.”

She is being prosecuted for quoting the Qur'an and Islamic scholars.

Apparently there are Muslims in Europe who believe that their religion can be defamed by quoting its own writings.

Gosh. Isn't that kind of, I don't know, self-defeating? "My religion is so awful that quoting my own sacred writings is defamatory?"

It would be funny if it weren't so dangerous.

If I were to quote Deuteronomy 24:47-48 or Isaiah 65:11-12 (look it up, folks; I'm not going to do all the work here) and say, "See, Christianity also supports the death penalty for apostasy," do you think believing Christians would sue me for quoting the Bible? Or would they rush to point out why I'm mistaken?

European countries have nothing like our First Amendment and over the last ten years, they have been increasingly passing laws forbidding criticism of religion, defining such criticism as "hate speech," etc.

Why am I worried about this?

Western Europe and the USA have been the poster children for democracy and human rights. Now Europe is crumbling from within.

And here? Think about the calls for limiting freedom of speech after the shootings in Tucson. Think about the total lack of support for Molly Ivins from anybody in power. Think about the fact that CAIR - the supposedly "moderate" Council for American-Islamic Relations - regularly tries to intimidate and silence critics of Islam by the threat of lawsuits - a threat that can be very effective if used by a large organization with deep pockets against an individual speaking on his own dime.

Please think about this.

Don't just go waffling on about how "all religions are really the same," and "Islam is a religion of peace." Are there good, kind, peaceful Muslims? Sure there are. Lots of them.

But a basic premise of Islam is that it's not just a religion, but a complete way of life: theology, law and government must all conform.

If there's no separation between church and state, it's not a religion; it's a political movement.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A tisket, a tasket, start another basket



This has not been a good (achoo!) period (sniffle) for getting things done. If this is Austin, it must be cedar fever time. And everything I take for the constant snuffles makes me drowsy and stupid.

The other day it RAINED. Oh joy, I thought. Today I get to breathe and think at the same time! I'll go trim Shrine Composition 2, and make a backing for it, and, and...

Wrong.

It also rained in the sewing room. To add insult to injury, it rained in the corner where I had left SC #2. So the sewing room is kind of unusable, because all the stuff I had to move so as to mop the floor is filling up the room, and there are bolts of cloth propped up to drip-dry, and the quilt top is hanging in the shower. And I sort of don't want to put anything back in the Drip Area until we have had a serious conversation with the roofer.

Never mind. I'm resilient. There were lots of other things to do. I could wind all those skeins I dyed the other day.

As the picture shows, I actually did make some progress with winding skeins into neat little balls and tossing them into a basket. But when I abandoned this less than totally thrilling project for a while, my husband had organized the basket of yarn and two vases into a still life which he was drawing.

A truly resilient person would simply have brought out another basket and continued winding. Or picked up another one of the many UFP's littering the house. Me? I know an omen when I see one. I sat down and read a nice library book.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

"This animal is dangerous...

...when attacked, it defends itself." -old story, probably apocryphal, about a zoo sign

I'm trying to stay away from the unseemly sight of the mainstream media slavering and drooling as they target Sarah Palin over the Giffords shooting, but I can't. The sight has a kind of awful fascination, like the really disgusting watch-this-part-with-your-eyes-closed bits in a horror film.

Fortunately, The Anchoress has summed it up so well that I don't have to:

Misreporting Giffords death, unsure of anything about the shooter, mostly disinterested in the stories of heroism that helped to end the gruesome attack, the media lined Palin into their sites and pulled a trigger. They called in all the usual suspects and the narrative rang forth: Sarah Palin–and by extension anyone who agrees with her, supports her, or works in alternative-but-non-liberal-media–was the deliverer of death to America.

Many of us who are not emphatic fans of Sarah Palin–and even some who vociferously dislike her–have watched the press with jaws-ever-dropping.

Sarah Palin, on the other hand–who released a brief, appropriate statement of prayerful support for the victims, and said nothing more–was excoriated in a manner so out-of-control, so wild-eyed and over-the-top that it was reminiscent of the press in the aftermath of her 2008 speech at the Republican Convention, where they had resembled nothing so much as fulminating beasts of rage, unable to hold back their frustrated howls.

Yesterday, they were complaining that she was “hiding” from the media, who insisted on making her part of a story to which she had no connection.

And so, today, Sarah Palin–probably aware that she was damned if she did, and damned if she didn’t–made a statement. It was actually a very good, if a trifle long, statement. Immediately upon her delivering it, the media, like jackals went on the attack. ABC news, in a breathtaking example of cognitive dissonance, wrote: “Sarah Palin, once again, has found a way (!) to become part of the story. ”

The (!) is mine. The press hauls this woman into the story, makes her a focal point of it, and then asserts that she has inserted herself into it. Staggering.


I've tried to excerpt the main points, but you really should read the whole thing.

What I find most discouraging about this whole thing is that the possibility of reasonable, fact-based discussion between people with different points of view seems to have receded until it's vanishingly small. It's absolutely true that there's a group of people whose minds are closed to "facts and reason and science," but they're not the usual suspects.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Leafing It All Behind



The other day I took a snapshot of this wonderful hole-y leaf. Since then we've had several chilly, damp, dreary days during which my communings with nature have been limited to walks around the block. Brisk walks.

In between brisk little walks and sessions at the sewing machine with Shrine Composition 2 (otherwise known as The Big Purple Thing That I Have to Stitch Together So I Can Put Something Else on the Design Board), I've been playing with this image in Photoshop.

Since the leaf is virtually monochromatic, it was easy to select just the leaf and work on that as a separate layer. First I played with Photoshop's Layer Style options. Using Drop Shadow gave a bit more crispness and definition to the image.



Adding Bevel gives the leaf a little more definition but makes it unpleasantly (to my mind) smooth...



...so I applied a texturizing filter - Craquelure - over that.



Then, going back to the original image, I played with the Atmospherizer filter from Harry's Filters via The Plugin Site to get some decidedly un-natural colors:



then made it a little brighter by duplicating the atmospherized layer and blending it with the previous layer using the "Hue" blending style.



Back to the original again, I used Cybia's Edgeworks plug-in with the "Bright" option to get this:

Once again, I intensified it by blending two copies of the leaf layer, this time using Linear Burn:

A different Edgeworks option - Shine - produced this from the original:

and I blended this layer with a copy of the atmospherized leaf, using Multiply, to jazz it up a little:

Finally, for a definitely science-fictional effect, I used Redfield's Jama 3D to get this image:


All the third-party plugins I've mentioned are freeware and should be downloadable from the links in the post. I haven't tried them with Photoshop Elements but I think they'd probably work with that program too.

Now I'm ready to print some of these on cotton and organza and play with them on the design board - only two loooong seams to do on Shrine Composition 2 first.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Are you serious?

I was going to post some pictures of an interesting leaf after various Photoshop manipulations... Maybe tomorrow. The tragedy in Arizona has soaked up all my energy for today.

I just read a report that the shooter was trying to reload when a woman grabbed his arm. Which makes me think...I'm glad he didn't get to load a second magazine and continue the carnage...and wouldn't it have been a good thing if he'd been unable to buy 33-round magazines in the first place? Those used to be illegal.

George Packer has a post in the New Yorker in which he seems to be arguing that "it doesn't matter why he did it" but it's still the fault of "right-wing hostile rhetoric."

Hmm. I don't recall the left as coming up short on hostile rhetoric while Bush was president; I even engaged in some myself.

But where Packer really strains the bounds of reason is in this assertion:

Even the reading of the Constitution on the first day of the 112th Congress was conceived as an assault on the legitimacy of the Democratic Administration and Congress.


The Constitution is right-wing hostile rhetoric?

As was famously said in another context:

"Are you serious? Are you serious?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Score one for the good guys

As the Washington Post reports:

THE COPTIC Christian Christmas passed peacefully in Egypt on Thursday night and Friday, thanks in part to the efforts of the country's moderate Muslims. Thousands turned out to help protect churches following the horrific New Year's Day suicide bombing at a Mass in Alexandria that killed at least 23 people. Prominent Muslims, including President Hosni Mubarak's son, Gamal, attended Christmas Eve services; the country's most senior Muslim leader, Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, has led the way in condemning the attack and calling for tolerance.


True, as the rest of the article goes on to point out, the Egyptian government's record for religious tolerance on the whole is sorry and getting worse. This is the same regime that declared Nasr Abu Zayd an apostate and effectively ran him out of the country for daring to study the Koran as a historical text rather than as the unchanging, perfect, revealed word of God. It's the same regime that enforces religious laws that discriminate against non-Muslims in innumerable ways.

But I think the Washington Post was wrong when they snarkily reported this story under the headline "Egypt's Show of Tolerance." Never mind government policies: thousands of individual human beings voluntarily turned out to put their bodies between worshippers of a different faith and suicide bombers. That's brave and decent and good. I don't know if I'd have the courage to do that. Can't we honor these individuals without condoning the government they're stuck with?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

No, it's NOT a "lunatic fringe"

As everybody in the known universe is aware by now, yesterday saw the murder of Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab province in Pakistan. Taseer was assassinated for suggesting that it might just possibly be a good idea to amend the mandatory death sentence for insulting Islam - a suggestion that engendered massive riots and a nationwide protest strike a couple of days ago.

Bear in mind that "insulting Islam" can include anything from a scholar's observation that there are Aramaic words in the Koran to, well, a cartoon.

In a brilliant example of doublethink, the Guardian described this as "a killing that exposed a deep-rooted vein of extremism" just sentences before saying this about Pakistani scholars' reaction (bolding mine):

A prominent group of Islamic scholars said that the funeral prayers should not be offered and warned that anyone who expressed grief for Taseer could suffer the same fate.

The Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat Pakistan group represents scholars from the mainstream Barelvi sect of Sunni Muslims. Although considered moderate, they have led protests in favour of the blasphemy law.

"More than 500 scholars of the Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat have advised Muslims not to offer the funeral prayers of Governor Punjab Salman Taseer, nor try to lead the prayers," the group said.

"Also, there should be no expression of grief or sympathy on the death of the governor, as those who support blasphemy of the prophet are themselves indulging in blasphemy."


Now, a quick quiz for those who may or may not have been paying attention.

Moderate. Mainstream. Extremist.

Which of these words does not belong with the other two?

Now just in case anybody actually reads this post and wants to go jumping on me for being anti-Muslim, I am not saying all Muslims are evil murdering bastards who assassinate anybody who disagrees with them. Salman Taheer obviously wasn't. I lived in a Muslim neighborhood in Africa for two years and my neighbors never expressed an Islamic duty to kill me; they were real nice people. They did keep wishing out loud that I would convert to Islam so they could fix me up with a nice Muslim boy, but what the heck; my grandmother said essentially the same thing, if you substitute "Methodism, Methodist" for "Islam, Muslim."

I just want to point out that the Evil Murdering Bastards party is not a small fringe of extremists who misunderstand the Koran; it's a large group of mainstream Muslims who understand the Koran perfectly well. Take Sura 5:33, for example:

The punishment of those who wage war against God and His Apostle, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

X-Rated Punctuation Rant

Hysterically funny, if you're the sort of person who really cares about apostrophes (I do) and isn't offended by four-letter words (I spent ten years in the computer business. Once you've enjoyed a heated difference of opinion with a programmer from CalTech, your ears get sort of numbed to the profanity.)

With those caveats in mind, read on here. Preferably not while drinking coffee.

206 Bones, with a Side of Coconut Milk

It's a dull, drizzly afternoon and I've been vegging out with a good suspense novel - Kathy Reichs' 206 Bones. And admiring her heroine, who starts the book tied up, entombed, cold, and hungry. I don't think it spoils the plot to reveal that she saws through her bonds, kicks out the (cemented shut) door and escapes through a sewer in time to save both her life and her professional reputation; after the 11 previous novels, one wouldn't expect anything less from Temperance Brennan.

But what really impressed me is what Temperance fantasizes about when she first recognizes her situation: Seared ahi tuna. Thai soup with lemongrass and coconut milk. Mussels in wine sauce.

Even when (metaphorically) tied to the railroad tracks, the lady remains a gourmet.

In her situation, I'm pretty sure I would have been focusing on:

(1) the high probability of imminent death
(2) a place to pee
(3) a cheeseburger
and (4) the extremely high probability of imminent death.

In that order.

Given Brennan's indomitability, I guess the least I can do - now that I've finished the book - is to go and have a serious discussion with my sewing machine, which started spitting out disgusting birds' nests of entangled thread yesterday.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Clouds and stones and trees


Judging by the news reports, Central Texas must be the only part of the Northern Hemisphere that isn't freezing. Even Atlanta got 10 inches of global warming the other day. Atlanta. Here we had two bright, crisp, perfect days over the weekend - then today, when I had a chance to get out on a hiking trail, the sky was clouded over. The creek was dry, so I experienced the walk as going through a narrow band of brown trees and gray stones, framed at the bottom by the round white rocks of the creek and at the top by pearlescent clouds. Even so, I found some interesting things to photograph, like this humongous juniper tree trunk with multiple knotholes. It would make a great starting point for embroidery... or maybe for dyeing, with the knotholes marked off by round gathers held by rubber bands and the whole cloth tightly pleated.

Now to figure out how I'd hold the pleats in place...What I envision is a long plastic box that's only 2-4" wide. Sadly, nothing we buy happens to come in a box of those dimensions, so this will have to go on the back burner. It's getting pretty crowded back there, too.