Star Wars vs. Avatar

[from the vaults, July 10, 2011]

Big conversation yesterday at knitting about Star Wars vs. Avatar. (Talking about the first Star Wars film, here.)

My main objection to Avatar is that there isn’t one quotable line in the whole shebang.

In a film speculated to have cost anywhere from $230 million (The New Yorker) to nearly $500 million (The New York Times), it seems like spending a couple of million on a decent writer wouldn’t have been a bad idea. Avatar is beautiful to look at, the new film tech is spectacular, it is unquestionably a game changer, definitely a, um, Star Wars moment in film history, but there is isn’t a single line in it to compare with

Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.


Aren’t you a little short for a storm trooper?

or, hell, even

May the Force be with you.

Don’t get me wrong, I will forever revere James Cameron for Aliens

and Terminator 2

the sources of many great lines, like

They can bill me.


Anybody not wearing 2 million sunblock is gonna have a real bad day.

but there is nothing remotely approaching this caliber of dialogue in Avatar. Although at knitting yesterday Marian did remind me there was one memorable word.


Obvious, much?

The History of Kate Shugak in 20 Objects – 3

WARNING: Spoilers spoken here. Continue reading


A Painting, A Lunar Module, and A Swamp

Today it’s the stories of a painting, a lunar module, and a swamp.

madamex1The first book is called Strapless by Deborah Davis. You’ve all seen the painting whether you know it or not, a voluptuous redhead in a black dress with a plunging neckline. It was Paris, where else, in the 1880s, the time known as La Belle Epoque, the beautiful era, a period of peace and prosperity in Western Europe, and a flourishing time for the arts. In Paris there dwelt two ex-patriate Americans, a young wife determined to use her beauty to become a leader of Parisian society, and a young painter determined to use her beauty to make his name in his profession.

She was Amelie Gautreau, he was John Singer Sargent, and the painting was “The Portrait of Madame X.” Displayed for the first time at the Paris Exhibition in 1884, it so scandalized Parisian society that it almost ruined him. It did ruin her.

Strapless is not only the story of a portrait, though, it is itself a portrait of a time and a place and the people who lived there. Opening the book is like stepping into a time machine. The portrait, which Singer had to buy back from the outraged husband, sat in Singer’s studio for thirty years, and now resides in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. After reading this book, I had to go see it again.

apollo13Chariots for Apollo by Charles Pelligrino and Joshua Stoff is the story of the making of the lunar module, that section of the Apollo spaceship that landed on the moon, and it’s one of the best books ever written about the Apollo program. It begins with a brief history of man’s journey into space which includes social commentary, as in this passage on students in New York being instructed in nuclear holocaust avoidance: “…duck and cover…duck and cover…Who is laughing over there? Be quiet?…We must always remember that: no laughing during a nuclear holocaust…There, on the floor, at age eight, many children were beginning the believe that grown-ups were a little bit nuts. In a few years they would begin to say as much.”

The pride of the engineers who built the ten lunar modules shines through on every page, and their pride is fully justified when the ill-fated mission of Apollo 13 cannibalizes the lunar module to get home. Written with insider knowledge and wry humor, Chariots for Apollo also offers up life lessons like, “Never, never tap a fully loaded rocket with a screwdriver.” In 1960, sixty rocket scientists died in Russia when someone did.

evergladesThe Swamp by Michael Grunwald is a history of how first we dried out the Everglades and are now desperately trying to wet it down again to a reasonable facsimile of its former self. Grunwald has a gift for simile (“It had the panoramic sweep of a desert, except flooded, or a tundra, except melted, or a wheat field, except wild.”) and a good reporter’s nose for the political boondoggling, pork bellying and backroom dealing that form the Everglades’ prime crops, including what really happened in Florida in the 2000 election. Grunwald is an advocate for restoration, no doubt, but his eye is clear, his pen is sharp and he takes no prisoners. He’s not very nice to the Army Corps of Engineers, either, which, since I’m from Seldovia, makes me like him all the more.


The pursuit of public policy contrary to self-interest. Or why governments keep shooting themselves in the foot.

The March of Folly: From Troy to VietnamThe March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam by Barbara W. Tuchman

A book which informed my entire world view. In it, Tuchman posits the existance of folly, or the pursuit of public policy contrary to self-interest–in other words, why nations keep shooting themselves in the foot. She uses the Trojans taking the Greek horse inside the walls of Troy as her template, and then goes on to talk about how the Renaissance popes caused the Reformation, how the British lost America, and how the US lost in Vietnam. A lively, engaging prose style with more than a hint of “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

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Home from above. Way above.

The Kenai Fjords National Park from space.

image from

More national parks as seen from space here. Effing amazing.

I spent a lot of my childhood in the Kenai Fjords before it was a national park. I wrote about it in “The Gift,” an essay in Alaska Women Write.