Chugach State Park, Alaska

Photographs by Carl Batreall of Chugach State Park, edited into a video montage. Fabulous. [Some of which I saw originally in this month’s copy of Alaska magazine. You should subscribe, too.] The Chugach State Park is one of the most scenic parks in the world, with a wildlife population that would have had Pliny the…

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I don't know how to choose work that illuminates what my life is about. I don't know what my life is about and don't examine it. My life will define itself as I live it. The movies will define themselves as I make them. As long as the theme is something I care about at the moment, it's enough for me to start work. Maybe work itself is what my life is about.

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The World of Mnemosynea

[reposted from 2008] Take a look at the map of Mnemosynea by clicking on the image. Astute cartophiles (aka map fanatics, such as myself) may find its outline somewhat familiar. Mnemosynea, you may or may not recall, is the world of the Seer and Sword fantasy stories, “Justice is a Two-edged Sword” in Powers of…

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“...To the east and south, where the predawn light had still not appeared, the black landscape was suddenly defined and given depth by first dozens, then hundreds of flickering orange points of light. At first, Charlie didn’t recognize them as boiler fires. There were so many, and they stretched to the horizon, as far as he could see. The steam engineers of the plains were lighting off their fireboxes for the day, warming up the big boilers to make steam...”

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I'm the last person to recommend yet another book about the American Civil War, one of which seems to be published every five minutes, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. You would think by now that every meaningful thing to be said about the War Between the States has been.

But Adam Goodheart's 1861: The Civil War Awakening might be the exception. For one thing, look at the way he sets events then into context with events now. Money quote from a New York Times article adapted from the book, How Slavery Really Ended in America (emphasis mine):

Earthshaking events are sometimes set in motion by small decisions. Perhaps the most famous example was when Rosa Parks boarded a segregated bus in Montgomery, Ala. More recently, a Tunisian fruit vendor’s refusal to pay a bribe set off a revolution that continues to sweep across the Arab world. But in some ways, the moment most like the flight of fugitive slaves to Fort Monroe came two decades ago, when a minor East German bureaucratic foul-up loosed a tide of liberation across half of Europe. On the evening of Nov. 9, 1989, a tumultuous throng of people pressed against the Berlin Wall at Checkpoint Charlie, in response to an erroneous announcement that the ban on travel to the West would be lifted immediately. The captain in charge of the befuddled East German border guards dialed and redialed headquarters to find some higher-up who could give him definitive orders. None could. He put the phone down and stood still for a moment, pondering. “Perhaps he came to his own decision,” Michael Meyer of Newsweek would write. “Whatever the case, at 11:17 p.m. precisely, he shrugged his shoulders, as if to say, ‘Why not?’ . . . ‘Alles auf!’ he ordered. ‘Open ’em up,’ and the gates swung wide.”

The Iron Curtain did not unravel at that moment, but that night the possibility of cautious, incremental change ceased to exist, if it had ever really existed at all. The wall fell because of those thousands of pressing bodies, and because of that border guard’s shrug.

In the very first months of the Civil War — after Baker, Mallory and Townsend breached their own wall, and Butler shrugged — slavery’s iron curtain began falling all across the South. Lincoln’s secretaries John Hay and John Nicolay, in their biography of the president, would say of the three slaves’ escape, “Out of this incident seems to have grown one of the most sudden and important revolutions in popular thought which took place during the whole war.”

Power to the people. I'm sold.

If you haven't seen it, Ken Burns' Emmy Award-winning series, The Civil War, is still the most comprehensive, most insightful, and most heart-wrenching account of the American Civil War ever made, and it may even be the best documentary ever made. I've seen it all the way through twice, and I could watch it again. Video clips here on the PBS website.

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In At Large and At Small, essayist Anne Fadiman (she of Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader fame, one of my favorite books about reading) writes a dozen exceptionally well-written essays on such disparate subjects as coffee, mail and a biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Allow me to allow her to speak for herself.

In "A Piece of Cotton," an essay about the American flag, Fadiman writes, "In the weeks after September 11, I saw for the first time that the flag...has multiple meanings....The red, white, and blue turban worn by the Sikh umbrella vendor a friend walked past in Dupont Circle, not far from the White House, meant Looking like someone and thinking like him are not the same thing....The flags brandished by two cowboy-hatted singers at a country fair we attended on the day the first bombs fell on Afghanistan meant Let's kill the bastards....The flag in our front yard meant We are sad. And we're sorry we've never done this before."

In "Moving" she writes, "We move more than anyone else. In a typical year, one in five Americans relocates, whereas in Japan it's one in ten, in Britain one in twelve, and in Germany one in twenty-five....(Traveling is always thought to be more enjoyable than moving: we envy foreign correspondents but pity army brats)."

In "Procrustes and the Culture Wars" she writes, "If I had to step into a polling booth and vote on Homer's sexual politics, I'd pull the NO lever strenuously. I am therefore very glad that the Odyssey is a poem, not a referendum." I read the Iliad last year for the first time since college. Me, too.

I skipped over the one on catching butterflies but the rest of these essays are engaging and informative. A delightful read.

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