Monday, May 26, 2008


The elements dominate this coast.
Water rains like a wave thrown upon the land.
The earth transforms into palm fronds and orchids.
The earth is the green avacados, dangling.
Through the shower of rain the blazing sun enters, shimmering with the cool ocean breeze. The air enters our lungs;
The sun warms us, burns us if we go unaware.
The earth becomes our food. And the water: well, are we not 60% water as this vast Pacific merges with the Earth's surface, 60% water.

Then comes the spirit element-- dance, art, emotion, awareness, thought. Love. An all pervasive oneness as a smiling bodhisatva watches over us from the dancing palm tree.

Thursday, May 22, 2008



from Oahu, and especially from the Island of Hawaii, itself...

First a look back into the future:

Sitting Still

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Afloat on the peaceful Pacific

Photo by Jameson

And now all you ever wondered about the Big Island:

Hawaii (island)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Big Island
Landsat mosaic, 1999-2001
Landsat mosaic, 1999-2001
Location in the state of Hawaii
Location in the state of Hawaii
Location 19°34′N, 155°30′W
Area 4,028.0 sq mi (10,432.5 km²)
Rank 1st, largest Hawaiian Island
Highest point Mauna Kea
13,796 ft (4,205 m)[1]
Population 148,677 (as of 2000)
Density 37/sq mi (14/km²)
Official Insignia[2]
Flower Lehua blossom
Color Ula Ula (Red)

The Island of Hawaiʻi (called the Big Island or Hawaiʻi Island) is a volcanic island in the U.S. state of Hawaiʻi in the Pacific Ocean. With an area of 4,028 square miles (10,432 km²), it is the largest island in the United States and larger than all of the other Hawaiian Islands combined.

Hawaiʻi is said to have been named for Hawaiʻiloa, the legendary Polynesian navigator who first discovered it. However, other accounts attribute the name to the legendary land or realm of Hawaiki, a place from which the Polynesians originated (see also Manua), the place where they go in the afterlife, the realm of the gods.

The Island of Hawaiʻi is administered under the County of Hawaiʻi. The county seat is Hilo. It is estimated that as of the year 2003, the island had a resident population of 158,400.



[edit] History

Hawaiʻi was the home island of Kamehameha the Great, who by 1795 had united most of the Hawaiian Islands under his rule after several years of warfare and conquest. He gave his kingdom the name of his native island, which all the islands are now known as, Hawaiʻi. Captain James Cook, who made the Western world aware of these "Sandwich isles", was killed on Hawaiʻi in Kealakekua Bay.

[edit] Geology and geography

The Island of Hawaiʻi is built from five separate shield volcanoes that erupted somewhat sequentially, one overlapping the other. These are (from oldest to youngest):

Interpretation of geological evidence from exposures of old surfaces on the south and west flanks of Mauna Loa led to the proposal that two ancient volcanic shields (named Ninole and Kulani) were all but buried by the younger Mauna Loa.[3] Geologists now consider these "outcrops" to be part of the earlier building of Mauna Loa.

View north from upslope Kohala showing Haleakalā, Maui in the distance
View north from upslope Kohala showing Haleakalā, Maui in the distance

In greatest dimension, the island is 93 miles (150 km) across and has a land area of 4,028.0 square miles (10,432.5 km²),[4] representing 62% of the total land area of the Hawaiian Islands. Measured from its base at the sea floor, to its highest peak, Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world, even taller than Mount Everest, according to the Guinness Book of Records. Traditionally, Hawaiʻi is known as the Big Island because it is the largest of the Hawaiian Islands and some confusion between Hawaiʻi Island and Hawaiʻi State can be avoided.

Because Mauna Loa and Kīlauea are active volcanoes, the island of Hawaiʻi is still growing. Between January 1983 and September 2002, 543 acres (220 ha) of land were added to the island by lava flows from Kīlauea volcano extending the coastline seaward. Several towns have been destroyed by Kīlauea lava flows in modern times: Kapoho (1960), Kalapana (1990), and Kaimū (1990).

Steam plume as Kīlauea red lava enters the ocean at three Waikupanaha and one Ki lava ocean entries. Some surface lava is seen too. The image was taken 04/16/08.
Steam plume as Kīlauea red lava enters the ocean at three Waikupanaha and one Ki lava ocean entries. Some surface lava is seen too. The image was taken 04/16/08.

Hawaiʻi is the southernmost island in the Hawaiian archipelago, and contains the southernmost point in the United States, (Ka Lae). The nearest landfall to the south would be in the Line Islands. To the north is the island of Maui, where East Maui Volcano (Haleakalā) is visible across the Alenuihāhā Channel.

18 miles (29 kilometers) off Hawaiʻi Island's southeast coast is the undersea volcano known as ʻihi. Lōʻihi is an actively erupting seamount that lies 3,200 feet (975 m) below the surface of the ocean. It is thought that continued volcanic activity from Lōʻihi will cause the volcano to eventually breach sea level and later attach at the surface onto Kīlauea, adding even more land to Hawaiʻi's surface area. This "event" is presently predicted for a date several tens of thousands of years in the future.

Hilina Slump or the Great Crack is an 8-mile (13 km) long, 60 feet (18 m) wide and 60 feet (18 m) deep crack in the island, situated in the district of Kaʻū. The Great Crack is one of many series of cracks and rifts that were formed by eruptions and, in fact, is an extension of the southwest rift zone. Often these rifts are the sites of volcanic eruptions and occasionally a rift can be so deep and so fractured that it can cause a chunk of the island to fall into the ocean.

Black Sand Beach Park
Black Sand Beach Park

Some believe that the Great Crack is a result of the south flank of the Big Island moving away from the rest of the island. Speculation abounds that some day, perhaps soon, a major chunk of the island will break away and fall into the ocean, resulting in turn in a huge tsunami and earthquake. This actually does happen every ten thousand years or so, so it is not outside the realm of possibility. Others believe the Great Crack is not a fault that will break the island apart, but instead was created (probably thousands of years ago) as a result of the crust moving apart slightly due to magma forcing itself into the rift zones. The Great Crack has been measured and is tracked and there is no indication that it is enlarging in any way or that the island is shifting near this point. Furthermore, the walls of the crack have been shown to fit together perfectly, thus proving that the crack was a widening of once joined ground.

One can find trails, rock walls, and archaeological sites from as old as the 12th century around the Great Crack. Much of these finds are on the park side of the fence. About 1,951 acres (790 ha) of private land beyond the fence were purchased during the Bill Clinton administration specifically to protect the various artifacts in this area as well as to protect the habitat of the turtles. However, near the end of the crack is an area of land between the fence, the crack and the ocean which is not part of the park land and does have many archaeological artifacts on it.

In 1823 a very fluid flow of lava came out of a 6-mile (10 km) portion of the crack and made its way to the ocean.

Lava enters the Pacific at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in April of 2005, increasing the size of the island.
Lava enters the Pacific at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in April of 2005, increasing the size of the island.

On April 2, 1868, an earthquake in this area with a magnitude estimated between 7.25 and 7.75 on the Richter scale rocked the southeast coast of Hawaiʻi. It triggered a landslide on the slopes of Mauna Loa, five miles (8 km) north of Pahala, killing 31 persons. A tsunami claimed 46 additional lives. The villages of Punaluʻu, Nīnole, Kawaʻa, Honuʻapo, and Keauhou Landing were severely damaged. According to one account, the tsunami "rolled in over the tops of the coconut trees, probably 60 feet (18 m) high ... inland a distance of a quarter of a mile in some places, taking out to sea when it returned, houses, men, women, and almost everything movable." This was reported in the 1988 edition of Walter C. Dudley's book, "Tsunami!" (ISBN 0-8248-1125-9).

On November 29, 1975, a 37-mile (60 km) wide section of the Hilina Slump plunged 11 feet (3 m) into the ocean, widening the crack by 26 feet (8 m). This movement caused a 7.2 magnitude earthquake and a 48 feet (10 m) high tsunami. Oceanfront properties were washed off their foundations in Punaluʻu. Two deaths were reported at Halapē, and 19 other persons were injured.

The northeast coast of the Big Island has also suffered tsunami damage from earthquakes that triggered waves from Chile and Alaska. Downtown Hilo was severely damaged in 1946 and 1960, with many lives lost. Laupāhoehoe alone lost 16 school children and 5 teachers in the 1946 tsunami.

[edit] Demographics

As of 2000, there were 148,677 people, 52,985 households, and 36,877 families residing in the county. The population density was 14/km² (37/mi²). There were 62,674 housing units at an average density of 6/km² (16/mi²). The racial makeup of the county was 31.55% White, 0.47% African American, 0.45% Native American, 26.70% Asian, 11.25% Pacific Islander, 1.14% from other races, and 28.44% from two or more races. 9.49% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 52,985 households out of which 32.20% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 50.60% were married couples living together, 13.20% had a woman whose husband did not live with her, and 30.40% were non-families. 23.10% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.00% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.75 and the average family size was 3.24.

In the county the population was spread out with 26.10% under the age of 18, 8.20% from 18 to 24, 26.20% from 25 to 44, 26.00% from 45 to 64, and 13.50% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females there were 100 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 98 males.

[edit] Economy

The big Island from the air
The big Island from the air

Sugarcane was the backbone of Hawaiʻi Island's economy for more than a century. In the mid-twentieth century, sugar plantations began to downsize and by 1996, the last sugar cane plantation had closed down.

Today, most of Hawaiʻi Island's economy is based on tourism, centered primarily on the leeward (kona) or western coast of the island in the North Kona and South Kohala districts. However, diversified agriculture is a growing sector of the economy of the island. Macadamia nuts, papaya, flowers, tropical and temperate vegetables, and coffee are all important crops. In fact, because of Hawaiʻi Island's reputation for growing beautiful orchids, the island has the nickname "The Orchid Isle." Cattle ranching is also important. The Big Island is home to one of the largest cattle ranches in the United States, Parker Ranch, which is situated on 175,000 acres (708 km²) in and around Kamuela. Astronomy is another industry, with numerous telescopes situated on Mauna Kea owing to the excellent clarity of the atmosphere at its summit and the lack of light pollution.

[edit] Tourist information

The big Island lava flow from the air
The big Island lava flow from the air

The Big Island is famous for its volcanoes. Kīlauea, the most active, has been erupting almost continuously for more than two decades. At the coast where the lava meets the ocean, one can sometimes see billows of white steam rising from off the shoreline. At night, the lava lights up the steam to give an orange glow. When the molten lava makes contact with the ocean, the sea water turns into steam, and the sudden cooling of the lava causes the newly formed lava rocks to explode and crack into small pieces. The broken up lava is further ground into black sands along the shore by the ocean waves. Black sand beaches are common on the Big Island.

[edit] Places of interest

Lehua blossoms (ʻōhiʻa lehua), Hawaiʻi
Lehua blossoms (ʻōhiʻa lehua), Hawaiʻi

[edit] Cities and towns

Map of Hawaii with cities
Map of Hawaii with cities

[edit] Colleges and universities

[edit] Transportation

Two airports serve Hawaii Island:

[edit] References

[edit] Further reading

Find more about Hawaii on Wikipedia's sister projects:
Dictionary definitions
Source texts
Images and media
News stories
Learning resources
  • MacDonald, G. A., and A. T. Abbott. 1970. Volcanoes in the Sea. Univ. of Hawaiʻi Press, Honolulu. 441 pages.

[edit] External links

happy trails...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Native American President ?

Obama 'adopted' by Crow Nation; now he's 'Barack Black Eagle'

(Photo: Tribal elders Hartford and Mary Black Eagle escort Obama to the ceremony. By Rick Wilking of Reuters.)

In Montana yesterday, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was "adopted" by the Crow Nation in one of the more colorful events of the presidential campaign so far, USA TODAY's Fredreka Schouten reports. She writes that:

The Illinois senator was given a Crow name, Awe Kooda bilaxpak Kuuxshish, which means "one who helps people throughout the land." And, he was presented with several gifts -- including a bolo tie for him and intricately beaded buckskin baby-carrying pouches for his two daughters.

Obama, who was greeted by a large crowd -- many in traditional clothing -- pledged to deliver world-class health care and education to tribal nations and to "shake-up" the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. "Few have been ignored by Washington for as long as Native Americans," he told the cheering crowd in Crow Agency, Mont.

Obama said that growing up as the biracial child of a single mother, "I know what it's like to be on the outside…I know what it's like to struggle." He promised to "never forget" his new Indian "family"

"You will be on my mind every day when I'm in the White House," he said. Montana's Democratic presidential primary is set for June 3.

At the end of his day, on the plane between Bozeman and Chicago, Obama talked with reporters about the beauty of the Montana landscape he had just left behind. He said that during the private ceremony where he was "adopted" by the tribe, he gained two "adoptive" parents, Crow elders Hartford and Mary Black Eagle, and donned a traditional vest.

He also said he was working on the pronunciation of his new Crow name, but also had gained another moniker by way of his new family: "Barack Black Eagle," he said smiling.


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Go West 'til you meet the East

A sail of many colors
photo by Dar

t will be smooth sailing for Gays in California, especially in Grail Castle San Francisco, now that there is marriage equality there.

Shall Dar and I say our sacred vows- To love, honor, and cherish each other through all eternity- for a third time? Vermont, Cape Cod, and San Francisco?

In the meantime, we shall turn to the magical land of Kalani and the Big Island of Hawaii...

The Starr Buddha at Kalani



As synchronicity would have it, I went to see Terrance McNally's latest play tonight at Actor's Express. As this review of the play, as produced in New York, reveals, gay marriage is at the heart of Some Men: The Atlanta production fits this review well:


8 Decades of Gay Men, at the Altar With History

“You wanna get married?” says the school librarian, breathing heavily, to the handsome Korean War veteran at what is clearly the beginning of a beautiful relationship. This is not quite a Barbara Cartland moment, given its context in “Some Men,” the surface-skimming, hit-and-miss new comedy by Terrence McNally that opened last night at the Second Stage Theater.

The setting is a gay bathhouse in the mid-1970s, a place and time when men were known to ask men to do all sorts of things, but marrying was usually not one of them. Yet the question — “You wanna get married?” — is more than frivolous, and it echoes throughout “Some Men.”

Frivolous was definitely the mood when Mr. McNally visited the baths before. “The Ritz,” his first Broadway success, was a farce that threw a heterosexual man (on the run from mobsters) into a homosexual bathhouse and watched him squirm. Mainstream audiences tended to leave “The Ritz” with the impression that gay men were wittier, better built, more sexually active and better versed in musicals and movies than most folks.

That impression is not dispelled by “Some Men,” a breezy series of sketches about gay American life through eight decades, directed by Trip Cullman. In setting a scene in a bathhouse in 1975 (the year “The Ritz” opened), Mr. McNally clearly means to signal the differences not only between then and now but also between the perspectives of the young farceur he was and the mature, probing playwright he has become.

To be honest, though, “Some Men” has little of the psychological texture and shading found in Mr. McNally’s best plays, like “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” and “Lips Together, Teeth Apart.” Nor does it exercise the tear-stirring emotional grip of Mr. McNally’s last previous group portrait of gay men, “Love! Valour! Compassion!”

An uneven assembly of symmetrical blackout sketches, “Some Men” is a parade of cleanly drawn types, zippy one-liners and sentimental set pieces, woven into a pageant of the ages à la “Cavalcade,” Noël Coward’s generations-spanning tribute to the stiff upper lips of the British. Like “Cavalcade,” it’s a celebration of clichés that a culture takes comfort in believing.

The hot-button topic of gay marriage is the running theme of “Some Men,” with the attendant questions that the subject invariably raises. “Some people think this marriage thing is going to be the end of gay life as it has been practiced on this planet for a hundred million years,” says a character in the opening scene, set during a wedding between two men at the Waldorf-Astoria.

But in skipping back through the decades, “Some Men” suggests that the instincts that make gay men both want and not want to be married have always been in place. A well-groomed banker, frolicking on a Southampton beach with his rough-hewn chauffeur in the 1920s, speaks wistfully of trying to find a way “to spend as much of my life with you as I can.”

Mr. McNally lightly traces patterns of loneliness and commitment, and the ambivalence his characters feel about both, through various times and places: a Harlem nightclub in 1932, where an entertainer known as Angel Eyes (Michael McElroy) meditates ruefully on the man who got away; a preppy piano bar in Greenwich Village on the day of the Stonewall uprising in 1969; a waiting room in an AIDS ward in 1989.

This is much-mined material, and it’s been dealt with more insightfully and originally elsewhere. But Mr. Cullman keeps things moving at the jaunty pace of a nightclub revue. And the agile, appealing cast members, notably Frederick Weller and Don Amendolia, seem to have a good time incarnating time-honored figures from the encyclopedia of gay archetypes (the hustler with a literary bent, the acid-tongued insult queen), as well as some latter-day additions (doting adoptive parents, dogma-spouting gender-studies students).

Occasionally, a sharply observed moment pierces through the glibness. A scene depicting an Internet chat room offers, in addition to the expected satire about make-believe identities, some droll observations on the difficulties of translating the classic gay sensibility into cyberspeak.

“Humor doesn’t travel on the Internet,” says one man (screen name: Camus), frustrated by his inability to convey vocal inflections to his chatmate. “At least, my kind doesn’t.”

Camus is portrayed by the playwright David Greenspan, who as an actor has repeatedly demonstrated just how much inflection counts. Though his roles in “Some Men” are among the hoariest — variations on the waspish stingmeister he played in a revival of Mart Crowley’s “Boys in the Band” — Mr. Greenspan uses his deadpan nasality to twist commonplace lines into uncommonly revealing stylishness.

He is saddled with a part that would send most actors running for cover: a transvestite who sings “Over the Rainbow” in a piano bar on the day of Judy Garland’s funeral. Yet as rendered by Mr. Greenspan, his body listing to one side and his voice pitched in a childlike murmur of reassurance, that most oversung of songs sounds fresh and heartbreaking.

“Over the Rainbow” isn’t just a time-encrusted anthem here; it’s a means of exploring a personality that, while very much of its time and place, is also uncompromisingly individual. And for one illuminating moment, one of the play’s title characters becomes specific instead of generic, something more than a grown-up boy in the band who may have a new set of instruments but still plays a familiar tune.


By Terrence McNally

And a photo from the Atlanta performance:

Photos - Some Men

Louis Gregory and Tim Batten
Louis Gregory and Tim Batten

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Death, or the Non-existence of Nothing

As an Epicurean, I've realized that death is nothing more than absence. Nothing less than absence. Maybe it is even a passage through absence, through Nothingness. Nonexistence.

It isn't death that is frightening; it is dying. Death, as I see it, is resolution.

"The stroke of death is as a lover's pinch,
Which hurts, and is desir'd."

Antony and Cleopatra)

Slate's account of the death of an artist and his thoughts is striking:

Bringing out the dead.

Remembering Rauschenberg

Greatness and golden slippers.

Robert Rauschenberg. Click image to expand.

I once asked Robert Rauschenberg if he was afraid of dying. It was not as rude or unseemly a question as it might at first appear. At the time, he was elderly but in fine health; I had spent the previous three or four days visiting with him at the large but somehow modest compound he owned on Captiva Island, Fla., and in the course of our conversations, he'd spoken about his past and his work with unusual frankness and great wit.

Moreover, it seemed to me that he'd lived something very close to a perfect life. He'd been in on the origin of the great aesthetic movements of his time, and his place in history was pretty much guaranteed; he took enormous pleasure in making art and continued to make it long after many artists retire; he had traveled the world and made a great deal of money, much of which he donated to causes he believed in. To be sure, there were dark patches; for many years he was a ferocious alcoholic—he could put away a fifth of bourbon a day—but by the time I met him, he had put all that behind him, and he seemed to have mastered the eudaemonistic life. I was curious to know how he felt about leaving it, so I asked him.

He wasn't bothered by the question at all. He seemed to find it interesting, he had obviously thought about it before, and he reflected for a while before he answered. "There are moments in the day when I find it terrifying," he said at last. "I don't ever want to go. I don't have a sense of great reality about the next world." Then, referencing an old spiritual, he said, "My feet are too ugly to wear those golden slippers." He paused again. "I'm working on my fear of it," he continued. "And my fear is that after I'm gone, something interesting is going to happen, and I'm going to miss it."

Rauschenberg died Monday, at home in Captiva; I hope the terror left him before the time came. As for missing something interesting, he rarely did while he was alive, in large part because he was something interesting, and the world will miss him as much as he might miss the world. He was, quite simply, as charming and delightful as any man I've ever met. But he'll be remembered as a great artist, certainly one of the greatest of the last half-century.

He was one of those people—quick as a comedian, deft and knowing—who seem to be effortlessly inventive, spinning off ideas and techniques like droplets of water from a lawn sprinkler, and there is hardly an artist working today who doesn't owe him something. To Rauschenberg, almost anything could be art, and art could be almost anything; he crossed media and created new ones as often as other artists clean their brushes. Consider the following gesture, simple, ingenious, daring, and true: One day in 1953, when Rauschenberg was in his late 20s, he stopped by Willem de Kooning's studio with a request. At the time, de Kooning was emerging as one of the giants of Abstract Expressionism, and Rauschenberg admired him enormously. He asked the older artist if he could have a drawing, not to hang it on his wall but to make into another artwork: He intended, he made clear, to erase it. De Kooning, to his great credit, complied, and Rauschenberg spent the next few weeks and, according to legend, went through 15 erasers trying to get the marks off the paper (he never entirely succeeded; some ghost of the image remains).

Erased de Kooning was the first major work of Rauschenberg's career, and it showed many of the qualities for which he would eventually become known: a paradoxical originality (or perhaps an original paradoxicalness), energy, iconoclasm, unerring instinct. There have been a lot of artists who have used art to assault art's own verities, but few of them did so as gracefully and cheerfully as Rauschenberg. He was often joking, in a peculiar Zen-ish way that he shared with his friend John Cage, and he was almost always having fun, but he was never bullshitting.

It would take me another 10 pages to begin to describe everything else that Rauschenberg came up with: the combines (painter-ish, sculpture-ish assemblies of found materials), photo-transfer drawings, sets and costumes for Merce Cunningham's dance company, and the famous "9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering" of 1966, a wildly experimental performance festival that Rauschenberg put together with an engineer from Bell Labs named Billy Kluver, and which, with only a little stretching, can be seen as a precursor of everything from video art to Nintendo's Wii.

Rauschenberg was wildly prolific; the drops from the sprinkler landed where they would. Even he couldn't keep track of them all. At one point I asked him how many artworks he'd made in his lifetime. "Maybe 3,000," he answered. "Maybe 5,000. Maybe many more." But if you were to challenge anyone with a reasonable grasp of 20th-century art history to name some, I doubt they'd be able to come up with more than five or six. He was a very rare thing: the great artist who made few great artworks.

I don't think he would mind the characterization: He always preferred the process to the result, the inventiveness to the invention, the gesture to the meaning. There was a wall in one room of his house in Captiva where he kept his own collection of other people's artworks. It was almost all ephemera—little scraps of paper with passing marks made on them, mostly by his friends. But what friends and what ephemera: There was a small drawing by Cy Twombly, a round cardboard coaster from the Cedar Bar upon which de Kooning had doodled one night, and, loveliest of all, a sheet of lined school notebook paper that Jasper Johns had used to sketch an American flag, an early study for one of the greatest paintings of the 20th century. ("Jasper never could draw a straight line freehand," Rauschenberg told me.) It was clear that he'd rather have had those fugitive pieces than their corresponding masterpieces. He thought of art not as a monument but as the record of a passing moment. I suspect he knew, too, how melancholy an idea that can be. That's the thing about moments: They pass. And now Rauschenberg has as well, and there's that much more to miss.

Good Night.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Face the Music

Three women who epitomize the 70s and whose story leads us to today's blues:

From left, Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; Joel Brodsky/Corbis; Henry Diltz/Corbis

Tapestry of rock queens: From left, Carole King in Los Angeles in 1971; Carly Simon in the early ’70s; Joni Mitchell at her Laurel Canyon home in 1970.

Photo from Books of The Times:

Heroines in the Footlights, From All Sides Now

by Janet Maslin

The above article is great, but so is the article
From Today's NY Times:

May 13, 2008

Trailblazers, but Selling a Romantic Kind of Love

Has any pop song evoked a generation’s romantic self-infatuation more hauntingly than Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock”?

Sheila Weller, in her book “Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon — and the Journey of a Generation” (Atria Books), which weaves the biographies of these singer-songwriters into a post-feminist history, writes: “It was the first line of the chorus — ‘We are stardust, we are golden’ ” — that “conveyed the impression of hundreds of thousands of people speaking as one.”

Stardust-sprinkled, golden children determined to save the world was one way of describing the youth culture’s heady self-image. The generational axiom that all you need is love persisted into the 1970s during the so-called cooling of America, when soft-rock singer-songwriters like Ms. Mitchell, Ms. King and Ms. Simon and male equivalents like James Taylor, Jackson Browne and John Denver personalized the communal conversation.

As Ms. Weller astutely emphasizes, the three singers in her biography belonged to the first generation of women to come of age with the pill. The belief in love as the answer coincided with the women’s liberation movement. An unvoiced question suggested by the book that has persisted through these women’s lives and their music is whether romantic love and promiscuity are compatible.

As fiercely as the rock counterculture rejected its parents’ tastes in music, all three women are revealed here as heavily indebted to traditional pop and its quasi-religious faith in romantic love. For Ms. Mitchell, an early epiphany was the swooningly beautiful 18th variation from Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, which she discovered in the movie “The Story of Three Loves” and visited a record store to play repeatedly. Another early idol was Édith Piaf, the French voice of female suffering and resilience. The song choices and lush arrangements on some of Ms. Mitchell’s later records pay homage to her favorite Billie Holiday torch songs.

Ms. Simon grew up in a privileged household listening to classical music and to Richard Rodgers and the Gershwins. Her career-making hit, “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be,” is an art song with a semiclassical melody in the style of Gabriel Fauré. But she had to wait until the early 1980s to begin recording popular standards with an orchestra.

Ms. King, who idolized Rodgers and Hammerstein, translated their aesthetic into a less flowery, Brill Building style of soul-flavored teenage pop with optimistic messages in the cheerleading spirit of Hammerstein. What is “You’ve Got a Friend” but a plainer, demystified echo of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”?

For years these women, consciously or not, suppressed their attachment to the supposedly square music of the past, the better to be current. They concentrated on folk-rock and light pop-gospel, styles that were deemed more authentic than anything to come from Broadway or Tin Pan Alley.

But if medical science allowed them to be sexual pioneers, they were still gripped by fairy-tale mythology. Even as they pursued serial relationships in and out of marriage, they embraced the credo expressed in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s quintessential postwar romantic sermon, “Some Enchanted Evening,” which imagined that true love could ignite in the eye contact of strangers across a crowded room.

In the early years of the sexual revolution, there was widespread belief by men and women alike that romantic sex was the most important thing in life, the key to happiness and a pathway to world peace. The dictum “Make love, not war” was taken seriously. It is also easy to forget that in the ’60s and ’70s, music was the rock generation’s primary mode of communication with itself, in much the same way that computers are today. In the communal, post-hippie fantasy that evaporated as the ’70s wore on, rock stars were exalted as a new hip aristocracy.

Drugs fortified the mystique. Marijuana and LSD were embraced as pathways toward a higher consciousness. Various forms of speed were easy to obtain and carried little stigma. At hip Hollywood parties jars of pills were passed around with scarcely a second thought, and cocaine became epidemic: anything to deny a steadily mounting realization that the imminent revolutions in human consciousness, politics and erotic pleasure were dreams that would not come true.

“Girls Like Us” chronicles the singer-songwriters’ lives from birth in the early and mid-1940s (born before 1946, they are technically not baby boomers, though their names are synonymous with boomer musical tastes) to the present. The pathway for personal true stories, performed by those who lived them, was paved by the established literary vogue for confessional poetry.

For those who are still curious, “Girls Like Us” is a gossipmonger’s feast that names many of the lovers and husbands referred to in the women’s lyrics. Of the three, only Ms. Simon talked to Ms. Weller. Information about Ms. Mitchell’s and Ms. King’s personal lives was compiled from extensive interviews with former husbands, close friends and relatives. The one man common to all three was James Taylor, a prince with a heroin habit (since kicked); he was Ms. King’s sometime musical partner (but not her lover), Ms. Mitchell’s lover and later Ms. Simon’s husband in a turbulent marriage that ended in divorce.

Especially in Ms. Mitchell’s songs through the late-’70s, almost every reference is explicitly autobiographical. Aside from a series of intense, tumultuous love affairs and a short-lived early marriage to a fellow folk singer, the central drama of her life, Ms. Weller says, was her early pregnancy and giving up of a baby daughter, with whom she reunited three decades later. The overriding subject of her songs through the ’70s is fervent erotic love. The passion is obsessive, tortured and combative and yields diminishing ecstatic returns as the years pass.

Ms. Simon’s notorious hit, “You’re So Vain,” Ms. Weller reports, reflected her “belle of the ball year and a half,” during which she “had belt-notched” Cat Stevens, Kris Kristofferson, Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty and Mick Jagger. Along with Mr. Taylor, they are the most famous names in a life of ceaseless erotic adventure pursued by a self-described romantic.

Many of Ms. King’s later songs evoke her headlong infatuations with two rugged cowboy-woodsmen who became her third and fourth husbands, for whom she forsook Los Angeles to live in the wilds of Idaho, milk goats and become an environmental advocate. Of the three, Ms. King gave up the most to live out her fantasies.

Only in retrospect is it clear that the ultimate demise of traditional pop romanticism actually began later than is commonly thought. Today’s erotic pop ethos of cold heat didn’t begin to coalesce until the emergence of Madonna. Desire without passion and celebration of the body as a machine engaged in sexual competition replaced rapturous surrender in love songs. As melody, the primary vehicle for love songs, has diminished in importance, so have the number and intensity of those songs.

Having lived out your fantasies until “the heyday in the blood is tame” (to quote Shakespeare), what remains? In Ms. Mitchell’s newest album, “Shine” (Hear Music), love is barely mentioned. The stardust has turned to ash, and the gold has tarnished. As she surveys the ravaged planet, this disenchanted, 60-something ex-romantic throws up her hands and declares, “If I had a heart, I’d cry.” Passion has curdled into bitterness.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Looking Up

May and June are offering stars and planets galore:

Spot elusive Mercury

The innermost planet makes its best appearance of 2008 in early May.
Michael E. Bakich
The Moon joins Mercury
The Moon joins Mercury May 6, during the innermost planet’s best evening apparition of 2008. Through binoculars, you should also pick out the Pleiades star cluster. Be sure to find an observing location with an unobstructed western horizon.

Astronomy: Roen Kelly
May 1, 2008

Mercury — the closest planet to the Sun — makes its best evening appearance of the year this month. Mercury looks about as bright as it ever does, with the view made picturesque May 2 by its location just 2° south of the Pleiades star cluster (M45), which lies in the constellation Taurus the Bull.

At its brightest in May, the innermost planet shines at magnitude –0.9. Brighter than any star through May 8, Mercury makes a stunning sight above the west-northwestern horizon. A 2-day-old crescent Moon joins the scene May 6, when it lies less than 3° to Mercury's upper right. You'll need clear skies and sharp vision to detect the Moon. Its slender crescent will be only 4 percent illuminated.

For the best views, use binoculars just as twilight falls. Camera owners might want to try shooting some images. The most pleasing contain foreground objects — trees, a water tower, or a windmill, for instance — which enhance the scene. They form great silhouettes and add to an image's impact.

A telescope easily reveals Mercury's phase, which shrinks to half-lit by May 8. It then stands 8° north of Aldebaran, Taurus' brightest star. Although Aldebaran is a 1st-magnitude star, it nevertheless shines a full magnitude fainter than Mercury.

Astronomy Senior Editor Michael E. Bakich explains what's happening: "When Mercury is as far east of the Sun as it can get (called greatest eastern elongation), we see it as an evening star low in the west," he said. "When it's west of the Sun, we view it as a morning star in the east before sunrise."

Some elongations are better than others because of Earth's tilt and the stretched-out nature of Mercury's orbit. Even at its farthest from the Sun, Mercury appears no more than 28º away.

Mercury reaches its greatest elongation May 13/14, when it lies 22° east of the Sun and sets 2 hours after our star. Still located in Taurus, Mercury then reveals a 37-percent-illuminated disk through a telescope. If you've followed it from the start of May, you'll notice the planet now shines more than a magnitude fainter. Still, it outshines all but two current nighttime stars.

Mercury continues to dim all month. By the 18th, it equals Aldebaran in brightness, and it appears only half that bright by the 22nd. Its angular distance from the Sun declines as well, making the planet harder to see after this date.

Three planets brighten June nights
Finding earthlike worlds

Three planets brighten June nights
June 2008: Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter rule the night this month.
Martin Ratcliffe and Alister Ling
Mars and Saturn adorn June's western evening sky. Mars, a relatively tiny nearby world, contrasts nicely with distant, giant Saturn and its wonderful rings. The king of the planets, Jupiter, rises during early evening and dominates the sky all night, although it maintains an unusually low altitude.

The solar system's two other giants, Uranus and Neptune, are fine binocular targets. You can catch them easily despite the month's short nights, which limit dark-sky observing.

Six months after Mars' December 2007 opposition, Earth has left the Red Planet far behind. If we could view the solar system from above Earth's orbital plane, we'd find our planet leads Mars by about 90°.
The Moon joins Saturn, Mars, and Regulus June 7. Look for the waxing crescent Moon, with the Red Planet hovering near it, low in the west at 10 p.m. local daylight time. Astronomy: Theo Cobb [View Larger Image]
With a telescope of sufficient size (10-inch aperture) and steady sky conditions, you'll be able to spot the Red Planet's distinctly gibbous disk. The downside: The Red Planet now spans only 5".

While diminutive in its telescopic appearance, Mars displays a nice orange hue that provides a pleasing contrast with bluish-white Regulus, the brightest star in Leo the Lion.

Mars starts the month in Cancer the Crab and crosses into Leo June 10. Track the Red Planet's nightly motion. You'll see Mars close within 43' of Regulus by June 30. Mars is slightly fainter than the 1.4-magnitude star.

Less than 5° east of the pair stands Saturn, adding its yellowish hue to the darkening summer sky.

The colors of planets and stars are subtle. They become most obvious when two objects of differing hues lie close together in the sky. That's exactly what observers get in late June, as Mars, Regulus, and Saturn gather together.

Delicate hue changes occur during sunset and dusk; in fact, colors change every minute after sunset. Watch the sky closely as darkness descends and this star-and-planet trio emerges into view.

A crescent Moon wanders 1.8° south of Mars June 7. By the next night, the Moon has crossed a 14° gap to reach a point 2° south of Regulus.
Saturn and Mars (left) met in Cancer in June 2004. The pair mirrors the bright stars Castor and Pollux in Gemini, which appear at right. This year, Saturn and Mars meet in Leo. Paul Smith [View Larger Image]
Saturn lies 4° above the Moon the same night. Now glowing at magnitude 0.8, the ringed planet outshines both Mars and Regulus.

Seeing Saturn in a telescope is a highlight of summer viewing. Rapid rotation bulges the planet's equator outward, which gives Saturn's disk an obvious flattened look. Saturn spans 17" in its equatorial diameter, but 15" pole to pole.

Saturn's atmospheric features are notoriously subtle. Observing them requires special filters to pull out detail. Occasionally, an obvious white spot appears on the planet's wan disk. This signifies the rare development of a major storm system. In 1990, the then newly launched Hubble Space Telescope imaged the last prominent white spot. In 2006, though, observers recorded less-pronounced spots.
Catch a moon, a shadow, and the Great Red Spot traveling across Jupiter’s disk June 15. Callisto throws its shadow on Jupiter’s clouds as Ganymede slips across the disk. South of them lies the Great Red Spot, a centuries-old storm. Astronomy: Theo Cobb [View Larger Image]
Be prepared for a dramatic change in the appearance of Saturn's rings. For the next 2 months, they tip about 9° to our line of sight. In early September, Saturn passes through conjunction with the Sun and can't be observed. But when it emerges in the morning sky later that month, its rings will tilt 5°. This shrinks to less than 1° by year's end.

What's happening? Earth will pass through Saturn's ring plane in 2009. This will be the first time in 13 years Earth has made such a crossing. The rings are so thin, they disappear from view in anything other than a large telescope.

Saturn's largest moon, Titan, is easy to spot in small telescopes; dimmer moons represent more of a challenge, but they're easy in scopes with apertures of 8 or more inches. Titan passes closest to Saturn when it passes north of the planet, as on June 13 and 29. Look for Titan south of Saturn June 5 and 21.

Iapetus, the peculiar moon that appears brightest when farthest west of Saturn, fades throughout June. It lies north of the rings June 5 and 6, but at magnitude 11 it's tricky to spot. Iapetus reaches eastern elongation June 27 and dims by nearly a full magnitude (to 11.9).
Saturn's moons Rhea, Tethys, and Dione act as guides for finding faint Enceladus June 25. That night, look for a moon “pileup” west of Saturn. Astronomy: Theo Cobb [View Larger Image]
As Saturn settles in the western sky, Jupiter rises in the southeast. Saturn sets ever earlier as June progresses, and Jupiter rises earlier each night. By June 30, the solar system's biggest planet shines 14° high 2 hours after sunset. On a moonless night, look for the Milky Way's glowing band in Sagittarius to the right of dazzling (magnitude –2.6) Jupiter.

Jupiter reaches opposition in early July, so it's visible almost all night this month. For the best telescopic views, observe the planet around its culmination in the south, which places it at least 20° above the horizon. Much lower, and the turbulence in Earth's atmosphere blurs the disk's fine detail.

Jupiter's relatively large disk spans 47" by month's end, more than double Saturn's apparent diameter. Jupiter's atmospheric details show much higher contrast than Saturn's, which makes for more interesting observations. Dark features called belts appear most obvious.

The darkest of these are the North and South Equatorial Belts that straddle the planet's midsection. Last year, a jovian weather event disrupted the South Equatorial Belt. This produced changes telescopic ob-servers could track nightly.

Jupiter's equatorial region rotates in 9 hours 50 minutes. Its northern and southern temperate regions take 5 minutes longer, which results in a 250-mph (400 km/h) difference in wind speed where the two regions meet. This boundary generates many of the eddies, spots, and festoons Jupiter is so well known for.

With practice, observers can detect changes in the location of these features within 5 or 10 minutes. The largest of the disturbances, the Great Red Spot, typically is visible every other night from any location.

Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, the four so-called Galilean moons, are visible in any telescope as they wander east and west of Jupiter's disk. Occasionally, these moons pass in front of or behind the planet. A moon's shadow is one of the darkest features observers can see on Jupiter. Just a few minutes of viewing will reveal the shadow's motion. Sequential digital images of such shadow transits create interesting time-lapse movies.

Pluto reaches opposition June 20. The dwarf planet lies near 6 Sagittarii, a magnitude 6.2 star that makes an easy guide to Pluto's field. The star lies 2° north-northeast of the fine binocular open cluster M23 (NGC 6494). On June 1, Pluto lies 0.2° northwest of 6 Sagittarii. Pluto's retrograde motion carries it farther westward, and by month's end the dwarf planet is almost a full degree away from the star.

Pluto glows at magnitude 13.9. It remains the only one of hundreds of Kuiper Belt objects in similar orbits that's visible using amateur telescopes. Even so, detecting Pluto visually is a challenge, requiring perfectly transparent skies, a high-quality 8-inch scope — and preferably one 10 inches or larger — and a detailed star chart. You can find such charts in The Observer's Handbook of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada or Guy Ottewell's Astronomical Calendar.

Neptune is 2 months from opposition. It's a binocular object shining at magnitude 7.9, and it's easy to locate north of Delta (δ) Capricorni, the easternmost star in Capricornus. Neptune forms a triangle with two stars, 42 Capricorni (magnitude 5.2) and 44 Capricorni (5.9). Neptune's disk spans 2.3". The planet rises before midnight by June 30.

Uranus is now a morning object. It stands high in the south a couple of hours before dawn. It lies in Aquarius, standing 5° east of Phi (φ) Aquarii at the eastern side of the constellation. The "circlet" of stars in Pisces lies to its north. Uranus shines at magnitude 5.8, an easy binocular target. Telescopes will reveal its greenish-blue tinged disk spanning 3.5".

Mercury reappears in the morning sky after its June 7 inferior conjunction with the Sun. Look for it popping out of the morning twilight during the month's last few days.

On June 28, 0.7-magnitude Mercury rivals Aldebaran, which shines at magnitude 0.8. Mercury lies 7° to the lower left of Aldebaran, low in the brightening eastern sky. Begin watching an hour before sunrise. A waning crescent Moon stands watch above the pair. Mercury brightens to magnitude 0.6 by the next morning, when the Moon has moved east of the Pleiades (M45) and lies 12° above Aldebaran. The planet's visibility improves in early July.

This is the month when the Sun reaches its northernmost declination along the ecliptic, which means nighttime hours reach their minimum span. The event, called the summer solstice, occurs June 20 at 7:59 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time.

Happy Viewing!