Monday, October 29, 2007

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Last Thursday, Andy and I played dress-up, and attended the College of Communications annual Hall of Fame-- a black-tie affair held at the North River Yacht Club, a stronghold of Tuscaloosa's wealthy businessman Jack Warner. Warner is the President of Gulf States Paper, but also dabbles in the Arts (as all well-respected billionaires do), owning one of the largest personal collections of early American art in the world. His museum, housed in a former hunting lodge, displays paintings from the 17th-20th centuries, and according to most is quite an impressive exhibit (I have yet to visit). Anyway, that's Warner in the painting behind us. We found it comical that he had a portrait made of himself as a free-spirited cowboy, servin' up coffee for all his "pardners" on the range. Oh, and I should point out that he is not even dead yet! Don't you think it's a little premature to have a portrait of yourself hanging in the entryway of one of the buildings you own? As for the rest of the decor, it was a mix of marine-related oil paintings, mounted deer heads, and more cowboy-themed art, all woven into a seemingly patriotic melange, a shameless display of opulence reminiscent of the Gilded Age.

But enough about Jack Warner. The event itself was a tribute to this year's inductees to the College of Communication's Hall of Fame. Every year, the college selects several noteworthy Alabamians and honors them for their work. It's quite a soirĂ©e, with a bonafide cocktail hour, which I might add included delicious appetizers and a snappy little jazz band, and a full blown dinner. This year's MC was even a celebrity--ABC News Correspondant John Cochran (apparently, he's from Alabama). In addition, the Center for Public Television (Andy's employer) produces a short video about each of the inductees. One of this year's most notable inductees was Charles Moore, the famed Civil Rights photographer, who captured so poignantly on celluloid the early fight for desegregation in Montgomery, the integration at Ole Miss, and the demonstrations in Birmingham (think fire hoses, police dogs). Andy produced the segment on Moore, and included some of Moore's most famous photographs, set to a background of one of the theme songs of the Movement, "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize". Needless to say, there were not a lot of dry eyes in the audience when the lights came up. If your interested, some of Moore's best photos of the Movement are collected in the book, “Powerful Days: The Civil Rights Photography of Charles Moore”.
Also, you can see Andy's rough cut of the piece he made (without the professional narrator - see if you can spot the voice) below. Warning, though - it's 6 minutes and a huge file. Probably will take a few minutes to download (Dialup? Wait for the DVD...).

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Kitty Thermometer

Well, according to our kitty thermometer it looks like the 'cat days' of summer have finally left us! Yes, the cold weather has arrived, and with that our cat Franny's transition from spread eagle pose under the fans, to cozy kitten pose on our bed. Our transition into fall has also been noticeable. Gone is the cacophony of the air compressors buzzing in the neighborhood. Gone are the hot and sweaty bike rides home from work, forcing Andy to traipse around the house shirtless. Gone are the days where we opt for cooking supper on the grill outside, in order to spare our house the 10 degree temperature rise that occurs when we use the gas range. We've swapped our shorts and tees for sweaters, boggans, and warm pantaloons. And we get to use our seat heaters in the Volkswagen!

Here's to sweatless days and cozy nights! Happy Fall!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Football, Art, and Sedaris...Oh, My!

Another eventful weekend has come and gone. And this time, we managed to pack in just about everything. From a celebratory low-country boil in honor of Andy's Uncle Reb's passage into his sixth decade, to a Saturday Crimson Tide victory over Tennessee, to an outdoor Arts Festival, and finally to a David Sedaris reading in Birmingham (ok, only I got to go to that). Whew. So you can see why this post is so late. I was recovering.

Yes, the third weekend in October is much anticipated by many Tuscaloosa residents. Every year some of the country's most celebrated folk artists gather against the woodsy backdrop of downtown Northport (our neighboring town), to wow us with their creations, and to tempt those with deep pockets. At this year's Kentuck Festival of the Arts there were over 250 artists offering their wares, many of which have national notoriety, like the Quilters of Gee's Bend and Annie T., the daughter of Mose T., who has taken up where her father left off. And of course there's always a couple of good bluegrass bands playing, and the opportunity to indulge in some good ole Southern Fried-ness. Who wouldn't be tempted by foot long corn dogs, and various other meats on a stick? And what about funnel cakes? It takes me back to my days at the carnival and various amusement parks, chowing down with all the other fat (excuse me, "heavy set") kids!

But in addition to Kentuck, the third weekend in October also brings arch rivals Tennessee (second only to Auburn in the nemesis line) and Alabama to the football field. This year the Vols came to us, so those loyal fans who also like Art, had to miss Saturday at the Festival to support the Team. And disappointed they were not. The upset that ensued renewed faith in those that thought our season was on the downturn.

And what can I say about my evening with David Sedaris? He was a hoot as always. Lots and lots of laughter all around.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Don't They Ever Stop?

Well, the conservative pundits are at it again. This time, they've decided to make an issue out of Al Gore's recent Nobel Peace Prize win. I mean I'm all for freedom of speech, but come on, this is just ridiculous! And of course leading the smear campaign with a fresh fist full of mud, is none other than (insert your own drum roll here)...the bastion of conservative politics, the kings of opinionated blather, and the downfall of the American media--Fox News. In what's sure to have taken up hours of programming, Fox News decided to challenge the Nobel Committee's selection and to undermine Gore's Peace Prize credibility. On 'Hannity and Colmes', Sean Hannity calls Gore a hypocrite for using a private jet, touting (as the evidential video plays for us viewers) that "[Gore] doesn't exactly follow or adhere to his own environmental preachings", and asking as the talking heads pop up for debate, "does [Gore] deserve to win the Nobel Prize?". In another segment, a commentator remarks smugly, "What do Al Gore, Yassar Arafat, and that crazy Jimmy Carter all have in common?" ("They all won the Nobel Peace Prize?" says the other commentator off-screen). Although, you can view any of the aforementioned clips on YouTube, I've chosen to feature the most outlandish of them all. Just when you think it couldn't get any absurder, some idiot (who happens to be a columnist for the New York Sun) goes on national television claiming that General Petraeus should have won the Prize instead. Oh brother, will they ever shut up?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Our Man Al

"Al, Al, he's our man, if he can't do it, no one can!"

Well, it's official. Al Gore has joined the ranks of history's most notable movers and shakers. When life handed him lemons, he didn't just make lemonade. He kept going, churning his 2000 presidential defeat into numerous tasty lemon desserts, which some may argue (based on photos of a post-election Gore of some girth), he subsequently ate. Anyway, I'm not here to make fat jokes, but I think we can all agree that being upstaged by a ninny like W. when the popular vote was in the bag, is enough to turn a man (not to mention a nation) to the proverbial tub of ice cream. His fluctuating weight aside, Al didn't let those hanging chads get him down. No siree. He made a step or two or thousand in the right direction, as he, along with his trusty PowerPoint, traveled from city to city, town to town, and country to country, speaking up and out for our endangered Earth.

Gore was first honored in February when the film "An Inconvenient Truth", which follows his climate change crusade, won an Academy Award for best documentary. And now, along with U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, he has snagged one of the highest honors, the Nobel Peace Prize--a feat that although monumental, has many wondering "is there a glitch in the matrix"? Yes, finally there's a little vindication for our administration's dismissal of the climate crisis. An administration who pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol and started a war over oil. An administration that unfortunately has so many media mouthpieces that the truth gets spun into party-speak, modified and twisted into something politically expedient, so that half the country is confusing opinion with fact. One thing's for sure, this presidency has been an example of the power of repetition--if you say something over and over again and believe it to be true even if it's not, people will start to believe it if they hear it enough times. And I think that's part of what happened with climate change. There is a conservative rhetoric (just like with most issues) that is perpetuated by the 24 hour news pundits, and a very noticeable bias in reporting. But now, the Nobel Committee has made a nod in the appropriate direction. By honoring the work of Gore and the UN Panel, they've legitimated the issue and endorsed it as a real problem that needs tackling.

Any way you look at it, Gore's achievement has people talking. For many "Draft Gore for President" hopefuls, it is just more fuel to throw on the fire. I was surprised to find that a simple Google search of "draft Gore" brings up seven different websites whose mission is all the same--to convince Al Gore to run for President in 2008. The poster featured in this blog is from one such site ( And on the same site you can watch a cheesy promo called "Al Gore the Hope for America" that likens Gore to JFK, and evokes emotion b y using a duo of sentimental music and old black and white photographs of Al growing up in Tennessee, not to mention lots (and I mean lots) of pictures of him with children. It's an interesting request, and not a half bad idea. I guess we'll have to wait and see if he changes his mind. But for now, kudos are in order. Thanks Al for waking us up.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The March to Mount LeConte

This weekend we packed up and headed for the mountains, leaving the stands of Bryant-Denny in Tuscaloosa for the stands of hardwood and evergreen trees in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our hopes of solitude were quickly dashed however, when we encountered the droves of tourists on the slow march through Pigeon Forge, many I'm sure on their way to Dollywood or Splash Mountain, or some other terribly kitchy and over-priced activity promised to guarantee good old-fashioned "family fun". Pigeon Forge is unlike any other town I've been to on the outskirts of a national park. I'm not sure when exactly the town received its neon-light enema, but it seems entrepreneurs wagered well, setting up shop along a heavily traveled thoroughfare, hoping to lure in many a passers-by. At some point, I guess people stopped coming for the park, and went straight for the countrified ritz and glitz. But to be fair, it's not as if Pigeon Forge is the only place sucking up all the tourists, because there's also plenty of them within the park itself. After all, the Great Smoky Mountains is the most heavily trafficked (and thus, most polluted) of all national parks, which might have something to do with the lack of a park entrance fee (the only national park without one!). And just so I don't sound too pretentious and cynical, when I was a kid, I did make visits to both Dollywood and the Smokies, and as I recall enjoyed both of the experiences. Although for the record, I only went to Dollywood once and probably visited the Smokies more than a half a dozen times, and I have much fonder memories of jumping in swimming holes with my Dad, hiking Cades Cove with the family, and trying to catch glimpses of black bears in their natural and not so natural habitats.

Part of the larger Appalachian Mountain chain, the Smokies provide evidence of the ancient suture between the North American and African subcontinents, an event that occurred roughly 200-300 million years ago when the two landmasses collided, folding and faulting rocks, and uplifting the entire range to heights that at one time would have surpassed those boasted by the present-day Rocky Mountains. Our hike led us to the summit of Mt. LeConte, the third highest peak in the Smokies at 6,593 feet in elevation, by way of the Alum Cave Bluffs Trail, a 10 mile trek from start to finish. The trail was lush with vegetation, and offered us a variety of tree species throughout our ascent. We began our walk through towering thickets of rhododendron, which were so tall that they formed a sort of topiary wall between us and the rest of the forest, and continued through huge stands of hardwoods like oak, maple, and American beech. Many of the dramatic vistas we encountered on the trail revealed the brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges of the first few days of the fall season, but also the dying populations of the Eastern Hemlock, which is losing its battle with the woolly adelgid, a tiny non-native insect. At the highest elevations, we enjoyed the aromas of the Fraser fir and red spruce trees (christmas trees!) as we transitioned into a predominately evergreen stand, giving our finish a certain holiday feel. But don't be fooled, I wasn't only looking at the trees! As I hard-rock geologist, I was especially excited to be walking over, around, and beside Late Proterozoic (~600-800 million years old) metamorphic rocks , consisting mainly of slate and localized pockets of phyllite, schist, and quartzite (see below). We were hiking with two other geologists, so it was a lot of rock talk when we got to geologically interesting areas. One such spot was the Alum Cave Bluffs, which as the name might reveal, was once a site of heavy aluminum sulfate (or potash alum) mining. This site also gives evidence of the huge compressional forces that were at work during mountain building--large pods of metamorphosed sandstone bodies have been flattened and stretched during deformation, and tiny faults and folds can be seen throughout the overhang (see below).

When we reached the summit, we had a quick lunch break and tour of the surroundings before beginning our return descent. It was considerably cooler up top, and I celebrated the fact that I was wearing long sleeves for the first time in several months (I want it to be cold now!) Atop of Mt. LeConte, there are a handful of small guest cabins and a restaurant, which is for paying guests only. The modest and simple facilities were constructed in 1926 and are open from March-November. All of their supplies are either helicoptered in, or carried in on llamas. It's quite a place. But, the summit of Mt. LeConte still falls some 600 feet short of our home back in Laramie, Wyoming!

Rashmi posing on the (slaty) cleavage she'll never have.

Alum Cave Bluff, 2.8 miles from the Summit. Check out that huge quartzite pod in the background!

Taking it all in.

Almost there...

The LeConte Lodge, summit 6,593 ft.

A room with a view!

A Frasier fir leans within a hedge of mountain laurel at the summit.

Wish that I was on 'ole Rocky Top... (he he just kidding)

Aw shucks. That's a cute couple, even it they are all blurry.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Blessed are the Peacemakers

"An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind"--M. Gandhi

Peace Ya"ll. No, seriously peace! The UN has declared today the International Day of Peace and Non-violence, which non-coincidentally falls on the day of the Mahatma's birth (October 2, 1869). And since we are in the midst of wartime, it doesn't hurt to stop and think about our peace pioneers, Gandhi of course being our premier guru in teaching the culture of peace and tolerance. As his beloved India struggled to break free of the British Raj, Gandhi preached the message of unity, and called his people to civil disobedience and peaceful protest. He walked. In one instance, 240 miles from Sabarmati (home of the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad, Gujarat) to the Dandi coast to protest the British salt tax. He fasted. Sometimes for as long as 3 weeks, to protest communal violence and governmental non-cooperation. He meditated. These were his weapons. Powerful, yet simple actions and reactions to injustice and violence.

To celebrate today's significance, the University sponsored 108 minutes of yoga on the Quad, and a lecture by a Political Science professor who recently returned from a Fulbright Fellowship in New Delhi. The slide show and discussion were followed by tasty Indian treats--samosas, channa masala, and chutneys galore! We ate. And then we ate again, toasting Gandhi and peace, somewhat ironically, with our plates full of food.