Friday, April 30, 2010

Last Weekend, Part 2

Somehow I've developed an exciting, event-filled life.

OK, maybe not, but I did get a little behind in talking about last weekend, and now I have stuff from this weekend to talk about that I can't because I didn't cover that second bit of two weekends ago. I will now remedy that by discussing my return to the Knoxville Botanical Gardens and Arboretum. When I went last month it was mostly to look around and decide if I wanted to go back, and I'm really glad I did because wow, what a difference a month makes!

For starters, there are actually plants in bloom now:

bright pink flowers

white hydrangea

orange flower cluster

Even the abandoned greenhouses are starting to blossom:

blooming abandoned greenhouse

Some of my excitement was also from it turning out to be a much sunnier day when I went this time. The bright light and blue sky combined with the paths now being sort of leafy and inviting:

garden path

leaves and sunshine

rather than stony, gray, and slightly muddy to make the gardens seem much more interesting. Also, flowers actually blooming means that I got to use my macro zoom setting:

white flower, yellow center

(Look! I'm Joel-gia O'Keefe!)

white bud (2)


and we all know how much I love that setting.

I even photographed wildlife in its natural habitat when I spotted this tiny lizard in one of the stone greenhouses:


The very best part, though, was when I decided to walk around the grounds again, and explore some of the paths that I skipped last time. Not only did I discover a storybook gatehouse that I missed last time:

gatehouse exterior

gatehouse interior

but the little sales building, which was closed up last time:

sales building

was opened now!

sales building (2)

Like Debra Winger said to Robert Redford in "Legal Eagles", an open door is practically an invitation, and what could be better than being invited into urban ruins? And they were beautiful, beautiful ruins indeed:

rusty light

broken glass in windowframe

rusty window handle

thick webs

It was a fantastic day.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Last weekend, part 1

I didn't really go anywhere this weekend, because we were supposed to have rain and wind and tornado weather, so I got into doing laundry and reading and stuff instead. As such, my weekend pretty much looked like this:

Tuesday night excitement

with a little bit of this:


and a dash of Jeannie's kid thrown in for good measure. Not really exciting, I know, so let's talk about last weekend instead.

On Friday night after work I went down to the World's Fair Park for the 2010 Breaking the Silence event. Breaking the Silence is a local even organized by area LGBT organizations as part of the National Day of Silence, which fights anti-gay bullying and harassment in local high schools. Even though I don't know any LGBT high school students, or really many high school students at all, I think it's incredibly brave to come out in high school. My high school didn't have a Gay Straight Alliance, and if they had I wouldn't have joined because I was still working that out for myself, but maybe it would have been a little bit less of a struggle if they did.

The event started with a period of silence lasting several minutes, during which we stared at the people on stage and read the signs the front row was holding:

moment of silence

If you click that photo, the signs will be big enough to read, and you'll see things like, "I am afraid to hold my boyfriend's hand", "I found death threats in my locker", and "No one is proud of me". It's incredibly heartbreaking to read those things, and to know that they are true. LGBT youth are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than straight teenagers, and the most terrible thing about that loss is that it's preventable. Those suicides, which are estimated to number in the hundreds, are a direct result of discrimination, hatred, and an appalling lack of equality in our society, and they are the reason why LGBT youth need every ally they can get.

After the moment of silence was over, a chorus sang "True Colors" (everybody loves the "Glee" arrangement of that now; I hear it everywhere and have it on my own iPod) while the kids out front turned their signs over:

reversing the signs (1)

reversing the signs (2)

and that's why I think they're so brave. Even in the face of oppression, there's always hope.

The whole experience was a little odd for me because I spent a good part of last week in an email dialogue with my high school about issues related to this. Two weeks ago they emailed everyone who had listed themselves in the old alumni directory and asked if we would go re-register at their new, updated page, but when I went to do so I found myself somewhat put off by the "married life" section. The name caught my eye first, and then I got more annoyed as I read the section and discovered that you could be married or not, and could only list the name of a spouse. What if you were widowed? Divorced? Unmarried, or unable to get married, but in a committed relationship? Where were the boxes for those people?

Rather than complete the survey, I sent an email to the webmaster:


I started to update my contact information on the new webpage, but was a little put off by the "married life" section. As one of many gay IRC alumni, I feel that it would be more representative if the section included a space for partner information and maybe a more inclusive title, like "family life". You may get more of a response that way, as all of the alumni could feel included.

I think that's a little bitchy, but not terrible. I waited a week without a response, and mentioned it to my mom on the phone. She got all kinds of irritated, especially since the current superintendant was the assistant principal when we were students and she never liked him, and wanted to go to the school board meeting to make a complaint, but I told her to cool her jets and at least let me send a followup email before she went into full nuclear offensive mode.

I emailed the superintendant directly:

I’m not sure that you’d remember me, but I am a member of the class of 1993, and think that you were Assistant Principal when I was a student. I’d double check, but my yearbooks are at home with my parents, who still live and pay taxes in the district. While I’ve traveled pretty far from Philly since graduating, I still visit often, and have watched the changes and expansions at the high school with interest.

I’m writing to you because I received an email from the IRC webmaster last week, inviting me to sign up for the new alumni database. I followed the link provided to fill in my demographic information and discovered a problem: the “married life” section. The only options given are for alumni to be married or unmarried, which is not inclusive of all alumni. As one of four gay or lesbian alumni that I know of in my graduating class alone, I’m disappointed that the survey does not allow me to list a partner or to reflect that I may be in a partnered relationship. Thinking of my other classmates, several of whom I am still in contact with, this section also does not allow them to reflect a divorced or widowed status.

It is disappointing to see that a directory that is supposed to include all alumni seems to casually disregard the family status of so many of them. I replied to the webmaster’s email with this feedback last Monday, and am even more disappointed to say that not only did I not receive the professional courtesy of a response of any kind, but when I reviewed the survey today before sending this email I noted that no changes have been made. While I always remember Indian River as a welcoming place for a diverse population of students, I am saddened to see that this no longer seems to be the case, based on the way that the alumni are viewed.

That last part is a bit of a fabrication, as I actually remember my high school as having some pretty severe issues with racial tension, but I wanted to try to end on a positive note after using the word "disappointed" about three hundred times in one email.

This finally provoked a response, but not from the superintendant himself. Instead, he delegated my letter out to someone in the business office who spent two paragraphs explaining that they were all gone for spring break and that I should have used the "Contact Us" button rather than replying to the webmaster, and then went on to explain that they had used an outside vendor for the alumni form, that they agreed that my concerns were valid, and that they would contact the vendor to see about making changes. I sent him a nice response thanking them for their attention, and then he wrote back to say that the vendor actually can't make any changes at this time, but would consider it for future updates to the software.

My reaction to this is mixed. On the one hand, it's really nice that they responded to my concern and attempted to find a solution. On the other hand, it's kind of sad that when the school district was looking for an updated product to begin with, nobody read this and thought, "Hey, this isn't really inclusive". Maybe next time they work on something like this, they'll think of that.

Like I said before, there's always hope.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

In Praise of Sunsphere

Sometimes I get excited about dumb things. Case in point:


I love the Sunsphere.

I know, I know, what's not to love? It's tall, it's shiny, it's shaped like a penis, it's been on "The Simpsons"... how could you not love it? I'm being a little sarcastic, but I really do have a little tiny bit of civic pride toward the Sunsphere. When I think about what I like about living here, and things in the city I love and think people should visit when they come here, I think of the Sunsphere. Also, in a more practical sense, it helps me not to get lost downtown. If I get turned around or confused about directions, I'm fine once I figure out which way the Sunsphere is.


As a visual driver with a poor sense of direction, you have no idea how important this is to me.

Since I love the Sunsphere, I have a lot of pictures of it, and that's where I kind of ran into a problem: visually, it's not that interesting, and there are only so many ways you can work with it.

You can get some distance:

path to the sunsphere

or get really close:

looking up

You can even get inside:


You can put stuff alongside it, like flags:

sunsphere with flag

or protestors:

protestors and sunsphere

There's also the option of different times of day. For example, Sunsphere at sunset:

sunsphere sunset

Sunsphere in the dark:

sunsphere at night

and Sunsphere with weird night filter settings on your camera:

spooky sunsphere

In the end, though, the Sunsphere is still the Sunsphere, and all of your pictures of it eventually start to look the same. That's why I was so excited yesterday to suddenly discover a new angle that I hadn't previously considered:

reflected sunsphere

It's a picture of the Sunsphere that the Sunsphere isn't actually in. Suddenly everything old is new again, and it's like the very first time I saw the Sunsphere in all of its tall, shiny glory.

I love you, Sunsphere, and I'm glad you live in my city.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Super Disturbing Super Dictionary

Earlier tonight I was dusting my bookshelves, because "Project Runway" is on tonight and that means Jeannie is coming over to watch TV, and I noticed The Super Dictionary.

Aside from collecting comic books, I also collect comic-related items if I see something that interests or amuses me. I have toys, lunchboxes, plastic Slurpee cups from the 1970's, bookends, a statue or two, magnets, books about comics, and then things like The Super Dictionary, which fall into a category of weirdness all their own. Published in 1978 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, The Super Dictionary was part of a set of four books featuring DC Comics characters that were designed to help children learn to read.

The front features dynamic cover art by comics legend Joe Kubert:

The Super Dictionary

You can tell it was him because he signed it right under Superman's hip. The back cover features a somewhat clever image:

the back of "The Super Dictionary"

but the back cover is also the first indicator that things in this book are a little... off. While the idea of it being the same scene observed from two different angles is clever, the characters aren't actually in the same places if you look from one image to the other. On the front, Hawkgirl is coming through under Wonder Woman and right behind Batman, but on the back Batgirl has somehow gotten in front of her. On the front, Black Canary is behind the Flash, but on the back she's not only in front of him but he's turned away from the hole they're all jumping through and is waving someone else forward.

That's nothing compared to what's going on inside the book, though. Before we get to anything else, let's take a look at an unknown character that I refer to as King Crazy Eyes:

crazy eyes

What the hell is going on in that picture? Is anyone surprised that Wonder Woman is running away from that guy and trying to hide in the bushes? That guy looks like he should also be on the pages for creepy and maybe date rapey.

That's not quite as disturbing as the illustration for asleep:

Lois Lane, sleeping

Why is ninety percent of the Justice League membership in Lois Lane's apartment, watching her sleep? And speaking of apartments, why does the glimpse of Black Canary's include a picture of her taking off her clothes?

Black Canary's apartment

This is for children?

In their defense, it seems like someone at DC Comics did try to edit their content just a little. In the character biographies at the beginning, for example, they presented a nice writeup for Comet, the Super-Horse:

Catwoman, Comet, Conjura

without mentioning that Comet used to be a centaur and sometimes turns into a human rodeo cowboy who makes out with Supergirl. That was probably deemed too weird for kids, unlike Batgirl's bat-kini:

batgirl's bat-kini

or her weird arts and crafts project with Catwoman:

arts and crafts

or whatever's going on between the two of them in this picture:

batgirl and catwoman, gazing

I'm not accusing either of them of, you know, Bat-sperimenting or anything, but notice that the definition right above that picture is gay. Draw your own conclusions.

While we're on the word gay, boy has that definition changed since this thing was published. Can you imagine the protests if a children's dictionary today featured the more common current definition, especially here in Tennessee? It's not the only word that's changed since this was written, either, because The Super Dictionary comes from a time before political correctness. Case in point?


black definition

Conjura, a character who never appeared in a DC comic and was created for this book, is definitely not African-American, and Batgirl isn't caucasian:

white definition

She's a white. Although I've been called a white person or a white guy, I don't think I've ever been referred to as just a white. I guess this was common in 1978.

Getting back to DC's selective editing, though, what's even more amusing than some editor deciding not to include Supergirl's flirtation with equiphilia is some other editor deciding that it's totally ok to portray Green Lantern as the laziest superhero ever:

green lantern, super-lazy

(he makes a hand with his power ring instead of flying the extra three feet to change his clock?) or showing Lois Lane in all of her insane glory.

See, from about 1960 to 1986 or so, Lois Lane was a hot mess who spent half of her time nagging, bullying, or berating Superman:

lois lane, bullying

and the other half of her time fantasizing about marrying him:

lois lane, imagining

Superman, when not pretending to marry her, forcing her to marry someone else, throwing Lana in her face, or setting her up for some sort of prank designed to teach her a lesson, was much more interested in taking vacations alone with his jailbait first-cousin:


Those sunglasses look ridiculously absurd, by the way. Of course, Superman's disinterest in Lois might not have anything to do with his possible yet inappropriate interest in his horse-loving cousin. Instead, it might be a by product of his distaste for Lois' secret drinking problem:

lois lane, "tired" and possibly drunk

Click on that picture so it gets bigger, and get the full effect. That's not very tired, Lois. You look like someone punched you in both eyes. You're pouring coffee onto your kitchen table because you can't find the cup, and you don't even notice. Your tongue is white, and you seem to be wearing Wonder Woman's earrings. Lois, I'm saying this as a friend: I think you might have a problem. I'm not sure why you're not next to the word problem in this dictionary, but the word intervention comes to mind.

You're a hot mess, Lois, and I love The Super Dictionary for showing that to the world.

I bought my copy for a ten dollar "Buy it now!" on ebay several years ago while looking for something else, which was apparently a bargain since Amazon is selling them for between 30 and 115 dollars, but I didn't buy it because it was on sale.

I bought it because every page drips with insanity, and that's totally worth ten dollars.