Jazz Trek

Crowds at an outdoor event of the Montreal Jazz Festival

This year I shall miss the Montreal Jazz Festival (June 25 to July 6, 2010). It will probably be the first time in 10 years that I’ll miss it….so a couple of links for nostalgia’s sake….

http://www.montrealjazzfest.com/video-fijm-2009-en.aspx a link to the festival’s website and a GREAT 5 minute video showing the ambiance of the event (a must-see little film. Whatever you do don’t click on the link ;-) or else you’ll wish you were there – the Festival that B.B. King, Pat Metheny and others call the best in the world.)

And an absolutely amazing jazz version of the theme from Star Trek by John Stetch. Jazz & Star Trek….that’s a sublime gypsy-geek-Heaven of sorts. Well, this isn’t Keith Jarrett’s Koln Concert– probably my all time favourite improv-jazz piano album, and it’s no Thelonius either, but just an absolutely ingenious and playfully improvised version  from a storyline that has always been dear to my heart – definitely a tune where no jazz-piano-man has boldly gone before…..until now:

Here’s more on the incredibly talented Mr. John Stetch:

http://www.johnstetch.com

Tonight the moon is full. Glass of Blue Sapphire in my hand and Blue Monk on the speakers…………here’s to more Stetch and Monk and Corea and Jarrett and Evans to fill the airwaves. And for the heck of it, to add to the pleasure  of music and madness – a photo of the Orion Nebula.

Good night, jazz and other good music lovers! See you perhaps some day at the Montreal International Jazz Festival! or on board the Starship Enterprise……


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The Orion Nebula (click twice for the best close-up view)

This photo shows a colour composite mosaic image of the central part of the Orion Nebula, based on 81 images obtained with the infrared multi-mode ISAAC instrument on the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the Paranal Observatory. The famous Trapezium stars are seen near the centre and the photo also shows the associated cluster of about 1,000 stars, approximately one million years old. Credit: ESO/M.McCaughrean et al. (AIP)


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The Longest Tennis Match

June 24, 2010. Being a devoted tennis enthusiast since childhood till today, I have to post this, even though I know the whole world is tuned into FIFA right now:

Congratulations, John Isner for finally winning your match against Nicolas Mahut! But both of you are winners, really. Wow! The longest match in professional tennis history ever! In July 2008, I’d watched the nail-biting epic Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. That was a game I’ll never forget….But this one just blows one’s mind away due to its sheer length and tenacity. It spread over 3 days for more than 11 hours!  And just the final set itself lasted 8 hours and 11 minutes!! (The shortest tennis match by contrast at a Grand Slam is the 1988 French Open Final which Steffi Graf won 6-0, 6-0 against Natasha Zvereva in a record 32 minutes.) I’m only wondering just how physically exhausted Isner and Mahut must be right now. And this was just a first round match. And Isner has to play another just this coming Friday!

 John Isner

John Isner (Photo: Alastair Grant, AP.) “Honestly, when I left the match, I really thought it was a dream. I didn’t think that type of match was possible. So I was really expecting to wake up, in all seriousness. I didn’t sleep great. I only slept for four hours. I talked to Nic. He said he only slept for about three. So we’re both kind of running on fumes right now. Yesterday, I didn’t know what I was thinking out there, especially once the match got past, you know, 25-all. I wasn’t really thinking. I was just hitting a serve and trying to hit a forehand winner is the only thing I was doing. Fortunately, that was going in on my service games. He was serving great and hopping around eight hours into the match, which was remarkable.”- Isner.

The Associated Press has the following report:

WIMBLEDON, England — John Isner has won the longest match in tennis history, taking the fifth set against Nicolas Mahut 70-68.

The first-round match at Wimbledon took 11 hours, 5 minutes over three days. Isner closed out the victory Thursday with a backhand winner, then collapsed to his back as he tossed his racket in jubilation and relief.

Isner won 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (3), 70-68.

The match lasted so long it was suspended because of darkness — two nights in a row. Play resumed Thursday at 59-all and continued for more than an hour before Isner won.

The American finished with 112 aces, and Mahut had 103. There were only three service breaks in the match, the last coming on the final point.

A more detailed article on the match, quotes by the players and the biographic as well as biometric information of the two towering tennismen is here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/06/24/549681/isner-tops-mahut-in-longest-ever.html

There is something very objective, very individualistic about tennis singles matches that I’ve always found very fascinating. It is a game where victory depends on the person alone, independent of teams, and more based on individual strength, skill and stamina. And when two good players battle it out on the court, there is something very inspiring in the way they both try their best, for the sake of good shots and a good game, without anything personal against each other. There is something extremely powerful about good tennis matches that can only be experienced, not written about.

Bravo Isner & Mahut! Thank you  for giving us an incredible  match that we’ll always remember…..

UNFETTERED

“I have confronted my mortality on many occasions. And If I die tomorrow, at least I could say I’ve LIVED.” –  Independent film maker, animal rights activist & adventurer Tim Gorski.

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Cambridge, MA. June 16, 2010. No enormously drawling lengthy post today or for the rest of the week. Swamped with work and other commitments. (Though I’m looking forward to meeting Christopher Hitchens this evening as he gives a talk at the Harvard Book Store.) Instead a video today of a friend who in my opinion is one of the bravest men I’ve come across in life and one with a remarkable level of integrity.  As I write  this,  images of the massive oil spill in the Florida Gulf and the innocent wildlife victims who paid the price flash through……I had canoed in those waters during my stay there and it is so incredibly sad what the incompetence and lack of accountability of BP has brought about. It was in the state of Florida some years ago that I first met the animal activist who would become my friend.

Through my work  over the years I’ve often come across many environmentalists, most of whom are genuine. But I’ve also sadly come across quite a few who do it more for the publicity or funds and to get their name in the papers; or conversely there are animal rights activists who get rabid about protecting crocodiles and pythons and other wild creatures while being  active consumers of the usual meat industry through the local supermarket. (I’ve always found the second kind rather interesting and hypocritical in the sense how can you tolerate the cruelty of the slaughterhouses that remove newborn calves from their mothers and a list of many other brutal ways in which many other animals are raised, handled and killed, yet take a moral stand with placards about the lives of crocodiles in the wetlands? At least the latter are having free lives in the wild!)

But Timothy Gorski is a film maker and animal activist who walks the walk and talks the talk. There is absolutely not one shred of hypocrisy about him, neither in the products he uses, the food he eats, the life he leads or the causes he defends. And this is very rare to find and see put into practice in the real world. Very rare indeed. His first film ‘Lolita – Slave to Entertainment’ which he had written, directed and produced went on to garner 11 awards and was his campaign to highlight the conditions of whales in captivity. He has also done innumerable works and projects to aid, rescue and heal domestic, wild, captive, stray and abused animals through the years and had made videos to highlight the killing of dolphins years before the documentary ‘The Cove’ was released last year. One of the most down-to-earth and humble people I have known, a couple of years back I’d attended the premier of the documentary ‘At the Edge of the World‘ with him at the Toronto International Film Festival for which he was the cinematographer and had spent several months in Antarctica on board a ship with the crew of Sea Shepherd and Captain Paul Watson. The documentary would go on to win eight awards in various festivals including  the Haskell Wexler best cinematography award for Tim. At the TIFF screening when his name was called out he literally sank into his chair and gave a tiny wave, because he didn’t want to attract the audience’s attention as the applause broke out. Tim’s reward has always been in the eyes of the animals he could help and in the doing, not the human awards, though he knows the reality of marketing in this world if you wish to get the facts across. The man is an utter realist.

Anyone who has watched a video on how whales are slaughtered – literally slashed a piece at a time  and  killed-while-alive – will know why this cruelty is quite senseless and preventable. Yet it is not; and just this year, the US lifted the ban on whale hunts for Japan and Norway, as the ‘exchange’ of Japan’s forgiving some financial debts the US owed it. I have traveled up a few times to the north of Canada in the protected waters of the Tadoussac region to watch the magnificent whales from a zodiac and I still cannot fathom why these mammals are deliberately put through this torture  in other parts of the world when so many other options of food are available to people. During those northern trips, while the larger whales kept to themselves as you watched their gigantic backs and dipping tails from a safe distance, the white beluga whales were so friendly and naive, they would swim alongside you when you kayaked on the waters.

But the tale in Antarctica and the illegal whaling operations that go on there are quite another story….. The reason Paul Watson takes preventive action and had broken out from Greenpeace which he had co-founded, is because he felt that  many organizations would collect millions by showing slaughter footage but nothing was being done to actually save their lives. Only by being in the arena and in the mouth of the lion could slaughter truly be prevented or lives be saved. Something like those working for Doctors without Borders who actually go and do instead of simply talk or ‘pose’ for publicity. Here’s an interview of Tim on board the Farley Mowat in 2006 as part of the Sea Shepherd crew. At its end there are questions that speak very deeply to anyone who listens. It certainly did to me.

What I like most about Tim Gorski is his humility in person and his steely determination and zest for life. He has real life stories of adventures that he may quietly reveal over a glass of beer ranging from days lost in the Amazon (where he had to eat a rat at one point to ward off hunger); spending New Year’s eve amongst the Shan State Burmese rebels who oppose the Burmese Military Government, after he and his crew got lost in the jungles  and caves between Thailand and Burma; when he rushed to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina but stories  there he doesn’t wish to talk about; getting swept away literally during the tsunami in Thailand and many more incidents. You know those explorers and film makers you see on some National Geographic show who are quite simply not afraid? And you wonder if they’re crazy to do the things they do or choose the places they go off to? And then when you meet them, you’re even more surprised for they seem to be the most humourous, humble and humane people you’ve come across? Well, Tim is one of them and I am proud to know him and those like him who are not afraid to defend rational ethics. There are many animals and birds big and small across the planet who I’m sure silently thank him. And I thank him personally for being who he is and as a living testament that men with unshakable and inspiring integrity still survive on this planet.

Here is a promo video of a documentary ‘How I became an Elephant’ currently in production and in search of financial help (since his company is a non-profit based on those who wish to help freely.) While horrendous facts of torture of Southeast Asia’s elephants are a reality, it is heartening to know that there is an elephant sanctuary in Thailand which tries to get the gentle mammals away from poachers and traffickers who put them through an unfathomable amount of torture to ‘break’ and capture them and either kill them for ivory or put them into hard relentless labour. Tim has been able to fund the rescuing of one of those elephants and help the sanctuary through one Hollywood donor, but much, much more work remains to be done, as acts of murder and brutality against these gentle giants still continue.  What is very grounded about Tim is that he understands the complex issues of poverty, trade and survival linked to animal exploitation and is not a clueless anarchist-type activist. But a look at the following video shows the risks he takes and the heart-wrenching torture the elephants are put through. When I watch this I truly wonder how some people can salivate over spending thousands on Blahniks and Fendis and Hummers and fur coats when there are so many more realities and ethics to be aware of. Or just simply know as facts that exist, if even out of a curiosity about the world and its many truths. And even more I wonder at grown-ups who fawn and squeal over fake soft toys on Valentine’s day and Easter and other occasions while real animals are tortured everyday both in the wild and in slaughterhouses. (Warning: contains disturbing footage although most has been edited out of this clip.)

Updated 2013, as the film has already been completed

A link to his company Rattle the Cage below. Feel free to pass this link, videos or this post on to those who genuinely care for the way animals are mistreated in this world and for those who would like to get involved in his film projects.

http://www.rattlethecage.org/

And here is a link to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and the film that took him to Antarctica. (do check it out….absolutely worth it.)

http://www.attheedgeoftheworld.com/

Keep up the good work, my bro! You really are an inspiration of what it means to truly live in this world….

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt (1858 – 1919)

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At the edge of the world


House, HB

Happy Birthday Dr. Gergory House/Hugh Laurie. (According to wiki Dr. House’s b’day is on June 11, the same day as the actor who plays his part.)

One of the most fascinating and intriguing male characters on television in years. (The only three other male characters I liked on TV were Jeremy Brett as Holmes, Leonard Nimoy as Spock and Pierce Brosnan as Remington Steele.) Love your wit, sarcasm, cynicism, say-it-as-it-is-biting-brutal-honesty; your puzzle-solving obsession, your efficiency-over-emotionalism, and the complex depth underneath the hard surface. INTJ man extraordinaire.(It is sad at times that as a female INTJ, we can often relate and identify so much better with the male fictional counterparts in their inner natures, (minus their misery) since women of this type are so, so small in number and hardly any are shown in the media, especially on TV……oh well! Maybe only Lisa Simpson & a few of the female detectives in Law and Order….)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregory_House

Student: “You’re reading a comic book.”

Dr. House: “And you’re calling attention to your bosom by wearing a low-cut top.”

[the student covers her chest with her clipboard]

Dr. House: “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought we were having a state-the-obvious contest. I’m competitive by nature.”

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Sidetracked Alert: Happens often to most of us, I guess. And so much better explained graphically by uber-geek & unconventional cartoonist Randall Munroe of xkcd.com:

source: xkcd.com/214/

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6-9.

June 9 : Today is a very special day for me for personal reasons. So I’ve decided to place something that I really love – an image from one of my long time interests – Astronomy. And a quote from one of my favourite scientists, three from two good authors; and one from a  favourite philosopher. (And I’ve added two more photos in my ‘about’ page.)

The following image is courtesy the European Southern Observatory. For more on this go to: http://www.eso.org

The Nebula NGC 6334 (click to enlarge)

The Cat’s Paw Nebula (NGC 6334) is a vast region of star formation. This new portrait of NGC 6334 was created from images taken with the Wide Field Imager instrument at the 2.2-metre MPG/ESO telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, combining images taken through blue, green and red filters, as well as a special filter designed to let through the light of glowing hydrogen. NGC 6334 lies about 5500 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Scorpius. The whole gas cloud is about 50 light-years across.

NGC 6334 is one of the most active nurseries of massive stars in our galaxy and has been extensively studied by astronomers. The nebula conceals freshly minted brilliant blue stars — each nearly ten times the mass of our Sun and born in the last few million years. The region is also home to many baby stars that are buried deep in the dust, making them difficult to study. In total, the Cat’s Paw Nebula could contain several tens of thousands of stars.

The nebula appears red because its blue and green light are scattered and absorbed more efficiently by material between the nebula and Earth. The red light comes predominantly from hydrogen gas glowing under the intense glare of hot young stars.  – ESO


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“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity and I’m not sure about the the universe.” – Albert Einstein

“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” – George Orwell

“A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that’s unlocked and opens inwards; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

“How wrong it is for a woman to expect the man to build the world she wants, rather than to create it herself.” – Anais Nin. And from her again:

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

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P.S. A very Happy Birthday to these achievers who have/had their birthdays today: Johnny Depp, Cole Porter, Jackie Mason, Natalie Portman, Aaron Sorkin, Michael J. Fox, Anoushka Shankar (sitarist), Kiran Bedi (first woman to join and become Director General of the IPS), Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (first woman mayor in England),  Gian Gomeshi, Canadian broadcaster and journalist), Johann G Galle (German astronomer), George Stephenson (inventor of RR locomotive)

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D-Day anD Dieter Dengler

 

For  the  post  on  NASA’s  LANDSAT 7  &  TERRA  Satellite  images  go HERE

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D – DAY anD DIETER DENGLER

Today, 6th June (6-6), 2010 is the 66th anniversary of the Normandy landings by the Allied troops which changed the course of World War II and the start of the defeat of Hitler’s reign of evil. For more details on this, here is a wiki article.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/6the June – D-Day

But what I wish to write here mainly about is of one the most profound and unforgettable documentaries I have ever watched. In my entire life. My only regret is that I had not watched it sooner. It is one of those stories that changes forever the way you view life, your place in it, the stories behind seemingly ordinary folks you run into at the grocery store or walk by the street; the manner in which you perceive reality in this world, the relativity of pain and sorrow and most of all, to witness first hand the incredible human spirit of survival against all odds. Yes, against every possible odd, when death is possibly your only friend and yet you do not give up on life. The documentary is named ‘Little Dieter Needs to Fly’.  Directed by the unique and amazingly accomplished and talented film maker Werner Herzog. I do not think words can do justice to the experience at a deep visceral and existential level that this film produces, so remarkably engrossing it is. Both visually and audibly in its unique artfulness. And with just a real life character and a few hired locals from Laos who help re-enact Dieter’s journey as he narrates it, it is still the simplest yet most profound stories on film a man can experience.

The story of a man who grew up in great hardship and all he wanted was to learn how to fly, from the day  as a little boy he caught the eye of an allied pilot who was shooting down his house. The grandson of the only man in his entire village who had not voted for Hitler and faced its consequences. The man who ended up as a pilot for the US Air Force and later a POW in Laos during the Vietnam War. And a man who for some reason just did not give up on life. I will not write the details of the harrowing tortures he went through in the hands of the Vietcong, or the details of the horrors he himself participated in due to his actions as an US army-man. Because this is a film to be seen, not written about, even though most of the experience of the viewer is simply from the narration of Dieter talking to the camera. What struck me most was quite simply the state of being of this man who was neither bitter, neither angry, neither judgmental nor traumatized but came across as just an objective, almost obsessive observer of life and the situations and realities that surrounded him. And saw both sides without any hatred, but only an obsession to fly. And in the harshest of circumstances since his childhood still somehow found inspiration. In war both sides are victims in the power play of leaders who use their citizens and soldiers as pawns. There are no winners. One country’s hero is another country’s barbarian and vice versa. And the torture of a Caucasian is no greater nor lesser than the torture of the Asians killed by dropped bombs. (Although you do begin to understand why the Geneva Conventions for the treatment of prisoners of wars were made, in 1929 and 1949, not that they are still followed everywhere.)  As Dieter says: “I don’t think of myself as a hero. No, only the dead people are heroes.”

I have amongst my friends a few who were former US marines and pilots. And an older lady who had fled Vietnam during the war and is a well established painter in America now. The marines I knew had entered the force more out of financial necessity. The lady had fled on a boat from Vietnam and would end up as a prominent painter and anti-war activist in the U.S. They had stories that were remarkable  and poignant. They had told me tales of their experiences and their views on war. The ways in which they perceived the world after that. How sometimes simple joys such as even lying back on a mound of grass and watching the sunlight filter through the veins of a leaf was a profound source of pleasure. This film only reinforced the point even more.

This is a documentary that despite picking up several awards is not something that has been shown around with great fanfare or publicity. There are no glamorous posters, and the online videos are insufficient and misplaced and it is best not to see those. And though it was remade as a full length feature film later in Hollywood, the latter did no justice to the real thing. Dieter Dengler in real life with his ordinary looks and captivating thickly accented monologues is ten times better than any Hollywood actor playing his part. But every person who has seen this documentary knows that it is one of those rare gems that changes  your life forever. That makes you view every moment of freedom, every meal, every drink, every warm bed as a gift. And makes you thank your lucky stars for the gift of life and comfort. That makes you question why people get into wars over ideologies and religion. And most of all, gives you the courage and determination to overcome every little hardship in life without complaining. A truly remarkable testament of the human will, of luck and of optimism.  As one reviewer wrote on the IMDB site – ‘Cancel your shrink and watch Little Dieter.’  And as though the documentary isn’t enough to uncover the unbelievable truth of Dieter’s life, at the very end of the credits, as a postscript you see a last clip of a very solemn yet somewhat comical ritual (comical only because the steps of folding a flag seem  so far removed from the gritty reality of the unpresumptuous basics of life that the protagonist has lived through) and at the ceremony the face of a woman of a certain ethnicity which leaves you intrigued and wondering that there is a whole other story of his private life that we do not know of.

If there is one documentary on DVD (and darn – there are SO many good ones, how can one pick!) that will make you determined to be content with the life you have and count every gift as a blessing, and to come out against all odds, this is the film. Amazingly intriguing. Indescribably captivating. Gut-wrenchingly true. Unfathomably powerful  in both its minimalism and intensity. And only the mastery of Herzog behind the camera could have brought this to life.

Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997) – a film by Werner Herzog.

I think I’m just going to go and watch it all over again.


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Sidetracked Alert: A Very Happy Birthday today to a very special friend – a former accidental US marine who was born more to be a marine biologist or an evolutionary scientist  (with his INTP disposition) but instead ended up as a computer whiz after a stint at the Marines (and thankfully did not kill anyone.) Avid canoe-er and fisher, dog-lover, wood worker,  and a man of many varied trades, talents and quirky interests. With an exceptionally good heart. And a very unusual and intriguing story of his own life and adventures that I hope he writes a book about someday. Happy Birthday! Hope you watch the documentary if you haven’t. I remembered you a little as I watched it because Dieter’s style of narrating reminded me of the detailed manner in which you talk (minus the accent.) And your general optimism against all the odds you yourself have faced.



Racqueting on a Grass Court

(The following post ‘Racqueting on a Grass Court’  was originally posted in April 2010)

DOUBLE FAULT: How to fill that hole in your soul with everything other than healthy self-esteem and self-reliance:

(or) LOST IN IDIOT-IZATION

The ‘perfect’ Cosmo-Girl (base pic of the lampoon via ‘Inredimazing’ – I changed the text a bit)

0-15: I have often wondered: When was the last time the media showed as a true real-life inspirational figure a smart, sexy, kind, level-headed, brilliant, beautiful (in and out) and emotionally healthy woman? With good taste in books , art and music and style. Especially one that a young girl could emulate as a role model?

Today, the images of women the media bombards you with as a cultural norm and “normalcy” seem like an anthology of bimbos and borderlines. (And I don’t mean actresses. At least, most accomplished actresses went to film  and theatre school and have talent and self-made wealth and some among them, such as Jodie Foster and Natalie Portman have other university degrees to boot. There are extremely grounded ones like Hilary Swank, Charlize Theron, Julia Stiles and Jorja Fox. And the quotes of the beautiful Sophia Loren and Katherine Hepburn portray an incredibly wise philosophy about life.)

I mean the women who gained their fame through little real talent or work, but rather through undignified notoriety.

Today anyone, it seems can sashay into the limelight through scandal, sex tapes and/or being the ‘other’ woman. Or popping out multiple octo-kids or getting pregnant as a teen for some ‘reality’ show. (ok – there’s nothing inherently wrong about making private ‘sex tapes’ or even being the ‘other woman’ (I’m not judgmental that way) – but claiming ‘fame’ on that basis alone with no real talent or accomplishment of your own is just plain crass and  idiotic.) Or  if you are an out-of-work ‘celebrity’ by crying aloud some sad ‘victim’ story. Give me a break – instead of their weight battles about how much food they gobbled or threw up – go take a trip to some war zone or some suppressed country and then you’ll know what TRUE suffering and victimization of women is in those parts.

As a young girl I used to have posters of Steffi Graf on the walls of my room. And one of Valentina Tereshkova., the first woman in space. I was also a huge admirer of the physicist and chemist Marie Curie but they didn’t make posters of her ;-) (And though I did have a stunning pin-up of Marilyn Monroe, my mother had made sure to tell me about the instability in her personal life, so I could admire her beauty, but not her turbulence.)

Speeches by Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher were  often in the news. And I went through a phase where I read all about the concept of Shakti (Sanskrit for ‘to be able’ and part of the Shiva-Shakti , or male-female duality) or the feminine form of creativity and energy which existed in a state of svātantrya, or ‘self-reliance’ with ‘a dependence on no-one yet being interdependent with the entire universe.’ The concept of Shakti was symbolized in the goddesses in Hinduism whose multifarious forms denoted the versatile roles  a woman could have  all-in-one – magnificently draped in red and gold, with each hand holding an instrument signifying the multiple tasks she could perform – as a scholar, musician, warrior, lover, mother, wife, businesswoman, explorer, compassionate giver and many more. And apparently ‘practicing symbolic hand-gestures’ with the hand that was empty!  (A certain rebellious gesture?) I thought that was a cool departure from the patriarchal sad or stern-faced ‘Gods’ and ‘saints’ whose portraits adorned the corridors and chapel of my all-girls’ Catholic private school. (As a mix of six different ethnicities I was exposed to many different religions – Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and hence saw the pros and cons of all – so I have to say I’m a non-religious atheist more in the school of thought of the rationalists like Dennett, Russell and one of my heroes – Carl Sagan.)

Anyway, in my room Fraulein Graf ruled the walls.  I would be glued  to the TV every time she played. I’d scour sports-mags to find her photos. And I used to think back then, and still do, that Steffi embodied smarts, health, self-made wealth through her talent; she was an avid reader of Hemingway, Vonnegut and other good writers; loved dogs, horses and at one time was the highest donor to the World Wild Life Fund for Nature; and then went on to start her own non-profit charity Children of Tomorrow  (for those traumatized by war) without making a media circus. And was not tabloid-crazy but rather maintained a quiet dignity about her private life. (And also had a good eye for furniture design.)

My other role models included women I personally knew and came across in life who combined femininity and feminism in a beautiful way. Who were dignified, intelligent, strong, self-assured but had not compromised their empathy, softness, kindness and feminine skills that are unique to womanhood. Women who I considered as ‘complete.’ And balanced.

Steffi Graf – An inspirational individualist & a versatile winner. Her posters adorned my walls in my teenage years:

15-30 : Yes – I truly wish there were more role models for women these days – those who combined humour, smarts, attractiveness, kindness, empathy AND rationality AND integrity. And were mentally balanced and humble.  The ‘options’ the media presents are usually the airhead busty bimbos OR the pathologically narcissistic she-men ruthless-corporate-bitch-prototype OR the dowdy-intellectual-angry-feminist-male-basher OR the crazy-sexually-rampant-artist-suffering-from-borderline-personality-disorder OR the dumb-girly-girl-Cosmo-worshipper OR the new-age-pseudoscience-worshiping-post-hippie OR the perennially-depressed-nagging-anorexic-or-overweight-arty-girl-with-issues OR those nauseating real-housewife-of-some-county-type OR the heart-of-gold-stripper OR the-rescue-me-single-mom (whether they need rescuing or it’s just a hook.) My random in-jest or perhaps true guesses for the reasons behind the glamorization of borderline, narcissistic and/or histrionic women in the media are:

(A)   Most neurotic, nerdy screenwriters are magnets for attracting women with BPD/HPD. The initial hooking-game, the crazy sex, the push-pull dynamics, the manipulations/lying/cheating/screaming. That’s why they feature so much in film and TV scripts and dramas. (Hmmm – in fact guess what? That is a fact: http://gettinbetter.com/award.html  Drama – queens sell drama. Who knew? ;)

(B)   Most female bosses in show-biz might be narcissistic.

(C)   Most fashion magazines have tons of gay men on their staff who care very little about what ‘type’ of woman they are promoting as long as the shoes and clothes look good on her. (I do have many dear close gay friends, and do know this for a fact.)

(D)  You have to be drawn to attention and drama to throw out your problems and skin to the media – so if you seek notoriety you actually DO get rewarded for it – because the crowds love the freak show! It sells! Money & the masses rule over ‘quality’! No surprises there.

I cannot even remember the last time I saw a balanced intelligent woman in the  media in the last several years. Maybe Tina Fey? Rachel Maddow? Norah Jones (before she went revengeful after her recent heartbreak?) Danica McKellar (who’s talented, sexy, grounded and a brilliant math whiz and writer.) Or the introverted and down-to-earth violin virtuoso Hilary Hahn who is smart, witty, beautiful, super-talented, supports philosophical and rational ethics and writes very well on her online diaries? Why don’t they give women scientists more coverage? The only ones who seem to actually embody some good or interesting qualities are fictional: Amelie Poulain, Lara Croft, Uhura, Lisa Simpson, Elizabeth Bennett.

A few good inspiring women all seem to be fictional fantasies but are based on the small minority of women who have avoided extinction:

The shy, quirky, introverted do-gooder Amelie from the movie “Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain

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The kick-ass, no-nonsense, smart, sexy archaeologist & adventurer Lara Croft (and yes – I’m a Tomb Raider gamer since 1999.)

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The role of Star Trek’s gifted communications officer Uhura Nyota was not only a trailblazer for women of colour when she first appeared in the 1960s, but the 2009 version shows a brilliant, attractive and confident geek -girl who also combines empathy and tender understanding as evidenced in her relation with the logical and stoic Mr. Spock.

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Lisa Simpson is a pretty good role model for geeky girls who’re into books, jazz, environmental ethics, political awareness & maintain their own individuality without succumbing to peer pressure.

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The elegant, outspoken, independent Elizabeth Bennett from Jane Austen’s Victorian classic ‘Pride and Prejudice’ still embodies the timeless essence of a soft-feminine-yet-strong-intelligent woman with a dignified sense of self.

When did goodness-with-brains-and-beauty-and-talent-and-dignity become boring? I think when that combo became a minority and in order to ‘sell’ you had to present women who represented the loud masses. Hence the idiot-ization of womanhood. Or the glamorization and fake-beautification of frivolity. On one  increasingly extreme corner is where plastic surgery is considered normal. During my two years in Florida, I was horrified how rampant cosmetic surgery was. Ads promoting it were more common on the radio than weather reports. In fact, I even thought at one point that on South Beach’s Ocean Drive where people would loudly honk in the slow rubber-necking traffic, they should sell bumper stickers or have traffic signs that read ‘Honk if Your Boobs are Real’ in order to ensure quiet.

Then there is its anti-movement which is another extreme and equally illogical. This extreme promotes that even if you eat insanely, do not exercise and do not wish to make any attempts to be pleasing even to the man you love (and spend the days in ill-fitting jogging pants and smelly t-shirts and consider cooking as ‘demeaning’ and shaving hairy legs as ‘suppression’) – you should be accepted as ‘beautiful,’, ‘healthy’ and cherished and respected, by virtue of being a woman alone – and hell should have no fury like a woman scorned for not being called ‘beautiful’ EVEN if she truly, factually, visually, mentally isn’t!   i.e. Feelings have to become Facts by cognitive dissonance and all shapes and sizes – not due to genetic predisposition – but due to unhealthy diets should be considered ‘beautiful’ in an orgy of political correctness. And Woe betide the man who follows his evolutionary instinct to find a certain hip-to-waist ratio attractive and can’t get turned on by wobbly pears and apples! ‘Accept my shapeless body as beautiful, or else prepare for my wrath!! Don’t you dare watch those Victoria Secret’s models!! Stop responding to your male hormones!! Submit to me alone! Respect! Restrain! Reassure! ’

So in either case, an Extreme rules each end and is glorified : either utter prudishness or gutter promiscuity, either armed combat or wanton wombat, either the she-man or the gossip-girl, either the Bible-nut or the Satan-‘slut’ – and no one seems to question – where is the middle point? The balance? The equilibrium which does not swing to polar opposites? That  feels neither the need to be  exhaustingly needy nor the need to be exhaustively controlling? That stable mid-point where you neither need to prove nor preen, but just enjoy being your own authentic self? A complete, healthy, confident woman?

But if the ‘feeling, hyper-ventilating’ girls are over-represented in society and in the media, where then are the ‘thinking’ women hiding? Locked up in ivory towers where the class bullies from high school will never get them again? Or introverted and shy like Amelie, just wishing to quietly go about their lives helping others; or adventurous in their solitude and travels like Lara Croft.

I will write more about my thoughts on ‘thinking’ women another day. (And whether it works or not, what I found out about my own Briggs-Meyers personality ‘type’ –INTJ (bordering on INTP & INFJ traits as well)- after years, literally years of puzzling why ‘introverted thinking’ women were a minority. If these tests and typologies work, then only 0.0075% of women , i.e. 0.5% of 1.5% of the total population who test as being so, belong to the type INTJ [Introverted Intuitive Thinking Judging] and it seems the majority of women in the world are Extroverted, Sensing and Feeling as opposed to ‘Thinking’. Note: Everyone thinks and feels, but ‘feeling’ here means decisions based more on emotional (subjective-feeling-based) reasoning instead of rational (objective-fact-based) reasoning. In the past, INTJ women were probably burnt off as witches for being independent thinkers and not following the crowd but their own concepts.)

30-40, DEUCE: Before I walk off the court, here’s an example of what kind of ‘pain’ is thrown out as a claim check to pity these days….it is sometimes so ridiculous, one has to laugh! And who can you blame when Cosmo-girl and some entitled-self-absorbed-‘real’(a.k.a so good at faking, it feels real)-housewives-of-tanning-salon-orange-skin-county type idiotic reality shows are teaching young girls how to leech off men or rather how to learn the art of being the ‘professional victim’ or the ‘entitled princess.’

Here is a link to an article from a rather humourous (and healing) site I recently discovered run by a Rene-Magritte-loving, Bill-Maher-loving, witty,  no-nonsense, non-sappy woman therapist who decided to finally have the guts to point out that in many instances women’s ‘rights’ have been pushed to the point of unjustified and unfair entitlement and misused to the point of male-abuse. And that a lot of our shallow media messages – as well as the pathological lack of empathy in such women – are teaching them to behave like spoilt, entitled ‘victims’ (even when they aren’t real victims) and getting away with screaming, abusing, controlling and whipping their partners to pamper to every whim of theirs. This particular article is hilarious as it shows how in the present economy, women who, well, shall we say married for the perks, are now lamenting that they can no longer afford their overpriced cocktails and Jimmy Choos now that their Wall Street husbands have lost their ‘sheen’? And Oh! Isn’t that such a tragedy? Here is an excerpt from Dr. Palmatier’s article. ‘I Ain’t Saying She’s a Gold Digger: Entitled Wall Street Wives Bail on Their Husbands’

“According to the New York Times article, It’s the Economy, Girlfriend: “Once it was seen as a blessing in certain circles to have a wealthy, powerful partner who would leave you alone with the credit card while he was busy brokering deals. Now, many Wall Street wives, girlfriends and, increasingly, exes, are living the curse of cutbacks in nanny hours and reservations at Masa or Megu. And that credit card? Canceled.”

Wow, where do I begin? How about their seemingly gross lack of emotional support for men whom they supposedly love? Instead of helping their husbands and boyfriends, they’ve formed a “support group” where they mourn the loss of their carefree shopping sprees and weekends in the Hamptons. The craziest thing about this gaggle of entitled, shallow women is that they actually take themselves seriously. I’m waiting for their televised charity benefit, “Blahniks for Selfish Chicks.”

For the full article and a fuller laugh, go here (really worth it!) : http://shrink4men.wordpress.com/2009/01/28/gold-digger-entitled-wall-street-wives-bailing-on-their-husbands/

ADVANTAGE, GAME, TIEBREAK: Now, I’m not saying that ‘pain and sorrow’ does not exist for many women in the world. We have come a long way through the efforts of trailblazers and pioneers who have fought for the equality and rights many take for granted today, and whose names are less remembered than the ubiquitous names of many airheads that dominate the news on a regular basis.

But as I had written earlier(We all have the right to feel sad at times, but we do not have the right to feel ungrateful) there are different degrees, types and intensities of pain and anyone who has taken the time to educate herself on global problems will know that such horrible acts of injustice, misogyny and abuse go on towards women in many parts of the world that the damsels born in wealthier and more democratic countries should thank their lucky stars that they live here.

Really.

You cannot compare your ‘victim-hood’ of a non-matching purse-with-shoes to the rape and poverty that goes on in some very real places in the world. And even if you are luckier for the country you live in, this is not to say that abuse, abandonment and other emotional/physical traumas don’t take place here either. But you have to get a grounded perspective depending on how real your pain really is, and that you do not exaggerate imagined hurt. If you have faced real, tangible trauma then that is extremely sad and needs to be healed. But if your ‘trauma’ comes from truly superficial frivolities, please do a check-up for selfishness and shallow-self-centredness.

I have myself  been attacked on the streets twice here, in North America (and I won’t even go into the incidents that I braved in some other parts of the world.)  My family was an ocean away so I did not even have the luxury of recuperating under loving care, but had to find my strength from within. I have overcome the physical pain and the mental trauma and identified them as isolated incidents. I have not gone around holding out my pain as some claim check to pity or to lash out at every man because he happens to belong to the same gender as the attacker on the street. And I have faced emotional trauma too in other instances, but I’ve learned, grown and strengthened from them, as I have found quite a few other women do the same. So it surprises me to no end when I see some girls or women kicking, screaming and crying because their mascara is smudged or their hairstyle got perturbed or their boyfriend is late or if he hasn’t called them with tele-marketeer frequency. Geez – Get some perspective of reality!

Healthy, seemingly strong women are not impervious to pain. We feel ‘pain’ too, often deeply and intensely – only we have learned through our own rationality and work and creativity to channel it into productive positivism after understanding it, instead of wallowing in it.

Rational or more reflective women use their own pain to churn out positivity and introspection, and if possible help others gain perspective. Our self-respect stops us from doing ‘save me’ tactics and games. Our ‘grounded-ness’ or rather, an honest appraisal of our own flaws and strengths prevents us from becoming self-delusional, or worse, deluding others. We are vulnerable and definitely sometimes need a man’s help and hand too – only we understand it in a sane, free, respectful way – not as the cunning vampirish ‘rescue’ hook-and-suck which professional victims like to play and which we are incapable of.

Just like I’ve seen in life that some of the toughest, strongest men are vulnerable inside, so are the strong women. They are very vulnerable and in touch with their feelings too, but perhaps a bit more private about it. Except they have learned to solve problems through their own intellect and learned to laugh and be free and happy.

And what does society do? Instead of rewarding them for their strength and goodness, they bend over backwards to ‘reward’, and ‘understand’ and ‘rescue’ the manipulators and liars who can play ‘victim’ over the smallest petty problem. This might be a capitalist country but it practices ‘emotional socialism’ more than any other! And bullies and men/women with issues and insecurities take full advantage of it. While the givers and emotionally healthy men and women are punished and flogged till they can give no more and are exhausted; and till more fresh healthy givers to suck blood and empathy from arrive. Careful! Don’t get Stockholm Syndrome by falling in love with and defending emotional abusers!

This may sound harsh, but it has to be said like it is. Because the truth is that the end-result of the ‘training’ of young girls and women to not work on their self-reliance and self-awareness, but instead to be frivolous, materialistic, manipulative, dependent, shallow, greedy and get influenced by stupid magazines and media-shows takes the toll when they in turn teach those ‘values’ to their own daughters or find men they can whip and manipulate to be their sugar-daddies or slaves-of-surrender. And the cycle of emotional abuse in relationships begins again. So the shallow ‘tips and tricks’ that are taught and learned – in short to be dumb-greedy-manipulative at the end definitely devour souls and self-esteem. In addition to brains, of course.

6-7, 2-0: I’ve often thought there should be a movement to launch a magazine titled ‘Thinking Women’. For and by thinking women.

If I had to sum up most of the shallower women’s magazines, soaps and shows that are out there, all their articles and episodes can be neatly divided into two categories :  (1) How to GET a man. (2) How to GET OVER a man.

Or in other words – how to remain constantly insecure. And jump in and out of relationships instead of finding yourself first.

Or ‘Flirt. Fuck. Fight. Flight.’ The art of flipping out or freaking out for finding froggy princes.

Or ‘Re-Open. Ride. Roost. Till you get Ring. Then – Rant, Rave, Regurgitate. Then -Rinse, Repeat.’ Period. And that’s not a pun, although I’m inclined to say that the message that most vacuous and manipulative women seem to wish to propagate through their words and actions is: “How to crave and scream and complain in a permanent PMS-mode.”

And then there’s that male-bashing as a justification to bad moods. The only men who pay the price  for the PMS-permanency are the kinder, gentler men. The men who are truly nasty continue to remain so. And the good men end up paying the price for the bad apples. Just as good women end up paying the price for the misconceptions created by the malevolent ones.

6-7, 6-3, 6-0: True femininity does not have to come at the expense of feminism. Nor intellect at the expense of beauty. Why can’t a woman be intelligent, self-assured, intellectual and at the same time sexy, soft and feminine? A balance, sans extremes.

Does my stand make me an anti-feminist? Not at all. As a woman in a technical field with almost 90% men not only am I quietly and more strongly doing something for gender equality through my profession, my sympathies lie with those women who are smart, kind, strong, rational and know the value of both inner and outer beauty and are true representatives of what as individuals they can achieve. Individual women who embody authenticity and integrity, rare as they may be in our society today. And I salute them.

But to those women I’ve called out on their ‘act’ here who want to show bitchiness, craziness, irrational rage, emotions and entitlement and idiocy as some ‘norm’ of being ‘womanly’ in some circle of sappy greedy sinister sisterhood – sorry – you are the real betrayers of your gender and an insult to what being a complete woman, or a Woman of Substance truly means to be.

And that means playing life with a strong,  fair forehand. No self-delusion, no self-denial. No games. No tricks. For the only ‘games’  should be on the tennis court.  Game, Set, Match-point.  And you don’t have to be either super-rich nor famous to be a winner, for the only ‘spectator’ you need applause from is your own authentic sense of self.

True self-confidence is when you need no one else’s approval except your own to feel good about yourself. And in the long sweaty tournament of life, it takes a real champion to win with true integrity. Consistently. Their numbers may be few, but they are the ones who are true upholders of the responsibility entailed in being a complete, real, versatile woman. I have a feeling Fraulein Forehand would agree with that.

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“One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes… and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.” Eleanor Roosevelt

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Related posts:

(1) Punishing an ENTIRE team ’cause a woman engineer was both whipper-smart AND gorgeous. (The ridiculous University of Waterloo incident.)

(2) Saltationism of Silliness (Monty Python’s Silly Walks vs. the heinous cruelty of what goes behind fashion’s fur products.)

(3) Sweatshops for your Sex and the City Too.