The Ninja Glass Ceiling


StateLibQld_1_141947_Female_athlete_competing_in_the_Motor_Sports_Carnival_in_Brisbane,_Queensland,_1914On July 16, Kacy Catanzaro, a 24-year-old New Jersey native and former gymnast, shattered a glass ceiling you likely didn’t know existed. She became the first woman ever to qualify for the American Ninja Warrior finals.

I’m not a fan of American Ninja Warrior. In fact, I only tuned in the night that Catanzaro achieved fame because the show happened to be the least stupid thing on TV. And that’s saying something. Because for the first half hour, American Ninja Warrior appeared to be a competition in which muscle-bound men grimace and flex as they work their way through a ridiculously difficult obstacle course.

But then I saw Catanzaro. A woman! How would she do? She looked fit, but tiny. “It’s a really tall order for someone who is five feet tall and weighs just a 100 pounds,” said one announcer ominously. Continue reading

Abstruse Goose: Barbie Goes Rogue


barbierella_queen_of_the_galaxyI really have nothing to add here.  The storyline is complete.

Except I don’t see why Barbie’s expectations are unrealistic, given her great age and many capabilities — doctor Barbie, babysitter Barbie, pilot Barbie, yoga teacher Barbie, princess Barbie.  And why not, though the mind boggles somewhat, a Girl Bilbo Barbie? She’s almost a sort of Inanna, isn’t she.  I wouldn’t see why she couldn’t take over Planet Earth if she felt like it.


The Last Word


July 21 – 25, 2014

Helen traces the Hebridean history of the Lewis chessmen, with a technical note on walrus tusk carving.

Erik had difficulty focusing throughout childhood, and that was before fast-paced animations and iPads. Where will the new generation find their focus?

Forget retro-chic and steam-punk – Craig likes to rock it ancestral style. He got his hands on some red ochre, upon which it seems traditional societies the world over have converged, adopting it as their paint of choice.

Dan Vergano, senior writer-editor at National Geographic, joins a scrum of LWONers who moan about the perils of piecework and its effect on quality and the fourth estate in general. We swap recipes for eating rocks, flavoured with dirt.

Pathetic fallacy is not just for literature and film. Michelle samples some children’s art from a sociologist’s study, and the works – in all their variety – express angles of nature that reflect all manner of hopes and fears.

Photo credit: Travis Nep Smith

Draw Me a Picture of Nature


3987263373_c27ea2298e_oThe literary critic Raymond Williams once wrote that “Nature is perhaps the most complex word in the language.” It’s a head-scratcher right up there with love, or goodness: We depend on it for survival, but we’re often not quite sure where it is, what it is, or whether we’re a part of it. Jessica Mikels-Carrasco, who recently completed her Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Notre Dame, asked a group of kindergarten and elementary-aged children in South Bend, Indiana, to weigh in on the puzzle. “Draw me a picture of nature,” she told them, and they did. Continue reading

The Gig Economy


186192167_670725de74_bA number of the People of LWON are freelancers.  They work from story to story, one publication after another, holding multiple positions all the while. One reason for freelancing is that staff jobs at newspapers or magazines, which have always been sparse, are now outright rare. So writers go out on their own; they put their careers together out of spare parts.  Dan Vergano, veteran newspaperman and science writer at National Geographic, says this kind of freelance career feeds something called the “gig economy.”

Dan thinks the gig economy creates a poorer, less-responsible climate for science writing. The LWONers, apparently part of a national trend in openness, have opinions.  Dan is kind enough to elicit them.

Dan:  Shall we call this “gagging on the gig economy?” Continue reading

The Ritual of Red Ochre


Sarah's face My face

Sarah dipped her fingers in mineral paint and lifted them to her face. Standing on the bold, white surface of the Harding Icefield in south-central Alaska, she painted brown-red stride-marks across wind-dried skin. We were several days into a trek by skis, ropes, sleds and backpacks, and were as far out as we’d get. She then turned to Q and me, two others in our team of five, and fixed each of our faces in her gaze, then swiped pigment on us, hydrated iron oxide the color a deep, warm blush.

The pigment came from the Southwest, something I’d wheedled out of a fine, mineral-laden clay in the Bright Angel Shale formation, northern Arizona. No more than a thumb wrapped tightly in a plastic grocery bag, I’d been carrying the dry pigment in my pack for 15 years, and would pull it out whenever the notion struck me.

Ochre is a general term for hematite, iron oxide, the ceremonial stone connected to ritual behavior at Upper Paleolithic sites around the world. Continue reading

Zoned Out


shutterstock_110442686There a few moments in your childhood that stick with you the rest of your life. I don’t mean first kiss, prom, or that time you punched Kelly Weir in the stomach for stealing your bike (believe me, he had it coming). Those are big moments. I mean the little things – the things that everyone else has forgotten but you.

For me, one such moment was during my first week of seventh grade. It was gym class and Mr. Morris wanted me to do something. I don’t remember what it was, that’s not the crucial bit. I just remember it was on the grass, near the softball field that no one ever used. Morris, who had the sort of chiseled, aged face that you could imagine drove all the girls nuts in 1962, snapped his fingers and said, “Focus!”

Then he said something I’ll never forget. “Focus on what you are doing, Erik. You’ve heard that before, haven’t you?”

Indeed, I had heard it before. I heard it every year, in fact, in elementary school. Mrs. Ward, Mrs. Kraft, Mr. Manegetti, they all probably said it. What – I was kind of a space cadet, okay? I daydreamed. I had my own world that was way more interesting than cloud charts and “To Kill A Mockingbird.” So sue me. My grades were good and I didn’t cause trouble. Continue reading

The Chessmen That Conquered the World (of Cinema)


two of the Lewis chessmen

Last night I was watching the movie Brave. It’s the story of a Scottish princess with exuberantly curly red hair who doesn’t want to be married to some dumb scion of a clan just because their dads are allies. She shoots arrows. There are magic spells and lots of bagpipes.  It was a good thing to watch on a Sunday evening at the end of a very long week.

About 15 minutes into the movie, I noticed something familiar.

Merida’s mother picks up a chess set. “Once, there was an ancient kingdom,” she says. She carries the board and the figures over to her daughter. She holds up a king, using the chess set and some dramatic flashbacks to tell the story of “war and chaos and ruin.”

It was the chess set that looked familiar. Continue reading