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Photo: Icon on the harbor

On this day in 1973, the Sydney Opera House in New South Wales, Australia opened after 15 years of construction. It was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site on June 28, 2007, and is one of the 20th century's most distinctive buildings. It was designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, who did not attend the opening ceremony because he had resigned from the project before completion over a dispute with the the Minister of Works Davis Hughes. Photo: Richard Taylor

Photo: Right on target

Photo: © KesselsKramer Publishing as seen in Lens Culture.

In the photo book, “In almost every picture #7,” a Dutch woman’s life is documented through the lens of a shooting gallery camera. Every year starting in 1936, Ria van Dijk made her pilgrimage to a shooting gallery where she picked up a gun and shot a target, triggering the shutter of a camera to take per portrait in her firing pose. Not only do we see her evolution from teenager to octogenarian, but we catch a glimpse of the changing times in the fashions and faces of those around her.

To see a slideshow of some of Ria’s photos, visit

Photo: © KesselsKramer Publishing, as seen in Lens Culture.

Loving your curls

As a member of the “Sesame Street” generation (I was 3 when it premiered),  I was reminded today of why it’s still relevant. There’s a new “Sesame Street” song that teaches little black girls to love their hair. The late Gerald Lesser would be proud.  Why is this so important? Well first, there’s a clear media message absorbed by all young girls about the preferred standard of beauty. The average American model is 5-foot-10, 110 pounds and white.

In her early days as a comic, Whoopi Goldberg  created a heartbreaking character, a little black girl who would always wear a towel on her head so she could have “long, luxurious hair” like her dolls. Then there’s also the complicated politics of black hair. What does it mean about your ethnic identity if you wear your hair natural or if you have it chemically processed to look straight? Chris Rock tackled the subject in his brutally honest documentary, “Good Hair.” I was cornered once by a network news producer who begged me to straighten my hair.

I didn’t do it. But by then I was a grown woman. Let me tell you, I would have loved to have seen that “Sesame Street” video when I was five.

Want to lose weight fast? Try breastfeeding!

Want to lose weight fast?

A new advertisement promotes breastfeeding as a way to drop a few jeans sizes.

The benefits of breastfeeding — including higher IQs, lower rates of infection, and reduced risk of obesity and heart disease later in life for the child, as well as reduced risk of breast cancer, and yes, accelerated postpartum weight loss for the mother — are well documented. And government efforts to promote breastfeeding are nothing new: In 1978, the U.S. government set the goal of increasing “to at least 75 percent the proportion of mothers who exclusively or partially breastfeed their babies in the early postpartum period and to at least 50 percent the proportion who continue to breastfeed until their babies are 5 to 6 months old.”

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Photo: Lion around

Animal behaviorist Kevin Richardson, a.k.a. the Lion Whisperer, enjoys an afternoon with two of his lions at the Kingdom of the White Lion Park in Broederstroom, near Johannesburg, South Africa. His new film, "White Lion," a story about the perilous journey of a rare white lion cub that escapes becoming a trophy, opens in the U.S. today. Richardson hopes the film will raise awareness of the horrors of "canned lion hunting," a practice where lions raised in captivity are set loose in enclosed areas so they can be gunned down for sport by foreign tourists. Photo: AP/Denis Farrell

The facts (and fictions) of life

Photo: Flickr/Leonardo Aguiar

As anyone with an older sibling already knows by now, learning about the “birds and the bees” is a process that’s rife with opportunities for misinformation. (My own older sister exercised great creative license by feeding me stories about the role of the female penis in the human mating ritual when I was in first grade. That kind of breathtaking deception was still possible in the pre-Google days.)

In this week’s New Yorker, Jill Lepore examines books that attempt to cut through the apocryphal tales and explain sex to kids with varying degrees of success. (Fun discovery of the day: Peter Mayle started out his literary career by penning two sex-ed books for tweens, “‘Where Did I Come From?’: The Facts of Life Without Any Nonsense and with Illustrations” (1973) and “‘What’s Happening to Me?’: The Answers to Some of the World’s Most Embarrassing Questions” (1975), before moving to France and reinventing himself as the Bard of Provence.) After surveying the classics of the genre, Lepore concludes that, “If you, too, find it embarrassing to talk with your kids about sex, take heart: the authors of many of these books appear to be just as terrible at it as the rest of us.”

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Photo: Rocket man

On this day in 1947, U.S. Air Force Captain Chuck Yeager became the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound aboard the experimental Bell X-1 rocket plane. The bullet-shaped plane, nicknamed "Glamorous Glennis" after Yeager's wife, was lifted by a B-29 aircraft to an altitude of 25,000 feet, then released through the bomb bay where it rocketed to 43,000 feet and reached 700 miles per hour (Mach 1.06 at that altitude). Days before the historic flight, Yeager broke two ribs when he fell from a horse, but kept the injury quiet to avoid being pulled from the mission. Photo: U.S. Air Force

In defense of the evil, awful Happy Meal toy

Double trouble: Madame Alexander's Big Bad Wolf as the Grady Twins of "Shining" fame. Photo: Maribel Diaz

It’s been a sad few years for Happy Meal toys.

First they were effectively banned in one county in California. Then a consumer group threatened to sue McDonald’s if the company didn’t stop selling the toys. Then there was the complaint from Devo about the band’s signature hat as worn by tiny “New Wave Nigel,” and the complaint about “the horrifying spectacle of a man engulfed in flames” (It was the Human Torch!), and the one about the three little pigs who were apparently grunting obscenities.

And now a San Francisco Board of Supervisors committee wants to outlaw the toys too.

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Schumer opens golden door for wounded Afghan eagle

Scott Hickman with Mitch in Afghanistan. Photo: Courtesy Berkshire Bird Paradise

A steppe eagle named Mitch was a long way off its normal migration route when it landed in Norfolk, Va., last Friday.

A denizen of the Middle East and Africa, the eagle got a lift on a military aircraft after being wounded in Afghanistan and cared for by Navy SEALS. It also received some valuable assistance from New York Sen. Chuck Schumer.

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