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Wednesday, January 28, 2009
I've just been catching up with a host of posts on Tall Skinny Kiwi and in one recent one he mentioned the Gender Analyzer. On this site - and don't forget it's a fun thing, not something serious - you can enter your blog address, and the Gender Analyzer will give you a reading on whether your site is written (a) by a man or a woman and (b) its level of gender neutrality.
This blog is apparently 54% likely to be written by a man (!) and is "quite gender neutral."
My Work Report site is 66% likely to be written by a man - but shows no apparent gender neutrality (!)
Webitz is only 63% likely to be written by a man, and again shows no sign of gender neutrality.
Finally, the National Mission Resource site that I write for at work has the Gender Analyzer guessing that it's written by a man (50%), but is quite gender neutral.
Well, I guess that last is good - the Presbyterians are pretty hot on gender neutrality, so the blog is doing it's best to conform! LOL
A couple of posts back I noted that the cover of the latest New Scientist magazine states: Darwin was wrong.
Basically what the article in question was saying is that Darwin was wrong about a particular facet of his evolutionary theory. What I didn’t notice until today was that in the editorial the magazine basically ‘covers its back’ regarding the provocative cover headline (excuse the pun). They say:
We await a third revolution that will see biology changed and strengthened. [The first was Darwin’s original theory, the second the introduction of Mendelian genetics.]
The editorial goes on: None of this should give succour to creationists, whose blinkered universe is doubtless already buzzing with the news that ‘New Scientist has announced Darwin was wrong.’ Expect to find excerpts ripped out of context and presented as evidence that biologists are deserting the theory of evolution en masse. They are not. Nor will the new work do anything to diminish the standing of Darwin himself. When it came to gravitation and the laws of motion, Isaac Newton didn’t see the whole picture either, but he remains one of science’s giants. In the same way, Darwin’s ideas will prove influential for decades to come.
As my wife always says, the best method of defence is attack,. Seems to me that the person who wrote the editorial is getting in first, before those he/she regards as naysayers come out of the woodwork. But the interesting thing is that it’s the magazine that’s being provocative by putting such a statement on its cover. It knows it will get anti-Darwinists to read the mag to see what’s going on.
Seems to me there's an element of dishonesty here: one hand waving the marketing gimmick while the other tries to show the integrity card. Scientists like to proclaim that they're above all sorts of human foibles in their thinking; regrettably they're just as prone to them as the rest of us.
Incidentally, quite by chance I came across a book hilariously titled: Darwin's Winky. The blurb reads:
Author Joseph Druski leaves no stone unturned in his bid to overturn Evolution. From Darwin's "Finches" to Richard Dawkins' underwear, Druski leaves a trail of devastated icons of evolution in his wake in this 402 page exposé on the dirty underbelly of the Theory of Evolution.
I doubt if it's truly the scientific masterpiece the site proclaims, but it would be fun to read all the same!
The site in question, craptaculus.com, is fairly oddball: it proclaims intelligent design, but doesn't particularly seem to defend it. And very strangely, it looks as if someone has substituted a photo of Richard Dawkins for that of someone called Sam McCain. Perhaps the whole site is a joke!
My wife and I have spent a couple of satisfying days in the open air shifting our compost heap from where it’s been for a number of years to the other side of the house. The reason is we want to use the space where the compost has been for more vegetable garden.
We’d decided to build a new kind of compost container; the old one was just an open area with a fence on three sides. It served us well, was easy to access, and produced great compost – albeit it rather slowly. We can’t complain about it, part of the ‘new’ garden we put in late last year was almost nothing but compost, and the veges grew well in it.
After we’d cleared a lot of the good compost out of it last year, we were planning to continue using it, and had started up a fresh section with straight compost, plus a couple of areas where we could dump branches and such, and another where we could ‘cook’ weed material.
However, our plans changed, and hence the new compost round the other side, where there’s heaps of sun and plenty of room to work. Our new compost is one of those (New Zealand) three box affairs (built by us mostly out of wood we already had around the place). One box is for the compost to cook quickly in, the second for it to be shifted to once it’s cooked, and the third for the same process further along the line. We’re not quite using it that way – at present the second box contains a lot of rough material that wouldn’t normally go straight in the compost We’re hoping that will break down in due course and become part of the ongoing composting process.
We’re also trying a new approach to the food scraps. Instead of merely throwing them on the compost as is, as we’ve done for years, we’re putting most of them in the kitchen whiz and breaking them up into much smaller material. The aim is that they’ll break down a lot quicker. (The worms won’t have to work quite so hard!)
The picture shows a compost set-up similar to ours, except that this one has only two boxes instead of three. Photo by mrwalker on Flickr.com
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
The article in question is actually entitled: Uprooting Darwin's Tree - the tree of life, that is, which, according to author Graham Lawton is no longer one of the iconic concepts of evolution but a figment of our imagination. I wait in hope for the day New Scientist proclaims evolution a figment of our imagination as well, but I may be waiting a while yet.
Let me quote the last couple of paragraphs of this article, which is fairly densely written in terms of DNA and RNA and genes and so on:
[Michael] Rose goes even further. "The tree of life is being politely buried, we all know that," he says. "What's less accepted is that our whole fundamental view of biology needs to change." Biology is vastly more complex than we thought, he says, and facing up to this complexity will be as scary as the conceptual upheavals physicists had to take on board in the early 20th century.
If he is right, the tree concept could become biology's equivalent of Newtonian mechanics: revolutionary and hugely successful in its time, but ultimately too simplistic to deal with the messy real world. "The tree of life was useful," says [Eric] Bapteste. "It helped us to understand that evolution was real. But now we know more about evolution, it's time to move on."
While checking out the address of New Scientist on the Web I discovered that they pretty much put everything in their magazines online - so I could have saved myself the NZ$8 that I just spent to buy the magazine - after all, I only wanted to see what they had to say about Darwin. But the magazine does have a number of other interesting articles and being able to read these online is a bonus.
Monday, January 26, 2009
It was on the Triond.com site where I've submitted a number of brief pieces over the last couple of years. Like so many articles of this kind it spends more time telling you what sort of things to write about and how to write well than actually dealing with the matter in the title. That comes way down the page, where the writer's info is basically: submit to more search engines. Oh, and use better key words.
As anyone who's browsed this blog more than once will note, I often discuss the results of HitTail (and no, I don't get paid a cent by them for doing so - even though I must be one of their best promoters!). HitTail tells me which of my key words are making it big in the search results. The interesting thing is that these key words are seldom the ones that the search engines will proclaim will get you noticed. The ones they want you to use - or rather, recommend you should use - they're also recommending to every other Johnnie on the Net. And if everyone is using the same bunch of key words, guess who's going to get noticed? Not the little bloke with a few articles floating around.
HitTail's approach is to give results based on the words that are already in your blog/article/whatever and tell you which of those are making an impact. I find it effective, certainly effective enough for my particular neck of the woods.
One thing the writer of the article I mentioned at the beginning notes is that there's a site called Submit Express which offers you the chance to get noticed on the search engines for free. Since it's free it's worth giving it a try - certainly I wouldn't be paying for it at this point.
This is the writer's most valid point - although you'd think by the way the commenters to his article rave that everything he said had come down the mountain on a couple of stone tablets. Well, maybe there are still lots of newbies out there in cyberspace (!)
What I meant to write here initially (before I got so sidetracked about the article and stuff) was that I was checking out the views on the various articles I've got on Triond. The top three are an interesting bunch. 1st and 3rd we have articles on 'current' topics: A Future without Plastic, and, The End of Petroleum?
These are the sorts of articles every decent writer should be writing at the moment, you'd think. Very ecological, very environmental - and so on. That's what I thought when I wrote them!
But the surprise is the 2nd top article: Where are the Willy Wonka Children?
This is an article of such earth-shattering importance that nearly a 1050 people have viewed it. (1050 may not sound many in cyberspace terms, but in my terms, it's a big number.)
So there you go. Celebrity continues to win out over environment and ecology. Sorry about that all you serious-minded people!
As always the writing is top quality, the humour occasional but sharp, the characterization excellent, and the ongoing gloomy picture of Edinburgh consistent.
We watched Ratatouille again last night on DVD - we saw it first in Northampton, in the UK. It’s an odd (animated) movie in terms of story. It takes a pretty unlikely premise and for the most part makes it work (a rat with superb abilities to create cuisine is a kind of puppet-master to a young man who has no apparent abilities at all). The human characters are superbly delineated, the rats also. The vividness of the ‘scenery’ is often amazing, as it is in all Pixar films. The vocal characterizations are as always, excellent, though Lou Romano as Linguini, gets a little annoying with his constant self-deprecating tone; it may be more a fault of the script than Romano himself.
Overall it’s not a Pixar that I’d rate as the best - mostly because of the story - (at present my favourite is The Incredibles) but it’s certainly not at the bottom of the pile either.
1 Use of the word, 'whilst' in favour of 'while' encouraged by number one son.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
It’s aged very well - 25 years old next year. Michael J Fox is all energy, spends a good deal of the time in a sort of half-daze while he tries to figure out what to do next, and his energy is matched superbly by the antics of Christopher Lloyd, with his pop-eyed looks of horror, and manic attempts to get everything to work the way it should.
The rest of the cast are great, and the piece is plotted so thoroughly that everything dovetails in a way you seldom see in a movie. For someone interested in structure, this is a marvellous example of how to subtly introduce information to the audience in the exposition, and then bring it back to mind in later parts of the movie, and then tie up all the loose ends before the grand finale.
It’s full of tomfoolery: the De Lorien that won’t start at the vital moment and which the Doc ‘drives’ around with a remote control ; the need for plutonium and the Libyans who’ve been conned into giving it to the Doc; the way in which Marty’s trip back in time not only causes crises about his future but also paves the way for placenames to be changed; the farmers thinking Marty in his spacesuit is a man from outer space, and then Marty taking advantage of this later on (calling himself Darth Vader in the process); the idea that the Doc could rig up a series of ‘industrial strength’ cable from a clock tower to the shop across the street and then find that the male and female parts separate at most inconvenient times; the turning of a boy’s trolley into a skateboard; the awful gaucheness of Marty’s future father and the surprising forwardness of his future mother; and the host of jokes making play of the fact that Marty comes from a different time to the rest of the characters.
It’s great fun.
Monday, January 19, 2009
In the evening we watched the TV version of a Philip Pullman story, The Ruby in the Smoke, in the evening. I’d gone off Pullman after the bad theology of His Dark Materials series, but in this story he’s pitting good against evil without anything more theological than just plain storytelling. A host of well-played characters appeared within the first five minutes, but they sorted themselves out in due course, and an exciting story with constant twists. Julie Walters had a ball as the villainess, Mrs Holland, whose desire to have the ruby in question left her no room for qualms about killing people off. The highlight of her role was removing her false teeth (they’d belonged to her deceased husband and she wasn’t going to see them wasted going to the grave with him), and washing them off in her cup of tea. She conveyed a great sense of menace even with her death mask of a face, and an inability to see her evil as anything other than necessary. Billie Piper from the Dr Who series played the heroine.
The story was set in late Victorian times (I think), a period in which men were no longer so concerned about no wearing their suitcoats at all times (particularly indoors), and young women had stopped wearing bonnets out in the street, and were free to go unchaperoned.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
Global Warming and Climate Change are the stuff of many jokes these days - and it's going to get worse, because more and more scientists are decamping from the supposedly 'final' view on climate change, and speaking out publicly about the lack of real evidence, the lack of real science in many cases, and the probability that there's far too big a political motive behind much of the propaganda on climate change, with politicians and big business rubber stamping all sorts of nonsense.
As far back as January 2007, I wrote an article based on a report that there were scientists in New Zealand who were publicly saying they were sceptical of the Global Warming scenario. Of course the original report appeared as a small column in one of the inside pages of the paper.
But things are hotting up now in terms of scepticism. Only this month a long US Senate Minority report appeared with the title: More than 650 International Scientists Dissent Over Man-Made Global Warming Claims. There's a subtitle saying: Scientists continue to debunk 'consensus' in 2008, and it goes on to state in considerable detail what the scientists views are, as well as quoting many of them at the end of the article.
But as soon as scientists speak out like this, the host of the faithful Global Warming/Climate Change worshippers all come on board abusing them
It's rather like the topic of evolution: the sceptics mostly get villified or ignored, while the proponents go on spouting all sorts of pseudo-science which they say proves their case.
I wonder why it is that we think Science is a God? Hopefully this century will prove again and again that it's a 'god' that's only kept on its feet because there are plenty of people holding it up.
By the way, who remembers 'acid rain' or the 'hole in the ozone layer' - these now inconvenient scientific problems appear to have drifted away in the face of a new 'challenge.' Except that this latest challenge may well prove to be just as lacking in reality as the other two.
“I am a skeptic…Global warming has become a new religion.” - Nobel Prize Winner for Physics, Ivar Giaever.
Warming fears are the “worst scientific scandal in the history…When people come to know what the truth is, they will feel deceived by science and scientists.” - UN IPCC Japanese Scientist Dr. Kiminori Itoh, an award-winning PhD environmental physical chemist.
“For how many years must the planet cool before we begin to understand that the planet is not warming? For how many years must cooling go on?" - Geologist Dr. David Gee the chairman of the science committee of the 2008 International Geological Congress who has authored 130 plus peer reviewed papers, and is currently at Uppsala University in Sweden.
“Creating an ideology pegged to carbon dioxide is a dangerous nonsense…The present alarm on climate change is an instrument of social control, a pretext for major businesses and political battle. It became an ideology, which is concerning.” - Environmental Scientist Professor Delgado Domingos of Portugal, the founder of the Numerical Weather Forecast group, has more than 150 published articles.
At least the two posts were quite different, and I wasn't just repeating myself in total. It's fine to write about an idea twice; it's when you start saying exactly the same thing about the idea more than once that it's a bit of a worry.
My wife and I are heading off to a little town called Otematata tomorrow for a few days, and then we go on to Cromwell where we'll meet up with my daughter and grandson. (And possibly my younger son, who's working up there on a cherry orchard at the moment.) It's our annual holiday, but there's the threat of an interruption to it: I'm on the 'urgent' list to have some work done on my prostate (see much more information about this on workreport.net) and so there's a possibility that we might get called back to Dunedin. Hopefully not. It would be good to have a holiday without the interruption, especially for my wife, as this is the first couple of weeks she's had off in ages.
So blogging probably won't get done while we're away (still less if I wind up in hospital!).
The rather stormy picture of Cromwell's iconic fruit was taken by gak.
Friday, January 16, 2009
The book contains some twenty pieces, only one of them, I think, going for more than a couple of pages. It opens with the Four Preludes 1942-4. These are obviously early Lilburn, and are worth playing. The first is a lilting ¾ piece with real shape and a sense of forward movement. The next is an Allegro one page piece that again goes somewhere. The third is a sostenuto e quasi lontano, which I presume means that it’s supposed to have the effect of hearing something in the distance. For the most part it works, although it seems to me it gets a little lost in the middle. And finally there’s a left hand/right hand chase piece in which the two hands don’t quite imitate each other. So far so good.
Two Christmas pieces for L.B, 1949, follow. Both do a bit of pseudo-bell-ringing, but otherwise aren’t much to write home about. The Allegro from 1948 is good solid little one-page piece, and then we have another set of Four Preludes, this time 1948-60, which presumably means they were written over that long stretch of time.
The first is a lovely limpid kind of thing that unfortunately collapses at the end into several bars of chords shifting down the scale and neither appearing to have anything to do with what’s gone before, or going anywhere themselves. The second is eight and a bit bars long (it takes up one line of music in this edition), and seems nothing more than a sketch of an idea. The third, like the first, has a nice limpid melody and resolves reasonably well into its ending. And the fourth is a nice Andantino.
Next in line is the Rondino, one of the few pieces in the book to have any sense of the celebratory. It’s great, and I’ve obviously done so work on it in the past, if my pencil scribbles are anything to go by.
The Two Preludes from 1951 are dreamy, impressionistic pieces, and both work pretty well. An Andante follows which starts off fine, but like the first of the 1948-60 Preludes collapses into waffle before it finishes. The Poco Lento is another dreamy piece that works, but it’s followed by Three Bars for M.N, 1968.
I don’t know who M.N was, but I have to wonder what he/she thought of the three bars. Three bars? These are typical of the period when some composers were writing a scribble of stuff on the page that ranged over the breadth of the piano, lacking harmony, melody, rhythm or anything else that might indicate that the composer actually cared. I’ve played these three bars several times, but can’t get any musical sense out of them.
The Adagio Sostenuto has a kind of Prokofiev feel about (made more noticeable by the fact that I’m playing a bit of Prokofiev at the moment). Personally I don’t find it works very wonderfully: chords hammered out in one hand while the other goes up and down scales to no apparent great purpose.
The Andante Commodo is again impressionistic, using broken triads quite successfully, and Still Music for W.N.R., 1973 is a similar moody piece, though not particularly ‘still’.
My quibbles aside, there’s quite a bit of very playable music here. The ‘Three Bars’ give hints of things to come in Lilburn’s compositional career, and to me it’s a dead end that not a few composers headed into. (That and the electronic music, which cuts out the middleman – the performer.)
So, Lilburn can stop turning in his grave. I’ve found some good things to say about his work! LOL
Just looking at a site where they've got a sale on silk ties and thinking that the designs on these aren't very interesting. Lots of diagonal lines or straight ties without any design at all.
I don't wear ties very often any more, but when I do I usually put on one of the ones with a musical theme. I bought a couple of these a few years back when we were in Melbourne (the ties were on sale at the Victoria Market) and since then, twice someone's brought me back a musical tie. So I have a bit of choice.
Do I wear the one with the choir singing at the top of their voices, or the one with the piano keys, or the one with the musical notes?
You can see the sort of thing I mean here.
Being an inveterate looker-upperer of my own name on the Web, I thought I'd have a change and do another check to see what there was on my father, Frank Crowl.
Since I last looked he's come up in the Google world. Instead of there only being one or two references to him, and those mostly only in relation to Cecil Purdy, the great Australian chess player, he's now appearing on several sites. And there's a photo of him on this site. It's not the clearest, but it will suffice for the time being. (I have some photos in albums somewhere, which I might dig out.)
The cigarette holder is plainly visible - apparently it was almost a fixture.
The other day, on a blog called Bloggercises, I had a brief correspondence with someone who was impressed to meet Frank Crowl's son (via the Net). Felt quite famous for a moment. [Check down in the comments on this link.]
My father is now referenced on ChessGames.com, on Amazon.com (in relation to Purdy's book: How Purdy Won), in some discussion of The Kibitzer, on the MasterChessGames site, where all the games are ones he won, on a blog where a game he played with Bob Wade is analysed, in the Google books online 'copy' of the Batsford Chess Puzzle Book, and on a page called The Mad Aussie's Chess Trivia. I'm sure there are more, but that's all I've picked up recently.
Aravis also had many quarrels (and, I'm afraid, even fights) with Cor, but they always made it up again: so that years later, when they were grown up, they were so used to quarrelling and making it up again that they go t married so as to go on doing it more conveniently.
From the last page of The Horse and His Boy, by C S Lewis.
Aravis is the heroine of the story; Cor (known mostly throughout the book as Shasta) is the hero.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Halle Berry plays a sleaze-bag reporter.
Giovanni Ribisi plays a sleaze-bag techno.
None of the other characters have any redeeming qualities.
From Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson, page 147 Picador edition 2007
Many of life's failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up.
Thomas Edison, source unknown, but quoted on page 216 0f The Drunkard's Walk, by Leonard Mlodinow.
The Drunkard's Walk has the distinction of being the first book I read and actually finished in 2009. (Finished an Ian Rankin, but I think I started that in 2008.)
It's a fascinating book on stats, randomness, chance, the way in which ability doesn't necessarily equate to success (perseverance is more likely to, I think). The stats side of it fits in with what I've read on stats and what I do at work in relation to them - and is helpful in clarifying some of the issues with stats. Stats are useful, but they're never the last word.
The way in which randomness isn't quite as random as we like to think is another intriguing outcome of the book, and our willingness to turn a number of random acts into a pattern is another factor we need to take into account.
And in relation to this, here's another quote, this time from Will Catton, a PhD student from the University of Otago, (Dunedin, NZ) who won an essay prize for a piece called: Progress, Laughter, Sex - but not in that order. It was published in the latest NZ Listener magazine dated January 17, 2009
But the idea that sex is essentially a way of shuffling genes misses much of its real significance to biological progress. A spicy new source of amazingness was involved in the lives of your sexual ancestors: the amazingness of their each convincing some other ancestor of yours to fandango. The more finicky those other ancestors were, the more impressive this familial achievement becomes. Evolutionary success, for a sexual beast, is tested by the mating choices of the rest of the species as much as by survival. So sex is the species' biology grabbing the reins on its own evolution. Such control does create new dangers. Fashion is fickle: the peacock's tail, just like hammer pants and the 'hypothetical' speculative housing market, may well be in for a bumpy devaluation. But the immensely beneficial trade-off is this: a sexual species' evolution can be directed with all the subtlety of its members' ability to perceive one another. Sizzling health is nature's oldest aphrodisiac.
Catton is obviously in love with language, which might account for why some of this seems to make less sense than first appears. But the general idea is good.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Apparently Natalie came up with the idea after her sister paid for her own degree by working as a prostitute for three weeks. As a result of auctioning herself, she's had bids from some 10,000 men through a legal brothel website in Nevada. Natalie has had to make it clear that this is a one-night stand only; she's not out to become anyone's girlfriend. And she says: "It's shocking that men will pay so much for someone's virginity, which isn't even prized so highly anymore."
That last statement is a bit of a puzzle. Here's young Natalie selling herself to make a heap of money, and then being surprised that people will pay so much. Plainly Natalie doesn't prize her virginity in the slightest when it comes to sleeping with some total stranger; yet prizes it enormously when it comes to expecting that stranger to pay some exorbitant sum. Do I detect some double standard here? I thought it was only men who were the double-standard mongers of the world.
The irony of all this is that Natalie has a degree in Women's Studies and is studying for a masters degree in - guess what? - Family and Marriage Therapy.
Let's hope she gets her standards clear before she goes into practice.
I've thought about this a few times since, and it seems to me that Mr Corliss is obviously unaware of the High School Musical phenomenon - or has chosen to ignore it. These films are aimed at tweens and up, and have been startlingly successful. And people sing and dance in them constantly. In fact the stories are basically just something to hang all the singing and dancing on, because that's the focus. The dancing is great in these movies; the singing okay (the songs themselves aren't always up to much). So does Mr Corliss' argument - young filmgoers often have to be told why the people in these movies are suddenly singing instead of speaking - hold up? I don't think so.
What seems to be a woman police officer stopping a tall and gangly bloke for drink driving takes more than a couple of strange turns in its few minutes.
You can fool all of the people some of the time....
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Back when I was a youth, I made the acquaintance of Bill Southgate, through some musical things we were both doing at that time. And for a brief period I was a postie in tandem with his brother, whose name suddenly escapes me. He wrote poetry, some of which was already published at that time.
When my wife and I came back to NZ in 1974, Bill and his wife were on the same plane coming into Dunedin. We briefly renewed acquaintance while my wife listened with some astonishment to the racing commentary going on at the airport: the speed-speech of the racing commentator was vastly different to the keep-it-cool approach British commentators took.
Bill has gone on to become Sir William Southgate, one of New Zealand's best conductors, and also a composer of some note. (Well, a lot of notes, actually: he's written a variety of symphonic works, amongst other things.)
There's an article about him and the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra in the latest NZ Listener, which I found interesting because at one point he notes: 'I have clear short-term ideas on repertoire. A priority would be consolidating New Zealand's symphonic classics such as all three of Lilburn's, Carr's four, Farquhar's three, and Pruden. These four are our foundation composers. '
My ongoing to struggle to accept Lilburn as one of New Zealand's great composers, let alone a foundation one has been written about a number of times in this blog. But, believe it or not, I try to keep an open mind. I've been 'converted' to composers before whom I wasn't much impressed with. Lilburn is having a bit of struggle convincing me that he's one of those I should change my mind about, however.
Part of what prompted this post was that I just came across a copy of some occasional piano pieces by Lilburn, which I've had on my shelves for a long time, and occasionally play (as one would). Bill's mention of the three symphonies prompts me to check them out again at the library; one of them I do find quite appealing - probably the first. Maybe Lilburn and I will eventually become friends....maybe!
Monday, January 12, 2009
From Intelligent Design or Intelligible Design? - It's a matter of faith, by Frederick Grinnell.
(Niels Bohr introduced complementarity in 1927 to account for the failure of classical physics to explain the nature of light.)
Frederick Grinnell is a professor of cell biology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, in Dallas.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
The movie is high energy, lots of explosions, little sensible dialogue, lots more explosions, the inevitable inability of villains to kill someone even with a machine gun, car chases, rooftop chases, plenty of people getting killed for no apparent reason, explosions, and finally, lots and lots of explosions. Out of which Bond, his lady friend, and the villain all manage to escape. As you'd expect.
Beyond that, the film washes over the brain, seldom engaging it in any way at all. It's full of stuff but what that stuff is, is anybody's guess. Most things that happen in the movie have very little to do with anything, especially the action sequences, which come at regular intervals, just in case anyone with even half a brain wants to do some thinking for a while.
The action sequences are cut in such a way that most of the time you have no idea what's going on, which is a pity, because they look as though originally they were staged very cleverly. And there are all sorts of unexplained things. Both Bond and M appear to get shot very early in the piece, but make no comment about the fact that they're both still alive in the next sequence.
I suspect the film is full of Hitchockian McGuffins, which the scriptwriters thought nobody would want explained so they threw them all in. To detail them all would be a waste of time; suffice to say: this Bond film is all-out energy, rather like Mumma Mia, but when you walk out of the film you rather wonder what you've spent a couple of hours doing.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
I briefly debated buying the cassette (for NZ$19) - the LP isn't available for purchase or hire - but thought, Do I really want to buy something that I already don't have good vibes about? Nope, not at the moment.
Anyone who reads this blog frequently - as I do - will think I've got a snitch against Lilburn. I'll just state my case again, in case I haven't stated it clearly previously.
I think Lilburn, like some pioneer NZ painters, has got an overrated reputation. Being a pioneer, in the sense that he was probably the first NZ composer to make a name for himself as a [serious] composer rather than as a teacher or other academic, he has a place in NZ musical history. Regrettably, his music isn't on a par with his place in history; there are a few pieces worthy of attention, but somehow his status as a pioneer has managed to hoist up his compositions beyond their value. I wait for the day when we've got over the big deal of his pioneering effort, and have started to assess him against other NZ composers - of whom there are now a sufficient number to place him on the scale of worth.
I'm not saying we should throw out everything he wrote, but only that much of his work, while characteristic of him particularly, isn't terribly inspired - or inspiring. He seems to rely on movement without melody, movement without much harmonic interest, so that the ear constantly hears a limited range. He reminds me of Delius, one of the all-time great wafflers in composition. Let's keep Delius for the particular voice that he gave to the world, but let's not lay at his feet any great claims to him being startlingly original, or even inspirational to listen to. Delius is the great delineator of vagueness, and on that basis he has a certain standing. Lilburn seems to me to have taken a path of limitation: using as little material as possible, but not necessarily doing anything very exciting with it.
1st day of my holidays, and I woke at something like 4.30 am. Eventually went back to sleep, but some visitors got up early, and so most of us were around by seven. Finally lack of sleep caught up with me and I went back to bed, only to be woken by some music on the radio.
It turned out to be the end of Douglas Lilburn's: Elegy in Memoriam Noel Newson. From where I was in bed listening, it sounded as though the words came from Shakespeare - I caught 'nothing shall afright thee' or some such, but the rest of it was so badly articulated that I couldn't get the detail at all.
More than that though was the almost perverse way in which the string accompaniment seemed to be at odds with the singer(s). The latter were chauntering along in a banal enough way - the melody line, typically of Lilburn, having virtually no melody - but the strings kept fluffling around doing some chordal stuff that seldom integrated with the singers. And at the end, they played a few desultory bars and pretty well gave up. Lilburn the great pioneer New Zealand composer shoots music in the foot again!
I can't find much out about this piece of music (the few references on Google all seem to go to broken links). To be fair, I'll see if I can track it down at the library and give it another shot. But what I heard this morning (even coming out of a deep sleep) was enough to make me think that I'm not going to be impressed.
Later: I've just found a small amount on the SOUNZ site. The last piece, as I thought, was to words by Shakespeare: Fear no more the heat o' the sun. Herrick, Blake and Herbert are the other three lyricists.
How can a movie with an all-star cast fail? All the King's Men is a prime example of just how easy it is.
Part of the problem seems to be that the script can't decide who the story is about: is it Willie Stark, played by Sean Penn, or the equally significantly-named Jack Burden, played by Jude Law.
The Sean Penn scenes, the ones in which he's the focus, have an energy and aggressiveness, mostly due to the full-in-your-face Penn performance. When he's off-stage, the cast, including Law, all seem to be playing a movie that's going on underwater. Everything is taken at a slow, meaningful pace, full of glances and elusive dialogue. This isn't the cast's fault: everyone of these people has played intense roles before, and held our interest fully. But the Jack Burden side of the story, with all its psychological stuff (made even more heavy-handed by a voice over from Law, full of portentous hints and warnings) isn't that interesting, and the cast do their best with what are basically underwritten roles.
Penn himself comes most alive in his speechifying, but he's adopted an accent so thick that often the speeches loose comprehensibility. The rest of the cast are easy to understand: we just don't know why they're saying what they're saying!
The film takes a curious turn about fifteen to twenty minutes in. Stark is portrayed initially as a quiet do-gooder, a man of integrity who's unlike all the corrupt politicians and businessmen around him. Burden is seemingly amoral. And then, after a scene in which Stark downs a full glass of whisky (he's always drunk soft drink up till then) and collapses on the floor, the roles all seem to reverse. Stark is shown as increasingly corrupt; Burden is a man with a conscience; Patricia Clarkson, who is woefully underused in her role, turns from being a woman on the make in the political scene to a kind of mother-figure-cum-mistress who's being used herself, and James Gandolfini ceases to be the slimy, sly political force intent on getting Stark elected, and becomes a blithering idiot without another decent scene in the film.
And besides these actors we also have Kate Winslet and Anthony Hopkins, two more Brits adopting various versions of Louisiana accents (they are playing upper-class Americans, of course), and Mark Ruffalo as Winslet's brother. He gets to play the most underwritten character of all. Seemingly he's a medical person of some sort, but he spends his time playing the piano - we think. And then he gets pulled into the arena to front a new hospital that Stark is building. A less-likely front man is hard to imagine, as Ruffalo is allowed no charisma, nothing to show that he might have any substance. And then finally he comes quietly out of the shadows and shoots Stark. Hmmm. And gets shot himself.
The build-up to this climax is almost entirely lacking in tension. We're really quite happy to see Stark gunned down, because he's such a snot; but because Ruffalo has been such an unassuming character we're puzzled why he also gets shot, as he seems to be performing a public service.
Winslet drifts in and out of the movie, and the scene that should be most significant, when seemingly Burden rejects making love to her, is confused (and made even more so by the voice-over), and so we have little idea what she's supposed be doing in the film. Hopkins is strong enough, but again he's more tied up with the Burden story than the Stark one, and that again confuses the role he plays.
The whole thing needs reshuffling to bring one side or the other into focus. Pity to waste such a cast on such twaddle.
Friday, January 09, 2009
Don't ask me how she does it; probably Robinson is no wiser a writer than many other great writers. But something in this book has brought out the wisdom in her, and it shows time and time again.
Probably quoting from it wouldn't work that well, because you need to have read what's gone before and to have felt the tone of the thing. The apparent meandering, conversational tone of the writing (an old man writing to his very young son) seems almost as if Robinson had sat down, from day to day, and just let the thing pour out. But I suspect it's far better constructed, and structured, than that. And the writing is frequently vivid. There's nothing 'casual' about the way this book is put together, even though on the surface that may seem to be the case.
I'm about half way through it again (I first read it in 2006, I think, when it was relatively new) and it moves me as much as it did the first time; maybe even more. I've just been reading it at a cafe and kept feeling emotional about one thing or another in it.
Perhaps it's the whole father/son thing that appeals to me particularly. Because of my own history I've always been a sucker for books that deal with that subject. Perhaps it's the fact that the main character is a good man; there are very few really good characters in fiction - or in life, if it comes to that. Perhaps it's the fact that in the last couple of months or so I've had more concerns about death and ill-health than I've needed to have in a long time. The main character in the book knows he's going to die fairly soon, which is why he's trying to lay out his life and history for his son. But he doesn't dwell on the dying; he's constantly talking about life, and creation, and joy and celebration and the extraordinary things that make up the day to day. Death comes into it, of course, but it isn't the focus.
As he says in a page (126 in my edition) I've just read again today:
I have not been writing to you for a day or two. I have passed some fairly difficult nights. Discomfort, a little trouble breathing. I have decided the two choices open to me are (1) to torment myself or (2) to trust the Lord. There is no earhtly solution to the problems that confront me. But I can add to my problems, as I believe I had done, by dwelling on them.
This speaks very strongly to me at the moment, when the discomfort I'm dealing with day to day tends either to get right in the way of things or be put to one side as something I will endure without great anxiety. Trusting in the Lord is an element of it, but not necessarily the easiest path to take.
Anyway, I'm sure I'll write more about this wonderful book as I go on.
Monday, January 05, 2009
"We don't create something sacred. We find it right where we are by the way we deal with experiences."
Abbot Robert Joshin Althouse, a Buddhist priest and founder of the Oak Park Zen Community
"We have the power to choose, moment by moment, who and how we want to be in the world."
Jill Bolte Taylor in her recovery memoir, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey
Thanks to Cathleen Falsani's column, where I found these quotes.
Sunday, January 04, 2009
When I first watched it, in the enormous St James theatre here in Dunedin, the place was packed. A typical Saturday night out for most of the people in the audience. By the time the movie finished, the place was half empty. Fellini had managed to alienate most of his audience.
Nearly fifty years on, the film is highly regarded by anyone who writes about it, and Fellini’s name has entered the film history books as being one of the great film directors. There’s no doubt he was that. Quite apart from La Dolce Vita, he made increasingly detailed and visually-stunning movies that kept on hammering away at certain themes, particularly the loss of self in an existential society.
The films also became increasingly long: La Dolce Vita itself finally reaches its last scenes after some 160 minutes, and the rather overblown Satyricon, while only 128 minutes, seems endless.
So what are the plusses?
LDV boasts superb cinematography, with wonderful use of the wide screen, and a black and white view of the world that is a feast for the eye.
In spite of my remarks above about the acting, there are any number of fine performances in the film: Marcello Mastroianni holds it all together, while playing a character who’s losing his soul; Anouk Aimee is Maddalena, promiscuous to the core because she doesn’t know how else to live her life; Yvonne Furneaux is Emma, Marcello’s long-suffering girlfriend, who first appears just after having tried to kill herself because Marcello continually neglects her in favour of more seductive and powerful women; Alain Cuny is the world-weary philosopher who proves to have no inner life after all; Anita Ekberg plays herself pretty much, but does it wonderfully. There are hundreds of others, some of them given moments of high comedy, some given moments of drama, some playing people full of tosh, some playing people spouting arty nonsense, some playing dilettantes, some playing people whose lives consist of nothing but endless, tedious parties, where happiness is almost completely absent. And there’s the not-to-be-forgotten Annibale Ninchi, who plays Marcello’s father, seeming at first to be more virtuous than his son, but proving to be just as empty.
There is the directing. The details are endless: so many things thrown into the mix that it’s impossible to pick up all the clues as to what’s happening. The extraordinary moments: the famous Trevi fountain scene (or Ekberg’s calling to the wolves just before this); the procession of aristocrats first looking for a ghost and then walking in the dawn (‘I’ve never seen the dawn before’) like a procession of ghosts themselves; the trumpet-playing clown, Polidor, who calls a host of balloons to follow him, after playing a typically Felliniesque piece of melancholy (compare the trumpet playing in La Strada, for instance). And on and on. But beyond this is the putting together of a dozen or so sequences which are each as extraordinary as the other.
The script. Such an open-ended script as this can barely exist. Fellini prompts us to think in certain directions, but continually throws us off-course. He lets us empathise with Marcello one moment, and then loathe him the next. We are dropped into emotional relationships but given only the minimum of clues. We are handed hundreds of sharply-drawn characters, and left to wonder at who these people really are. (Only a handful of characters appear in more than one sequence.) And always, always, we’re asking ourselves: Why? Why does Marcello commit himself to this lifestyle? Why do so many of the people hate life? Why do the paparazzi invade people’s privacy with such disdain? Why do at least two of the main characters wear sunglasses at night? What is the anger underneath Marcello’s handsome exterior? How does he manage to include himself in so many different circles?
The cons. The film is too long. The final party scene, in which Marcello has apparently reached his nadir, adds little to the film, and merely makes us loathe him all the more. The sequence before this, with the aristocrats, comes at a point when the audience has been saturated with people. And though it includes an important scene, it seems to me to wander off course towards the end.
Still, if those were the only quibbles, the film would still remain an extraordinary achievement. As a work of art it has so many layers most viewers would never get to the bottom of them. As a work of filmmaking, it is superior still, even fifty years after it was made, to many other films that attempt something similar. And curiously, in spite of its age, it doesn’t appear dated. Apart from the odd piece of women’s fashion, and the styles of the cars, little has changed.
Saturday, January 03, 2009
At one point we read nothing but Ian Rankin while we were travelling on the Continent in 2007 and then when we got back to the UK. By the time we left for NZ, in December that year, we’d acquired a bunch of his books and had them sent home. They arrived some months later, by which time we were no longer quite so enthused about the author. We’d probably done our dash for a while as far as the gloomy main character, John Rebus, and his even gloomier Edinburgh, were concerned.
However, in the last few weeks, I’ve gone back to reading Rankin again. The books are as gloomy as ever, the sun seldom shines in Edinburgh and Rebus still smokes and drinks like there’s no tomorrow. But they’re almost un-put-downable.
Part of the reason for the return is that I picked up a collection of Rankin’s short stories at a secondhand bookshop just along from where I work. These proved to be even more bitter and twisted, in some cases, than the Rebus books – although there are some Rebus stories amongst the batch, including one longer one that’s a short version of one of the novels, with some identical scenes and dialogue, but a completely different ending.
And then, as ‘light’ relief from some other stuff I was reading, I got into Strip Jack, one of the ones we’d bought in England (I seem to remember it was one of four we got new at a bargain price in a charity shop in Sheringham).
And today I’ve just finished Knots and Crosses, Rankin’s first foray into the world of Rebus, way back in 1985. It was intended to be a one-off story about Rebus, but obviously the character wasn’t willing to sit back and retire. This story doesn’t quite have the sharpness of Rankin’s later work, and the story is a bit derivative of other authors in the same genre, but Rebus is there in full force all the same. The only thing lacking, perhaps, is the sardonic sense of humour.
Knots and Crosses isn’t one of the ones we bought in England, as it happens. It turned up amongst a bunch of books from the ODT – books that were sent in by their publishers for review, but which were eventually handed out, for one reason or another, as ‘Christmas reading’ for the reviewers. Perhaps the book editor thought that Rankin and Rebus hardly needed a review of a reissue of a book that was nearly a quarter of a century old from a writer who’s work is so popular no review will make the slightest difference to his sales.
Now I have to admit that I watched it without subtitles - for some reason it didn't occur to whoever put the DVD together to include subtitles for the scenes that aren't in English (75% of the movie, roughly). It was only after the movie was finished that we discovered we could have had subtitles running; we'd thought - considering the title - that not knowing what the characters were saying most of the time was part of the director's intention.
But probably not. Consequently we spent most of the film wondering what on earth the Japanese girl's section (which is quite substantial) had to to do with the rest of the movie. In fact it has so little to do with the rest of the movie that it could have been dropped without missing a beat - also reducing the lengthy running time considerably.
Alejandro González Iñárritu has apparently made two movies with a similar structure before Babel. Good on him. My suspicion is that the only reason this one has gained some fame is that it has Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in it. Neither of them are required to do much in the way of character building, but they nevertheless invest a couple of fairly undistinguised characters with far more depth than they deserve. They're also part of the film in which chronology is most dislocated. We know Blanchett is going to be shot before it happens, and we know Pitt will have a conversation with his son - because we've already seen it from a different angle. The only thing is that this conversation makes no sense because when we saw it at the beginning of the film the nanny was part of it; yet supposedly she's been dismissed by this stage. Maybe the subtitles will help - but do I want to sit through 140 minutes of movie again just to make sense of a few subtleties?
It's interesting that we picked up most of what was happening without subtitles. That's a credit to the actors primarily - and this film is full of wonderful acting. Quite apart from Pitt and Blanchett, there are superb performances from the Moroccan and Japanese casts - I can't name names, because I never quite figured the names of the characters in these sections, but Adriana Barazza does the Mexican middle-aged nanny very well.
Quite honestly I'm not sure what point the film is trying to make. Linking the stories with the rifle says something about how we affect each other's lives, but the stories themselves don't have any great connections, most particularly the Japanese one, which seems primarily a picture of the dreadfully amoral ennui that affects a certain class of Japanese young people. The Moroccan sequence is just a tragedy, but the Americans' link to it is fairly tenuous. And the Mexican one, caused in part by the American couple's getting stuck in Morocco, is again only tenuous in its connections.
Peter Bradshaw also stuck his neck out and dismissed the film's pretentions as art. Here's part of his review
There are some films that arrive here from the international festival circuit almost incandescent with self-importance. They hover into the cinema in a kind of floating trance at how challenging and moving they are. They are films with a profound reluctance to get over themselves. One such is Babel, the exasperatingly conceited new film from Alejandro González Iñárritu. It is well acted and handsomely photographed, but still extraordinarily overpraised and overblown, a middlebrow piece of near-nonsense: the kind of self-conscious arthouse cinema that is custom-tailored and machine-tooled for the dinner-party demographic. The script is contrived, shallow, unconvincing and rendered absurd and almost meaningless by a plot naivety that is impossible to ignore once its full magnitude dawns on you.
What we hear is the style of singing that's become prevalent in the Anglican high church, which is where most of this sort of music is now sung (if it's sung at all). There they've got into a long tradition of singing in a kind of unemotional, almost bodiless way - gutless might be a good word. Even with the introduction of women into these choirs, the 'tone' hasn't changed. It's still deathly serious, perfectly beautiful in a museum-like way, as though these composers never had flesh and blood.
I'd love to hear these things sung with some energy, some verve, some life. After all, I know singers who've been in these choirs, and that's not how they sing other kinds of music
We watched a programme on Christmas from an Anglican perspective after midnight on Christmas Day, and even the modern music that the choir sang was treated with this super-delux reverential style. Boring.
Friday, January 02, 2009
We've got used to bright light until late in the day, and not having to turn the lights on. We've got used to having warmth inside and out, and wearing fewer clothes. Suddenly it's chilly, and dark inside the house. Pooh. It's nice to have summer go on and on for more than a couple of days!
There are supposed to be severe weather warnings for various parts of the country, however, as I write this, the rain has suddenly stopped. Contrary.
Hopefully it'll dry up again and we can continue working on shifting the compost heap from one side of the section to the other. It's been in a corner by the drive for as long as I can remember, but the fencing around it is rotting away, and we're going to extend the garden into that area.
In the new area, we're planning on building some new boxing for it, and doing some rotational composting, rather than just having one large (slow) heap, as in the past. Not that that heap hasn't worked: the compost we've got out of there has been great. We're just trying a different approach.
Talking about compost, and looking up previous references to the topic here reminded me that it's fun to check out the more peculiar searches on Google that bring up my blog. Hittail keeps track of these, so I've just had a look. (What to do on a rainy day that can't make up its mind.)
random pretty piano sheet
dig wyler didgeridoo
fibre optic crowl
carl maum artist nz
the god questions why is there so much t-shirt
edu mendez antonio del valle fedor de pablos
what kind of jeans does mike phelps wear
I think my favourite is the one about God and the t-shirt, but most of the others do pretty well in terms of obscurity too! And note that someone spells Karl Maughan's name even more wrongly than I usually do.
Thursday, January 01, 2009
We don't often play board games or card games or any other kind of similar games these days. The tv stands in the place of board games these days. But it's not actually watched as much as it thinks it is. In fact, it hasn't realised that it's gone from being a product of entertainment to something that's the equivalent of a warm fire burning in the background. Most of television can be ignored, especially since the advent of reality shows that are virtually all the same and are tediously edited to show up people in the worst possible light.
I'm not as good at ignoring it as many of my family are; my wife was brought up in a time and place when televisions were on all day and quickly became a kind of noise in the background. Being a person who's always been keen on movies, I find it harder to act as if the tv wasn't there, especially if I'm trying to read. I prefer to read away from its insistent irritating blather. But I certainly ignore it far more readily than I used to, and that's a plus.
There may come a day when television stations realise that no one's actually watching any more and they'll just put on a picture of a log fire, or some slow-moving scenic panorama, and the tv will finally have found its true home...
A man of sixty has spent twenty years in bed and over three years in eating.
May you live all the days of your life.
Let us respect gray hairs, especially our own.
J. P. Sears
Pleas'd to look forward, pleas'd to look behind, and count each birthday with a grateful mind.
The spiritual eyesight improves as the physical eyesight declines.
Blessed is the person who is too busy to worry in the daytime and too sleepy to worry at night.
I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.
A diamond cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials.
Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
May you find that turning sixty is no worse than turning thirty, no more difficult than turning forty, no more aging than turning fifty, and still ten years from turning seventy!