Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Buffy and Ginger's international fan club

They make an appearance at Fish & Chips! They are looking out the window at any humans passing by. This is what the girls do all day while I work. See for yourself!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Shiver me timbers!

Saw Pirates 3 today. It was much better than Spidey 3. Key to this is the fact that Priates 3 actually had an interesting plot, and developed some characters who had been neglected somewhat in Pirates 1 and 2. Both K^2 and Orlando Bloom had a lot more to work with in this film than in either of the first two films, and in the case of Bloom, he had a lot more to work with. K^2 got to walk away a bit from her Good Girl image that was central to her character in Pirates 1 (but not so far away as to offend the public and kill the box office).

There were also a couple surprising plot twists, which is very rare in the tentpole/blockbuster genre. Not a film that I'll see again on the big screen, but on the whole a worthy addition to the trilogy. Indeed, I would say that the Pirates trilogy has maintained a decent quality level, a feat missed by most trilogies (Godfather, Star Wars (each trilogy considered separately), X-Men, Spidey, Lord of the Rings). Where Godfather II has always been the standard for the best sequel ever, I think Pirates, though not quite at the same level in any of the films, should show the way to how film quality can be sustained.

(About LotR: I really found the third movie to be cutesy and tedious. There was a steady decline in quality from the first to the third film, and that's too bad. If Peter Jackson had held his excesses in check a bit more, the entire trilogy could have been a masterpiece. As it was, I had to cringe at the ridiculous fight scenes in Return of the King, and then endure about five different moments where I said "the film could end now. Yes, part of the latter problem was because of Tolkien's writing, which also peaked in the first book. But a good director would have cut out the trip back to the Shire.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Hammerhead parthenogenesis

So, it turns out that a hammerhead shark had a virgin birth in Nebraska via parthenogenesis (asexual reproduction).

Reminds me of the Shriekback album Oil and Gold, which featured two songs: Hammerheads and Nemesis (which featured a line about parthenogenesis).

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Pursuit of Happyness

I'm boycotting this movie because I hate intentional misspelling.

Oh, and Spidey 3 is mediocre. Boring!


I've been thinking about what I wanted to say about the passing of KV, Jr. There are a lot of things that could be said. For starters, he wasn't considered a "great writer" like F. Scott Fitzgerald or Saul Bellow or James Joyce or one of those guys English department grad students get all excited about. But I've never gotten excited by that kind kind of writer.

I think "accessibility" is a key feature of a writer, and that's a trait that Vonnegut has to a much greater extent than the above-named wrtiers (esp. Joyce). But what really set Vonnegut apart was the sheer quality of his ideas. Ice-9 was, for example, a tremendous concept. A lot of writers seem to write books and books and books without ever saying anything interesting. Then there's the kind of gifted writer who blazes onto the scene with a compelling style, but never learns a damned thing about life worth passing on to the next generation. (I'm looking at you, Mr. Salinger.)

The first Vonnegut story I read was Galapagos. I noticed several interesting things. For starters, the narrator had the habit of putting asterisks next to characters when they were about to die. This way the death wouldn't come as a shock to the reader. It also dealt with evolution to some extent, but the great theme of Vonnegut was just how freakin' stupid the human species is. Somethings this theme collapsed into bleakness, but more often it validated its existence with a vicious streak of humor.

Hi ho!

After reading Galapagos I devoured most of Vonnegut's writing during high school. Of course I read Slaughterhouse Five, Cat's Cradle, Mother Night and God Bless You, Mrs. Rosewater; and in addition some of his lesser works: Bluebeard, Welcome to the Monkey House, Player Piano, Slapstick, Deadeye Dick, etc. I basically read everything except The Sirens of Titan. I still haven't read that book, for somewhat complicated reasons. But I'll get to it eventually.

The course of my intellectual development from the age of 14 to 18 is not something I can retrace so clearly. When I was 14, I was a practicing Catholic. I was even confirmed. By the time I was 18, I was an atheist, and even going to Georgetown University did little to rekindle any religious devotion.

I think Vonnegut was one of the key writers during this period. I got into the French existentialists a little bit, mainly Camus and Sartre. Other irreverent writers I liked included Joseph Heller, Samuel Beckett, Tom Stoppard, though for most of them I only read one or two works. (I tried reading other Heller books but didn't find them anywhere near the level of Catch 22.) With Vonnegut I read everything.

For a while I was a Deist - thinking that the workings of the universe were likely directed by a supreme being who stayed out of it. But as I've gotten older, I've come to view that attitude more as human projection. I do believe in the existence of order to the universe, but I think the variation between complexity and simplicity tends to defy our tiny little minds.

For a long time, I was really caught up with the epistemological questions of how people know anything. The certainty of mathematics is its greatest appeal to me: somehow, when one asserts a mathematical truth that has been properly verified, the proposition simply is true. It's not a matter of perspective, or interpretation. It simply is true. And I don't know of any field other than mathematics that has such a firm grip on truth value. Back in the days of ancient Greece, philosophers like Aristotle were considered equally valuable to Euclid and Pythagoras. But these days, Aristotle is considered laughable when he ventures into discussing the natural world, while the proofs of Euclid are just as valid today as they were 2500 years ago.

Vonnegut's writings were packed with this irreverence, which contrasts nicely with the overbearing assertiveness typical of arrogant American culture. Indeed, after leaving the Catholic Church and its reckless attitude towards making truth claims, I found it very hard to believe in anything. Lost myself in mathematics for a decade there, but that was to a great extent simply Avoiding the Question (in addition to a burgeoning contempt for our species that was reinforced at many occassions.) I only had a breakthrough in my early 30s when a friend who is in physics explained to me that absolutely every scientific proposition is always subject to review. Nothing is considered to be "true" in science in the same fashion as it is in mathematics.

I'm starting to get a grip on empiricism and natural philosophy. That means I'm catching up to 18th century science! Yay!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Othello was a dumb ass

Trying to think about the posts that I owe this blog.
1) Homage to Vonnegut
2) Mission statement
3) Discussion of Chaucer and Dickens

So I'll launch into a discussion of Othello, which I saw at the Globe (in Southwark) with my sister on Saturday. As viewing experiences go, seeing a play at the Globe is, um, authentic. That means that acoustics are crap, various players are hidden behind pillars, and the play takes way too long.

I'll have to give Othello another try at some point. Maybe I'll rent the Branagh/Fishburne collaboration. Because the performance we saw was not terribly compelling. We got tired by intermission (esp. a problem given B's chronic fatigue) and took off. So we missed out on all the stabbing and strangulation.

Here's my basic problem with Othello: I really don't care about the main character at all. A tragedy is supposed to involve a fall from an exalted position. But I don't see anything about Othello that is supposed to inspire me. And the defense of his crime is pathetic. "Well, I guess if my wife doesn't have her handkerchief, that must mean she's cheating on me, so I'll strangle her." And all of this in the first week of the marriage, and the day after they finally sleep together for the first time!

To say Othello has trust issues is an understatement.

I think I would have enjoyed the play a bit more if Iago hadn't always been facing directly away from me, speaking to the audience on the other side of the circle. Again, I'll have to see how Branagh plays this role. I suspect Iago is a more interesting character than Othello in any case, even when the play is done properly.

Some background here: Papa Whispers is an Oxfordian, which means he's of the school of thought that the plays in the Folio authored by "William Shakespeare" were really written by Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. It is a matter of historical record that de Vere was associated with the Lord Chamberlain's Men, the same company that hired Shak(e)speare (of Stratford-upon-Avon) as an actor. I could see the case arguing that the man called Shak(e)speare was a bit socially limited to have written all the courtly behavior in the plays. I tend to buy the argument that there's something very fishy about the authorship question here, but don't know if Oxford is the right answer. In any case, Edward de Vere had some notable episodes of jealousy involving his wife. This kind of jealous is something that appears in many of the plays of Shakespeare, and it is most obvious in Othello. According to the bio of de Vere, Othello was one of the earlier of Shakespeare's works. That shows in the simplicity of the play. Unlike his more celebrated plays, there are no subplots, competing supporting characters, or subtle themes circumscribing the story. Indeed, it's the simplest of Shakespeare's that I've seen. It is definitely a notch below what I consider to be the masterpieces of Shakespearian tragedy: Hamlet, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet (with a nod to King Lear).

(Aside: regardless who the author of the plays was, I think it has to be conceded that their appears in an omnibus publication, after the death of Shak(e)speare, has to be viewed in a suspicious light. I think it's entirely possible that the plays were written jointly by several authors, a la the Bourbaki series in French mathematics. Or Shakespeare could be a pen name like Mark Twain or O. Henry.)

But, back to my main point. Othello was a tool. I don't care if he invented Reversi, the man was a tool.

I may go to another play at the Globe - at only £5 for the standing area it's not a bad deal. But I think if I do, I'll read the play beforehand, or possibly just print out a copy to bring with me.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

politicization of DoJ

A quick hit:

back in 2000, I repeatedly ran into Bush supporters who argued with a straight face that there was nothing wrong with what Katherine Harris was doing in Florida. After all, she had won the election to be the Secretary of State, so she had the power to do what she wished, even if that meant putting all of her energies into making sure George W. Bush was elected.

This argument was advanced in all sincerity! When I tried to argue that she was supposed to serve the interests of the citizens of Florida and maintain fair elections, that criticism was laughed away as being hopelessly naive. "The Democrats would do the same thing" I was told, and numerous people made vague references to JFK's triumph in 1960 as if that were the only proof they needed.

I guess they skipped the "Two wrongs don't make a right" part of ethics instruction.

Anyway, what is going on now at DoJ is directly analogous to what Harris did in Florida in 2000. Harris then, and Gonzales now, have been using the power of the state to directly advance the interests of the Republican party instead of the interests of justice. At DoJ, this is most dramatically seen with the various USAs who were fired either for refusing to investigate Democrats or for having the gall to investigate Republicans. But a lot more of this kind of "party first!" thinking has been going on.

What's my point? Anybody who is surprised at all the scandals that have arisen with Bush wasn't really paying attention during the Florida recount, when it become perfectly clear that Bush had no respect for the rule of law and was utterly focused solely on advancing his own interests at every step. As usual with this kind of thing, Republican projection launched the identical complaint at Al Gore, and the GOP-friendly media lapped it up.


I think it's naive to assume this problem will go away once W. and his family move to extradition-safe Paraguay after he leaves office.