Thursday, March 29, 2007

Chicken or the Egg?

It's time to end this debate once and for all. The old canard, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" has long been answered by modern science.

Clearly, the egg.

If we take by egg to mean chicken egg, then we know well that evolution happens through random mutation. Thus while every chicken alive must have been born from a chicken egg, the first chicken egg was layed by the chicken's evolutionary ancestor.

Of course there are always difficulties with properly defining species, but I believe this logic holds.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Syllabus for Death and Spiritual Aetheism in Contemporary Fiction

One of my favorite parts about flying is that you get an excuse to watch lots of crappy movies. On my flight back from hong kong, I watched Aronsky's (Pi guy) The Fountain. Something I've wanted to watch despite tepid reviews. I'll concur with those tepid reviews. Highish concept (a love story between the same two people that plays out over thousands of years,starting with the spanish inquisition), pretty visuals, boring execution.

But its main message struck a chord, as I've seen it repeated often recently. Basically, a spirtual aethistic view of death. That death is something we should accept at the end of a good life, instead of dreaming/clinging to the idea of an afterlife, or using science to prolong misery.

While I personally intend on living forever (through a brain upload perhaps), I do like the message espoused by Albom's Tuesday's with Morrie that death is best accepted rather than dreaded (though I am somewhat put off by how Albom shifted from sports writer to spiritual guru).

The message was also echoed in the children's book trilogy His Dark Materials. Billed as the atheists' Harry Potter (though I never thought Harry Potter was especially Deist), His Dark Materials was a smart fantasy, with little girls and armored polar bears and alternative universes and human souls that manifest as pet familiars (in the D&D sense). It preached the same message (more subtlely and engagingly than The Fountain or Tuesday's) and should be coming to theaters soon.

If I ever somehow find myself teaching a course in this topic, I now have the beginnings of a syllabus.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Philip Glass' Life

R- and I attended the East Coast premier by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra of Philip Glass' latest, Life, a collaboration with nature photographer Franz Lanting (who was sort of unfriendly when we asked him to sign the $50 book of his that we bought) that sets to music Lanting's photo essay that tries to capture the history of life on earth through photographs taken today. A neat concept, just as William Blake sought:
To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
Like Blake, Lanting sought to see the entire history of life (eternity), through photographs of the world around us (an hour).

I and many of my classical music dabbling friends have often remarked that watching ballet is particularly nice because though classical music is nice, with nothing visual, the stimulation of just one sense is not sufficiently engaging for the dilettante. I think the BSO and others have caught on, the last performance we saw paired a slide-show of the development of a particular Matisse painting with Bach's Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor.

Not quite sold out, (much to our benefit. I am on the e-mail list that sells discounted tickets for under-subscribed shows), we enjoyed the performance. Though at times, it could be accused of being cheesy. The photographs belie Lanting's background as a National Geographic commercial photographer rather than as an art photographer, and the themes while sweeping are simplistic: Elements (earth, wind, fire, water), Life (single-celled, multi-celled; invertebrates, vertebrates; fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals) etc. The presentation, on 3 large screens over the orchestra was nice, but the succession of animated static images verged on looking like a glorified PowerPoint. Also, the music while well executed and perfectly matched to the subject, ran the risk of coming too close to the John Williams movie music trifles, the genre with which Glass is more and more associated these days.

But in the end, while maybe more commercial than art, it still was thoroughly satisfying, with Glass' signature layering of intricately diverse repeated motifs and stunning photos of the splendors of Nature, under direction of the new first ever female conductor of a major symphony orchestra, Marin Alsop. Good stuff.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Battlestar Galactica: Wow... almost.

This week's episode reiterated why Battlestar Galactica (BSG) is the best show on tv. A show that took my breath away. And then in the last 5 minutes, it suddenly let me down, just because the show is always like that. Imperfect.

But for the first 55 minutes, I was blown away. Without picking sides, it highlights the never discussed dirty side of a democracy in wartime. The marxist ideas, followed by Veblen and others, of how a capitalist system gets subverted by the military industrial complex during wartime, to perpetuate class lines. A necessity the best computer game ever--Civ II--highlighted, of switching to a "fundamentalist" (corporatist) system during wartime, since a Democracy will be out produced. And entirely consistent with the US during WWII and other major wars. And using a visual language reminiscent of the labor photography of Lewis Hine. Having Baltar be the Marx figure, the intellectual instigator. Genius. The show has the audacity to not pick sides. The Admiral's gambit at the end was even better.

And then, in the last 5 minutes, the show let me down. By picking the happy happy sit-com scooby-doo ending, it shuffled all the complexities (that a meritocracy and an aristocracy are not so far apart) under the rug, and made it all too easy to resolve, that allowing unions who aren't allowed to strike solves everything. And we can walk away, comfitted, at peace with the world, whereas what I really wanted was to walk away discomfitted by the world's complexities.

Ah well.