Friday, February 28, 2003

Thank God, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld its decision that "under God" cannot be a required part of the pledge. Now the case will probably go the Supreme Court, where I suspect the majority will uphold this decision, too. To paraphrase a Supreme Court justice, putting "under God" is equivalent to putting "under Allah" in the pledge. Other variants are "under Goddess," "under gods" and "under Satan." (Incidentally, a pledge itself is not exactly constitutional. Read A Country With No Name: Tales from the Constitution by Sebastian de Grazia for more info on pledges, but ignore the book's erotic (sic) bits. This book also reveals that "America" used to be interchangable with "Columbia.")

Picture Speaks a Thousand Lies
I'm going to renege on my promise to avoid politics because someone a Democrat in the House Appropriations Committee produced Caught on Film: A Photographic History of the Bush Administration Putting Its Mouth Where Its Money Isn't. Note that this is hosted on! You might as well read this Saddam-Bush debate too. Sample: Bush-"Fine, but we require nothing less than total disarmature."

Monday, February 24, 2003

Jaani Dushman: Ek Anokhi Kahani dir.(sic) Rajkumar Kohli
There were a couple of vaudevillians of whom it was said they were so bad they were good. Such is this film. The terrible acting, the embarassing lack of continuity, the silly plot, the silly subplots, and the utter lack of taste or morals are bound to entertain you. Oddly, the DVD comes with rather good English subtitles.

Monsoon Wedding dir. Mira Nair
This film bends under the weight of its cliches, but sustains one's interest thanks to the believable acting and a few charming characters. Actually, there are about as many characters as in Nashville, so a few of them will definitely catch your interest while others will inspire yawns.

Bend It Like Beckham dir. Gurinder Chadha
Another slim but entertaining British comedy with a mixture of sports, Indian-English culture, girl power and Bobo satire. Very enjoyable for one watching.

Garden of the Finzi-Continis aka Il Giardino de Finiz-Contini dir. Vittorio de Sica
The coolness of the film makes it less convincing than de Sica's early masterpiece, The Bicycle Thief. Nevertheless its story of unrequited love in Mussolini's Italy frames a larger array of various Italian Jews. The opulence of their lifestyles sadly causes many of them to misinterpret or feel immune to the burgeoning anti-Semitism of the era. Thus a story is told of a different segment of Europe's Jewish populace than we are used to. Note the presence of a book by Bernadetto Croce, the philosopher and anti-Fascist.

Russian Ark aka Russkij kovcheg dir. Alexander Sokurov
This elegy to pre-Communist Russia, despite its peremptory dismissal of the peasant masses, is an excellent visual experiment well worth it for both the art in the film and the art of the film. There is art in the film is because the location is the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg. The steadicam movement appropriately simulates the human eye of the narrator while camera filters make the Hermitage look like a wispy ghost. Only occasionally do the overly artsy moments grate. I enjoyed the French dandy who is the narrator's cohort for most of the film but ymmv. Technically, the film astounds with its single 90+ minute take.

Leif Ove Andsnes
Piano Recital at Spivey HallFeb. 23, 2003
We in Atlanta are fortunate to have Spivey Hall, a counterpart to London's Wigmore Hall, both equally famous for their acoustics and their programming. Andsnes has been talked about much as a young performer both in the press and in especially since he bridges the older tradition of playing the canon and the newer tradition of playing everything but the canon. His performance of Chopin's Polonaise-Fantasie was very musical and playful although I prefer Argerich's ferocity. His Debussy was skilfully coloristic. The Miyoshi piece with its angular motif led into a convincing performance of the angular B minor sonata by Chopin. The concluding encores by Chopin, Grieg, and Scriabin were an added Romantic treat.

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Movie reviews to be posted shortly
The Pianist dir. Roman Polanski
Russian Ark aka Russkij kovcheg dir. Alexander Sokurov
The Garden of the Finzi-Continis aka Il Giardino dei Finzi-Contini dir. Vittorio de Sica
Monsoon Wedding dir. Mira Nair
Jaani Dushman: Ek Anokhi Kahani dir.(sic) Rajkumar Kohli

Atheism and Neuroscience
Thanks to neuroscience, we know that the destruction of a part of one's brain can fundamentally change who we are in terms of personality and character. Thus, our personality and character are inextricably expressed through the form of our brain. Since our brain decays after our death, we cannot possibly have an afterlife in the Christian sense, i.e. our individual personalities will not last. If some spiritual part of, say, Joe Schmo, does last it will be so different than the Joe Schmo that we know (and that Joe himself knows) that he would not longer be recognizable as Joe Schmo. Of course, a theist could always believe that there is biological death but "then a miracle happens" and your personality is retained as part of your soul in the afterlife.

Notes on Atheism #1
I've been both atheist and agnostic since 1993. I generally don't try to convert people because (a) it's annoying and (b) I don't want to undermine someone's source of hope and meaning. I remember when I lost faith in God, I first felt betrayed by the God that I had been believing in and then I realized that He probably didn't even exist. This was painful and I don't want to put someone through that kind of pain. On the other hand, once you get over the pain, you can still find hope and meaning independently.

And if religion is the search to feel at home in the universe, then atheists are more at home in it because they realize they will change and perish just as other living and non-living beings do. If, on the other hand, you believe in an afterlife, you are dividing yourself from the rest of the known universe because you are making yourself the only being exempt from extinction.

"I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours." - Stephen F. Roberts | Stephen's account of the history of the quote

Friday, February 14, 2003

You think postmodernists don't know how to write? Then check out these lawyers. Source: George.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

I live in the town of Chamblee in the Atlanta metro area, a stone's throw away from Spaghetti junction. I'm sure you were dying to know.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

If Bach had been a Beekeeper by Charles Tomlinson (1927-)
from the New Criterion. See post below. If Bach had been a Beekeeper is also the name of a work by Arvo Pärt (1935-).

I re-read segments of the preface to "The Liberal Imagination" by Lionel Trilling (1905-1975), in which he continued the admirable tendency of the Western tradition to be seriously self-critical (as opposed to dogmatic or postmodernistically ironic). Here is the passage

Mill, at odds with Coleridge all down the intellectual and political line, nevertheless urged all liberals to become acquainted with this powerful conservative mind. He said that the prayer of every true partisan of liberalism should be,

“Lord, enlighten thou our enemies. . . ; sharpen their wits, give acuteness to their perceptions and consecutiveness and clearness to their reasoning powers. We are in danger from their folly, not from their wisdom: their weakness is what fills us with apprehension, not their strength.”

What Mill meant, of course, was that the intellectual pressure which an opponent like Coleridge could exert would force liberals to examine their position for its weaknesses and complacencies.

Sadly, the only place on the web that appears to contain this quote is The New Criterion's review of The Betrayal of Liberalism by Hilton Kramer & Roger Kimball. The New Criterion, edited by Roger Kimball (!!) is a bastion of hacks defending Republican policy while trying to sound like conservatives defending the Western tradition. To be fair, the New Criterion does have a small share of intelligent articles and a large share of excellent poetry.

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

Man With a Movie Camera (1929) aka Chelovek s kinoapparatom dir. Dziga Vertov
Vertov's experiment is excellent but it lacks the immediacy that I prefer in a film. There is hardly a plot, but a Joycean stream of events nonetheless that could prove interesting on repeated watching. The commentator on the DVD mentions Walt Whitman repeatedly and if you are a fan of his--I am not--you will enjoy this paean to the 20th century cityscape.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari aka das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari (1920) dir. Robert Wiene
An intriguing work overall, this silent film will appeal to fan's of Nabokov's Pale Fire (and vice versa). Both contain an it-was-all-a-dream ending that fails to convince you completely. So you are left to sort through the gamut of interpretations. This is a horror film, but it's not the murder but the madness that is horrifying. Interesting note in the commentary: German expressionism was intended to provide an escape from the trials of life in the Weimar republic!

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Aristotle A Very Short Introduction by Jonathan Barnes | table of contents

Remember when you were handed a tortuous primary text in your humanities course when you really needed a broad and suitably concise survey ? Well, this is the survey that such dreams are made of. In a mere hundred pages, Barnes expounds, criticizes and defends Aristotelian metaphysics, science and logic, devoting some space to aesthetics, ethics, and politics. Highly recommended overall. Another book in this series that I'd recommend is Wittgenstein by A. C. Grayling. Another readable survey: A Short History of Philosophy
by Robert C. Solomon, Kathleen M. Higgins.

Monday, February 03, 2003

Some pithy reviews

The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl aka Macht der Bilder dir. Ray Mueller

This documentary on the life and works of controversial German director, Leni Riefenstahl, despite its three-hour running time has several interesting segments. Much of the film is devoted to Riefenstahl's new film techniques, particularly in her films about the Nuremberg festival and the Berlin olympics. Riefenstahl's comments on life in the Nazi era also reveal the experience of living through the era without knowing how it would end. An interesting comment by Leni - "When I heard Hitler talking about art and praising kitsch, he was totally wrong but convincing. It then made me think about how his political speeches, though convincing, might also be wrong."

Better Off Dead dir. Savage Steve Holland

It has the aura of a brat-pack movie with shades of Say Anything and Revenge of the Nerds, thanks to the plot and appearances by Curtis Armstrong and John Cusack. Our hero, Lane, with the assistance of his friends, deals with surreal life problems and the moguls on K-12. A Dickensian potpourri of characters adds life to this delicious truffle of a film.