Saturday, November 29, 2003

Public Service Announcement: Beware of Flu

With all the wonders of modern medicine, it is easy to think of flu epidemics as something from our less medically sophisticated past. For instance in 1918, 20 million people died worldwide from the flu. Though we have not had a pandemic on that order since then, flu typically kills 30,000 Americans annually.

This year's flu season appears to have arrived early and the stain appears to be more dangerous than usual as reported here and here.

For a complete FAQ, check out the CDC web site.

If you haven't got your flu vaccine shot yet, please do if at all possible.

Friday, November 28, 2003

The voice of Stardate

As an astronomy fan, I occasionally will catch the Stardate radio broadcasts originating from the MacDonald observatory. As far as I can remember, the wondeful voice of the show is Sandy Wood. I've always wondered what she looked like. Well, now, we can all know by, of course, checking out the Stardate web page.

In case you are too lazy to do that, here it is:

image from

Bush trip to Iraq

Like most Americans, I was surprised to hear of the Thanksgiving visit to the troops. They sure know how to keep things quiet. And like most Americans, I was moved by what was shared in that 2 hour visit. And I want to say, I am grateful for our military men and women who are serving us and the world where ever they are.

Andrew Sullivan is all over the story. He has an email from a military person who was there, the carping of Dana Milbank of WaPo, a looney letter to the editor from an SF woman, an email about Bush and Rice as the "normal looking couple" and Sullivan's own take on the visit.

If you are a military person reading this blog or a family member of a military person, let me join with most Americans in saying: Thank you for your service and sacrifice.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

What I'm listening to

As usual, I'm behind the curve on pop culture. I recently got introduced to Coldplay's big hit Clocks.

For me, the first thing I notice is the music and if it is catchy and haunting. Then I'll hunt down lyrics which I've pasted below. Clocks has both.

I asked some friends, what does it mean?

We eventually concluded it was a love song or rather a love lost song. I suppose when you hear any song on the radio, if you say it has to do with love you would probably be right 85% of the time? What do you think? Higher or lower?

Onto the lyrics:

Lights go out and I can't be saved
Tides that I tried to swim against
You've put me down upon my knees
Oh I beg, I beg and plead (singing)
Come out of things unsaid, shoot an apple of my head (and a)
Trouble that can't be named, tigers waiting to be tamed (singing)
You are, you are

Confusion never stops, closing walls and ticking clocks (gonna)
Come back and take you home, I could not stop, that you now know (singing)
Come out upon my seas, curse missed opportunities (am I)
A part of the cure, or am I part of the disease (singing)

You are [x6]
And nothing else compares
Oh no nothing else compares
And nothing else compares

You are [continues in background]
Home, home, where I wanted to go [x4]


The Matrix movies pose the question of the existence of FREE WILL. Some would deny its existence. Some would question its value if it exists.

What do you think?

Most of people are looking for love and even though many occasions we will experience the love-lost sorrow embodied in a song like Clocks, we dust ourselves off and try again. If that isn't proof of free will, I don't know what is? Love often acts so impractically and for motives beyond procreation. The existence and experience of love is beyond hard-wired biology.

UPDATE: Was looking at the lyrics again. Wonder if the lost love died? The last line if read this way: you are home (died and gone to heaven), home where I wanted to go ... hmmm ...

UPDATE: Regarding free will, here is an interesting link on the subject.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

What is at stake for the Turkish

Recent events in Turkey are very disturbing. Postrel comments linking to Sullivan who linked to the original item in the Guardian. Read the whole thing. Excerpts:

After the bombs

Maureen Freely grew up in Istanbul. After Friday's terrorist attacks she caught the first plane back - and found the city bloodied but defiant

Tuesday November 25, 2003
The Guardian

When the bomb exploded outside the synagogue in the old Istanbul neighbourhood of Galata 10 days ago, my brother Brendan was in his flat around the corner. When the bomb went off outside the British consulate five days later, he was on his way to his favourite chicken shop outside the fish market opposite the consulate entrance. If he had left a quarter of an hour earlier, he would no longer be with us.
All the bombs that went off in Istanbul last week were in busy neighbourhoods that hundreds of thousands of people pass through daily. Most of them might be Turkish Muslims, but Istanbul has always been a city of many religions and cultures. A large percentage of the country's Turkish non-Muslims are concentrated in these same areas, as are the city's many thousands of foreign residents and the many hundreds of foreign-owned businesses. The area around the British consulate is teeming with other consulates. There are three churches and a mosque within a few hundred yards. There is no way of targeting foreigners without targeting Turks in these crowded streets and no way of protecting them either. This is presumably why the Foreign Office has advised all British nationals to stay away from the city until further notice, and why almost everyone I know in England thinks I was crazy to fly home on the first plane.
So I was expecting to find the streets empty and most of the city's 10 million residents cowering behind closed doors.

Indeed, there was a great hush in the arrivals lounge. For the first time ever, I did not have to queue for a visa. But once we had left the airport, it was hard to see any sign of a crisis. The streets were clogged with traffic and people shopping for the holiday that begins today. The shores of the Bosphorus were lined with fishermen and a procession of large, slow-moving families enjoying the unusually fine weather. The restaurants and cafes were doing a brisk business, and every few hundred metres there was a florist overflowing on to the pavement to meet the seasonal demand.
This was Istanbul's September 11. They thought they were safe from the war on terror because they thought all Muslims were brothers. Now they know otherwise, and are unified in their condemnation of the terrorists, who cannot be "true Muslims". The fact that the terrorists staged this attack in the last days of Ramadan has added to their outrage. But no one is in any doubt why the city has become a terrorist target. How its residents respond to their new status depends very much on how much support they get (or fail to get) from the allies who dragged them into this. As one shopkeeper put it, "Surely, now that we have suffered this, the EU must open its arms to us." If it doesn't, or if the US gives the impression, as it has sometimes done in the past, that it is taking Turkey's "sacrifice" for granted, the sense of betrayal could be huge.

But right now, everyone's mind is on the present, on trying to survive. By that I do not mean that people are avoiding danger, but that they are quite adamantly refusing to let danger change the way they live. [ed. note -- emphasis mine] And God only knows they have had practice. In the past three years, they have been playing this game so much they have hardly had time to breathe. Begin with the earthquake, in which the official death toll was 18,000 but may well have been twice that. Continue with the crippling recession, which has yet to ease, and the crimewave that has followed in its wake. Even so, this has remained an exemplary city. To visit Istanbul over the past few years has been to see friends look after each other in ways that we in the privatised west have long forgotten. According to the local code of conduct, the most dangerous thing is solitude, the next worst thing is to sit at home behind closed doors. The worse things get, the more important it is to go out with your friends and do whatever you have to do to laugh adversity away.
Istanbul is not another Riyadh, where foreigners jet in for two or three years to service foreign interests, to live in separate compounds. It has been the opposite of Riyadh since the days of Byzantium. There were large and commercially significant European concessions - Venetian, Genoese, British, and French - and many of their descendants remained in the city throughout the Ottoman Empire. There were 100,000 Greeks in the city right up until the Cyprus crisis in 1964. About a third of the girls in my secondary school were Greek, Armenian, and Jewish. The last time I went to my sister's (Catholic) church I heard a service in which children sang Christmas carols in 17 languages.

Bogazici University, where my father still teaches, has been a Turkish institution since the early 1970s, but for a century before that it was an American college for Turks. When we arrived 43 years ago, most of the faculty was still American and more than a few of them had come here because, like my father, they dreamed of a world beyond McCarthy, 50s conformity and cold war paranoia. We did not lock ourselves up in expatriate isolation; we were part of the city and we still are.

The gulf that divides the east from the west is something we think about a great deal but we do not see it reflected in our everyday lives. Istanbul is more cosmopolitan than it has ever been. Millions have either worked in Germany and other parts of Europe and still have families there. Any family that can afford it makes sure that they give their children a chance to spend time studying abroad. Since the earthquake, eased relations with Greece have opened the way to an array of cultural and educational exchange programmes. The economic links between the two countries are also growing, as have the links with countries in the former eastern bloc.

When I was a child, Istanbul was an enchanted but neglected cold war outpost. Over the past decade, I have watched it become the hub for all the regions that surround it, a city neither eastern nor western but both at the same time. It still is, but for how much longer?

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Not a pleasant thought

Instapundit relates this rather disturbing possibility. But I guess we have to take the Israelis as our example: you go on with your life anyway.

Let the hype begin...

MSNBC/Newsweek has this story about the soon to arrive, "The Return of the King." I'm really looking forward to it. Will it live up to the hype? Matrix stumbled to the finish line. The second trilogy of Star Wars has been only B+.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Bush speech in London

Postrel has an extended excerpt of the speech. See WH release for the full text. Here is an excerpt:

The movement of history will not come about quickly. Because of our own democratic development -- the fact that it was gradual and, at times, turbulent -- we must be patient with others. And the Middle East countries have some distance to travel.

Arab scholars speak of a freedom deficit that has separated whole nations from the progress of our time. The essentials of social and material progress -- limited government, equal justice under law, religious and economic liberty, political participation, free press, and respect for the rights of women -- have been scarce across the region. Yet that has begun to change. In an arc of reform from Morocco to Jordan to Qatar, we are seeing elections and new protections for women and the stirring of political pluralism. Many governments are realizing that theocracy and dictatorship do not lead to national greatness; they end in national ruin. They are finding, as others will find, that national progress and dignity are achieved when governments are just and people are free.

The democratic progress we've seen in the Middle East was not imposed from abroad, and neither will the greater progress we hope to see. Freedom, by definition, must be chosen, and defended by those who choose it. Our part, as free nations, is to ally ourselves with reform, wherever it occurs.

Perhaps the most helpful change we can make is to change in our own thinking. In the West, there's been a certain skepticism about the capacity or even the desire of Middle Eastern peoples for self-government. We're told that Islam is somehow inconsistent with a democratic culture. Yet more than half of the world's Muslims are today contributing citizens in democratic societies. It is suggested that the poor, in their daily struggles, care little for self-government. Yet the poor, especially, need the power of democracy to defend themselves against corrupt elites.

Peoples of the Middle East share a high civilization, a religion of personal responsibility, and a need for freedom as deep as our own. It is not realism to suppose that one-fifth of humanity is unsuited to liberty; it is pessimism and condescension, and we should have none of it.

Really hope all involved can live up to these high ideals. I want to believe.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Just surfing and rambling...

Instapundit essay...
Great post over at Insta-Pundit about the uniqueness of America and how the experience of the Civil War is a part of that.

Bruin fan defends USC sort of...
As a UCLA fan, it pains me to know the odds makers are giving us 22 points. It would be a terrific end to a dismal season to derail USC's National Title hopes. However, it would seem the BCS computers are doing a fine job all by themselves. Ohio State jumped to #2 in the BCS poll but USC is #2 in the "human" polls. Look, as a Bruin, I want to see USC lose but ON THE FIELD not because some computer programers say so. In the article, there is a side-bar with speculation on how Oklahoma could lose one of their next two games and still wind up in the BCS championship game.

McLachlan's Music...
Recently downloaded on my iPOD is Sarah McLachlan's "Fallen". I'm new to her music. The instrumentals are outstanding and her vocal quality terrific. Then there are these lyrics:
Heaven bent to take my hand
And lead me through the fire
Be the long awaited answer
to a long and painful fight

Truth be told I've tried my best
but somewhere along the way
I got caught up in all there was to offer
and the cost was so much more than I could bear

Though i've tried, I've fallen..
I have sunk so low
I have messed up
better I should know
So don't come round here
and tell me i told you so....

We all begin with good intent
Love was raw and young
We believed that we could change ourselves
The past could be undone

But we carry on our backs the burden
Time always reveals
The lonely light of morning
the wound that would not heal
it's the bitter taste of losing everything
that i have held so dear.

Though i've tried, I've fallen..
I have sunk so low
I have messed up
better I should know
So don't come round here
and tell me i told you so....

Heaven bent to take my hand
nowhere left to turn
I'm lost to those i thought were friends
to everyone i know
Oh they turned their heads embarassed
pretend that they don't see
but it's one missed step
you'll slip before you know it
and there doesn't seem a way to be redeemed

Though i've tried, I've fallen..
I have sunk so low
I have messed up
better I should know
So don't come round here
and tell me i told you so....

Muscians are the poets of our day and put into words the inexpressible feelings many of us feel.

As I listen to this song, it is a sad one but I find myself hearing an echo of the Christian faith,
Heaven bent to take my hand and lead me through the fire...
Heaven bent to take my hand nowhere left to turn...
and there doesn't seem a way to be redeemed...

Oh, Sarah, I wonder if you were thinking of the Cross? Jesus taking up the Cross was "heaven bent to take our hands." The Cross, the emblem of suffering and shame of Roman totalitarianism seems to be the furthest thing from what it IS: redemption and freedom for all of us who have fallen.

Monday, November 17, 2003

A monday news round-up...

This blogspot was pro-recall so to see this day actually happen is just amazing... woo hoo!

AARP backs GOP Medicare legislation. Wonder how the Democrat opposition will respond? They have been trying to portray the Republicans as wanting to throw grandmum over the cliff when it comes to Medicare and Social Security issues. Will they be backpedeling furiously knowing that the senior vote is one of the most power voting blocks in the USA?

Louisiana governor's race pretty much flew under the radar. In the end, the GOP candidate, an Indian-American came up just short. Jandel, at 32, will have other chances or perhaps he will return to a quiet life out of the public eye. Either way, this blogger wishes him and his family all the best.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

More Stacey Pressman of ESPN

Who would have thought I'd find such fascinating sports related non-sports material on Having been intrigued by the Stacey Pressman essay on Metrosexuality, I found out she has been writing for about lots of stuff.
To see her archive go here.

Anyway, looking over the titles of her articles, I checked out this one. Excerpts:

I can't tell you how many times I've heard it:

Girls would be shocked to find out what guys really want.

"Stacey, you're young, attractive, you've got a great job, you've got so much going for you and you're a girl who knows and loves sports."

Now here's the clincher:

"I can't believe you, of all people, don't have a boyfriend!"

This observation is enough to send any 20-something single female into a quarterlife crisis. But before I seek out Dr. Phil, or Gloria Steinem-ize the fact that I don't need a man to validate my existence, I want to vent my frustration about that generic "you-know-sports-so-guys-must-like-you" descriptor:

It's a farce.

It's a lie.

It's not even remotely true.

Let's face it -- men really don't like women who know sports.

Alas, as a male, I have to say she might be right on this point. Men have egos and like to feel competent about something... anything! Certainly sports has been a traditional male domain.

I'd like to believe my ego isn't that fragile. 8-)

There was one other article that just had me laughing. Check this one out for the isn't dating life awful sometimes file. Excerpts:

I'm about at the end of my rapidly fraying rope.

My girlfriends tell me I can't be so picky, I need to give guys a chance. So, like Coach Devine of Notre Dame with 27 seconds left, I opted to put Rudy in the game. For some reason, my game always feels like there's 27 seconds left. I decided that the next guy to ask me out, in person, regardless of who he was or what he looked like, that I would go. I'm a true humanitarian, what can I say?

So here I was on this date the other night under the pretense that we would "get something to eat" and watch a "war" movie. Can you believe I agreed to the latter? Like Ricky Williams, I think I consulted Master P before signing this bad-ass deal.

In the end, I was cool with it. We agreed to watch "Braveheart." Seen it a million times. Loved it!

My date, for what it's worth, wasn't bad looking, either. Polite and considerate, too.
He couldn't just settle for our "Braveheart" agreement. He called an audible at the line of scrimmage. Without consultation, he insisted upon watching every major battle scene in each of the movies on the table.

I thought I was going to lose it. Who invites a girl over and does that?
Like a WNBA game, it was utter torture. After about 90 minutes of this nonsense and all my hair pulled out, I threw the flag.

Do you think I was unreasonable?

All I can say is he should be thankful I don't have NFL referee Jeff Triplette's aim, or he could have ended up with injuries worse than Orlando Brown.
Awww, Stacey, you weren't unreasonable!

Dear readers, don't worry, this blog isn't going to turn into a soap opera. It just was too funny to find such stuff on a sports web page and I just had to blog it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Post-WWII Skirmishing

Saw this item over at Sullivan's Daily Dish where he quotes from this item over at CounterRevolutionary.

They both make the point that post toppling of Nazi Germany, there were still some local people who still backed the Nazi party. Clearly the situation in Iraq is a bit more dicey because the die hard Baathists have so many stashes of ammo and other weapons of war laying around and then there are those foreign fighters sneaking in who see their chance for glory.

We shall see what the latest meeting with Bremer at the WH will yield and what the thinking is within the Central Command about how to bring the situation under control.

Pulling out would be a disaster for the Iraqis as the Baathists will just restore totalitarian rule and would embolden terrorists figuring the US doesn't have the stomach to stand and fight.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Hosea 2:16-23

Thought I'd go back to the Hosea thread I started awhile back! Take a look at the following passage and see what you think?!

(16) "It will come about in that day," declares the LORD,
"That you will call Me Ishi
And will no longer call Me Baali.
(17) "For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth,
So that they will be mentioned by their names no more.
(18) "In that day I will also make a covenant for them
With the beasts of the field,
The birds of the sky
And the creeping things of the ground.
And I will abolish the bow, the sword and war from the land,
And will make them lie down in safety.
(19) "I will betroth you to Me forever;
Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice,
In lovingkindness and in compassion,
(20) And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness.
Then you will know the LORD.

(21) "It will come about in that day that I will respond," declares the LORD.
"I will respond to the heavens, and they will respond to the earth,
(22) And the earth will respond to the grain, to the new wine and to the oil,
And they will respond to Jezreel.
(23) "I will sow her for Myself in the land.
I will also have compassion on her who had not obtained compassion,
And I will say to those who were not My people,
'You are My people!'
And they will say, ' You are my God!' "

More word play in this poetry. "Ishi" is "husband" and "Baali" is "master" in verse 16. "Baals" is also "master" in verse 17. Scripture sometimes uses a master-servant relationship to describe the relationship between God and humanity. But here in the wordplay, it is clear that God prefers the husband-wife metaphor with the negation in v. 16 and the extolling of the marriage relationship metaphor in vv. 19-20.

A master-servant relationship is mostly obligation and some elements of fear. In the marriage metaphor, love and freedom are the dominant dimensions.

The poetry then goes into two cycles:
1) a picture of nature and peace in v. 18
2) the husband-wife analogy in vv. 19-20.
1') the blessings in the natural world, vv. 21-22
2') the joy of restored relationship in v. 23.

God is the perfect blend of love and justice. Unfortunately, many people have a picture of God as only the fire and brimstone angry God. Or they have a picture of God as indifferent. I wish these folks would have the chance to read this part of the Bible because we see here a God of love and seeking relationship with us. The whole Christmas message is God seeking us and coming to us in an unexpected way.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Who is gonna run against Boxer?

Boxer keeps surviving elections because California is a heavily Democrat state and it will be hard to dislodge her. Who will take her on?

So far, I have heard of Toni Casey who has a nice biography but almost zero name recognition. There was some buzz that Dennis Prager might run but in listening to his radio show he sounded like he didn't want to do it and if he were going to run, you would think he would have announced by now and started fund raising like mad.

On the Hugh Hewitt show, Hugh often has David Drier on as a guest. Today, he asked Drier about running. Drier said he is thinking about it but from his comments, it sounds like he doesn't want to give up his powerful post in the House.

If the GOP can't field a viable candidate, I suppose I'll just vote for the libertarian candidate as a protest vote.

UPDATE: A little web surfing yielded, this page of candidates. Hmmm... don't recognize a name on that list. Drat.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

The buzz about Metrosexuality at ESPN

I confess I'm often behind the curve on the latest cultural trends. I can still remember a few years back somebody asked me if I liked "Hoottie and the Blowfish?" I said, "What?"

So that gives you some idea of how (not) current I can be about aspects of pop culture.

On Friday morning, as I was driving to work, I heard Mike and Mike on ESPN radio talking about Metrosexuality and I was saying, "What?"

Eventually, I caught on to what they were talking about and they referred listeners to the web page where articles could be found to clue in the clueless like me.

Apparently, this discussion thread got some fuel when Stacey Pressman decided to enter the fray by lamenting the whole phenomena. Excerpt:
It's been an abysmal summer of endless channel-surfing: "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" followed by "Boy Meets Boy" and "Will & Grace" re-runs. Click. Click. Revisits to last season's "Sex and the City." "Trading Spaces." "Extreme Makeover." I would venture to say that our culture is in dire need of an injection of testosterone -- not Botox.
America is being besieged by a dude who has been dubbed the "metrosexual" and who is gaining cultural currency by the minute. Surely you've encountered him? He's the post-makeover straight guy on "Queer Eye." He's the guy who scoffs at an $8 haircut at Supercuts and never lets anyone but Jean-Louis coiffure his locks for 36 bucks a pop. He might also be the guy who just traded in his red Saturn for the sprightly chili-red Mini Cooper.
Mark Simpson, a British writer who coined the term "metrosexual" back in 1994, wrote a fascinating article for last year, defining this man. Simpson writes: "The typical metrosexual is a young man with money to spend, living in or within easy reach of a metropolis -- because that's where all the best shops, clubs, gyms and hairdressers are. He might be officially gay, straight or bisexual, but this is utterly immaterial because he has clearly taken himself as his own love object and pleasure as his sexual preference. Particular professions, such as modeling, waiting tables, media, pop music and, nowadays, sport, seem to attract them but, truth be told, like male vanity products and herpes, they're pretty much everywhere."
I liken the metrosexual to the female body builder. While there is nothing wrong with a woman who is healthy and physically fit, who works out and builds muscle mass, there is something aesthetically unappealing when taken to the extreme. She looks masculine. To me, all of the lifestyle characteristics of the metrosexual man make him look feminine.

Frankly, I'm done with the back-and-crack-waxing-salon-spa guy. Does America really need to see all of this "manscaping?" What's wrong with a good old-fashioned manly man? One who doesn't know the difference between mauve and taupe, and who won't refer to his wardrobe as "couture." Heck, I'll take him color-blind.

To me, there is something endearing about a man with wrinkled khakis, the kind that signifies, "I'm not too perfect." You boys can have your Armani and Gucci man boutiques. You can strive for overpriced perfection. I'll find the Armani guy. Only he'll be on a TJ Maxx rack with a tag dangling off him that reads "slightly irregular." Any savvy shopper knows there's nothing wrong with a faint quirk. It's called a good deal.
Don't get me wrong. I'm all for sensitivity. I'm perfectly fine with the salmon shirt and the between-you-and-me admission of your affinity for Rick Astley's music. But as far I'm concerned, the only person who's supposed to use the $26 bottle of 'Bumble and Bumble' shampoo and fret over hair ... is me. For you? It's 'Pert Plus All in One' in your grimy green bottle, on sale for $3.49 at CVS.
I recognize that I cross over into the male stereotype when I embrace football. But at least I'm able to retain my femininity while I do it. I appreciate the game. I am not trying to convince Marty Schottenheimer to insert me into his "cat" defense. Just remember that the next time you're eyeballing my loofah hanging in the shower. I certainly am aware that male vanity is here to stay, but you can still use a washcloth (or nothing) and a simple bar of Zest. It won't kill you.

I really hope I'm not alone in this. And I hope the rest of the country is just as starved for a resurgence of masculinity. Mind you, this is not a call for a return to Bill Romanowski-brand, loincloth barbarism. But there is something to be said for masculine vigor, verve and fortitude, and maybe even a little endearing fashion cluelessness -- all traits that have been placed on pop culture's endangered species list recently.

Football may just be the answer.
I was thinking of giving equal time quotes to Mike Greenberg as he wrote a rebuttal to Pressman. But then I thought, this is the blogosphere: I have an opinion and I'll state it and equal time rules need not apply.

Greenie and Golic's morning show is noted for their weekly, "Just shut up" feature. And on this occasion, I have to nominate Greenberg's mewling response for a "Just shut up" award! Go ahead and click if you must. As for Stacey, would love to meet her. Or her sisters or her friends who are like minded.

Greenberg's partner is the polar opposite and continuing the discussion, they did a side-by-side interview are on this issue.

If you are still curious, try the Metrosexual test they have devised.

I'm a modern traditionalist when it comes to gender roles. Traditionalist in that I'll walk a woman to her car, open doors for her, stand when she arrives and all that old fashioned stuff. And of course, as a male, I like sports and my dressing ability proves the adage, sometimes a blind squrrel can find an acorn. I am also a modernist in that I'm big on the empowerment and equal opportunity for women. I count it one of God's blessings in my life that I know a number of capable, bright and independent women. My manhood isn't treatened by the fact that on some things they are smarter and more able than me.

Regarding the metrosexuality test, suffice to say I flunked big time. And needless to say, one of my more culturally aware friends said when I asked about this whole metrosexuality thing: you are definitely NOT one!

UPDATE: Because I take Christian faith and practice seriously, I feel I need to make an addendum here. I refer you to the good natured kidding around Greenberg and Golic have on their radio show. They are total opposites on this issue and they work together and sound like great friends. I'd like to believe I'd be able to do the same. I just confess that I don't know any guys like Greenberg!

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Wisdom of the common folks

Saw this item while reading the LA Times during lunch. The Zagat's of Zagat guide fame defend their approach about using ordinary folks to rate restaurants. Excerpts:
Ever since we started asking diners to rate and review restaurants 24 years ago -- in the process creating a series of bestselling guidebooks based on consumer opinion -- one group has remained a tad uneasy about our success: professional food critics.
Aside from the fact that "democracy run amok" sounds like a line written by Gray Davis, we think something else is at work. Whenever a commentator starts to talk about standards, you know whose standards he's trying to protect - his own. Which is exactly why we started canvassing diners nearly a quarter of a century ago, to find a consensus of customer opinion about a given restaurant as a reality check to the Oz-like authority of the professionals.

We love food critics - they are some of the liveliest, wittiest and most outspoken writers working. But do they really possess shaman-like wisdom that the rest of us lack? And are they the only source of reliable dining information?
Nearly 6,100 frequent diners participated in our new Los Angeles survey, eating an average of 3.7 meals out per week and averaging 9.5 visits throughout the year to each restaurant they rated. That means they were sampling an establishment across all seasons, when ingredients and preparations can vary tremendously, to say nothing of the air conditioning or the mood swings and "off" days of the hostess, chef and wait staff.

By contrast, most critics are lucky if they get two or three meals under their belt for any one review, including when they have their own mood swings and off days. Collectively, our diners took in 3,200 restaurant meals a day in L.A. We've yet to meet the reviewer who can make room for that kind of consumption.

And who is really more prone to getting the preferential treatment that could yield a weighted verdict — a large cross section of diners whose identities are unknown to the restaurant, or the prominent food critic whose photo is taped to the kitchen wall or who may socialize with the chef, as many professional food writers do?
When we started surveying diners in 1979, there was little place in food criticism for restaurants outside the so-called top tier. Neighborhood eateries just didn't register on the typical critic's radar. What's happened in the last 24 years is nothing short of a revolution, not only in how and where Americans eat out and what kinds of foods they crave, but also in the way in which ordinary diners have become empowered to make informed choices. They draw from their own peer-to-peer intelligence, rather than depending on the self-imposed standards of the almighty critic.

If that sounds like democracy run amok, tell us where to vote.
I confess, I sometimes feel this way about movie critics, art critics and political pundits! I suppose in some ways that is why the blogging phenomena is so interesting as the voices are ordinary folks. There is a place for the "expert" commentator but for many things the voice of the common people or the vote of the free market is often closer to the truth.

Why Presidents Grow Old Before Our Eyes

Cori Dauber makes an important point over at Volokh conspiracy about the different roles the President must take up. Here is an excerpt:
Untenable Rhetorical Situation: This president, I think, is in a rhetorical box that there may not be a way out of. This is the second time this week the Times has brought up the idea of the president attending military funerals. (Sunday, of course, Maureen Dowd was on him for not attending for any.) But he can't. For the president, he has to retain a relationship with the soldiers as Commander-in-Chief, where military losses are tragic tears in the national fabric. Funerals are places where soldiers shed their impersonal role as "soldier" are return to their individual role as "family member." The Commander-in-Chief can't personally participate in that.
The way to win the war and to stop the killing of Americans is to prove we are willing to accept the deaths of Americans. Hence lines like, "bring it on." But the president can never only communicate to the enemy. Whatever he says is also heard by a domestic audience, where saying it leaves him open to being portrayed as "insensitive" to the "pain" of American losses, callous, etc etc.
It is these kinds of "no win" situations that Presidents face all the time and it makes them grow old before our eyes.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Online Art Gallery

Online Art Gallery

I've had a small number of conversations with Lynn Aldrich and found her passion for her craft inspiring and her honesty about art's place in society and the life of faith thoughtful. When she mentioned that an exhibit of her work would be coming up soon, I broached the idea of developing a web based discussion about it and was delighted when she agreed to the idea.

The process of art involves people dropping in for a look and then taking away their own interpretations and impressions without meeting the artist face-to-face. Part of that often will take the shape of a "party game" of telling stories about the art. A picture or object is seen and then speculation takes place. This is part of the enjoyment and understanding of art. This stimulates creative discussions and often if two or more individuals are participating they can come up with completely different ideas. Of course, this takes merely a few minutes and nothing is written down and in nearly all cases the artist never knows of the myriad of random comments that get made.

When Aldrich agreed to this project, she asked me not to read the exhibit catalog (I only read the page that gave the titles to the works, materials used and dimensions) that has some essays about the works by her and other artists. She wanted the art work to speak for itself. This ground rule was an explicit statement of what implicitly happens when an artist hangs her work in the gallery.

However, this web "dialog" departs from the usual art process in that the artist gets to see in writing the thoughts of two viewers. We will also get to see brief comments from the artist. This is a luxury an art viewer and artist normally don't get.

My background is that of a molecular biologist. My extended comments are marked (R). To further simulate the experience of a typical art visit, the essays below also include some brief remarks from Beth, my friend who is a philosophy of religion graduate student. Her comments are marked (B). Aldrich's comments are marked (LA).

Now, please come into the gallery via the internet.

The exhibit entitled, "Research and Development" runs from October 11 to November 8, 2003.
Carl Berg Gallery
6018 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Tuesday - Saturday 11am - 6pm

Photography notes: Images were captured on traditional 35mm film -- Fuji 1600 and Kodak 400 ASA print film -- in a Pentax ZX-M and ZX-5N with 28mm, 50mm and 135mm lenses. An 80A color correction filter was used along with a tripod. Samy's Camera in-house photo processing was used.

(1) "Far Out" (2002) Modeling compound, gesso, acrylic, oil on lampshade, 14" x 28" x 10"

(2) "Worm Hole" (2003) Fake fur on cardboard tubes, 48" x 48" x 25'

R: When I stepped into the Carl Berg Gallery, to the left was this yellow orb. Emotions are states of mind and associated with colors. We think of being red-faced with anger, green with envy and feeling blue. Cartoon smiling faces are yellow circles with two dots for eyes and an upturned arc for a smile. When I saw the fluorescent yellow, I felt a warm welcome.

The other thought that came to mind was the yellow orb of the sun in the sky. The color hung there. Upon closer inspection, you'll discover this object was a lampshade with the inside painted the bright, happy yellow color. A playful optical illusion by the artist.

B: The exhibit is entitled, "Research and Development." How does this theme connect the works of art?

R: Good question. This work appeared to be a continuation of Aldrich's explorations of the usage of color on the interior of lampshades that create optical illusions and evoke a response in the viewer. To see another example of this type of work, go to this Calvin College exhibit and see the work entitled, "The Violet Hour."

Perhaps she thinks of her body of work as in progress: developing new concepts, refining old ones and researching new ways to create visual stories? "Violet Hour" might be like an earlier exploration of communicating ideas with that media. She is an experimentalist.

LA: This whole idea of Rene's to do an on-line conversation is a welcome adventure. I'm somewhat apprehensive that my verbal contribution will dissolve the dialogical energy, since I'm the one who made the visual stuff. I'd much rather watch you guys "go for it" because I've already stared at these things for the longest time in my studio and feel pretty myopic at this point. I'll just say that I strive for complex analogies embedded within simple constructs. And for me, the activity of being an artist is an ongoing investigation of existence (research) resulting in the production of material objects (development).

R: As I entered the first large room of the gallery, my eye was immediately drawn to the large object on the floor. It was a series of connected tubes of increasing diameter. At the small end, a lit light bulb sat.

Colored materials lined the interior of the tubes. At the light bulb end the materials were dark colors. As the diameter expands and moves away from the bulb, the colored materials were lighter.

Having grown up watching too much science fiction, I thought of a worm hole, the hypothetical distortions in the universe that can connect very distant locations. Click here to read more than you'll ever want to know or understand about them.

The choice of including a light bulb at one end and light fabric at the other may have some meaning? Thus, both ends were illuminated but in different ways. The light bulb's intensity was not sustained all the way to the end of the tubing. Yet, the fabric at the other end was a light bright color.

To see three more pictures of this object, click here.

We often think of light metaphorically as illumination of the mind or understanding (the light bulb went on above their heads) and so this worm hole connecting two distant points was illuminated at both ends. Perhaps this is a visual story of the inter-relationship of ideas. In this case: how two distant ideas can be connected in some way and be illuminating simultaneously in different ways.

B: Maybe this is a symbol for inner transformation caused by the "light of the world" (Christ metaphor). This process of transformation/sanctification takes time. At the end of the process, we are made like Christ, bright/yellow and holy. We are bigger people--hence the larger spheres.

R: I like that idea. Perhaps that is the connection between the two distant points? I'll be very curious to hear the narrative of the artist about this complex piece.

LA: I can only say that I am humbled and inspired by your theological interpretations, as well as by your acute perceptual observations of physical objects, a practice I had assumed would be underdeveloped in the on-line generation. In "Worm Hole", as in other works, I am not interested in narrative reads but rather in more slippery, layered metaphors which you are already tapping into. I consider the various materials themselves to generate meaning which is always already present (something like Incarnation). My job is to make decisions about how to present this meaning (scale, arrangement, amount, site, etc.) while interfering as little as possible.

(3) "Fling and Catch" (2003) Thread, paper tape, dimensions variable

(4) "Sea Change" (2003) Sponges, scrubbers, brushes, scouring pads on plastic tub, 25" x 23" x 18"

R: The next object I examined was the corner one. It was practically impossible to capture it on film. Aldrich told me that the pro photographers had trouble with it too. It was colored threads and white tape. Was it conceptual art? A couple of years ago, I was at the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Los Angeles and there was a series of panels with pencil marks. The docent explained that the marks were placed within certain "rules" set by the artist. Thus, the work was conceptual because it could be reproduced anywhere by following the rules governing its produciton. The rules provided some constraint, yet flexibility to yield variety and interesting patterns. Those rules were not obvious and so the marks seemed random and in a sense they were, yet, they fall within the confines of the "rules."

Were there some "rules" to the selection of colored threads? Their length? Their positioning? These three dimensions, degrees of freedom, defined this object. Merely three, yet in various combinations chosen by the artist, the result was something beautiful and intriguing.

With the title, "Fling and Catch," perhaps Aldrich was paying homage to Jackson Pollack who was noted for dripping and splashing paint. Here Aldrich is tossing threads and taping them down. Pollack's work seemed random but nobody can replicate his work. There was, as it were, a method to his madness.

What does this say about the nature of what is aesthetically appealing? Total symmetry induces boredom. Total chaos induces revulsion. What does that say about how life is to be lived?

LA: In "Fling and Catch", I was thinking about how spiders will seem to fling themselves out into the middle of nowhere and try to catch on something when I came across a poem by Walt Whitman which mentions that very phenomenon ("The Noiseless, Patient Spider"). So I made a couple of rules for myself in the construction of the piece -- each thread will be a unique color (the largest version has all 200 colors of sewing thread made by Coats and Clark). Every thread has to start on one wall of a corner and cross in a straight line to the opposite wall without altering the trajectory of the other threads.

R: There seems to be some ironic humor in the bright colors of these mundane objects. What could be more mundane than doing the dishes, the thankless chore of daily life? Yet, here before the viewer was a tub socked full of various dish cleaning accessories and its bright colors radiate a cheery feeling. Is the artist merely having some fun? Could the artist be making a bigger statement?

In an exchange before my photo shoot, I asked Aldrich about the conventions of titles for art works to which she said:
As far as titles go, I do select my titles carefully and consider them part of the work. They might nudge the viewer in a particular direction or open up a window on meaning. However, the work has to be interesting to look at without the title, and some viewers probably never even read the titles.
The item above was entitled, "Sea Change." I began to think tangential and in symbolic terms. Change and transformation require hard work and often daily effort (like washing dishes). For some odd reason I thought of the Shawn Colvin song, "Sunny Came Home" (1998). That song has a haunting sound and tortured lyrics. Within the song itself, there is no backstory, we don't know why Sunny needs to gather her children, burn her house down and flee. We only know that to resist change would cost more than changing everything drastically. We only know that in the end, there is a sense of liberation in making the change:
Oh light the sky and hold on tight...
The world is burning down,
She's out there on her own -
and she's alright.
Sunny came home...

Perhaps "Sea Change" was a picture of life change, of cleansing, of transformation and a bright and hopeful one at that? After we experience transformation in life, we can look back with some humor and recognize the multitudinous implements that helped bring it about. Don't we often say of interesting people that they lived a colorful life?

B: This to me looked like a tide pool with sea anenomes in it. Who knows what it could mean but it made me laugh!

LA: Yes, I think this piece is humorous. It also brings up questions of reality and illusion, biodiversity and the wonders of commercial product design. Beneath the whimsy, is my (ineffectual) but sincere longing to "clean up" the oceans.

(5) "Clean Water Act" (2003) Hose, pipes, acrylic on wood, 34" x 26" x 4"

(6) "Serpentarium" (2002) Garden hose, cable ties, plastic, 30" x 25" x 25"

R: The next object seemed to me like the "Far Out" piece: an optical illusion. Up close, I can see that it is cut up pieces of PVC pipes, hoses and other assorted round tubular objects of varying diameters, thicknesses, height and colors. But looking straight on, I see bubbles. Imagine a big aquarium with lots of bubbles rising up along the glass. In fact, so many bubbles that that is about all you see.

Life at times is not what it seems. Here objects associated with the transport of water when looked at a different way look like objects that transport air.

When I found out the title of the work was, "Clean Water Act," my impressions went in another direction. I looked at it again. I thought: coral. One indicator of the health of an ocean eco-system is the health of its coral. These tubes with their colors and sizes together formed a texture that made me think of coral.

B: Perhaps it takes many different hoses owned by many different types of people to actually have a successful clean water act. It takes participation on the local level--individuals need to be involved; represented by the many different individual hoses. Does this have anything to do with the "living water?" Living water being another Christ metaphor.

R: Having seen a photo of "Garden Story" which was exhibited at Calvin College, this piece looked familiar. The garden hose as snake in Eden was a menacing image there. That impression was provoked by this work as well. It is even more frightening because the plastic tie "teeth" stick out of the maw of the monster.

I must again confess to having seen too many science fiction films because as I walked around and looked at this object, I found myself remembering the film Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi - Episode Six. For fans of the film, do you remember the crazy looking creature in the desert of Tatooine that was about to be feed Luke, Han and the rest of our heros?

These were my impression before I saw the title to this object. After finding out that it was called, "Serpentarium." The sense of fear became greater. Planetarium, an enclosed place to see stars projected on a curved dome. Aquarium, an enclosed space with water and creatures that live in water. Terrarium, an enclosed container where soil and plants interact to form an environment. Key word: enclosed. Imagine being trapped in something like a Serpentarium? Drat, those movie images come to mind again! Remember Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indy and Marion are trapped with a bunch of snakes underground?

Trapped. And trapped in ordinary materials: garden hose and plastic ties. I was talking with a friend a month ago. He was observing: people understand that the mass murderer is evil, the violent person is evil and other really obvious things are evil. But what we don't understand is that evil is also the little things like selfishness, ingratitude, unforgiveness and indifference. These little things are like the rot that makes houses collapse and the mold that spoils food. The temptation of the Garden was not some terrible and obvious overt evil and so it is often for us today.

B: Why does Aldrich use lamp shades and garden hoses? She has been doing many works with these materials.

R: Research and development?

(7) "Pools and Windows" (2003) Gold leaf paint, acrylic, oil on book pages mounted on museum board, 87" x 148"

(8) "Dark Glass" (2002) Corrigated plastic, fiberglass, 37" x 27" x 10"

R: This object was huge. It was made up of individual panels. For a moment, I thought it might have been magazine pictures cut out and pasted on top of the gold paint but upon closer inspection, I think it was the other way around with the paint covering the photos. In some cases, the image that shows through was a swimming pool, in others a window showed through. In some cases I think there was a picture of the sky and the gold paint formed the frame of the window. I didn't check every panel in the work but I'm guessing no two panels were alike. To see six more images of different panels up close click here.

What was the message here? Since there were so many panels, would each panel have a story? Or were they all variations on the same theme?

Given that all the panels were different, perhaps there was some kind of message about individuality? People who own nice homes can choose their windows and swimming pools as a reflection of their individual tastes. But in a home, there are many other items that can reflect the owner's personality. What is it about windows and pools? Windows are the portals to view the outside world. Pools are the place of leisure. Might there be some message about those choices? What do they tell us about the person or society making those choices?

Then there was the choice of gold colored paint. Would the meaning of the art work be different if another color was choosen? Gold is the color of wealth. Wealth interacting with choices tells us about people/societies and their values.

B: Beautiful, absolutely beautiful. Does beauty need anyexplanation?

LA: In some ways, this work, "Pools and Windows," is actually an overt cliche of beauty, with an inherent accompanying sadness over that problem -- heavy gold leaf paint over pages of "heavenly blue" designer swimming pools for the rich and famous. I wanted to title this piece "Poolside Baptism with Light Therapy", but I didn't trust my instincts. The reality is that I live in a city (El Lay) where people walk around looking fabulously refreshed, physically and spiritually, but it's a desert.

R: The final object in this tour of the Aldrich exhibit was on the south wall. It looked like plastic materials of varying degrees of opacity. The lightest one was on the top and the progression was toward darker pieces. It would appear that was an optical illusion like "Far Out" and "Clean Water Act."

The item was entitled, "Dark Glass," further suggesting the optical illusion intent for the item was made of plastic. But the combination of the plastic together formed the optical characteristics of a dark glass. Click here for two more views of this object.

St. Paul described our earthly life as looking through a glass darkly. Because of this, some people would say religious faith is anti-thetical to reason. But is that really true? In life, we are always working with partial knowledge. If we could only decide upon a course of action with 100% certainty, we would never act. As a scientist, the idea of degrees of certainty about what we perceive is something I interact with daily. We use our partial knowledge to form a hypothesis and proceed to experimentation and then re-evaluate.

Having sat in jury duty once on a criminal case, I had to face the practical application of the phrase, "beyond a reasonable doubt." Interestingly, in law, there are degrees of certainty also. Criminal law has the strictest standard, "beyond a reasonable doubt." In civil law, the standard is the looser, "preponderance of the evidence." And in an pre-trial hearing, the standard is "probable cause."

What standard of certainty do we ask for when we have to make decisions in our lives? I suppose that is why one virtue promoted by Christianity is humility. We see another human being through dark glasses and can't know their full story. We see the future through dark glasses and can only plan knowing plans can be changed.

LA: Utopian modernists said we could know everything and make it fit into a master narrative. Contemporary postmodernists (after their thinking filters down to the masses) say we can't know anything because whatever I think up is as good a guess as whatever you think up or anybody else. But somewhere in-between is St. Paul who, simultaneously acknowledges both knowledge and mystery as the complimentary attributes of reality.

About the artist

Aldrich was born in Texas but grew up in many places being from a military family. She obtained a BA in English Literature from the University of North Carolina. Later, she earned a BA in Fine Arts from California State University at Northridge and then a MFA from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Her work has been exhibited in numerous galleries, the Santa Monica Museum of Art, the San Francisco Art Institute, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and many other venues. Her art has been profiled in various publications such as Los Angeles Times, Artweek, New York Times, L.A. Weekly, and Artforum. She has taught at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. She works at a studio in downtown Los Angeles.

Click here to see some other works by Aldrich that can be found on the Internet.

I thank the staff at the Carl Berg Gallery for the opportunity to photograph this exhibit and Lynn Aldrich for arranging the photo shoot and discussions about her work.

The Carl Berg Gallery opened in the Miracle Mile district of Los Angeles in late September of 2003 and has a wonderful space for displaying art. If you are ever in the neighborhood, contact them with the information below to see what is on exhbit and enjoy a visit.
Carl Berg Gallery
6018 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Tuesday - Saturday 11am - 6pm