Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Illusion, Polytheism and Star Wars

Hi Kari,

I'm going to give our readership intellectual whiplash today with my two posts. Of course, I know with your sharp mind, you will have no problem cutting back across the football field. Anyway, one post on baseball (below) and this one on religion. That is why I love blogging, I can follow my bliss and write about whatever I want! No editor to tell me I can't write this or that!?

A few weeks back, I had the chance to hear a friend give a talk on theodicy (theological word for the problem of evil and the existence of god) and one of many interesting points that was discussed was of course how those of the Judeo-Christian perspective deal with it. That may well be bloggable in some future occasion. But what I want to blog about in this post is how other religions deal with it.

The formulation of theodicy is three-fold: (1) god is good, (2) god is powerful, and (3) evil exists. It is argued that only two of the three statements can be true. In fact, I suppose the atheist must say only one statement is true.

The Judeo-Christian believer would say all three are true and offer some explanation. Indeed, in the talk, the speaker spent the bulk of the time on this point elaborating the arguments within Christian theology and atheistic challenges.

But what do other religious systems do about theodicy?

As a Christian, I do have a point of view. I respect other religious viewpoints but intellectual honesty requires that their claims be evaluated for reasonableness and consequences.

The speaker said: (1) one can deny evil exists and thus, some religious systems say evil is an illusion;
(2) god isn't very powerful which is what polytheism implies;
(3) to deny that god is completely good.

Since the speaker was limited in time for presentation, the Judeo-Christian response was dwelt on primarily.

What follows is my speculation of the consequences and implications of the three other approaches the speaker mentioned in brief.

Caveat: I'm a molecular biologist not a comparative religion major! Perhaps, Kari, in your broad educational experience and intellectual curiosity you've come across these issues and could add to the discussion.

(1) evil is an illusion

I have to confess that view seems rather strange. Of course strangeness is not proof it is fallacious.

I suppose in this view people can say, am I a man dreaming I'm a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming I'm a man? Thus, life is an illusion. But can they actually LIVE that way?

We live with uncertainties or gradations of certainty. There are a handful of things that we can know beyond any reasonable doubt and I would think the reality of evil would be one of them.

I'd dismiss the evil is an illusion explaination outright for simple impracticality of holding it and for its flying in the face of any reasonableness standard.

(2) the polytheism option

If you are a polytheist, you probably can't blame god for the evil in the world because he/she/it isn't strong enough to do anything about it.

I don't know if you can logically disprove polytheism? Probably not? I wonder if the atheists give the polytheist a free pass because they want to save their intellectual candlepower for the monotheists?

(3) god is not fully good and related concepts

I think this view can take two forms. One form would be some variation on Zoroastrianism where you have at least two deities, one good and one bad and they contend. To my knowledge Zoroastrianism doesn't exist in its original form anywhere? Is there any current religious systems that draws upon that concept? I suppose maybe some variants of polytheism use this foundation?

The other variation would be that god is some impersonal force as described in pantheism or dualism where god is in everything or good and bad (in nearly equal proportions, i.e. yin/yang) are embedded in the fabric of the universe. This sure sounds like Star Wars theology doesn't it?

It sounds vaguely romantic and very grand to say, yeah, god is in everything. I mean it sounds great: god is the sunset, the mountains, the flowers, etc. All well and good but carry that to its logical conclusion and you have to say: god is the child molester, god is the serial murderer, god is Hitler and Stalin. I admit emotional discomfort with a concept is not proof of its fallacy but that is the consequence of pantheism.

But a more direct challenge to pantheism would be to recognize that evil is a property of free will agents and not embedded in the material world. For example, a scalpel in the hands of a good surgeon is a tool for good while that scalpel in the hands of a torturer is an instrument of evil. Is the scalpel good or evil? Neither. Morality is a property of free will agents not material things.

I suppose the dualist could get around this by not embedding good and evil into the material universe. But as a framework of reality, is that what dualists believe? Are they forced to retreat back to some form of polytheism?

Be well,

Go Cubs!

Top of the morning Kari:

What can you say, TOO much Kerry Woods!

As a Dodger fan, I don't have a dog in this hunt though I am going to root for the Cubs -- you know, UCLA Bruins, Chicago Cubs, the bear thing?

However, there are TWO teams I will NOT be rooting for: the SF Giants and the NY Yankees. Alas, I have to confess, the Giants probably have the best shot at winning it all. But I'll still root against them. I honestly don't know who I'll root for if that dreaded Yankee vs. Giants World Series materializes.

Having said that, I don't see the Fish being able to skewer the Giants. As for the Cubs vs. Atlanta, when was the last time Atlanta entered a series where their pitching might be their weakness in relative terms? In a short series, the Cub pitching may cause the Braves trouble.

I'm hoping for the delicious irony of ex-Dodger player ex-Giant manager Dusty Baker leading the Cubs over the Giants in the NLCS!

Meanwhile, in the AL, Oakland has been on the verge seemingly forever but haven't gotten over the hump. I'm thinking this is the year. They should take care of the Red Sox.

As for the Yankees, one must recall that last year they fell to the hot team which was the Anaheim Angels. Well, right now, you got to say with the strong finish, the Twins are the hot team.

In a Twins versus Oakland ALCS, I'll go for Oakland.

Cubs win the world series in six.

What do you think?

Go Cubs,

Monday, September 29, 2003

Pac-10 Partisan Writes -- Koala Bear Roars ... News at 11

Hey Kari,

Couldn't help but notice in the comment files that you have been receiving some grief over your KSU's loss at the hands of Marshall. In the off chance some of our loyal readers don't know, the score was Marshall 27 KSU 20. Was that too mean? 8-) Yes, you can shoot back Oklahoma 59 UCLA 24 but of course, my gutty little Bruins weren't supposed to win!

Anyway, since our readership are largely Big-12 and Big-10 partisans, I have to make some attempt to be a Pac-10 apologist and combat the East-Coast and Mid-West bias! So here goes with all seriousness aside and full knowledge in a few weeks and certainly by bowl season everything I've written here will be ... err ... inoperative?

Regarding the high and mighty Big Ten. Yes, I'll grant that Ohio State is doing pretty well. But beyond them, what have the Big Ten really done so far? Who have they beaten? And some of the top tier teams have some pretty embarrassing non-conference losses. I mean the Oregon DUCKS beat U of Michigan?! And the 5-0 Minnesota Gophers? What kind of S.O.S. have they got???

Then there is the Big-12, your beloved conference. Yes, Oklahoma rolled my Bruins. Look, I'm a fan of my beloved Bruins but I'm not delusional. Oklahoma hasn't really beaten anybody of note to my understanding ... and yeah, I admit that means even my Bruins. But I'm a clear-eyed sports fan not biased by the press clippings the East coast mouthy monopoly media types impose on the fans. Then there is the storied Nebraska program that is 4-0. But WHO tell me WHO have these guys beaten? Ok St? Okay, maybe a decent team. Penn State? I hate to say it but Jo Pa has had a good career and needs to hang 'em up. Then there is Texas, who lost to Arkansas, the only serious team they have played. And finally there is your KSU. Look ... you know what we have all been saying about them: strength of schedule ... what's that?

I admit the Pac-10 flopped at bowl time last year. But this is a new year and as usual, our teams are beating each other senseless in conference games and scheduling serious teams for non-conference games. I don't know the numbers but I would guess the S.O.S. of the top tier teams of the Pac-10 are probably as good as or better than most. Wazzu beat up on Colorado and Oregon on the road and suffered a tough loss on the road to the golden domers of Notre Dame. USC (and you know I find it hard to say anything nice about them) went down to Auburn and smoked an SEC team 23-zip. As I mentioned before the DUCKS took down the #2 team in the Big-10. I'm guessing nobody in the Pac-10 gets out of conference play undefeated. Makes for exciting conference games but hurts us in the BCS. I'm sure the Pac-10 will be in the forefront of messing with the BCS the next go around. Again, painful as it is for this UCLA fan to say, but can anybody argue with the fact that USC at the end of last year was probably as good as anybody in the country? They would have loved a playoff system last year. Of course, I still would have rooted for them to get beat but, hey, clear-eyed reporting objectivity can only go so far. 8-)

So there, this Bruin partisan and Pac-10 apologist is woofing it up!

Go Pac-10 and Go Bruins!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yours truly,

Desert Island movies

Hi-De-Ho Rene,

Don't know if you've been following the thread over at 2blowhards, but they started a discussion about the movies one would have to see in order to qualify as a "film buff." The various suggestions remind me of when the AFI provided party chit-chat fodder a few years back with its "100 Greatest" list -- they include a combination of truly great films, icons of genres, and best efforts of admired directors.

I want to combine that with an idea of Terry Teachout's at About Last Night. (Teachout is the Wall Street Journal's drama critic.) He calls it "In the Bag," a game that asks you to admit what you really like. His rules:

You can put any five works of art into your bag before departing for a desert island, but you have to decide right this second. No dithering: the body snatchers are banging on your front door. No posturing: you have to say the first five things that pop into your head, no matter how embarrassing they may sound. What do you stuff in the bag?

His lists contain works from various art forms, from films and theatre to books, sculptures, paintings, and pop music -- whatever comes to mind first. But here, I want to ask you and our fine readers the FIRST FIVE FILMS that jump into your mind as candidates, and thus into your bag.

My list -- and this is the "first five," not necessarily the best five: North by Northwest, The Searchers, Jaws, Brazil, and My Fair Lady. A list featuring touches of suspense, angst, humor, drama, romance, joy, and vivid memories from my youth.

(On second thought, I don't think I'd really want Jaws on a desert island: Maybe something light-hearted like This is Spinal Tap, or the Princess Bride. But that's cheating.)

How about you? Remember: First five only!


Sunday, September 28, 2003

Touring 1/2 of the Twin Cities

Hello Kari:

One of the hobbies we share in common is photography. So for the post to kick off this week, a photo essay which I hope you'll enjoy and may be a springboard for some discussion.

When I take pictures, sometimes, I impose on myself some artificial constraint. For instance, one time in San Francisco, I limited myself to using a 28mm lens SLR with 1000 ASA film for night photography with no flash. The results of that effort can be seen here.

For Minneapolis, my constraint was to use a 35mm point-and-shoot with 400 ASA film and no prior knowledge of what the famous buildings of Minneapolis downtown are. I later read the city guide book at my hotel which has a couple pages on downtown architecture and of course, I also did some web surfing back in LA to find some web links.

I will admit that I did know in advance about the Mary Tyler Moore statute! Having grown up on the show, I had to make the pilgrimage to the famous site where she tossed the hat into the air in the end of the opening credits.

Thus, below, my photo essay for your enjoyment and our reader's curiosity.


Welcome to Minneapolis!

Since the city is in Minneso-cold, they have these skyway's connecting the buildings. It wasn't too cold during the weekend plus two days I was there so I often walked outside on the streets. However, no doubt, these pathways get heavily used in the late fall, winter and early spring!!

This building is the US Bank Place Tower. To read more about it go here. Can you guess who the main architect was on the project? It was I.M. Pei!

This is the ATT Tower. For stats on it click here and see the Walsh Bishop site.

Completed in 1929, the Foshay Tower was at that time the tallest structure in the city. For more on the building visit this site and here.

Here is the Ivy Tower, another building from the historic past of the city. It is being renovated. On the banner, of the building they have a URL http://www.theivytower.com/ but it doesn't have any information yet.

Probably one of the most famous buildings is the Philip Johnson designed IDS Tower. Check it out here.

One feature is the enclosed plaza area where a water fountain has the water originating from the top of the plaza.

Another view of the IDS.

Here is the part that collects the water

Here is the Wells Fargo Center. It was at one time called the Northwest Center and is designed by Cesar Pelli.

However, perhaps the most famous thing about Minneapolis, at least for some of us of a certain age, is the Mary Tyler Moore show. At the end of the opening credits, she tosses her hat into the air. To commemorate the spot is this statue just outside the Marshall Field's department store.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Kari for POTUS!

To: Kari
From: Rene
Re: Presidential exploratory committee

In a post a long time ago about space travel far far away.... (post entitled, "Manned space flight at what price?") I asked you what you would do about the space budget if you were President. In your comment reply you mentioned that you were born outside the USA and thus you might not qualify to be President even when you grow up.

Well, I decided to look into it and found this article.
Key excerpt:
All Presidents since and including Martin Van Buren were born in the United States subsequent to the Declaration of Independence. The only issue with regard to the qualifications set out in this clause, which appears to be susceptible of argument, is whether a child born abroad of American parents is ''a natural born citizen'' in the sense of the clause.
There is reason to believe, therefore, that the phrase includes persons who become citizens at birth by statute because of their status in being born abroad of American citizens. Whether the Supreme Court would decide the issue should it ever arise in a ''case or controversy'' as well as how it might decide it can only be speculated about.
It would appear that you might have a shot at the Oval Office afterall. Of course, we would have to assemble a good con law team to argue the case when the inevitable Constitutional challenge is lodged by your contenders in the primaries who seek to keep you off the ballot. I guess that would be the first order of business before you form a presidential bid exploratory committee. 8-)

P.S. This subject was on my mind because tonight is the West Wing season opener. For non-fans, last season's cliff hanger had the President's daughter kidnapped by terrorists and President Bartlett having to surrender the office under the provisions of the 25th Amendment. I don't watch much television beyond news and sports. I will confess though to being a West Wing fan. Sheen as Bartlett can be a bit preachy at times but I enjoy Spencer as Leo and Whitford as Josh. I guess if you push me some more, I'll confess to being an Alias fan as well. 8-)

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

From the Wild Minds of Architects

Hi Kari:

As the architectural fan of our blog duo, I thought I'd go ahead and share something I came across that might be of interest to you and perhaps you (and our readership) could educate me about.

If you are going to London sometime between September 18, 2003 and January 4, 2004, be sure to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum and check out their exhibit on Zoomorphic Architecture. I came across this exhibit reading the news briefing section of one of my science journals.

The museum web site blurb says the following:

Today's leading architects are using animal forms to take modern architecture in an exciting new direction. Not since Art Nouveau a century ago has there been such an eruption of new building inspired by the natural world. This is being made possible by new building materials, computer design software, brilliant structural engineers and the suspension of the old rules of architectural integrity.

Zoomorphic pulls together the world-wide buildings and projects at the forefront of this new movement displaying architectural models and photographs alongside the species that have influenced them.
Apparently, a prime example of this style is the Milwaukee Art Museum designed by Santiago Calatrava.

For some really cool pictures of the MAM go here and here.

My guess is that this type of architecture really tests the limits of engineering. On one hand you might think biological structures would logically transfer over to buildings. However, if you think a little bit more you realize just because a structure works for a human being standing 5 to 7 feet tall doesn't mean it will work for a building standing 5 to 7 stories tall.

I wonder if the architectural community as a whole likes this stuff? Or will it be a flash in the pan? I certainly can admire the technical challenge of making these concepts into reality. But what do you think of them aesthetically?

Architectural newbie,

UPDATE: When I was researching for this post, I should have known to visit our "blog parents" at 2Blowhards. I finally thought of that today and searched their site to see if they talk about Calatrava and indeed, they beat me by about two weeks. Check out what Michael had to say about the MAM. Here is an excerpt that you might appreciate:
On the not-so-plus side: The project, initially expected to cost around $50 million, wound up costing more than $120 million. Fundraising went well but still came up $20 million short where the building itself is concerned ... and another $5 million short where the endowment is concerned ... and the Pavilion turns out to be a lot more expensive to operate than was expected, and ...
One of the readers, Van der Leun, then chimed in with the following:
The multiple decamillions spent on these halls that do not aid the art but merely announce themselves first and foremost is exactly where one might look for funds for a decent collection of art, much less a few decent programs that fund training, classical training (like, perhaps, "drawing?") in the arts.

These things are merely ego-boondoggles.

Doesn't this remind you a bit of our little dialog (scroll to posts September 5 and 7) on does architecture have to work in order to be great? In this case "work" is defined by the economic cost versus benefit.

Monday, September 22, 2003

When spelling matters

Hi-De-Ho Rene,

Don't know what to make of this story, exactly. It seems that a coalition of Korean academics and politicians -- North AND South -- believe that the official English-language spelling of their country's name was hijacked by Japan.

"Korea" should have been "Corea," see, except that the Japanese occupiers wanted "Japan" to come first in the alphabet. Or something like that.

It says a lot about the power of language as symbol that this is one issue that can unite North and South Korea.


Friday, September 19, 2003

Avast Ye Scurvy Dogs!

Ahoy, Rene!

Happy International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Don't ask me how this started or what it means. It has something to do with Dave Barry, Pirates of the Carribean, and some guys in Oregon. But even here at my place of employment, I've seen a few "Ahoy, matey!" signs on doors today. Odd.


Thursday, September 18, 2003

Classical Music and Your Tastes?

Dear Kari:

In this mornings quick trip around the blogosphere, dropped by our "blog parent's" and saw this post about music theory.

I don't know music theory but figured this would be a good springboard to ask you about your tastes in classical music.

Of the old classics, I'm populist and like Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. However, I do have in my CD collection some Stravinsky, Bartok and Shostakovich. Which classical CDs make it onto your playlist? Are there any of the dissonant sounding stuff that you like?

Be well,


Hello Ms. K:

Time again for the mailbag...

I got this comment from one of our sophisticated readers:
You guys have a neat thing going with the dual-blogger meme...

Since I didn't know the word, meme, I went to the Internet to find a definition of which I found several and so I wrote back:
Found on the net....

Memes are the basic building blocks of our minds and culture, in the same way that genes are the basic building blocks of biological life.

An interesting word...! Feel free to chime in on our blog if something is in your strike zone!! 8-)

To which this erudite reader then wrote back:
Well, I admit I didn't have that grandiose an image when I wrote the word 'meme'. More like the webster definition of "an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture"

Ding. Ding. Ding. Grandiose! I refer you back to our blurb just under the representational art banner at the top.

I know I'm speaking for both of us here at TTC when I say to our readers keep those "cards" and "letters" coming and please make use of the comment feature below the posts if you want to dive straight into the clamor.

Grandiosely yours,

Art and Technology: Digital vs. Film

Howdy Kari:

There once was vinyl records now CDs dominate. There once was a time for popping popcorn in a pot and a stove now we toss a packet into the microwave.

The technology in photography is going digital. Resistance is futile. Have you made the switch?

Of my photography hobbyist friends, most are still with film. Some are traditionalists and like the "art" of the "old fashioned" film way of doing things. Others are more pragmatic reasoning that to match the flexibility of their SLR film cameras one would have to pay quite a bit in the digital realm. I'd say I'm one of these types of film camera people.

I don't have the money and even if I did, I'm not sure I'd pony up for one of these.

As it stands right now, there are two other issues with digital: color rendering and noise in long exposures.

One of my friends who follows the technological developments says the tech wizards are working on a new chip that will handle colors better. Unfortunately, it is turning into a real bear to manufacture.

The other problem is electronic noise of the chips. This is usually not a problem unless one goes to long exposure. My friend demonstrates this phenomena with this photo.

The digital revolution will continue and I'm sure artists and photographers will continue to debate the pros and cons for the production of art and how it affects the meaning of art and what it means to be an artist.

When I was in Sausalito recently, I had the chance to stop in on the gallery of photographer Rodney Lough, Jr. Reading his literature in the gallery and clicking around his web page I find out he has taken a hybrid approach. He makes the original image with large format cameras on Fuji Velvia (50ASA) slide film because he believes it gives the best colors. However, in the print phase, he will print some onto traditional Fuji Type R Ultrachrome paper. With others, he scans the transparency with a high end scanner (ColorGetter Eagle drum scanner) and then prints onto Fuji Crystal Archive.

The bottom line for me is how much WOW can you get from the finished product. Everyone browsing in the gallery was just amazed and it is only technophiles like me who have some curiosity of how he gets the final product.

What kind of film cameras, lenses and film do you use? Which digital camera have you bought or have considered? I'm looking at getting the A60. What have you heard about it?

Perhaps in a future post, you will treat us to a photo essay about some aspect of Kansas life.

Blogging will be light to non-existent as I'll be away on business travel until early next week.
'Till later,

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Around the horn

Hey Kari:

Was listening to Mike & Mike of ESPNRadio this morning during drivetime. They were saying some people want to tinker with the MLB playoff system. Is there really serious talk about making changes again? Right now, it is working better than they could have dreamed of with hot divisional races in the AL and NL Central and AL and NL Wildcards. Don't fix it if it ain't broke I say!

Since you are a Kansas City based Cardinal (gasp) "fan", do you think Pujols can snatch the NL MVP from Bonds?

Has Halladay's resume now surpassed Loaiza's for the AL Cy Young? Or is there somebody else out there who has a shot?

Meanwhile in the NL Cy Young race, a fan told me though Ortiz has the most wins, his ERA is too high to be a serious Cy Young contender. Schmidt of the Giants has a great ERA as does Brown and Prior who are on teams still vying for a playoff spot and if they help pitch their respective teams into the post-season they could get some consideration.

But I think if the Dodgers sneak into the playoffs and Gange has a pivitol role in the games down the stretch run, he deserves serious consideration.

And lastly, what do you make of the MVP for the AL?

Hoping against reason for the Dodgers,

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Why do we like what we like?

Hello Kari,

There is a certain charm (and thus market niche) for things done the "old-fashioned" way. One may pose this art philosophy question: is a particular work of art (or movie) less exceptional because more technology was used in its production?

Shall I thrash the straw man I just propped up?

I think you can use as much technology as you want as long as you do a good job with it.

I know for CGI in film, if you don't do it right, it looks terrible. Case in point, Charlie's Angels--Full Throttle. Yes, I confess, I saw it. They did some Matrix-like action scenes and they looked downright cartoony. Maybe that was intentional but it just looked silly.

The counter example has to be the Gollum/Smeagol character in the Lord of the Rings. Andy Serkis isn't going to get any Oscar nominations (fair or unfair is a debate for another post) but there is no denying that his movements and voice, which form the basis for the technological creation of the character, is truly amazing. Here the technology was essential to its success.

We often lament the films these days and like those old classics. Indeed, the old classics are great and that is why they stood the test of time. However, in its time, it had to compete with many films which we now have no idea what they were because they have long ago been forgotten. I wonder, as a percentage, did they make better movies then?

Let me pose a more basic human psychology question for you Kari: what is the charm of things done the "old fashioned" way?

When I lived in the DC area, I had the privilege to get to know the people who run Greenbridge Pottery. In terms of dollars and cents they can't make as many items as a mass-market manufacturer and per unit item it costs them more to make. However, they have a solid niche business because there are many people who want to buy something that is hand-made. I'm very happy to have a few of their cups in my cupboard and am PRing for them here!

In LA, a few months back I dropped in on the UCLA Festival of Books and came across a report summary from the Rand Corp about the state of the performing arts in the USA. Their main point was that the divide between big and small would grow. The big production arts will be carried out by big name performers and require high production values. The report states though that small niche performing groups will remain strong because there are enough passionate people who like community theatre and small musical ensembles and venues to ensure their survival. They aren't optimistic about the fate of mid-sized organizations.

It is a stereotype in LA that there are many aspiring actors, writers and directors. There is a basis for that and I know a few of these people. I've been to a couple of film festivals where the movies are short films shot with high-end consumer digital video. These are often below low budget barely above shoestring but I find them entertaining and thought provoking and will continue to periodically pay money to see them.

Why do we like this kind of stuff?

Warm regards,

Monday, September 15, 2003

How'd they do that?!? Oh yeah, computers.

Hi-De-Ho Rene,

We’ve been dipping into serious waters recently; today seems the right time to celebrate a little frivolity again.

One of our readers, the intrepid SnydeBoy, recently sent me the following article:

Frank Marshall, who is producing the upcoming fourth Indiana Jones movie, told Empire Online that the sequel will make use of real effects, and not computer-generated ones, whenever possible. "One of the things I enjoy about these movies is that they do recall the old cliffhanger serials of the '30s and '40s," Marshall told the site. "We didn't have computer effects in those days. We couldn't easily erase things, and I think one of the unfortunate by-products of the computer age is that it makes filmmakers lazy. You become more creative when you have to hide ramps with a tree rather than erase it later as you can today."

"In Raiders, that's a real ball rolling behind him, so [star] Harrison [Ford] really is in some danger running in front of that," Marshall added. "These are real situations, and that adds to the excitement and the creative energy on the set."

Marshall added that the Indy IV script remains unfinished, but he said that filmmakers would strive to do things for real. "When you start getting into computers, you get fantastical situations, like in The Matrix or movies like that," he said. "We don't want that. We want exciting heroism. We want seat-of-your-pants, skin-of-your-teeth action. We didn't have all the money in the world on the first films, and we want to keep that B-movie feel. We want to make Indy IV like we made the first three."

As you know, I loved the first two Lord of the Rings movies, and there’s no doubt that those films would be completely different without computer-generated special effects. But Frank Marshall might be on to something. Is there something more gripping or authentic about traditional special effects? The original King Kong has by today’s standards clunky and amateurish special effects, but are they any more jarring than a computer-generated Hulk? I’d argue that, perhaps, King Kong’s effects call less attention to themselves than CGI in many modern movies, including supposed visual masterworks like The Matrix: Reloaded. I also think that some of the “Wow!” factor is gone even when the special effects are intended to get attention. We can’t really ask ourselves “How’d they do that!?!” any more.

The subject is timely, as there's renewed discussion over the diminishing returns of the CGI arms race. This weekend, old-school special effects guru Ray Harryhausen was in town for a film festival that celebrated some of his mid-century fantasy film hits (including Jason and the Argonauts, and Mysterious Island).


Saturday, September 13, 2003

Hyperactive blogger???

Dear Kari, my blogging buddy,

Well, we have been at it now for three weeks?

What do you think?

Bloggers are a funny lot and like to kid around a lot. Did you see this Andrew Sullivan post where he teases Glenn Reynold's the Insta-pundit.
INSTA-INSTA-INSTA-INSTA-PUNDIT: After over 32 separate entries and even more links in a single day over fourteen hours, Glenn Reynolds announces at 9.20 pm: "Sorry for the light blogging." I think that's a cry for help.
UPDATE: Between writing and posting this item, Glenn has added four more posts. Intervention, anyone?
Speaking of Instapundit, he claims blog children.

Conceptually, you mentioned to me that our blog is similar to 2blowhards' Michael and Friedrich. Wonder if they would link us as blog children?

Anyway, I'm in hyperactive blogger mode today and so what follows is a departure from our usual trading of 250-750 word essays. Perhaps, there is pitch here you want to drive into deep left field.


California Recall

Hi Kari, the political pundit,

Okay, I've resisted. I really have. But I can't anymore. As a veteran of the political world, what do you think of the California recall and the multi-legged sack race to replace Gov. Davis should the recall pass?

Hasta la vista,

LA Scene: Dodger Stadium

(third in a series of occasional posts on what is going on in LA)

Baseball Superfan Kari:

Its been a long time for Dodger fans (1988 was the last World Series appearance and victory) and once again hope is triumphing over reason as fans flock to Dodger's stadium (this fan is going Sunday) to root for Dodger Blue. It's been a long time for Royal fans too?

Here is a link to see the history of the famed stadium which I guess is the fourth oldest active venue behind Yankee's Stadium, Fenway Park and Wrigley Field? If I'm not mistaken your Kaufmann Field is up getting up there in age as well though not quite as old at Dodger's Stadium. From photos the shape of Kaufmann and Dodger's stadium are similar suggesting design in comparable eras?

From the MLB.com site I mentioned above there is this little tidbit about grass. I didn't know grass was so high tech!
The Dodgers installed a brand new state-of-the-art grass field after the conclusion of the 1995 season for the first time since the stadium opened in 1962. Prescription Athletic Turf (PAT), created and installed by the Cincinnati-based Motz Group, used the latest agronomic and engineering technology to manage field moisture through controlled drainage and irrigation. The 100,000 square feet of bermuda grass is grown on pure sand, beneath which a vacuum chamber is laid over a water-tight plastic barrier that forcibly extracts water during heavy rains. New moisture gauges monitor the field's water level in coordination with a microprocessor that controls drainage functions. A computer controller has the ability to reverse the scenario and subirrigate when the sand's moisture reading drops below the optimal level.
To see pictures of various ballparks go check out Digitalballparks. To see Dodger specific photos go here.

There are 16 games to go for the Dodgers of which 7 are against the Giants, 3 against Arizona and 6 against the Padres. Thus, things don't look promising. Tickets for the NLDS go on sale today. The Dodgers get the cash and park it somewhere and collect interest until they have to refund the money when the Dodgers don't make the playoffs! Okay, I can hear you say, oh, ye of little faith!

So, Kari, are the Royals selling ALDS tickets? And have you bought them, hmmm? 8-)

I think if the Dodgers close to within 1 game I may order some.


UPDATE: Dodgers win 5-2 against the Padres on Sunday and Braves beat the Marlins. Dodgers are now 2 1/2 games out!

91 years and still running

Hey Kari,

Did I mention I'm training for the LA Marathon with the LA Roadrunners? In my training group there is a 91-year old training with us! He was profiled for the March 2003 marathon when he was 90. This time around he is going for the speed record for somebody his age! I'm in his training group and it wouldn't surprise me if he gets to the finish line before me!

All ye couch potatos in our readership go for a walk, jog or run!

Yours truly,
runnin' Rene

LA Scene: Esa-Pekka Salonen

(Second in a series of occasional posts on what's going on in LA)


I have been a regular attender of LA Phil events since 1999. I don't know how beloved were our previous music directors but in my experiences the current director, boyish and energetic Esa-Pekka Salonen always gets boisterous cheers from the audience when the final notes float out into the air. The response he receives is far in away more hearty than for any guest conductors and certainly more energetic than for the assistant conductors. I'm not knowledgeable enough a listener to know if the music is actually any better! However, there is one thing I know for sure I give him credit for: his risk taking. It would be easy for him to just program the old favorites and pack the house every night. Indeed, a certain number of concerts are of that variety as it makes business sense. But Salonen routinely introduces the audience to new music by pairing them with the old standbys.

To be honest, sometimes, after the less familiar music undercard has concluded the look on some of the audience members is rather blank as polite applause is given. Sometimes, audience members will look at each other and say aloud some varient of, "What was that?"

But other times, you leave the concert thinking, he is a genius! His unconventional choices gives me a chance to hear music I would probably never hear.

A recent concert I attended was an example where his plan worked very well.

The program included Ramirez's Misa Criolla and Beethoven's Symphony Number Nine.

Check out the audio clips at Amazon.com.

Misa Criolla is a Catholic Mass in Spanish instead of the traditional Latin. The music had a definite Latin beat to it along with the sound of South American percussion instruments. The emotional highs and lows and combinations of up-tempo and meditative passages are just delightful and uplifting.

As a scientist, I tend to approach life with my brain and then be aware of my feelings. However, in music, I try to reverse the order and react to what I hear then later, I'll look at the program notes to see the description and in this case the English translation of the Spanish words also. I loved Ramirez's Misa Criolla and bought the CD at the intermission. In particular, I loved the part where the drummer goes bananas in total exuberance for about 30 seconds. What part of the Christian faith is the most central and most amazing thing? You know it. I checked the program notes, that solo part comes in after the chorus sings in the Credo:

Al tercer dia, resucito de entre los muertos;
Subio a los cielos, esta sentado a la diestra de Dios,
Padre Todopoderoso.

On the third day He arose from the dead and
Ascended to heaven where He sits at the right
Of the Almighty Father.

The pairing of music from the Old World with the New World made for quite a contrast in musical styles but the journey takes us to joy just the same.

And can you guess what day this concert took place?

Indeed, on the second anniversary of 9/11. This fact was noted in the program notes and remembered in a moment of silence before the start of the concert. I don't doubt that Salonen was very aware of the calendar when he choose these two pieces for the concert. The Symphony #9 takes you on a journey where musical themes are introduced and discarded and then finally at the end, the explosion of joy in the fourth movement when the choral part starts:

O Freunde, nicht diese Tone!
Sondern lasst uns angenehmere anstimmen
und freudenvollere!
Oh friends, not these tones!
Let us raise our voices in more
pleasing and more joyful sounds!

And the Misa Criolla takes us on a journey as well from our need of mercy in the Kyrie to the Agnus Dei where we acknowlege the lamb who has paid the price for us.

Senor, ten piedad de nosotros
Cristo, ten piedad de nosotros

Lord have mercy on us.
Christ have mercy on us.
Agnus Dei:
Cordero de Dios que quitas los pecados del mundo
Ten compasion de nosotros, danos la paz.

Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world.
Have mercy on us. Grant us peace.

Peace and joy,

Thursday, September 11, 2003

On September 11


I know I don't have the wisdom to know what to say on the second anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001. Instead, I'll share a few things that have spoken to me.

Emily Dickinson wrote this poem in 1862, the most wrenching year of the Civil War. That September, at Antietam, more Americans were killed in one day on our soil than ever before or since. In fact, only the losses we suffered on another September day, 139 years later, approach their numbers. Her poem may have been written about a personal sense of loss or the nation's, then or now:

After great pain, a formal feeling comes--
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs--
The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?

The Feet, mechanical, go round--
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought--
A Wooden way
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone--

This is the Hour of Lead--
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow--
First--Chill--then Stupor--then the letting go--

John Donne's meditation on death and the fellowship of mankind (written in 1623 after a long illness and in a lifetime that had witnessed firsthand the destruction of war, plague, famine, and street violence) was quoted often in the aftermath of September 11. Sometimes it is quoted too briefly, making it seem like cliche instead of illuminated truth. Here is a longer selection, from Meditation XVII:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.

In context, Donne also refutes those who would say we are wrong to wallow in the pain of others. We do not beg or borrow misery, he says, for the pain belongs to us. Donne compares us to chapters in a book ("one author," "one volume"), chapters that are not torn out in death but translated by God into a better language.

Praying for those still in their Hour of Lead,


Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Three questions on art


Since I'm not an art historian, I'll broaden the discussion.

First, can the value of the art be separated from the values of the artist?

Would you agree we do it all the time with dead artists? Most casual listeners of classical music have no idea of the moral failings of many notable composers. I hesitate to link to this article from Dennis Prager because I know there are artistic types in our readership and friends of artists and Prager can at times in his zeal to make his point be a little over the top. However, there is one paragraph I'll cite here:
Those of us who love classical music have long had to confront the lack of connection between genius and goodness or wisdom. Richard Wagner, for example, was one of the world's greatest composers and a racist anti-Semite. Neither Beethoven nor Mozart was known to be a particularly decent human being. Herbert von Karajan, one of the most celebrated conductors of the 20th century, served as Kapellmeister under Adolf Hitler and never apologized for his support of the Nazis.
Nazi propagandist filmmaker Riefenstahl would be in this category. There is no denying the visual flair of her work. Peter Jackson was making visual homage to her in those massive troop scenes in The Two Towers.

It is easy to do this separation for artists who are long since dead. But what if the artist is alive? What if there is a movie director whose views (moral/political/religious/whatever) you completely disagree with yet he/she makes great movies? Should you go pay money to go see those movies?

Second, what is the responsibility of the artist for the social consequences of their work?

Some areas of science face this reality. As you know, another person of some controversy died this week: Edward Teller, the so-called "father of the H-bomb." Two news items here and here describe his life and times. How do people view his passionate advocacy of bigger and better nuclear weapons? Should artists have their work scrutinized in the same way?

A third question an artist may face is how much can truth be bent to serve a higher purpose?

When I lived in Washington DC, I remember a powerful exhibit on the Poster Art of WWII at the National Archives. Germans and Japanese were portrayed in highly distorted fashion to engender anger at them. No doubt WW2 was a just war but were those kinds of posters immoral?


Art in the Service of Evil


Leni Riefenstahl died this week.

Riefenstahl was Hitler's filmmaker, an enormous talent whose propaganda masterpieces, especially "Triumph of the Will," were shockingly innovative. She denied being a Nazi or anti-Semite and, to the end, claimed to be an innocent artist striving only for excellence in her work. The New York Times' obituary put it this way:

Ms. Riefenstahl never denied her early conviction that Hitler could "save" Germany. She also said that her idealized image of him fell apart "far too late," near the end of World War II. But, amid widespread skepticism, she insisted that she was never a Nazi and that "Triumph of the Will" and "Olympia" were apolitical, inspired only by her desire to create works of art.

Omaha's Geitner Simmons of Regions of Mind posted on "Triumph of the Will" a couple months ago. There's some interesting give-and-take in his post and in subsequent comments about how the over-the-top diefication of Nazi leaders, which now seems almost cartoonish, could have been effective at the time.

Leni Riefenstahl was an artist, and a brilliant one. But, to my eyes, her art had very specific intentions, and they were far from honorable. (Michael over at 2Blowhards had a different take on the occasion of Riefenstahl's 100th birdthday last year.) Over the centuries, artists have worked for patrons who were responsible for oppression, destruction, and other despicable deeds. But are there any other artists whose works are tied so closely to the actual execution of evil?


Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Remembering 9/11

Dear Kari:

The news of 9/11 was shared by the world through modern electronic communications. I first heard the dreadful news of that morning when I logged onto my computer and pulled up a news web site. When I saw the headlines, I turned on the television and throughout the day, the radio was on at work.

Memorials have been held in 2002 and will again in 2003. In the broad context of our society, we will experience it together through television. But with the rise of the Internet, small pockets of remembrance take place through the web.

My journey to the World Trade Center site took place in November of 2002 and I posted my observation here.

I’ve been to DC since 9/11, driven near the Pentagon and at that time saw little sign of what had happened as the repair work was so swift. But the military vehicles parked along the highway indicated things were different.

I’ve yet to make it to Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

And so I conducted a search on Yahoo using the terms: "Shanksville" and "memorial."

The first site that came up was a site maintained by a small student group of your fellow Kansans. In their site, they had a link to the Somerset County Commissioners who have established this site for news and progress on an official memorial.

The second link was a summary of a feature story on WITN public television.

Smock is a small town near Shanksville and the Smock Historical Society had this page with photos of their neighboring town’s memorial in 2002

The next link was to a photograph in the 9/11 Digital Archive which is a joint project with the Smithsonian to create a visual record of 9/11.

Kim Denny’s personal web page contained photos from a visit to the makeshift memorial site on September 6, 2002

I then came upon a page that contains photos taken by Nicole Carol Miller’s family on September 11, 2002 from the memorial service for the 40 who gave their lives on Flight 93

The main page begins an emotional tribute that served as healing for her family and allows others to get a glimpse of a vibrant life ended too soon.

Nicole Carol Miller was 21 years old, a student of West Valley Community College in Saratoga, California and beloved by family and friends. One sentence to describe a life shows the poor power of words. Yet, it is the combination of photos, music and words in this kind of web page that the power of the Internet to draw people together is demonstrated. I clicked and scrolled through the pages of the testimonials sent from all over the world to the Miller family. It was not long before I could not continue.

In remembering 9/11, my hope and prayer is for God's peace and love to be upon those who lost someone. In remembering 9/11, I want to rededicate myself to an active faith undimmed by life's difficulties, love that chooses to give, and a life that works for a better world.

Be well,


Hey Kari:

One of our readers emailed me about architecture and our blog. Excerpts:

Seems pretty cool, but I'm not sure if that "blog space" has enough memory for my thoughts on art or anything with design. Besides I don't want to sound like I'm at a hockey game ranting and raving till I'm escorted off the premises. Had only enough time to skim through so simply put SOME of Wright is Alright. Check out John Pawson. Much cleaner & Distilled. Tasty stuff.

One can read about John Pawson here and here and here.


P.S. I've emailed this reader to say, rant away! 8-)

Yo creo! (I believe!)

Hola Kari the baseball fan:

Indeed, this year's pennant races are amazing! It sure would be something if we had a blue against blue World Series. Wonder what the odds of that are?

Dodger fans are very excited right now as at long last the dormant bats have been heating up and they remain in the hunt for the wild card. However, the big concern is whether the starting staff is starting to run out of gas. Nomo is out for the moment. Ishii is just back from knee troubles. You just wonder how many innings Brown has left considering how much injury trouble he has had the last couple of years.

One of the most exciting aspects of attending a Dodger game is the possibility of seeing Gange lumber onto the field in the ninth inning to the music of "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns 'n Roses.

One wonders if he will get the Cy Young or will that go to the Russ Ortiz who will probably be the only NL pitcher to get to 20 wins this year. Meanwhile in the AL, I'm guessing that Loaiza is the favorite for the Cy Young?

But back to Dodger baseball, if you lived in LA, you would have received the following email...

From: Chun, Rene
Subject: Dodger baseball: I want to believe! 8-) Sunday 14 September

Hey Baseball fans and friends of baseball fans!

The season is winding down and I'm wanting to go to one last game before it is over...

I'm looking at the Sept 14 game against the Padres.

It is a Sunday game with a 1:10PM start time.

I hope to take advantage of the Coca-Cola Family Deal where you get 4 tickets, 4 colas, 4 hot dogs and 1 parking pass.

If interested, let me know and I'll get tickets sometime next week.

have a great labor day weekend!!

Go Dodgers!

Speaking of hanging curveballs...

Hi-De-Ho Rene,

Somehow the Kansas City Royals continue to stay in the hunt for the AL Central title. Their starting pitching rotation now includes only one of the original starters (the surprising Darrell May), three late-season acquisitions (Paul Abbott, Brian Anderson, Jamey Wright), and an on-again, off-again rookie with an unfortunate moniker (Jimmy Gobble).

They've slid out of first place, certainly, but it's incredible that they've stayed within striking distance. The ChiSox and Twinkies are tied atop the division and are playing each other in a four-game series this week. Despite my growing disdain for the Sox's entitlement attitude, I must root for them, because the Royals are done playing the Twins, whose remaining schedule is pretty easy. Kansas City still has seven games left against Chicago, including a four-game set at Kauffman Stadium to close out the season. If everything works out, the Royals could control their destiny.

When your team is in a race, there's nothing that can beat baseball. I love the energy and mob frenzy of a football game, but there's something more constantly invigorating about a pennant race. Every single day, something happens to raise your hopes or rip your heart out.

My senior circuit favorites, the Cardinals (sorry, Dodger-fan Rene), are in a similar scratch-and-claw brawl in the NL Central. It's hard to work up as much antipathy toward the hard-luck Cubs and the bland Astros as I have against the White Sox and Twins, but I'm trying.

(I know, I know... How can I root for the Royals AND Cardinals? The same way I root for K-State AND KU, that's how. Wildcats over Jayhawks? Every time. But Jayhawks over everybody else.)

Tony Pena should get Manager of the Year honors, no matter what happens during the final 20 games of the season. Nobody gave our boys in blue a chance, but we're 3 ½ games out with 20 games left, despite using 15 different starting pitchers, losing Mike Sweeney for 50 games, and having only four hitters with positive RCAA (runs created above average)/RAP (runs above position). Tony: Yo creo!


Sunday, September 07, 2003

So what is art anyway?

Hey Philosophical Kari:

I couldn't resist your hanging curveball of a comment about is architecture art. I'll return the comment and broaden it by posing, "What is art?"

You cite Aaron of godofthemachine's post where he offers the following definition of art:
It is a technical term, referring to things that are intended soley as objects of contemplation.

His definition has three qualifiers: (1) it is an object and (2) it must invoke contemplation in the viewer and (3) that is its sole purpose.

I won't offer a definition as I'll be honest... I don't have one! However, I can see a few problems with his definition.

First, in my mind, contemplation seems a largely intellectual exercise. I would say that art can also work at the level of emotion in that art can have evocative or provocative powers.

Second, contemporary art is busting the boundaries of that narrow definition because installation art often incorporates CDs playing music/sounds on an repeat loop, televisions with video clips and some even incorporate aromas. Thus, art is no longer limited to objects.

Thirdly, I'm not sure I like to limit art with the "soley" qualification. By his definition, architecture is not art because architecture has utilitarian functions.

His definition is also very "observer" limited. I'm sure artists might like a definition where they retain control. For instance, my dad (trained at several art institutes on the GI Bill post Korean War), offered his definition:
Anything that is an expression of the individual's experience or creativity.



Frank about Frank and Frank

Hello Aesthetically Astute Kari:

I have to come right out and admit to being mostly unaware of Frank Lloyd Wright's work. I know he was famous but that is it. A quick internet search lead me to Ken Burns' documentary on his life and work. I trust Burns has profiled FLW's most notable works?

Of that list, I have only seen the Guggenheim Museum of New York

Here is an interior shot I took back in late June, 2003

I have to say I was impressed by that structure though the exterior could use a paint job! Does that building leak?

I visited Phoenix a few years back and I heard about Taliesin West but didn't get the chance to visit his famed Southwestern outpost.

I did however have breakfast at the Biltmore which was a project Wright worked on and apparently there is some controversy over how much of it was his ideas and how much were his associates. Some back story and pictures of the hotel can be seen here and here.

I enjoyed walking around the grounds and thought it seemed pretty neat.

I've now exhausted all I know about FLW!!

It would seem Michael at blowhard is not a fan. And from the tone of your comments, you have mixed feelings about Wright's efforts? What do you think about the FLW works I've mentioned above?

In regards to your question (I now finally get around to it!), "Does architecture have to function well to be great?"

I would have to say, yes. Architecture, by its definition, has a utilitarian value and its aesthetic value in my mind is a bonus. Fail on one or the other, it can't be considered great. If my car is gorgeous but breaks down all the time, I'd hesistate to consider it a great car. It maybe a pretty car but it isn't a great car. I suppose as a scientist, I have a tendency toward a does it work pragmatism.

Continuing on the architecture theme: what do you think of Frank Gehry's work?

Here I am with my trusty tin can in front of the soon to open Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

The banner art up top is the same photo tinkered with on Photoshop.

MOCA in LA is having an exhibit on Gehry to coincide with the October opening of Disney Hall.

I eagerly await your reflective response.

Take care,

Friday, September 05, 2003

Function Junction

Hi-De-Ho Rene,

I'm not breaking new ground in the blogosphere with this posting, as we have seen a whirlwind of Frank Lloyd Wright criticism and defense and somewhat-related "what is art?" stuff whipping around the web. Most of what I've read has focused on Wright's residential projects or, more entertainingly, on his big-as-all-outdoors ego.

I had a chance this weekend to see a Frank Lloyd Wright commercial project, the H.C. Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, or as Wright subtitled it, "The Tree That Escaped the Crowded Forest."

(Others might call it "The Game of Jenga That Went Wildly Out of Control." The photo is of the 221-foot tower under construction.)

It's actually a very interesting building, attractive and really quite evocative of the lone tree on the prairie it was to represent. At 19 stories it's the only skyscraper Wright completed.

Wright had conceived of the design in the '20s for a different application in New York City, but it wasn't until the 1950s that he had a chance to build it. It was completed in 1956, and there are design elements that are very '50s-ish in it, but like most Wright buildings, it evokes his style more than any particular era's.

It's a building of angles upon angles, narrow passages and a mixture of very low and very high ceilings. It has trapped, unusable spaces, but also glorious views. It's cantilevered, and you get the sensation that the floors dip down slightly toward the corners. (The sensation was confirmed by a leak that ran to a pool of water in a corner of the Price family apartment.) The elevators are tiny (the four shafts also served as "taproots" to anchor the building) -- no more than four people can fit in one of the three in operation, and the stairs are exterior. Wright did not allow for a freight elevator, so all the furniture had to be built on-site.

The furniture itself is gosh-awful. Some of the built-in stuff remains in all its thinly veneered plywood glory. The Jetsons-like chairs he designed for the office levels are proudly displayed in the building's museum, but in real life they lasted just two weeks in operation and were replaced by standard 1950s-issue office chairs.

On the subject of leaks -- and Wright's ego: I went to the Price Tower with a friend whose mother had worked for the H.C. Price Company when the tower was built. H.C. Price's office was on the top floor. My friend's mother tells the story that, within a week of moving in, a leak developed almost exactly in the middle of the room. Frustrated to find a pool of water on his desk, Price called Wright to complain. "Frank, there's a leak right above my desk," Price barked. "What can we do about that?" Wright replied: "Move the desk." (The problem with the story is that the desk was, of course, built-in.)

I'll avoid the "Is architecture art?" question and stick to the more prosaic, "Does architecture have to function well to be great?" At what point does a grand concept become a grand failure? Not to say the Price Tower was a failure -- it was used as an office building for almost 30 years and is now a museum and boutique hotel. But it did cost almost twice as much as budgeted to build, found ways to waste space despite the tight quarters, and still leaks.

I'll leave you to ponder it as I prepare for an evening of Mars-watching (finally, the clouds have parted).


Thursday, September 04, 2003

Movie Music: High Art and Popular Culture

Dear Music Maven Kari:

Indeed, I agree with you that movie music is the new classical music. Film is where some of the best music of our time is being written.

However, there are snooty folks who would distinguish between high art and pop culture. These same folks would write off John Williams as not a real musician. I think that is ridiculous.

Think on this, in terms of the day-to-day job, isn't what Howard Shore doing with the soundtrack for the Lord of the Rings comparable in scale to a massive opera? In the end, the three films are going to require close to 12 hours worth of music. I think he has done an amazing job giving the places and peoples of Middle Earth a distinct sound and voice.

photos linked from amazon.com

(hint, Christmas wish list, wink)

My knowledge of movie music is nowhere as extensive nor as sophisticated as yours but as the cliche goes, I know what I like! So here goes a stream of consciousness list of some of my favorites.

I first heard James Horner in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and liked his style. I think he hit his high-water mark in the music for Glory. He has many movies to his credit because he hits the right mood more often than not. Movie music shouldn't overwhelm the movie. I think of it as salt and spice for food where you add enough to make it distinctive but doesn't overpower the movie.

I like Hans Zimmer especially for Gladiator.

Jerry Goldsmith occasionally gets a little too bombastic but I am usually happy with what he has going with my favorite being his work on Patton.

As a guy, I probably don't mind the obtrusive soundtracks as much as you might because those booming tunes work well with action flicks. But there are times when it is way too much even for me. One example was Leonard Rosenmann's soundtrack for the somewhat unsuccessful animated version of Lord of the Rings by Ralph Bakshi. I am probably one of a small number of people who even remember that attempt at bringing Tolkein to the big screen.

I see you mentioned Bernard Herrmann. I came to appreciate his work first in television for his music in many of the classic Twilight Zone episodes. I would later learn he and Hitchcock teamed up on many a project.

Speaking of television music, I like Mike Post's work in the many title themes he has done.

But going back to film music, I'll toss out two more composers. I was impressed by Carter Burwell's music in And the Band Played On. It was simple and haunting. I didn't know he did so many other films until I looked up his filmography. I haven't seen many of those films but you perhaps have and would be curious what kind of music he is noted for and his style. I'll go ahead and also mention Alan Silvestri's work for Contact. Just loved that film and the music was just right.

But coming back to the music of the guy who started this discussion, I definitely feel, John Williams is under-appreciated. Since he does so many movies, I'll agree that some of his stuff is not very distinguished and starts to sound alike. For instance, his recent work on the Harry Potter films hasn't made much of an impression on me and in his album By Request The Best of John Williams and the Boston Pops has a few tracks that didn't register much with me. His Star Wars stuff though is just terrific. He has the heart pounding adventure music, the more soothing sounds for quieter moments, jazzy stuff for certain scenes, ominous beat of the dark side and the light hearted fun of the Ewoks, and I just love his choral stuff at the end of Phantom Menace. But the CD I have in my collection isn't Star Wars, rather it is Schindler's List. That clinched it in my book that he is a real talent who will stand the test of time.

Hope your travels have been safe and productive.


Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Back Soon

Hi-De-Ho Rene,

I'm traveling for work during the early part of this week, so my posts may be sparse and spartan for a few days. I have, however, been accumulating some digital photos for use here, including a shot of me on my end of the tin-can line, but their posting must await my return.

Sounds like the Philharmonic's performance was great fun. I've been to similar programs at Wolf Trap outside of Washington, DC, with the National Symphony Orchestra. At both of those, the orchestra played while scenes from the films were playing on a giant projection screen suspended overhead. Featured music included scenes from Citizen Kane, the Adventures of Robin Hood, Ben Hur, and, best of all, Bride of Frankenstein.

I've read and heard various music commentators who believe that film music, particularly in the first two-thirds of the 20th Century, before scores became pop-music soundtracks, is the "new classical music." The audience for new music by traditional classical composers is shrinking, and the audience for avant garde composers -- well, how broad has that audience ever been? Scores from composers such as Bernard Herrmann, Miklos Rozsa, Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Franz Waxman, Nino Rota and Ennio Morricone are perfect for the films they accompany and stand up well on their own. Of today's film composers, I may like Danny Elfman best. John Williams has some outstanding scores, but he's also known for the occasional bit of obtrusive pap.

So, who are your favorite film composers? And do you agree with the idea that scored film music is the new classical music?


Monday, September 01, 2003

LA Scene: Hollywood Bowl

(First in a series of occasional posts on what I think makes LA special)

Kansas Kari:

photo linked from http://parks.co.la.ca.us

On Friday night, I went with some friends to the Hollywood Bowl. The venue is LA’s famed big outdoor summer concert venue. Tuesdays and Thursdays are classical music nights. Wednesday is for jazz. Sunday is for world music. And Friday and Saturdays are for weekend spectaculars.

The Hollywood Bowl is an LA county park site.

Here are two web page articles on the history of the bowl. A short one and a longer one.

Friday’s program brought John Williams’ baton to the stage with the LA Philharmonic.

The opening number was a peppy rendition of Hooray for Hollywood. This was followed by a medley of snippets from Hollywood movie soundtracks ranging from his notable themes to ones dating to the old classic movies like Psycho and Casablanca and Magnificent Seven. I wish you could have been there as your encyclopedic knowledge of film and interest in music scores would have been helpful and besides, I think you would have simply just enjoyed the music, the venue and the company. I recognized most of the movies Williams spliced into the music mix. Alas, there were a few that were vaguely familiar but I couldn’t put a movie to it. At that point, it would have been great to have you there to whisper to me what movie it was from.

Williams then led the orchestra with three jazz soloists in playing three pieces from Catch Me If You Can. Williams told the story of how he convinced Spielberg to let him do a jazzy soundtrack. Spielberg wondered if Williams had much experience with that type of music. Williams replied, I did play piano for Henri Mancini early in my career.

The next set was four pieces from the Harry Potter films. After intermission, we then were treated to his most famous work: Star Wars. James Earl Jones provided narration to link the various musical numbers with the Star Wars story arc.

After the formal show ended, Williams and the Phil played three more movie themes. The first was from a film from the 1940s (I don’t recall the name) composed by Max Steiner and utilized extensive solo violin. Then Williams finished the night off with crowd-pleasing themes from Superman and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Should you visit LA when the Bowl is having events, we’ll be sure to go there.

Your Angelino Amigo,