27 February 2007

Obama's Foresight

I’m not one of those who believes that a candidates's decision to support the war (or not) in 2002 should matter most in a 2008 election. (I suppose, on this point, I’m sympathetic with Hillary Clinton -- though, no doubt, her position is born of political necessity, rather than principle.) Neverthless, Barack Obama’s greatest asset in the Democratic primary (specifically) could turn out to be the steadfastness of his anti-war stance.

Witness, for instance, this incredibly prescient performance from November of 2002:

What's impressive about this is not that Obama's 2002 position is popular today. (The political winds could've blown in any number of directions -- none of which could've been predicted more than four years ago.) Rather, what's impressive is the acumen he displays: the ability to identify and assess the salient features of a complex situation, and to make the correct judgment on the basis of that assessment. That's the sort of mind that deserves our votes.

26 February 2007

Joyce "the Imposter" Hatto

I’ve been meaning to write about Joyce Hatto — aka “the greatest living pianist that almost no one has heard of” — for the past week, but now that the New York Times has published an article, all I need to do is to provide the link ... here.

Shoot the Piano Player
The New York Times
February 26, 2007

Intriguingly, she gave to the music a developed although oddly malleable personality. She could do Schubert in one style, and then Prokofiev almost as though she was a new person playing a different piano — an astonishing, chameleon-like artistic ability. … [T]he entire Joyce Hatto oeuvre recorded after 1989 appears to be stolen from the CDs of other pianists. It is a scandal unparalleled in the annals of classical music.


Incidentally, this article was written by Denis Dutton, a philosopher who teaches at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, and whose personal website is well worth a visit anyway. (You might’ve noticed the link to his site under the “Miscellany” category to the right.)

Oxford Philosophy

Prompted by an overview of the situation authored by former Oxford lecturer Michael Rosen, a candid discussion of how one might go about (or not, as it may be) getting a philosophy job in Oxford is underway on Brian Leiter's site here.

In keeping with the spirit of Ralph's comments, it's my impression and experience that outsiders stand a better chance than they used to do, but also that reputation for past cronyism is neither undeserved, nor easily shaken.

24 February 2007

Guest of Cindy Sherman

This is a trailer for a feature-length documentary, Guest of Cindy Sherman, apparently due to be shown on the Sundance Channel (or at the Sundance Film Festival?) in 2008. Looks fascinating, if also somewhat tabloidish. Be sure to watch the whole thing; the other shoe doesn't drop until 2/3 of the way through the spot.

23 February 2007


Stumbled upon this clip from Almodóvar's Habla con ella and was immediately reminded of the life-changing performance by Pina Bausch that I saw at Sadler's Wells in London a few years back. Undoubtedly one of the greatest artists in any form working today.

The clip features an excerpt from Bausch's Masurca Fogo, which she continues to reprise at Tanztheater Wuppertal. Staggering.

21 February 2007

Pan’s Labrynth

Whether it’s more embarrassing not to have seen Pan’s Labrynth until a couple of weeks ago or not to have written about it until now I’m not sure, but there you have it: I managed both feats.

In short: brilliant film. Most interesting to me was how director Guillermo del Toro manages to avoid the magical realism that one might’ve expected. The project is more subtle than that. Unlike in standard magical realist fare, the status of the fantastical realm is left purposely ambiguous in the film. It’s unclear whether what we see is real or merely the projection of a child’s imagination. And it’s in that ambiguity that the film really thrives.

I’ve long since grown weary of Terry Gross, but in spite of herself, this interview with del Toro is captivating. Particularly moving, I thought, was his notion of monsters as surrogates for deities: lovely idea.

A battery of reviews may be found, as always, at Rotten Tomatoes. An unscripted exchange between del Toro and the leading actress, Ivana Baquero, can be found here. And lastly, here’s the trailer:

Escher ... in Legos

An endeavor as goofy as it is pathetic ... Be sure not to miss out on Mr. Lipson's FAQs here.

Day of Reckoning

For we citizens of Buckeye Nation, this says it all.

16 February 2007

Drink Me

For years, I’ve been gathering evidence in support of my pet hypothesis that most great things are originated by native Ohioans ... who then flee the “Heart Of It All” as soon as humanly possible. Just about any other pasture will do, history tells us: green, desolate, metropolitan, even lunar.

Natives (of which I am not one, though I did live there for quite some time) can hardly escape this sad fact, surrounded as they are by the ubiquitous ‘Birthplace of Aviation’ motto found on Ohio license plates and Ohio quarters: a reminder that, while the Wright Brothers were from Dayton, when it came time for the big day, they promptly split to windswept Kill Devil Hills near Kitty Hawk, NC. (Carolina plates proudly proclaim: ‘First in Flight’.) What I haven’t decided yet is whether all this speaks well or ill of the great state: well, that so many ingenious and industrious minds have been born there; or ill, that virtually all of them catch the first thing smokin’ outta town.

Anyway. All that by way of wholly unnecessary preamble to the duo Drink Me, which I discovered just over a year ago. Wynne Evans and Mark Amft met while roommates at Oberlin College in ... well, you know where. The hip among you will be unimpressed by my new-found devotion to a band that's been broken up for nearly two decades; but better late than never. Drink Me found fame in the late 80s and early 90s while opening for They Might Be Giants. I wasn’t a fan of the latter then, and I’m not a fan now. Nor even am I sure whether Drink Me appeals principally because of its musical offering -- deceptive, sweet, melancholy, not unsophisticated -- or instead because of its somewhat tragic fate. (I first learned of the group via the periodic NPR series known as “Dust Bin Bands”: worth a listen here.) Certainly, the band’s appeal is not due to its name, which is, frankly, awful. But despite that, their music is captivating: thoroughly eerie at points, and yet surprisingly resonant throughout.

Alas, they really have been cast to the dust bin. After only two albums, Mark Amft has dropped off the face of the world, and even Amazon can’t seem to dig up a copy of their eponymously named first disk. So I treasure my copy ... and heartily recommend that you try to pick up one of your own.

Eleni Mandell

And while I’m at it -- at, that is, stumping for softer additions to your musical library -- might I also recommend a newer selection?

Despite not being from Ohio, Eleni Mandell is, as far as I can tell, a genuinely talented songwriter. It helps if you're chummy with Chuck E. Weiss, and can claim Bukowski, Dylan, and Waits as influences. Like Drink Me in perhaps no other respect, nevertheless, her writing is similarly subtle -- which, unlike how that word seems to be used by the critics, does not mean boring or plain. It’s not likely to knock your socks off, but it’s … alluring.

Find her at home here; find her on My Space here. Find her in a clever video here:

12 February 2007

Obama for President

Okay, I have to admit it: slowly but surely, I'm becoming an Obama believer.

Like everyone else, I have no idea how it'll all pan out. And my support today -- more than 18 months from the actual election, after all! -- is defeasible: he could do something stupid on the campaign trail, he could adopt a stance on an important issue (domestic or international) that deviates sharply from my own, etc. But I like this guy: I like how his mind works; I appreciate what distinguishes him from mainstream politicians; I'm struck by his humility; and I find myself optimistic about the shift in the perception of this country that, I'm coming to think, he alone could effect (contrast Clinton, Edwards, even Gore). And regarding that last point, I'm not persuaded -- as so many seem to be -- that a candidate's experience matters more than his or her personality. I'm not saying that it doesn't matter; I'm saying that I'm not sure that it matters more. The days of a president calling the shots alone are long past: presidents (like most politicians) determine policy by committee, and one wants a president who surrounds himself with the right people (whoever they are). These days, one's demeanor and good sense may matter most in determining the policy that one gets, because of the role those qualities play in determining who is chosen for the positions of VP, the cabinet, chief of staff, and so on.

I am, of course, under no illusions that Obama is a politician. And my suspicion of that breed remains strong. But as "lesser evils" go, Obama promises to introduce a welcome breath of fresh air. If you don't believe me, watch last night's 60 Minutes interview (including his wife, whose display of fortitude and intelligence was impressive) here.

In the meantime, here's the famous speech that launched his national career:

The second part is here.

09 February 2007

Philosophy from the Cradle

In my experience, the Scots are typically a step (or several) ahead on most matters of importance. More grist for the mill from the BBC:

Nursery Pupils Taught Philosophy
BBC News
5 February 2007

Children as young as four are being taught philosophy in nursery, BBC Scotland has learned. The Clackmannanshire Council initiative is believed to be the first run by a local authority in Britain. New research from Dundee University suggests learning philosophy raises children's IQ by up to 6.5 points and improves their emotional intelligence.

07 February 2007

The Great Questions Scatter Like Roaches

Busy week, this: teaching, deadlines, presentations ... oh my. So until I find the time to post something more substantive, enjoy this (apt) comic, which I recently encountered. (Click the image for a bigger view.)

05 February 2007


I'm pretty sure that I've never seen a Super Bowl halftime show that I liked. Last night was different. However dubious a distinction this might otherwise seem, the artist presently known as 'Prince' has now set the standard for halftime shows. The marching band was a stroke of genius, the set-list terrific, and the unapologetic rock-star energy just outstanding.

Here it is:

Here's the New York Times review, rightly laudatory:

A Non-Controversial Prince, Just Like the N.F.L. Likes Him
The New York Times
February 5, 2007

A brief concert in the middle of the Super Bowl, on a temporary stage, designed to thrill a captive audience with nothing in common except a love of sport or spectacle, or both. How could that ever be a good idea? Then, just when it seemed time to give up on that quaint ritual known as the halftime show, along comes Prince.

His performance last night at Super Bowl XLI will surely go down as one of the most thrilling halftime shows ever; certainly the most unpredictable, and perhaps the best. “Dearly beloved,” he whispered, intoning the famous first words of “Let’s Go Crazy.”

What followed was a dizzying demonstration. He navigated a smooth course through a jumbled-up set built from bits and pieces, hits and covers. “Let’s Go Crazy” ended with an ad-libbed call-and-response, after which Prince was joined by a marching band.

Soon came “Proud Mary” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. That gave way to a piece of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” which melted into “Best of You,” the 2005 hit by the Foo Fighters. He ended the medley by modifying a favorite line from the Foo Fighters’ song: “I’ve got another confession, my friend/I ain’t no fool.”

Somehow, it all made sense, or maybe it made something better than sense. The heavy rain made the smoke and lights seem mysterious, instead of merely ridiculous. And there was a sneaky thrill in watching Prince steal the field from guys three times his size, if only for a few moments.

At one Super Bowl gathering, at least, Prince’s extravagant guitar solos, seductive facial expressions and strutting stage manner made boozy viewers whoop and wonder in equal measure. Who knew a Super Bowl halftime show could be this delirious?

No doubt National Football League officials were pretty pleased, too. They know that the halftime show is still haunted by the specter of 2004, when Justin Timberlake enlivened an otherwise unmemorable show by baring Janet Jackson’s breast. Somehow, Timberlake’s role has been largely forgotten, but Jackson’s career has still not recovered. And compared with the controversial Jackson, Prince must seem like a pretty safe bet.

Would that last statement have made any sense at all 20 years ago? In 1987, Jackson was best known as Michael’s effervescent younger sister, and Prince was perhaps the most polarizing pop star in the country; the sexually frank lyrics of his “Darling Nikki” had helped spark a national debate about explicit lyrics.

Yesterday’s command performance was yet more proof that Prince has made that familiar journey from pariah to American treasure. He has a catalog of hits that everybody seems to love (even the players, who normally take little interest in the halftime show, were quoted praising Prince), and he sings and plays and moves as well as he ever did.

Best of all, he does not carry himself as a pop-star emeritus. Did you see his face during the first verse of “Purple Rain,” when he tossed his bandana into the crowd? He looked as if he were getting away with something.

02 February 2007


It’s difficult to imagine a feature length film about a font, but if any typeface is worth it, surely it’s Helvetica.

So, oddly enough, this documentary looks quite compelling:

Mind you, none of this is likely to dissuade me from my Times New Roman ways ...

Cold War Kids

I’m proud to report that, for once, I was ahead of the curve. Somehow I stumbled upon the Cold War Kids five or six months back. (Here’s the proof.) Quite a bit more interesting than your usual chicken Caesar salad, they're something like a cross between Gomez and the Whitlams, with a lead singer, Nate Willett, who sounds rather like the guy from Starsailor. Anyway, I was pleased to see this feature in today’s Guardian:

Band on the Run
Friday February 2, 2007
The Guardian

Cold War Kids seem like nice, God-fearing chaps who would rather save their money than go out boozing. But when it comes to their songs, all hell breaks loose.

“The band confess a love of Tom Waits, the Velvet Underground and Billie Holiday …” Good taste. Anyway, here’s their video for a “Hang Me Up To Dry”:

Happy Birthday, Virtuosos!

NPR reported this morning something (one more thing!) I hadn’t known: that violinist virtuosos Fritz Kreisler and Jascha Heifetz were born on the same day -- today, 2 February ... in 1875 and 1901, respectively. Lots of info and pictures can be found here. But in celebration, let’s just watch Heifetz in action (alas, I couldn’t locate any footage of Kreisler):

Delightful! And here’s a quaint little documentary spot on Heifetz:

A Googol ... At Least!

From MIT’s The Tech -- "the world's first newspaper on the web" -- comes a report of a battle between two philosophers -- Princeton’s Adam Elga and MIT’s Augustin Rayo -- to “inscribe the largest finite number ever to be written on an ordinary-sized chalkboard”. Worth a read here.