7 Quick Takes (2/17/12)

— 1 —

I’m off to Canada for the annual meeting of the American Association for Advancement in the Sciences!  WiFi and leisure time may be in short supply, so be patient if a comment gets caught in the spam filter.

Besides the Friday links to tide you over, don’t forget to post in the Marriage Q&A thread if there’s a question you want me to address as followup to the gay marriage debate I wrapped up with Matt this week.


— 2 —

First something purely fun.  Artist Petros Vrellis put together a beautiful, touchpad-interactive riff on Van Gogh’s Starry Night.


— 3 —

Via Slate, a reprint of a Lingua Franca article about a mystery millionaire who anonymously wrote a treatise on metaphysics and then anonymously paid academic philosophers to critique it:

The institute’s letter claimed that a “very substantial sum” had been earmarked to help contribute to “the revival of traditional metaphysics.” Given the number of philosophers involved, that sum was at least in the neighborhood of $125,000. Who could afford to spend that much money on philosophy? And of those who could, who would want to? No one had a clue…

To judge from both the reviewer’s contract and “Coming to Understanding” itself, the institute meant business. For one thing, the manuscript, signed by one A.M. Monius, suggested the handiwork of a serious thinker—not a prankster. “It didn’t seem like a joke,” Zimmerman says. “It wasn’t that funny. It was clearly the work of a fairly able writer—a smart person, one capable of making some gross philosophical errors while at the same time having some clever ideas.” Theodore Sider was pleasantly surprised. “To tell you the truth,” he says, “when I actually got into it, I enjoyed it.” Dancy concurs: “There are enterprises you wouldn’t want to be associated with. But I was much reassured by the work. It was better than many manuscripts I had refereed for leading publishers. It was at least different.”


— 4 —

Found via io9, an especially lovely time lapse nature vid.  But the reason I’m particularly excited is that it was scored by Bear McCreary, who did all the music for Battlestar Galactica.

— 5 —

What I particularly love about Bear McCreary (besides, of course, the sound of his scores), is that he blogs about the process of composition.  A lot of it goes over my head, but I can glean something, and his pure joy in the work always comes through, so here’s the link to his post talking about the video in the previous take.

And now here’s a link to some of his BSG music, because it’s just so good:



This excerpt from his notes on one of the soundtrack compilations (SPOILERS for BSG at that link!) will give you a sense of how inventive McCreary is.

What would a Galactica album be without an epic arrangement of “Wander My Friends”? For the introduction of this piece, bagpipe virtuoso Eric Rigler played the theme on the Small Scottish Pipes, an instrument I hadn’t written for yet. I changed the mode of the melody to Mixolydian, for an authentically Renaissance sound, which helped highlight this particular version. He then picked up the tune with the Irish Whistle and eventually Uilleann pipes. And Paul Cartwright’s fiddle solo in the B-Section is among his most gorgeous performances yet for the series.

— 6 —

I always enjoy Noah Millman’s theatre reviews, and his recent writeup of the Kevin Spacey Richard III was no exception:

I’ve seen a few stage Richards as well, and each has taken a different approach to the crucial opening soliloquy: languidly malevolent, coldly calculating. Kevin Spacey, now playing the role at The Brooklyn Academy of Music, starts off exceptionally hot, flustered even. The seething cauldron of Richard’s resentment and self-loathing is right at the surface, right from the start. It’s a choice that has profound risks. The two big risks are: a foreshortening of the main character arc (if Richard is in touch with his self-loathing from the beginning, then what is the revelation in his eve-of-battle revelation: “I hate myself”) and the weakening of audience implication in Richard’s crimes. The latter requires some explanation. Richard’s opening soliloquy can be powerfully seductive of the audience, if we come to believe that Richard, though a villain, is smarter than and, more to the point, more penetrating in his intelligence than the rest of these characters. Nearly everyone in the play is a ruthless Machiavel out for personal gain; Richard is the only one who is undeluded about this fact, and willing to take it to its logical end. Think of how we identify with the cannibal, Hannibal Lecter, in “The Silence of the Lambs.” But Spacey’s Richard isn’t seducing us. He’s confiding in us. And, confiding, he reveals to us not only that he loathes himself, but that he knows he loathes himself, from the beginning…

— 7 —

And finally, the best weird crime/revolutionary gardening story I’ve seen:

There’s a block in San Francisco that will soon be blossoming with cherries, plums and pears, but Tara Hui will not say where. That’s because she’s worried that backlash from city officials or unsympathetic citizens will halt the progress she and her fellow Guerrilla Grafters have made splicing fruit-bearing branches on to city trees.

Her campaign with city agencies hadn’t drawn any takers, “so finally out of frustration I thought why not just do it, and do it responsibly, and that could be a case to convince them,” she says. About a year ago, the Guerrilla Grafters were born as a horizontally organized band of fellow agro-activists who wanted to help sew an urban orchard.



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  • You know, your number 3 strikes me as a better frivolous use of lots of money than most frivolous uses of lots of money, if that makes sense. A sincere interest in metaphysics being a better thing than a sincere interest in, I dunno, slots. Good for the mystery millionaire!

    • A.M. Monius

      Thank you.

    • I agree. (on second thought) Bad metaphysics can have worse consequences than a bad night at the craps table…

  • BSG music! So wonderful and SO variable. (“Passacaglia,” anyone?) Not to mention that there are lyrics in Sanskrit, Gaelic, Armenian, and who knows what else.

  • That review makes me want to get to read Shakespeare. I had at best a smattering of exposure to the Bard back in high school, and it never took to roots.

    (Incidentally, I’m flattered that a celebrity uses the same avatar as I do. Then again, I’m hardly the only guy who loves that picture of Peggy Lee kissing Jimmy Durante’s schnozz.)

  • Simon

    The AMERICAN Association for the Advancement of Sciences meets in CANADA. lol nice.