Friday, May 30, 2008

magnolia



some important points to consider this morning:

1. as you likely have figured out all on your lonesome from the following photos, yes we do have a magnolia tree in our backyard.

2. and i have poison ivy on two legs and an arm. or should i say i'm having a reaction to poison ivy? everyone understands when you say, "i have poison ivy," right? it's like "vietnam"--a nation, true, but also shorthand for a war.

3. no, i'm not comparing my poison ivy victimhood with the horrors of that awful awful war.

4. though it IS natural for male dudes like me to share with others stories about their minor physical problems. just yesterday i unsolicitedly showed to a poor woman some icky bruising on my leg that is a result of a pulled muscle in my leg. or maybe it's a torn tendon. i'm not sure. basically i broke my body. it hurts enough to keep me up at night. yes, i am tempted to show it on the blog.

5. truth in advertising: i can't be sure how serious my injury is because i think i have a fairly low pain threshold. especially with all dental work. i cry when they turn on that bright light hanging over your head. i'm a very wimpy sick patient as well. for some reason when i get sick i genuinely fear losing the love of all those around me. i need reassurance that, yes, i'm still loved. i plead to my family, oh please come to my room and let me know that you aren't going to kick me out of the house. which is pathetic. but not altogether unrealistic because my family does seem genuinely disgusted with me when i'm sick. because, let's face it, sickness is disgusting. especially when after a prolonged time in bed, i'm deeply in need of a shower. which makes them love me less because, all phony talk to the contrary, the unlovely (and stinky) are in fact hard to love. which is why the command to love our neighbors is a commandment.

6. but i digress.

7. it's just fun for male-type dudes to talk about non-war related "war wounds," especially when they are a result of astounding stupidity, as they often are. (swapping stories of our stupidity and the resulting injuries either to ourselves or to others is a favorite pastime of technoprairie's husband and i when we get together. boy how do we laugh and we wonder why others aren't laughing. because whew boy howdy them are some funny stories, and we don't care what you think.)

8. stupidity played a part in my present state as well. the scoop: i pulled/tore/obliterated my calf muscles playing basketball. to my surprise, my leg could stand only so many of the 360% turn slam-dunks i was producing at an astonishing rate. okay, maybe that's an embellishment. they weren't 360% dunks; they were 180% dunks, though i'm not sure how that works unless i start the dunk facing away from the hoop. but the point is that the guy who was guarding me (mostly in vain, i must say) kicked me as hard as he could in the back of my leg. or so it felt. and so i accused him. and when he denied it so i accused everyone else on the court as well, even those guys a good twenty feet from me. because i was definitely kicked in the back of my leg.

9. but i wasn't. my leg exploded on its own without any external assistance. i did not know my leg was holding a grudge against me, but it was. after the explosion i hobbled around like the bad alien guy in "men in black."
10. the actor who played the alien in that movie is the forever sideways-leaning detective in "law and order: criminal intent." vincent d'onfrio.

11. after a day or two of me i thinking that i "should" be on my way to recovery even though i was in shriek-inducing pain and still hobbling around like quasi modo, i decided i wanted to create a little walking path for my girls along the little creek (trickle? tiny tributary?) in our backyard. normally my girls just trudge through the high grass. but when my oldest daughter saw a snake in the grass, i thought it's time for me to be a responsible dad. it was obvious what need to be done: i needed to forge a trail for them. and to do it i bought one of those weed whip tools that you swing back and forth and just went at it!

12. i did this for three days, all the while my leg just killing me. most of the time i'd swing as hard as i could at the weeds and follow through like a golf swing. which resulted much of the times in the weeds landing directly on my head--weeds which were composed of 50% poison ivy, 20% neighbors' flowers, 20% unidentified flora fed on runoff water and runoff bacteria, and 10% snake parts. and yet i couldn't stop that big golf swing because it was so much fun to see those weeds fly high into the air (if also on my head). the result is that in no time at all my head was just lousy with poison ivy. how it ended up infecting my legs and not my eyes is as much mystery to me as it is to you.

13. the result from all that trailblazing was not only a bad case of poision ivy but also an aggravated leg injury that now requires that i see an orthopedic doctor. i hate to lie, but who i because there's no way i'm going to mention weed whacking to the doctor. who needs the doctor's "you should have known better" stare? not me. i also developed terrible blisters that are scarring my hands, mostly because i'm not putting band aids on them because i want people to see the beet-red blotches so they'll ask me about them and thereby giving me an opportunity to tell them about my leg.

14. i'm not sure why i'm sharing all of this, except to say that i got little sleep last night and my brain isn't right quite yet.

15. man, my poison ivy is really itching. i'm going to have to break down and put that stuff on it. i can never remember the name of it. calodryl. or colombine. or calphilarahyde. something like that.

16. so while i have you here, do you think i should i remove the photo below captioned "green and bluish"? there's something just not right about it.

17. here's one more thing. i threw most of the weeds that landed on my head into the creek. unfortunately the creek wasn't flowing enough to carry the weeds away, so i fear that i am responsible for starving the creek of vital oxygen necessary for the poor fish and tadpoles and frogs and legions of snakes that live there. i consoled myself with the knowledge that with the first good rain, the weeds would all wash downstream and clog the river on someone else's property. as it stood, however, i felt like i was polluting the river even though i was polluting it with al gore-approvable green organic refuse. then it did rain for a couple of days and the creek flowed more heavily. but there's this one big heap of weeds that has stuck on a rock directly in our backyard. and that clump of ornery weeds is driving me to distraction. it's like the old man's vulture eye in poe's "the tell-tale heart." that clump stares at me. and stares. and stares. so every few hours i went out into the rain to see whether the evidence of my modern-day crime of polluting a river has been washed away.

18. it hasn't! i may have to wade into the creek this morning and break up the clump.

19. this post exemplifies what some people think is wrong with blogging. and the internet. and our oprah-fueled life of public confession and sharing. and society more generally.

20. but my leg is REALLY itchy!
21. i hope you enjoy the magnolia photos.
22. taken from a magnolia tree in our yard.

glow


black and white magnolia


wish i had removed the leaf. what do you think? better with or without the leaf? now i'm thinking (after an additional seven seconds of thought) that i'm happy it's there. yes. no. up. down. in. out. it all sounds the same before i drink my morning coffee.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

swan


i want a new camera, a better camera. the one i presently use has plenty of megapixels but the lens is mediocre. compared to my last brief-lived camera, this camera produces pictures lacking in clarity and depth.

Friday, May 16, 2008

no escape


this one goes out to c. snider, the one who will save us when the zombies attack.

green onions, lime, and parsley, pt. 1


this one goes out to technoprairie, overall chef extraordinaire and photographic chronicler of fancy meals.

green onions, lime, and parsley, pt. 2


this one goes out to j. langenderfer, bbq ribs wizard and overall chef extraordinaire

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

negative of nelson-atkins at night



spinning away


"One by one, all the stars appear
As the great winds of the planet spiral in
Spinning away, like the night sky at Arles
In the million insect storm, the constellations form

On a hill, under a raven sky
I have no idea exactly what I've drawn
Some kind of change, some kind of spinning away
With every single line moving further out in time."
"Spinning Away"--Brian Eno and John Cale
One of my favorite songs. Heartbreakingly beautiful.

hide and seek


Saturday, May 10, 2008

ATTACK OF THE FLY!!


Title courtesy of my middle daughter. "And be sure to do it it in all capital letters, dad."

Friday, May 09, 2008

Evolution: thoughts and questions



A Michigan State poll reveals that within some 32 European nations and the U.S. and Japan, only the Turkish population rejects the idea of evolution at a higher rate than do American citizens. And only in the United States does evolution play a notable role in partisan politics. The scholars who conducted the survey suggest that both religious beliefs and overall scientific illiteracy of Americans (as measured by non-controversial and “objective” standards, such as knowledge of genetics) help explain variation between nations. Moreover, an earlier 2004 Gallop poll found that belief in evolution was correlated with education level more generally. Yet another survey showed that of 73 Biology Department heads, only one characterized evolution as “a scientific controversy” within his or her department. Also, another department head said that one of his department members supported Intelligent Design, but that in general evolution is not a controversy in the discipline. The 71 other department heads firmly held that evolution is not a controversial theory.

Well.

What are we to make of this? There’s little from this data that what we can say about the ultimate truth of evolution. What we CAN say, however, is this. The more one knows about biology—the scientific subject matter of evolution--the more likely one is to embrace evolution as the best evidence-driven model for explaining what evolution and ID and Creationism all purport to explain. Moreover, those who know the most about biology--in other words, those who devote their lives to studying it and presenting their work to others who are similarly committed to it—are nearly unanimous in embracing it.

So the idea of “teaching the controversy” is, um, majorly stupid. I’m speaking literally. I mean both ignorant and foolish. Stupid. Teaching the controversy is almost like giving equal share to moon landing conspiracy theorists and NASA officials in a discussion on space travel. The analogy is an exaggeration, true, but it points us in the right direction.

As a general rule, any controversy about evolution is not between biologists, but between those who study biology and those who do not, as well as between those who are committed to scientific principles (including, yes, its presuppositions) and those persons whose theology or ontology require them to reject out of hand any scientific conclusions that do not square with their interpretation of the Bible. Here’s an example. John MacArthur is a conservative evangelical author whose “The MacArthur Study Bible” has sold over five hundred thousand copies. He also has written “numerous bestselling books” and has “60,000 hours of sermon preparation” under his belt!! He’s the real deal, this one. Perfect evangelical credentials. And here’s what he says about the Genesis account of creation.

“Scientific theories, by their very definition, are subject to change and adjustment. Scripture remains as God’s revealed, unchanging declaration of truth. The Bible was not written as a challenge to any particular scientific theory, but scientific theories have often been designed to challenge or undermine biblical statements. They either agree with Scripture or are mistaken.”

Then he immediately concludes that, according to “the description in Genesis 1:1…creation was a recent event measured in thousands not millions of years ago.”

What he’s saying is that it’s either God or the scientists.

Well, shoot.

Sadly, too many scientists agree with MacArthur's choices. That’s part of the reason why it’s a great big deal in the evangelical community when a celebrated and accomplished scientist such as Francis Collins comes out in favor of God--and even when he or she continues to embrace evolution! (It’s pitiful, really. “Look at us!! We’ve been validated by real science!! We ARE smart after all!! Hooray!”)

A common strategy for evangelical Christians to undermine biblicaly suspect scientific claims is to challenge scientists to explain everything with the information that scientists currently possess. “But where did life come from, Herr Doktor Scientist?.” Or, “how can you believe in evolution when you can’t explain how those first complicated self-replicating protein strands were created?”

But that’s an incredibly dumb strategy for creationists to take because it squeezes God into smaller and smaller arenas for operation. The underlying assumption in these questions finally embraces the atheist scientist’s assumptions: things that can be explained by scientific thinking crowd out a place for God. Therefore by this standard as the world is increasingly explained by science—and, let’s face it, science has discovered and explained frontiers of knowledge that were simply unimaginable a hundred years ago, ranging from relativity to neuroscience—the hooks by which we can hang our faith are disappearing left and right.

But here’s the other problem with this line of inquiry. Scientists are ignorant. Ignorant in a good way. It’s their ignorance that drives their labor, their thought, their research, their waking hours. Honest scientists are not defensive about their ignorance but are willing to come forward with what they are investigating, to admit what they don’t know. Showing that scientists are ignorant is hardly a refutation of their models. What scientists do is explain the world as best they can given what they know using their methodological tools. And evolution is that model that presently explains the world better than any other model. Science is subject to revolution, and it is possible that someday scientists will develop another model that better accounts than does evolution for the reality that scientist are trying to understand.

Here’s my question for biologists. Perhaps it is simply explained; I just don’t know the answer. I would appreciate any biologists out there to throw me a bone here. Here it is. Scientists tell us not to anthropomorphize nature. The moon doesn’t “want” to revolve around the earth. Magnets don’t actively seek out each other. Fine. But about all this replication that is necessary to transmit code, information, or identical molecular structure from one living creature to the next, um, why does it do that? I have a hard time avoiding the Spencer-inspired notion of DNA being purposeful. How can I explain this succinctly? I guess I can't. Hmm…maybe my concern is related to entropy. I’m fumbling for words now. Okay, somehow from that primordial stuff that existed before the emergence of life, complicated molecular structures became assembled. I don’t understand this, but I accept it. (“GASP!! Aha! See, you DO believe what you do on FAITH!!!” Umm..yeah. Duh. But that's a topic for another discussion.) But my question is this: given the tendency for things to break down into their component parts, why isn’t the history of the world an ongoing series of origins and dissolutions, slow beginnings and quick endings? A complicated molecule made now, then a complicated molecule broken up soon thereafter? What made the replication replicate so well? And why did these strands eventually take the form of Tigers and spores and squid? Why not just replicating as long strands of meaningless molecules? Like crystals replicating. We wouldn't think of crystals, no matter how much they replicate, eventually turning into, say, B-2 bombers, right?

Well? Explain that please.

Evolutionist Ernst Mayer says, “Life as it now exists on Earth , including the simplest bacteria, was obviously derived from a single origin.” Why is that so obvious? Really. I don’t get it. If these molecules were made and unmade at the very beginning, as surely they were, then why did one set of self-replicating molecules continue to replicate? Why did this “single origin” strand stick when others did not? Are simple compounds being formed into these complicated self-replicating molecules even today? Why can’t various species trace back to different origins? Evolution is a material process, and it may even be occurring in other planets, so it’s not special in any fundamental way. We’re lucky to have it, but it’s not a miracle. So is it occurring at that most basic level still? I don’t mean from simple processes of molecule assembly already going on within live organisms. I mean from dead stuff to live stuff. Is that happening still? And if not, why not?

Okay, I know I asked the same question about six times.

Now: talk amongst yourselves.

Monday, May 05, 2008

No Country for Old Men


I’m spilling the beans, so look away if you find movie discussions irritating.

"No Country for Old Men." Above all, the movie is a story. It’s not a treatise dressed up in moving images, thank goodness, and it’s not merely a vehicle for a philosophy. It has a plot, and the plot is what carries the viewer through it. The pacing of the movie was perfect—deliberate but always advancing. You care about the characters and you want good for them, and it hurts, badly, when things do not go well for them.

Because they don’t.

The person who watched the film with me said something like, “well, that left everything unresolved.” To which I said, “No. No, it didn’t. It resolved everything. You just don’t like how it was resolved.” I was in a snotty mood. Because I didn’t like how it resolved, either. The film pissed me off because I agreed with its view of things.

Because it didn’t end with the ending we were hoping for, yearning for. Or emotionally banking on.

The plot was powerful and riveting, true, but the film was good in many ways as well. The acting and dialogue, excepting Woody Harrelson’s ridiculous attempt to chew up the scenery, was brilliant. The cinematography was as good as Fargo's. Those Coen boys love the open shot that practically slaps you in the face with existential despair and beauty. The spare and open spaces echoed the musical score, which was nonexistent apart from a background hum now and then. The quiet in the film underscored the loneliness that’s never more than a step or two from all of us.

Though the movie is first and foremost a story, it also suggests a “view of things” if not exactly a philosophy per se. My movie partner said something like, “the Coen brothers have such a negative view of life.” Well, I’m not so sure. When I think of a negative view of life what comes to my mind is a cynical view of life, a cynical view of love and friendship and the goodness of human beings, of their worth. My sense is that the Coen brothers champion love and friendship and connections. Though not cynical, their view is dark. They see these good things as fragile, as always threatened by forces bigger than individuals.

The movie explores (reveals?) our smallness in the face of forces bigger than ourselves. Random forces. Inexorable forces. Inexorable forces because they are random. Random not in the sense that they are not predictable when taken from a cosmic scheme, but random in the sense that one cannot predict their occurrence to any individual or their mode of occurring. That we will die is predictable, but that we will die in our dining room during breakfast when a massive sink hole swallows up our house is not so predictable. (By the way, that’s a true account I read on CNN about a California man just over two years ago. Okay, I embellished. I don’t know that he was eating breakfast. But he was in his dining room in the morning. It could have happened.)

The universe is simultaneously determined at the macro level but also freaking random from the perspective of our dreams and life chances. We are fragile. Our soft flesh gives way to sharp objects just about every time. Like those Twin Towers, sometimes it takes twenty minutes or less for worlds to collapse.

The bad guy in the movie, Anton Chigurh, is unironic and therefore he is both perfectly detached and engaged at the same time. He means what he says, and therefore what he says seems puzzling to us, we who are used to speaking in code to one another. His commitment is to the task at hand and to the task alone. In that sense he’s a little like the Orcs in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (which were one of the few things in those awful movies that I found interesting. Well, the Orcs, the human dude, and Liv Tyler, who I found riveting for wholly different reasons.). The world becomes objectified in Chigurh’s task. Everything becomes objectified. And everyone. The things that set us humans apart from the gravel in the road—our wishes and yearnings and first loves and fears and secret shames and bodily itches and the hilariously painful memories of missing ten straight free throw shots in an 8th grade game—well, none of these things count for squat in determining our ultimate fate when we face Chigurh.

The bad guy doesn’t so much represent anyone as he just is. He’s not merely a “symbol,” but he reveals or stands in for the uncaring nature of the universe. And the universe may have a bias toward life, as Bishop Spong says, but Mother Nature can also be a remarkably rotten mother. And maybe there’s a great omniscient power pulling all the strings, a Great and Powerful Oz behind it all, but the universe that Oz manipulates, the one in which we live, doesn’t care a whit about us.

Magnolia, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Symbolism


I hereby commence my rant. None of this will make sense if you haven’t seen “Magnolia” or “There Will be Blood.”

That Paul Thomas Anderson (director of Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and There Will be Blood) is really beginning to tick me off.

Anderson sure likes Christian symbolism. Daniel Day-Lewis’ character in “There Will be Blood,” Daniel Plainview, is a proxy for Satan. The whole movie was a kind of spiritual warfare type of movie. I found the movie’s Christian symbolism and parallels between Christ and Daniel Plainview’s anti-Christ sort of fun to note because they made me feel smart when I caught them. But that was pure vanity; they were anything but subtle. So finally I found them irritating. Though Daniel Day-Lewis is my boy, “There will be Blood” is ham-fisted in its symbolism, a symbolism that does little to advance or improve the story.

But at least it was better than “Magnolia,” one of the most overrated movies of the past few decades.

Sigh. How to start?

Kurt Vonnegut describes Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” as the only story that begins perfectly grim and then, step by step, just gets grimmer and grimmer. “Magnolia” follows the same pattern right up until frogs fall out of the sky. Anderson brings a Calvinist sensibility, if not a Calvinist ontology, to the movie. (Thomas was raised Catholic, however. Thank you, Wikipedia.) Calvinism holds that grace is completely unearned and also efficacious, which is to say that it’s pretty much irresistible. If god wants you to be saved, well, you’re gonna be saved whether you want it or not. It’s not “thy will be done,” but “You’d better believe thy will be done.”

So it’s sort of like this. Calvinism suggests that things go to the crapper because it’s in the nature of things to go to the crapper—the worlds is in bad shape and it will just get worse. Which is a different view from, say, Catholicism, which holds nature to be majorly screwed up but still pretty good. Like Montgomery Clift’s face after that car accident. Calvinism holds that it takes a supernatural departure from the nature of things for good to emerge. And that’s just what Paul Thomas Anderson not so subtly suggests in “Magnolia.” In Anderson’s obsessive Biblically symbolic world, that damn plague of frogs is just what the good doctor ordered. Insert miracle here. Dismal lives turn around. Very Calvinist, that Anderson.

My problem with it is that none of it feels right. The only possible reason in the world to advance a Calvinist view of anything is because one believes it to be true. I doubt that Anderson is a real Calvinist, by which I mean the kind that believes in God. And I also don’t sense that Paul is working through any real problems, whether emotional or theological or ontological. He doesn’t seem tortured to me at all. His movies have the feel of a director who feels like he ought to feel tortured because all great geniuses are tortured. And he’s a genius, so…..

You get the drift.

The guy likes Christian symbolism, and that’s fine. Those who know me might think that I would find Christian symbolism appealing. And I do, I suppose. I like Christian symbols, however, when those symbols don’t start and end with themselves but purport to point to something real, something true. Whether or not they really are true, they are more powerful when they are taken seriously as possibly true. Daniel Day-Lewis’ character begins and ends with him. There’s no pointing going on at all despite the “flood” of Christian symbolism. Satan only makes sense if there’s a God to rebel against, but there is no God in “There Will be Blood.” Similarly, “Magnolia’s” plague of frogs is literally incredible. It’s a triple scoop of cinematic irony that banks on the viewers’ unwillingness to point out that the emperor has no clothes.

I hereby close my rant.

Ribbet.

of course i'm definitely an excellent driver. definitely.

A photo of a mug and glass.

At one point in the movie Rain Man, Dustin Hoffman's character is sitting in the waiting room of the doctor's office while his brother is talking to the doctor about Rain Man's condition. It's a beautiful and very sweet scene, and I especially love it because I relate to both of the main characters in the waiting room. The first character is a sweet and harmless older man (a retired teacher?) who is droning on endlessly about arcane local historical events and their meaning. The other character is Rain Man, the ostensible audience for the lecture. Rain Man, however, is completely oblivious to the lecturer and is lost in his own world of taking random pictures with his Polaroid camera, including taking a picture of the first character's shoes.

Both characters are contentedly lost in their own worlds, and both characters are merely props or occasions for satisfying the other's largely internally-centered needs. Not to say that this kind of dynamic defines my world comprehensively, because it doesn't. But I can also say that there have been (plenty of) occasions in which people have been talking to me and I get a little lost in my own internal monologue. What I'm secretly thinking is, "Ooh, I really like that hand gesture of his. I wonder whether that was an affectation or a natural move, a habit when he speaks." Or, "hmm....his nose or throat makes a clicking noise when he speaks. Can he hear that? Is it controllable? Is it a function of his breathing, or of psychological tension? Does a feeling just build up in his throat that he has to release? I wonder what habits I have that I'm oblivious to that annoy others when I speak. Why is that sometimes stutterers can speak without a stutter when they approach orgasm? What’s up with that? Why can I look people in the eye when they're speaking to me, but when I'm speaking to them I have to look away or otherwise I lose my train of thought? Is that normal, or do I need to see a psychiatrist for that? Oh man, that film I saw of myself speaking that one time was so embarrassing. Surely that was an off moment. Oh, it wasn't. Who am I kidding? I'm disgusting when I speak. And my voice. (Shutter.) How can anyone hear my voice and not run away? And that videotape of my golf swing that Tom Hornack took. I thought I looked like Tiger before I saw that video. Man, turns out I looked like the Hunchback of Notre Dame trying to club a squirrel. I wonder whether he'll let me take a picture of his hand. Why is it that people freak out when I ask to take a picture of their hands? Isn't it a compliment? Are their hands not to be seen? Or is it they don't want their hands frozen in time, like their hands will lose their hand souls? Then why not wear gloves if they're so private? Hmm....when women used to wear more modest clothes and one caught a glimpse of their ankles, did that spark erotic fantasies in the men who glimpsed them? And what was an ideal ankle? Was it the skin tone? A pleasing skeletal structure? Those women who wear burkas. You can't see anything but the eyes of the women wearing those things. Are the bridges of their noses a kind of turn on for men? I'm not Islamaphobic, am I? I mean, do burkas really have anything to do with religion directly? Or is it just a regional thing? No, Muslims women wear burkas in France. And I’ve seen them in Walmart here. Well, it is related to religion then. Why don’t I know more about Islam? I’m so ignorant in so many ways. What a fraud I am. And the burka-intensive culture has to be a frustrating culture for transvestites. Oh no. I hope that wasn't bigoted to think. And why are all my thoughts running in this prurient direction this morning? Why can't Protestants have confessionals like the Catholics? Didn't the Lutherans used to have confession as a sacrament? Could I confess sins to a Priest who didn't believe what I was thinking was a sin? Oh no, I better nod about right now. What was he saying??? Oh no."

Nod.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

get some perspective, pt. 1


acting your shoe size is okay in this case, i think. (i think this photo was taken in 2004. i promise you, technoprairie, not to reveal the model's identity.)

Get some perspective, pt. 2


Today is gone. Today was fun.
Tomorrow is another one.
Every day,
from here to there,
funny things are everywhere.

Friday, May 02, 2008

down below


under the bridge

emerge


My children and I met these friendly young people who kindly allowed me to take their pictures as they explored the drainage area of the waterwheel pond. They were at ease throughout and were without affectation. Extremely nice kids.