November 29, 2006

Welcome, Wordie

Filed under: ephemera — ted @ 5:47 pm

Those of you looking to have a little fun on the internet should check out Wordie, a new site which describes itself as “Like Flickr, but without the photos.” Basically, you make lists of words, and see the lists of words other members have made.  I joined this morning, after a post on the LibraryThing blog sent me to the site, and the action has been hot and fast all day. I’ve already made a profile and created a useful list. They also have an RSS feed of words added to the site, which I’ve added to my blog in the right column.

Good, clean fun is waiting to be had.


Ahmadinejad has a Posse

Filed under: graffiti — ted @ 12:36 pm

Via Wooster Collective, seen on the streets of Tehran:

November 28, 2006


Filed under: photos — ted @ 3:14 pm

Check out these great color pictures from World War I on this thread.

November 27, 2006

The Stonish People

Filed under: art, books — ted @ 12:46 pm

Plenty of excellent miscellany today on BibliOdyssey, including this illustration from an 1828 edition of David Cusick’s Sketches of ancient history of the Six Nations, which is, according to Wikipedia, a “very early (if not the first) account of Native American history and myth.” The illustration is called “The Stonish People”

(click to enlarge) 

Beer Belongs

Filed under: art — ted @ 12:19 pm

One of the websites I’ve most recently added to my feeds is Today’s Inspiration, which features illustrations from the 40s and 50s, along with a good helping of cultural criticism. Today’s inspiration kicks off the Christmas season, during which the blog will be holding a “Countdown to Christmas.” It’s off to a good start:


(click to enlarge) 

November 23, 2006

Movielog: The Fountain

Filed under: movielog — ted @ 11:20 am

The Fountain
Rating: Fair

Director Darren Aronofsky has been working on this film for at least six years, suffering budget cuts and studio rejections, even losing Brad Pitt to “creative differences” when attempting to film it in 2002. I don’t have the highest regard for Mr. Pitt’s taste, but I think I can see why he abandoned the film. The Fountain bears all the hallmarks of a pet project: it is epic in scope, infused with a decidedly personal religious flavor — and it stars the director’s wife (the lovely Rachel Weisz) as an awe-inspiring Muse. Weisz plays this role in two forms: primarily, as Izzy, the cancer-stricken wife of the film’s main character, research scientist Tommy (Hugh Jackman), and also as Queen Isabella, who sends Spanish conquistador “Tomas” (also played by Jackman) on a quest to New Spain to find the Tree of Life in the ruins of an ancient Mayan empire. There’s also a future version of Tommy, soaring through space in a gorgeous bubble-ship which contains what appears to be the same Tree of Life sought by his exploring counterpart.

Yes, it’s as interconnected as it sounds, and it does all come together in the end. The Fountain is a striking film visually, but I found it to be way over-the-top in its aesthetic. Overall, the scenes in space are attractive and appropriately other-worldly. Aronofsky filmed them without using computer imagery — according to IMDb, because “CGI would take away from the timelessness of the film and he wants the film to stand the test of time.” (For more on this, read the article which recently appeared in Wired.) Unfortunately, the film’s themes and storyline don’t support the intensity of the images, and this is especially true of the score, which is ruthless. I think I understood what Aronofsky wanted me to understand — I just didn’t think it was all that wonderful, profound, or even especially beautiful.

People will likely refer to The Fountain as a movie you “either love or hate,” creating a distinction between people who understand it (and therefore love it) and people who are unable to. This is a false dichotomy. The trouble with The Fountain isn’t that it’s hard to understand, but that the truth it leads us into is one that will either move you or it won’t. The difference between two observers, in this case, isn’t one of comprehension, but closer to the difference between two churchgoers who receive a pastor’s story in different ways: for one, it contains profound truths which are deeply meaningful to their life at the present time — but to the other, the response is nothing more than a deadening “yeah, so what?”

(For more on the filmmaker’s intent, I would strongly suggest reading this recent interview in Seed, in which Aronofsky is quite candid in explaining what the film means to him. Also, check out David Edelstein’s brief review: “I’m glad he made it, and I hope he got the Transcendental Messianic Artist virus out of his system.”)

November 22, 2006

In Utero

Filed under: photos, science — ted @ 12:39 pm

Via the Proceedings of the Athanasius Kircher Society, I found this photo, taken of a baby elephant in utero:

It was captured for an upcoming National Geographic special, “In the Womb: Animals” — more info is available on the Daily Mail.

Live Forever

Filed under: video — ted @ 11:53 am

I find this video of people nearly dying, but missing it by inches, to be very inspirational:

List Hubris

Filed under: reading — ted @ 10:55 am

In the most recent edition of The Atlantic, you’ll find a list of “The Top 100” most influential figures in American history. There are few surprises.

Lincoln is number 1, of course, and the rest of the top 5 is as follows: Washington, Jefferson, F.D.R, & Hamilton. Basically, folks who made it onto the money. The best part of the list is the pithy one-sentence descriptions that accompany each figure. For example: George Washington: “He made the United States possible — not only by defeating a king, but by declining to become one himself.” Thanks for that.

The explanation of the selection process makes for interesting reading.

More interesting to me is the ranking of literary figures, especially since the list was compiled from the votes of historians, meaning that literary merit is not as important as historical influence. Hence Mark Twain’s (16) being listed above Walt Whitman (22). If I was voting, Whitman would be in the top ten for certain — but I’m not a prominent historian. The historians do credit Whitman with “shap[ing] the country’s conception of itself,” which counts for a lot in my opinion. Other literary types on the list:

  • 33 Ralph Waldo Emerson (“The bard of individualism, he relied on himself — and told us all to do the same”)
  • 41 Harriet Beecher Stowe (proving beyond doubt that literary merit was not a prime criterion)
  • 43 W. E. B. DuBois (great to see him ranked above his nemesis)
  • 47 Frederick Douglass
  • 60 William Faulkner (I’m very pleased with this)
  • 62 William James (but his brother Henry doesn’t make the list — despite being perhaps the country’s best novelist)
  • 65 Henry David Thoreau
  • 83 James Fenimore Cooper (“The novels are unreadable, but he was the first great mythologizer of the frontier.”)
  • 85 Ernest Hemingway (“His spare style defined American modernism, and his life made machismo a cliché.”)
  • 92 John Steinbeck
  • 100 Herman Melville (rolling over in his grave at seeing Steinbeck ranked ahead of him)

November 21, 2006

Unusual Plagiarism

Filed under: books — ted @ 5:55 pm

An intriguing article in Slate posits that the new search technologies unleashed by Google Book Search may expose plagiarisms that occurred in the past and were never detected. It gives an example: a 1899 essay by England Howlett which copied a 1892 book by a well-known author.

Most interesting to me was this report, which indicates how unlikely accidental plagiarism is, even for a simple sentence:

But wait, you might ask, don’t people accidentally repeat each other’s sentences all the time? It seems to me that this should not be unusual. Yet try plugging that last sentence word by word into Google Book Search, and watch what happens.

It: Rejected—too many hits to count
It seems: 11,160,000 matches
It seems to: 3,050,000
It seems to me: 1,580,000
It seems to me that: 844,000
It seems to me that this: 29,700
It seems to me that this should: 237
It seems to me that this should not: 20
It seems to me that this should not be: 9
It seems to me that this should not be unusual: 0

It seems to me that this should not be unusual is itself … unusual.

Google Book Search contains hundreds of millions of printed pages, and yet after just a few words, the likelihood of the sentence’s replication scales down dramatically. And even before our sentence implodes into utter improbability, there’s another telling phenomenon at work. The nine books that contain the penultimate It seems to me that this should not be are from a grab bag of subjects: a 2001 study of Freud, an 1874 collection of Methodist camp sermons, minutes from a 1973 hearing of the Senate subcommittee on transportation. So, if replicating the same sentence alone is suspicious behavior, then to also replicate it on the same subject warrants dialing 911.

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