Thursday, March 16, 2006

Monkey in the Middle

Marat Guelman owns an art gallery in Moscow that frequently provokes and embarrasses government officials, bureaucrats and enforcers of correctspeak. He recently put up a show of Illya Chichkan's work to uphold his upspoken principle of offending as many people as possible.

Entitled "PsychoDarwinists," the exhibit consisted of large paintings of monkeys wearing Russian, American and Palestinian military uniforms. Chichkan explained his theme by pointing out that evolution is not the result of natural selection but rather a by-product of lust and hunger for power.

During the opening for the show, specially selected monkeys and chimps bounded through the crowd snatching tasty hors d'oeurves from the attendees and spilling drinks. Rented from street vendors and photographers, the simians seemed right at home with the human primates.

While not presented with malice of any type, the exhibit did catch the eye of at least one sensitive government. The Palestinian embassy sent Guelman a letter objecting to Chichkan's "highly unethical attitude toward Yasser Arafat, the late president of the Palestinian National Authority, in a portrait of an ape dressend in uniform and checkered kaffiyeh.

Guelman kept his cool. He pointed out that Chichkan had not depicted the grizzled Palestinian, but a monkey named Mikki. He offered to soothe any hurt feelings by putting a sign under the painting: "This is not a portrait of Arafat. It is a portrait of a monkey."

The embassy gave no response to the offer. Russian and American interests were apparently unfazed by the portraits, much to the disappointment of Guelman. "Either they have no respect for their national uniforms or they misunderstood Chichkan's work. I am offended by no response."

But who speaks for the simians?

The Stickler

Monday, March 13, 2006

The 5-second Rule

Say you drop a chunk of chocolate chip from your cookie. How long does it take bacteria and germs to hop on it from the time it hits the floor?

In the absence of any scientific information, I used to go by the "5-second rule" that states you have 5 seconds to pick up the fallen crumb. After that, the creeps start to invade your wayward morsel. Knowing that the only functional purpose of my "rule" was to provide a sense of safety and propriety when I snatched back the broken piece of cookie, I recently set out on a search of the Internet to find the truth.

And the truth is, I cannot find any authoritative information on how long it takes for germs and bacteria to invade a target of opportunity. But I can't believe this hasn't been studied. There are all sorts of fascinating questions prompted by the issue: (1) Does the bit of food have to fall on top of the germs or can they move quickly and contaminate it. (2) If so, how fast and how far can germs move in response to a nutritious windfall? (3) Does this imply thinking or volition on the part of the germs or do they have some sort of autonomous sensor array dedicated to locating food? (4) Let's say germs do invade the morsel fairly quickly. In what numbers? (5) Does the risk increase with time?

This weekend, I observed the nearly instantaneous migration of water to a paper towel and wondered if this is a potential model for germ movement. But then I realized it was the absorption of the fibers in the towel that were "taking up" the water molecules. The paper towel was active, not the water. So there goes another theory.

I'd like some help with this. If anyone is reading this blog and has knowledge of this subject, please contact me.

The Stickler

Monday, March 06, 2006

What if the quantum crowd is right?

If the quantum mechanics theorists are right, it changes everything. For instance, if we take quantum mechanics seriously, we cannot think that objects have ever a definite position. They have a positions only when they interact with something else. And even in this case, they are in that position only with respect to that "something else": they are still without position with respect to the rest of the world.

Yikes! That means Newton and even Copernicus had it wrong, at least at the nano level and below. Right now, not too many people take quantum physics seriously. They explain it away by saying it applies only to atoms." But, you have to say, if it applies to atoms and all mater is made of atoms, well does this baby scale? And the fact is that the vast majority of mathematics geniuses say quantum mechanics is accurate. Do you hear that? It computes. It all adds up. Could that possibly mean its a fundamental fact of physical science? And, if it is, what does that mean in terms of how we interact with the physical world. Oh, how about other dimensions? The electrons that sometimes disappear are sad by the quantum guys to be in another dimension. Does that provoke some thought, bucky? It does with me.

Here's something else to ponder: Einstein's Theory of Relativity. It has to do with what, precisely, is right now. If we say, right now in reference to what we see up in the night sky--stars and stuff, well, it is complete nonsense. That light is millions of years old! There is no right now elsewhere in the universe. So, what the hell, we keep saying "right now," even though a bit of think time will throw that concept out the window. I guess we can do the same thing with quantum mechanics, right?

The thing about that is that it is really "small minded." And I'm not referring the small stuff of the quantum world. I'm thinking of our insistence on using the rules and regulations of our very limited, infinitesimally and insignificant existence to describe things universal. So, when the math guys agree on quantum calculations, are they based on this "small thinking?" Probably not, but they are quite possibly limited by the physical barriers to our comprehension.

So I don't blame the physicists and the mathematicians. I blame us--the questioning, wondering, small-minded ordinary folk who expect the brilliant scientists to know what the world is like and explain it to us. So they try. And, being proud of their genius status, they don't remind us often enough that it just might all be a crock of shit.

The Stickler

200 channels and nothing on

While the Emmys and Oscars hubristically celebrate their genius, their audiences are left scratching their unstimulated heads. There is precious little worth watching. Repetitive genres (cop, lawyer, hospital, sit-com, re-make, action SFX, leftist propaganda) have all but wrung the creativity out of their vehicles. And PBS only broadcasts interesting material when it's fundraising, during which it interrupts frequently for fervent shilling, ruining any viewer enjoyment.

Cable television promised to solve the problem with specialized programming, in effect a channel for every interest. It was a laudable, but naive, proposition. It turns out the so-called specialized channels are also quite prone to piling on when the next hot gimmick catches on. There was the Trading Spaces phenom and the "Extreme" take on any theme. And, of course, the forensic crime shows. There are the top-10, the most, the least, the best and the worst "list" type shows and, of course, the "reality" mash-ups that lack even a hint of voyeur titillation. That's about it.

So where are the arts and culture in all of this? Pretty much where they have always been--shoved in the dusty corners of cable, broadcast and film, if you can find them at all.

Where are the concert specials? Non-existent probably due to the objection of touring groups who want fans to buy exorbitantly priced tickets to stadium shows where the sound is awful and the seating worse.

Where are the variety shows? We're stuck with American Idol, a gussied up talent show, rather than a showcase of true artistry.

What about the arts? The visual arts are banished from television as boring and film only wants the tortured souls of the art world. Orchestral and chamber music is pretty much Sunday morning filler. Just ask any major symphony about the interest in broadcasting performances. Once upon a time, you could get a pop music fix by watching music videos, but today you have to sort through pouty pubescents bemoaning their sweet sixteen miseries or rap-wanna-bees belting out their exploitation, drug and violence dreams. If you stick with it, you will notice that the remaining videos appear to be produced for the soft porn industry.

Personally, I was thrilled when BET started its jazz channel, but not any more. What passes for jazz is amazing--soul, do-wop, r&b oldies and "smooth" jazz pablum. Even when you find some choice classic film of the jazz greats, it's interrupted so frequently by infomercials that they forced to cut off performances in mid-solo. That's not jazz, but greed.

So cable and film celebrate and the rest of us wonder what could have been. But, I have a solution. Turn off the TV. Cancel the cable contract. Forget about $10 movie tickets and $5 popcorn. Instead, read a good book. Write a blog. Take up drawing and watercolor painting. Take a class at the art museum. Try dancing lessons. Get into digital photography and Photoshop retouching. Buy a music instrument, take lessons and play to music-minus-one CDs. In other words, get creative. Hey, pick up that dusty camcorder and make your own damn movie.

The Stickler