ScrimismsPresently suffering a dearth of witticisms

March 2008

Music27 Mar 2008

For no other reason than that I feel like it, here’s some Leslie Feist.

If you poke around there are other videos on Second-Person-Pronoun-Tube of the same concert.

News19 Mar 2008

I’m now operating with a full stable, though one of the nags is made of titanium and lord knows what other artificial substances. I’ve completed my previously-mentioned journey of cybernetic enhancement: they put in my “new tooth” last night.

First thing I did was eat Chinese takeout. So far so good.

I’ve had a gap in my molars as long as I can remember, so having it filled is a little disconcerting. I really don’t know where to put my tongue anymore. As is the way with mouths, my mouth thinks the new addition is an interloping giant, though to look at it in the mirror it’s only slightly larger than the equivalent on the other side, and is nearly indistinguishable from the real thing by sight. They matched the colour really quite impressively.

I think once I’ve learned to chew again properly I’ll quite like having an unbroken line of molars at my disposal. In the interim, I’ll just allocate more time for lunch.

Movies15 Mar 2008

…then you don’t have a very good plan. Even if that one guy happens to be “ex-special-ops”.

Saw “Vantage Point” today. It’s an action movie about assassinating the president of the USA at an anti-terrorism summit in Spain. The title refers not to the plot but rather to the film’s structure. The same sequence of events is replayed several times from the perspectives of various characters, revealing a little more of the story each time. By following one character at a time as each hurtles through their version of events rather than cutting back and forth between them, the movie manages to keep up a frantic sense of pacing. It is perhaps the most “non-stop” movie I’ve seen since Run Lola Run, whose structure could well have inspired this movie.

The film contains an adequate “sinister conspiracy” and some genuine suspense, as well as obligatory car chases, so it works well as a fun action flick. We don’t learn much about any of the characters though. The most interesting of the bunch (the rest, as David Denby noted in his New Yorker review, are largely cardboard cutout heroes or villains) gets treated the least completely, which is too bad.

The film does have one other interesting element: the first iteration follows a crew in a news van from a Fox-News like network as they juggle live feeds of the President’s public appearance and resolutely refuse to show any footage of the massive protest just outside the square where the President is to make his speech. It’s a neat twist, though one wonders if the film’s American audience would have any clue as to why there might be a protest at a world anti-terrorism summit in the first place. The film wastes no time in explaining such trivialities. Instead, it’s all about who shot POTUS and the Secret Service man whose gonna catch those evil-doers.

Books and Musings08 Mar 2008

I’m reading “Disturbing the Universe”, the autobiography of physicist Freeman Dyson. The principle aim of the book, he says, is to “describe to people who are not scientists the way the human situation looks to somebody who is a scientist.”

Dyson came of age in the second-world-war Britain and wrote the book in America after the Vietnam war, so he’s seen a lot of the human situation, much of it ugly.

In his early twenties, Dyson worked as a civilian advisor to Britain’s Bomber Command, and was responsible for trying to improve the rate of losses among Lancaster crews who went to bomb Berlin. The odds were atrocious: the chance of a bomber crewman surviving his 30 mission tour of duty were at around 30%.

After carrying out a statistical study that showed there was no correlation between experience and survival rates (turned out the Germans had learned to attack from the blind spot underneath the bombers with special guns), Dyson and his colleagues argued for changes in how the bombers operated.

Since the number of planes lost on a mission depended largely on whether the bombers were intercepted or not, the civilians proposed removing the top and tail gun turrets and reducing the crew from 7 to 5. The reduction of weight would translate into a 50 mph top speed improvement for the bombers, giving them a better chance to get in and out ahead of a fighter response, and, most importantly to Dyson, the change would “at least save the lives of the gunners.”

The idea of sending the bombers out “unarmed” was so against the thinking of Bomber Command that they refused to even try a test with a few squadrons. Still, the anecdote is a great example of how sometimes an analytical mind can look at the numbers and come up with a solution that ends up being more humane than the one arrived at by human intuition. I’m reminded of an article I read once (sorry, I’ve forgotten where) that said Bill Gates showed this kind of thinking when he decided to funnel his charitable donations into fighting malaria. When was the last time you heard anyone appealing for donations to fight malaria? As a cause it’s a non-starter. And yet, Malaria kills as many as 3,000,000 people a year, mostly in developing countries.

Musing on how at the end of the Second World war, Bomber Command had little to fight for while the Luftwaffe were defending their own homes and cities from firebombing, Dyson has some words that George Bush ought to hear as he vetoes another torture ban.

A good cause can become bad if we fight for it with means that are indiscriminately murderous. A bad cause can become good if enough people fight for it in the spirit of comradeship and self-sacrifice. In the end it is how you fight, as much as why you fight, that makes your cause good or bad.

I don’t see how the truth of war can be told any better than that.

Music05 Mar 2008

Jeff Healey passed away this week.

I saw him live in Halifax a few years back. He played a great show, singing powerfully and dancing onstage with abandon. Healey was a versitile performer. The material that night was Jazz, played in the style of the 1920s and 30s. I have the album he was promoting, “Among Friends”, and it’s one of my favorites from the tentative steps I’ve taken into Jazz.

And man oh man could he play the guitar.