ScrimismsPresently suffering a dearth of witticisms

January 2009

Music and Musings19 Jan 2009

I feel like it has been a very long time in coming. Today is Bush’s last full day in office. I can’t say I’ll miss him a whole lot.

Here’s some appropriate exit music for “the decider”: the Two Gallants playing their tribute, “Waves of Grain”.

…such an infamous freedom / such a militant peace…

Links and Musings15 Jan 2009

I’ve been listening to “Ocean Mind”, a two-part “Ideas” documentary from CBC, which you can find here. It’s about whales and dolphins, the “branniest” animals on the planet, and how living in the ocean shapes their consciousness, their minds, and their culture. Yes, even culture. Whales and dolphins are communal, and one community differs in its conduct from the next. Killer whales execute complicated and coordinated hunting plans that must go beyond pure instinct. They teach their calves how to beach themselves safely and wriggle back to the ocean. The interact in ways we can’t understand.

Two things in particular struck me. Whales and dolphins have sophisticated echolocation capabilities, this much everyone knows. Some of the researchers interviewed in the documentary speculate on just how sophisticated these capabilities might be. Whales can of course hear each other’s echolocation clicks, and might even be able to interpret the information contained in them. A whole group of echolocating whales becomes one interconnected sensory system. Whales can perhaps literally share perception in a way that people can’t.

And if that isn’t mind-boggling enough, how about this: the sonar signals whales use to scan the water pass through solid as well as liquids. Whales can very likely “see” inside one another’s bodies, like a doctor can see into a patient with an ultrasound. The researchers speculate that it is easy for whales to perceive whether one of their fellows is excited, or wounded, or pregnant, and who knows what else. It occurs to me that the reason we have never cracked the code of whale and dolphin communication is that it likely operates on these kinds of nuanced perceptual levels of which we have no experience.

For the whales, all of this adds up to a very strong sense of community. As one researcher points out, the reason we humans have been so successful at hunting whales is that if you can catch one, you can probably catch a whole pod. Whales won’t leave one of their group who is in distress.

Links and Movies12 Jan 2009

We watched Hancock on the weekend. We were disappointed.

The really disappointing thing about it was that, on paper, it could have been quite good. Will Smith plays Hancock, an inept and generally reviled superhero. The movie opens with a hung-over Hancock flying superman-style to intervene in a high speed chase on an LA freeway. He nabs the bad guys, but causes 6 million dollars in damages to roads, buildings, police cars, and anything else that gets in his way in the process. We imagine the city was once thrilled to have their own super-powered crime fighter; now he’s become a public menace. But how do you rein in someone who can fly and is immune to bullets?

I hope I’m making this sound good. I should have been good. There are so many good directions the movie could have gone from there. It could have been a hilarious slapstick comedy. It could have been a great satire of the over-played superhero genre. It could have taken the consequences of having super powers seriously. It could have been an examination of how even the “best” among us can fail. At the very least, it should have been an entertaining story of one (super) man’s redemption.

Apparently the filmmakers saw this smorgasbord of possibilities before them and decided to have none of it. After 30 minutes, the movie transformed in some kind of unwieldy and nonsensical superhero love triangle. I really don’t understand Hollywood sometimes.

And, on a tangentially related note, here’s my new favorite website: TV Tropes – a gleeful catalog of every cliché and convention of TV, film, and other narrative media.