The Catholicism Cafeteria is getting so popular that even Protestants are dining there. Or not dining, rather: as this Slate piece explains, some Protestant churches are taking up fasting for Lent and other traditionally Catholic rituals of the season.
Over the last few years, more Protestant churches have begun daubing ashes on the foreheads of the faithful on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in Western Christianity (March 1 this year). Fasting, long familiar to Catholics as a Lenten fact of life, is increasingly popular with evangelical Christians striving for spiritual awakening. A few mainline Protestant churches even conduct foot-washing services on Maundy Thursday—the traditional commemoration of Jesus' washing the feet of his disciples—that takes place on the Thursday before Easter.
More interesting was the statistic that one-third of believers change churches at least once in their lifetimes. This number is almost certainly much higher than it once was, as historically people have tended to remain in the sect they were born into. One might expect churches to become more market-driven under these circumstances, and then mixing and matching of rituals like this is a natural consequence. (I suspect one can also attribute the rise of megachurches to the increasing importance of market forces in religion, sort of a Wal-Martization of churches. Or is the Catholic Church the Wal-Mart of churches?)
One more thing—John Calvin deserves some kind of unintentional irony award for this:
In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin criticized Lent as a "superstitious observance."
For a while now inverse's uptime has been limited by the time between power outages in Birge Hall. Until this morning it had almost been a year. Apparently it was the wind and rain that knocked it out, although this says more about the instability of the power here than it does about the severity of the storm. (I'm sure you've all seen the e-mail forward that purports to show storm damage in California, and displays a photo of an overturned plastic deck chair. That's about right for yesterday's weather.)
At some point before I graduate I need to move this site out of Birge Hall and to a more permanent host, but I'm only just starting to think about how I will do this. I may continue to maintain my own MT installation (or switch to Wordpress), or just move to something like Typepad. I'll probably put off this move a while longer, though.
Anyway, it's now time to review the album I've been playing incessantly the last three weeks. No, not Loveless, the other one.
Belle & Sebastian: The Life Pursuit: I am hardly an unbiased source on this band, so when I say that the album is awesome you will probably not be surprised. At least I can say how it stands in relation to the other B&S records, which is what I spent the first ten or so plays trying to figure out. In general it has a somewhat different sound from their previous work. There's still the sunny mood that ran through most of Dear Catastrophe Waitress (in fact the word "sun" appears in two of the song titles), but without the orchestral feel that characterized the earlier LP's production. From a production perspective, it sounds fairly novel for this band. I'm not sure how I would descibe this new sound, but it's quite appealing and a good match for the themes of the album.
It feels very cohesive compared to Waitress (in which they seemed to be experimenting with various styles on the different tracks)—these songs flow into each other very smoothly, and when "Act of the Apostle II" picks up the theme from its predecessor halfway through, it feels completely natural despite the fact that the first "Act of the Apostle" played ten tracks earlier. This is not to say that there's no variety; "Dress Up In You", which sounds like an old-school B&S song, is sandwiched between "The Blues Are Still Blue" and "Sukie In The Graveyard", both of which are far peppier than is typical for this band.
On just about every Belle & Sebastian CD I've bought, there's been one song that I've fallen in love with and played to excess. Joining "Your Cover's Blown", "If She Wants Me", "String Bean Jean", and "Like Dylan in the Movies" is "The Blues Are Still Blue" from this record. I'm not sure what it is about this particular song (maybe the cowbell) but I can't get enough of it. Other highlights are "Funny Little Frog", "Another Sunny Day", and "Sukie in the Graveyard".
The iTunes version of this album offers two bonus tracks, neither of which is particularly essential. "Meat and Potatoes" sounds as if it was written for the Dr. Demento show, and "I Took A Long Hard Look" is forgettable. (Apparently these are also on the "Funny Little Frog" single.) Anyway, this only applies if you bought the CD but were considering getting the extra tracks; spend your $0.99 on "Your Cover's Blown" (from the Books EP) instead.
Sort of like Overheard In New York, but with more sun and audience participation.
Scene: Saturday afternoon. I am walking on campus, on the path that runs along the south side of Strawberry Creek, near Haas Pavilion. I am accosted by a guy walking the other direction, who is not obviously a hobo.
Guy: Hey, do you know where I can find [unintelligible]?
AG: I'm sorry?
Guy: A gas station.
AG: There's one on Oxford, by—
Guy: Which way?
AG: [gesturing] Over there, down the—
Guy: [indicating my shirt, which is partly obscured by my jacket] Does that say "Mardi Gras"?
AG: No, it—
Guy: Oh, "marathon".
Guy: Wanna go smoke a bowl?
Guy: Oh, you don't smoke weed?
Guy: Can I borrow a couple of dollars?
AG: Sorry. The gas station's that way.
Weird encounters are pretty common in this city, but this one was notable for combining nearly every weird aspect of Berkeley into a single (one-sided) conversation. I don't know which of the proposed chemicals he had consumed already, but something was clearly affecting his attention span.
I've been neglecting the blog the last few days, in favor of things like data analysis. Although I might have preferred to be doing things like Half-Life 2 instead, the data came out very well, and you will certainly see it if you attend my March Meeting talk.
In other quantum computing news, a group at UIUC has performed a very interesting experiment in which they combined quantum computing and quantum interrogation to get the result of a quantum algorithm without actually running it. (Via all over the place.) So at least one person will have a March Meeting talk that's much cooler than mine—for us "counterfactual computation" is when our qubits don't work—but in the spirit of quantum oneupsmanship I will note that my qubits are (allegedly) scalable.
UPDATE: John Holbo speculates about technological advances that may follow from this.
I've now gotten around to burning new copies of Year of the Phoenix, the mix CD I made with my favorite songs of 2005. I'm sending them to some friends I meant to see around New Year's but didn't manage to, and in the process I'm correcting the problems that plagued track 12 in every previous copy, and other tracks in certain batches. So if you got one of the old copies but want a fresh one that plays properly all the way through, let me know. Or if you didn't get a copy but would like one. The "2006 Rebirth Edition" of Year of the Phoenix is not only remastered but includes a bonus track, "Calendar Girl" by Stars.
Seems I'm taking on several overdue projects this weekend...
When I got home Friday evening, I reflected on the fact that my weekend would be, apart from going running and a few stops in lab, completely empty of any scheduled activities. In the past seven days I had gone to three concerts, a D&D game, a ballroom dance class, and had had several late nights, in lab and otherwise, so naturally I was pretty exhausted. I felt like spending the weekend being introverted and geeky, and I realized this was a perfect opportunity to do something that's been on my to-do list for a long time:
Half-Life 2: Yes, I finally sat down and fired up this game that's been on my hard drive for over a year. A review is sort of superfluous at this point, as anyone who's interested has already played it. Nevertheless, I can say that so far the game has definitely been worth my while. It starts off with a chase scene, running from the agents of an Orwellian police state first on foot and then over water on a kind of personal hovercraft. This is executed very well; in many FPS games one just plods through the early levels carefully clearing every room, but here the player is forced to choose his battles. The sense of being chased is very immersive—I had dreams last night about being chased, although the context was somewhat different—and the moments of running for cover under a hail of gunfire feel very cinematic. It's also quite satisfying when weaponry is added to your vehicle and you can finally duel with the attack helicopter that's been hunting you.
Following the initial chase scenes, the game switches gears into a zombie horror scenario that feels like an homage to Resident Evil. (Although Resident Evil lacked the joy of throwing around buzzsaw blades with a gravity gun.) By the end of this level I was swinging my shotgun around in paranoid twitches like Dick Cheney at a quail hunt. That's about where I am at the moment, but I'll post a follow-up review once I've completed the rest of the game.
The Plastic Constellations: Crusades: This is a bit heavier than what I normally listen to, but that's not a bad thing. Apparently this band is currently touring with The Hold Steady, which is an appropriate match—the Constellations have more of a post-punk sound than The Hold Steady, but the intensity level is similar. While I liked their sound, I found the quality of the CD a bit uneven; some tracks are really good but others didn't do much for me. "Ghost In The House" is one of the better ones.
Oops, I meant to blog this a little bit earlier, but fortunately it's not too late: Chad Orzel is polling on the Greatest Physics Experiment from a set of eleven nominees (which have been described in some detail in earlier posts at Uncertain Principles). So go over there and vote! My endorsement is for Cavendish. (Also, I regret not nominating Onnes for the discovery of superconductivity.) Preliminary results are here.
Last month I asked for recommendations of essential 90's albums, and received an enthusiastic and comprehensive response. I've collected the results of that comment thread into a wonderfully eclectic list of 115 albums, which I've posted below the fold.
Some commenters went beyond the scope of the original question, either more broadly (by recommending artists without a specific album) or more narrowly (by citing individual songs). I've put these in their own lists. Finally, there were a few albums mentioned outside of the 1990-1999 range, which are also listed separately.
And of course, late additions to these lists are also welcomed!Continue reading "Results of the 90's music survey"
As announced here earlier, Pretty Girls Make Graves played at UC Berkeley tonight. This was extremely convenient, since I could leave the lab at 8:50 and be early for the 9:00 show. I expected it to be out on Lower Sproul Plaza, but in fact it was inside: good insofar as I didn't freeze to death, bad since the acoustics are terrible in the Bear's Lair food court. A punk band called the Sweet Nothings opened; I was not impressed, especially not by their closer, which was a reprehensible punk cover of "Eye of the Tiger".
Fortunately, PGMG made up for it. They played five songs from their upcoming album Elan Vital, which I am now very eagerly anticipating— all the new stuff is very good. The rest of the set was drawn from The New Romance except for their final song, "Speakers Push The Air" from Good Health. Unfortunately one of their guitarists has left the band, so we were deprived of what one critic aptly called "knife-fight guitar solos", but new keyboardist Leona Marrs was very good, and also played the accordion on one of the new songs. Lead singer Andrea Zollo is just as awesome as she sounds on the recordings.
The first song they played was "The Nocturnal House" from Elan Vital, which can be downloaded for free at their label's website. The other four new songs were even better than this. Intruigingly, on the last new song the bassist switched to vocals, the drummer switched to bass, and the guitarist switched to saxophone. However, their best song in the live show is also their best recording: "Something Bigger, Something Brighter" from The New Romance.
Since the Stars show last Friday, this has been quite a good week musically speaking. The setlist for tonight's show is below the fold (to the best of my recollection, I may have the order slightly wrong).
UPDATE: Filled in the missing song titles in the setlist now that I have Élan Vital.Continue reading "Pretty Girls Make Graves, on my doorstep"
I heard about this beforehand from three separate sources, and really wanted to go, but unfortunately had a group meeting.
Hundreds attend mass pillow fight
Roughly 1,000 people drawn by internet postings and word-of-mouth converged near San Francisco's Ferry Building on Tuesday night for a half-hour pillow fight.
The underground event erupted at 6 p.m. in the center of Justin Herman Plaza with a mass rush of shrieking, laughing combatants - many of whom arrived with pillows concealed in shopping bags, backpacks and the like.
Within minutes, pillows were arcing, feathers were flying, and by the time the Ferry Building's clock tower clanged the half-hour, the plaza and hundreds of people were covered in white down that gave the scene a wintry lustre.
I feel like blogging my dreams is sort of frivolous, but it's also an interesting exercise in a kind of writing I don't usually do. So: I had two interesting dreams last night. I remember waking up from the first one thinking it was interesting and significant, but I went back to sleep and forgot the actual dream.
The second dream began with a friend showing me a hidden entrance to a nondescript Berkeley building. I went inside and found that the interior of the building was a setting for an elaborate puzzle game. Each room of the building contained a puzzle based around some eclectic collection of objects; there were 20 such rooms/puzzles and I was given a limited time to complete them all. There was a sheet of paper on which I kept track of which ones I'd completed. (Maybe including the answers to the puzzles, which would solve some overall puzzle when the whole thing was done? My memory of what was on the paper in the dream is hazy.)
Anyway, I'm pretty sure I dreamed multiple rooms of this, and fast-forwarded through most of them, but at some point I arrived at room #17 (having finished the first sixteen) with some extra time on the clock. Room 17 contained a stereo cassette player and a stack of 20 cassette tape cases, none of which contained cassettes. The covers were all for classical music; I specifically remember Beethoven and Schubert among the composers, and no composer appeared twice.
The actual cassettes were in a box nearby, but the labels had been removed and replaced with small handwritten numbers from 1 to 20. The puzzle, obviously, was to match the tapes to their proper case by listening to them. So I started going through them one by one, trying to identify composer or at least time period by the musical style, and looking for pieces that I recognized.
This was a slow process, and I became aware that time was slipping away. I was debating whether to skip ahead to Room 18, in the hopes of finishing the later puzzles and coming back for this one, when I woke up.
So it was sort of anti-climactic, but I thought it was interesting that my dream came up with at least one realistic and difficult but possibly doable puzzle. And I was quickly able to think of a very specific interpretation for this dream, but there is probably some bias on my part towards reading things this way. So other interpretations are welcome.
The word homer comes from a Hebrew word which means 'ass-load'. It may have been the amount that donkey could carry. The quail which fell in the wilderness were measured using the homer. The Homer or Cor contained 10 ephahs. Ezekiel 45:11,14 That would make it equal to about 6 bushels.
In music news, I woke up in the middle of today's 290K seminar to see what appeared to be guitar tab notation on the blackboard under the heading "Stripes White". But it turned out the speaker was talking about stripes in the 2D Hubbard model, rather than discussing the guitar part of a White Stripes song. Anyway, I have an album to review:
Cat Power: The Greatest: The title of this album must have annoyed Matador's marketing department, who have gone to some lengths in the packaging to assure the prospective buyer that this is indeed a new LP rather than a greatest hits collection. I liked her previous record, You Are Free, but it was fairly minimalist, so the richer and brighter textures of this one are a nice change. There's nothing quite as entrancing as "Werewolf" (which has become one of my mix CD standbys) but overall I like it better than her earlier works. Apparently she enlisted the help of some legendary soul musicians for this one, but since I'm not terribly knowledgable about soul the significance of this was lost on me. The song "Hate" sounds like her style from You Are Free, while referencing a Nirvana song and classic Engrish specimen; "Could We" is more representative of this album.
By popular demand, Tyler Cowen has been blogging about the Great American Novel. I've long been convinced that the answer is Moby Dick, so I was pleased to see that Cowen chose an appropriate set of criteria:
So what qualities must The Great American Novel have?...
1. It must reward successive rereadings and get better each time.
2. It must be canonical and grip the imagination.
3. It must be linked to American history and letters in some essential way.
4. It must span the intellectual, the emotional, the religious, and the metaphysical.
5. It must be fun. You must be sad when the book is over, and wish it had been longer than it was.
6. It must be about a large white whale and have numerous Biblical allusions.
Cowen also suggests some runners-up and dark horse picks. I can see the argument for Huckleberry Finn, but even though I love Mark Twain I wasn't wild about that particular novel. Of Faulkner I have only read short stories, a gap I should remedy at some point.
My favorite piece of American literature from high school was Catch-22, but I can't argue for this as the Great American Novel. The much-loved Catcher in the Rye didn't do much for me; I suppose my teen angst was of a different character than Holden Caulfield's.
So what are your picks for the Great American Novel? What's your favorite "canonical" American novel? What did you read in high school that was the biggest waste of time? (My pick for the last question: The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver; not especially canonical, but nevertheless assigned by my hippie American Lit teacher.)
While the East Coast is buried in snow and Southern California struggles under a scorching heat wave, it's been 65 and sunny all week here in Berkeley. And we'll get the same weather in July. With this kind of climate, one might expect that the heating and air conditioning needs of a campus building like Birge Hall would be pretty minimal. And indeed, through efficient design the building is maintained at a pleasant environment with hardly any energy.
Ha! I'm joking, of course. What they actually do here is run the heating and the air conditioning at the same time so that they cancel out. I only discovered this fact this week, when the heat pump broke—leaving the air conditioning running unchecked. Naturally there's no way to adjust it, and so I end up carrying a sweater to lab with me, so that after walking through perfect weather to get there I can bundle up when I enter the building and avoid freezing to death.
Somehow, you'd think a physics building would have a more efficient solution to the problem of temperature control, but maybe it's a corollary to the fact that the architecture building is always the ugliest building on campus. It brings to mind a common method of temperature control in condensed matter physics: cool the sample down to 4.2K with liquid helium, and then use an electric heating element to warm it back up to the desired temperature. But I'm not sure it scales up as well as the designers of Birge Hall's HVAC system seem to believe.
Last night I went to The Fillmore to see Canadian band Stars, whose most recent album I reviewed here. If you get a chance to see this band live, definitely take it—this show was amazing. I spent most of the performance completely enraptured by the music, and towards the end even found myself compelled to dance, despite the fact that this is not usually done at indie rock shows. I wasn't sure beforehand if a violinist would be present, since the violin on their album wasn't played by one of the band regulars, but indeed they had one who put in a stellar performance. I'd like to say something about the setlist, but I didn't recognize a lot of the songs since I'm only familiar with the ones on Set Yourself On Fire. They played most of that album, but about half the songs were unfamiliar to me. (And somehow they skipped two of my favorites: "Sleep Tonight" and "Celebration Guns". But the rest of the show was good enough that I'm willing to forgive that.) Today I went out and bought another one of their albums so I will be more knowledgable the next time they come to SF.
The opening band was Rilo Kiley spinoff The Elected, playing country-tinged indie rock. They were decent but not terribly exciting.
I meant to blog this story over the weekend, but was distracted by, um, football. Anyway: here's a pretty good illustration of why I said last week that the Bush administration should just stay away from science.
So George Deutsch, an asshat Bush appointee (is that redundant?) to the public affairs office at NASA, took it upon himself to make sure that everything coming out of the agency was, well... "politically correct" would be a good term for it if it didn't have other connotations. This included trying to stop NASA's top climate scientist from speaking about global warming, and insisting that the Big Bang be referred to as "the Big Bang theory", because, like evolution, it's "just a theory". (I am pretty much the last science blogger to comment on this.)
What happened next was sort of hilarious: a blogger discovered that Deutsch lied on his resume, claiming to have graduated from Texas A&M when in fact he never received a degree. This has resulted in Deutsch's subsequent resignation, which would be heartening if this administration weren't so good at finding even worse people to replace the ones who leave.
And this would be why I'm suspicious of Bush's increased funding for physical science. How much of it is going to guys like Deutsch, or projects of which they would approve? (Is there a cosmological equivalent of Intelligent Design? Maybe The Onion's Intelligent Falling.) As has been pointed out by others, this administration just doesn't do policy. Everything is politics to them.
UPDATE: I see we have nothing to worry about, now that Duke Cunningham's seat on the House subcommittee responsible for NASA's budget has been filled by... Tom DeLay.
Slacktivist has excerpts from U2 frontman Bono's remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. Mostly, it's good stuff, in which he chastises George W. Bush for not doing more to fight poverty around the world. But there's one section that I thought was very self-defeating, because while Bono wants to make this a religious mission, he runs right into the problem of evil (which I've written about before). I have to wonder if Bono is really thinking about what he's saying here:
I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill … I hope so. He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff -- maybe, maybe not. But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor.
God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.
1. God doesn't know about the suffering of the poor.
2. God knows about the poor but does not care.
3. God knows about the poor and cares about their suffering, but is powerless to help them.
Now religious people generally try to obscure the issue rather than admit that one of these things is true. But Bono in the above remarks has just ruled out statements 1 and 2, so we are left with the disturbing fact that Bono believe in a god who has less power to help the poor than George W. Bush, or Bono himself. Why even refer to such a being as a god? Seems more like sort of a concerned spirit, or something.
One could argue that God works his will through the charitable actions of humans. This doesn't reflect well on God's character: basically, he's the lazy manager who gets his subordinates to do all the work, and then takes all the credit at the end.
Or one could argue that the charitable impulse itself comes from God. This, in addition to resembling a common and vicious slander against atheists, argues for a very weak god indeed, as (by Bono's own admission) there is not nearly enough charity in the world.
So what good is it to the poor if God is with them? If man living in a cardboard box could trade the presence of God for a roof over his head, shouldn't he do it?
I have a couple more posts in the queue but I probably won't get to them tonight. In the meantime, a music review:
The Raveonettes: Pretty in Black: The Raveonettes really want to be a '50s band. They're named after a Buddy Holly song, and when modern covers of '50s classics were needed for the Stubbs the Zombie soundtrack, the Raveonettes already had "My Boyfriend's Back" on this album. (That's what inspired me to check it out in the first place.) The album is quite pleasant, although nowhere spectacular, and tends towards doo-wop or country-tinged songs, albeit with somewhat less wholesome lyrics than would be found in authentic oldies. "Somewhere in Texas" is better than it should be, and "Sleepwalking" is also very good once you get past the intro.
The Rolling Stones are really old.
"Are you suggesting coconuts migrate?"
"Not at all. They could be carried."
Via Boing Boing.
I see some things haven't changed. Via Fark:
Students in Tutus Saved From Mountain Road
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) - Two dozen Caltech students wearing Superman capes, tutus and other odd attire as part of a hazing stunt were rescued after getting stranded on the Mount Wilson Toll Road.
Organizers of the California Institute of Technology initiation ritual said they didn't realize the road had been covered last year by a landslide.
"You've got to remember that common sense is not factored into the intelligence quotient," said Deputy Greg Gabriel, who leads the Altadena Search and Rescue team.
The annual Mount Wilson Night, when freshmen are initiated into the Page House dormitory at Caltech, started off as planned Monday night, Caltech sophomore Nick Goeden said Tuesday.
This is a public service announcement for the Berkeley-area readers: the excellent band Pretty Girls Make Graves will be playing a free show on Lower Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley, on February 16. They would be a great band to see two days earlier if you are single and bitter, but they're playing Moscow, Idaho on that day so that's not so helpful.
I almost wish I didn't know about this, so I could have the experience of walking through Sproul on the 16th and thinking, "Hey, that sounds like PGMG... holy shit!" But more likely I'd just miss it entirely if I didn't know about it, so it's probably better this way.
This blog is now three years old. I'm always sort of surprised that I've been able to stick with it, as I'm usually terrible at keeping up with long-term projects. Coincidentally, the day I started blogging was also the day Ryan North started posting Dinosaur Comics. Indeed, it was a beautiful day to be stomping on things.
(It's also the birthday of commenter JSpur, who is 49 +/- 3 today. He's in Hawaii right now and therefore, I think, not reading this.)
Anyway, on this auspicious occasion I have some random trivia about the
evolution intelligent design of this blog over the years:
Ever since Google started indexing me, the most popular search leading to this page has been "gazebo". At first I was somewhere around the 60th hit for this search string; now I'm typically the 10th or 11th. (I get a lot more of these hits when I'm on the first page of search results.)
Also, the second most popular search string from last month was the title to this post; for a period of a few weeks Google decided that I was among the top five experts on this phrase, ranked just behind Fleshbot and Xeni Jardin. Fortunately they seem to have recalibrated and I no longer get these hits.
Because I am a big nerd, I have plotted monthly totals for comments and the average number of comments per post, over the blog's three-year history. Happily, the trend is increasing. (Comments are the best part of blogging, after all.)
And finally, the top five most-commented posts:
4. (tie) Everyone's talking about it [Open Thread] on October 3, 2005 (24 comments)
Finish Line on October 16, 2005 (24 comments)
2. (tie) Shyness and serotonin on September 26, 2005 (31 comments)
Halloween thread on October 31, 2005 (31 comments)
1. Essential 90's Albums/New Year's Resolution on January 6, 2006 (36 comments)
Thanks to everyone who comments here; hopefully we'll have another good year of obscure music and liberal ranting.