Thursday, September 22, 2005

What I Want

I want to help ideas come to fruition, to live and to reach people.
I want to connect people with the information they need, the skills they need, the people, the opportunities. Or to do it myself.
More than the people, I am interested in the forces that they bring to the world, the concepts, the art, the innovation, the possibilities. Perhaps that isn't particularly nice, but it's true.
I want to be able to evaluate, communicate, recommend and advise.
I want to make sure the important ideas are not overlooked or forgotten.
I want to be a catalyst, to cause or be part of the change.
I want to connect, and to make whole.
I want to help create meaning.

What am I?

Monday, September 19, 2005

What, There's Not Enough Space?

I may have been too immersed in the world of science recently...

I've just finished watching the first season of Babylon 5, a 5-season science fiction epic. Although the very first episode left me unwilling to watch any more, I pressed on, and astonishingly, every episode since has been much better. The concepts presented and the questions asked are fantastic, the characters are endearing, and the scriptwriters don't take themselves too seriously :-) The episode that sticks in my mind explored the idea of medical science vs. spirituality. An alien child will die unless he is operated on, but their religion forbids having their bodies cut open like food animals. The parents would rather their child died than have his soul lost, while the human doctor can't bear to let someone die when he knows he can save them. An astonishing amount of depth is shown to the issue, as every alien species has a different take on the situation... but I'll stop ranting here. The show is very good!

Meanwhile, I've also finished reading "A Short History of Nearly Everything" by Bill Bryson, which runs through just about every area of science - from cosmology to genetics - in an informal and entertaining style. If you haven't read the book, you have no idea of the problems that science has caused to itself, or the whopping great holes in what we think is certain!

This evening I started watching the newest series of Doctor Who, and my mind is currently still cycling around the second episode, in which the Doctor takes Rose to the final days of Earth, to watch (from an observational space station) the planet explode as the sun expands to envelop it.

Linking to another book I read a year or three ago - "The Science of Discworld" by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen - I recalled the way it pointed out the rather obvious fact that the Earth is not a good place to live, long-term. This was reinforced in "A Short History of Nearly Everything". Sooner or later, the climate will change for the worst - ice ages, volcanoes, global warming. Or an asteroid will hit (Boom!). None of these things we have any protection against - in the case of an asteroid, it wouldn't be visible to the naked eye until a second or so before it hit. And really, barely anyone is using equipment to keep an eye out for them.

So... unless we're all okay with the fact that Earth will kill our entire species off at some point, why are we not trying harder to leave? Learn lessons from science fiction and plain science and get out of here! I want to know what steps anyone is taking in this direction. I'm not really sure where to start looking - "leaving the earth" doesn't give anything useful on Google. I'd like to see if there's anything I could do to help out. It'd be a shame if our history finished with 'and they almost made it'.

Oh, and speaking of science fiction: SERENITY! Go see it! ;-)

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Dentist's Son

I saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on Tuesday morning, and it took me this long to work out whether I liked it or not. In the end, the verdict is not in favour of the film. Which is surprising, as I only heard good things from people I know... which is... suspicious...

The movie was, without a doubt, fun and stylish and perfectly cast. I found myself laughing aloud on several occasions, and I loved the cartoonish style of the set and characters - especially Wonka - although at times I found the whole thing overwhelming.

What let down this movie for me was the mismatch between the story of the book (and the earlier film) and the new material injected into this version. While the new material certainly worked well, I think the charm and meaning of the original was lost. This film is about Wonka and Charlie, and about the worth of family; the original was about the five children and the chocolate factory, about bad children being punished in bizarre ways and good children being rewarded with amazing things.
Yet while the new film becomes less patronising and offers a more complex picture of the world, at the same time (oddly enough) it becomes more of a cartoon full of caricatures. How does it make sense to make the film more mature in content and less in delivery? Perhaps it gets the message across better to children, but it made the film horribly distracting for me.

In addition, the new themes all but obliterate the old ones. The horrible children and their self-induced fates are still there, but are no longer important. The four kids are not nearly annoying enough. Beyond their first introduction and cartoon-like appearance, they don't do a whole lot to make us dislike them. In fact, they barely talk. Where's the fun in seeing them get what's coming to them if they haven't provoked it? I still recall the song of Veruca Salt in the first movie:
"I want a party with roomfuls of laughter
Ten thousand tonnes of ice-cream
And if I don't get what I'm after
I'm going to scream!"
- Now that's a brat! :)
But back in 2005, not only does the lack of malice and greed and impatience in the kids detract from their own characters, but the less bratty they are, the less we cheer Charlie on. And isn't he the main character of the story?

Perhaps not. Perhaps the true child protagonist is Wonka. He certainly seems to fit the bill. But although this younger, crazier, socially inept version of Wonka is certainly more amusing, I miss the slightly scarred but benevolent genius who sees the world as a joke. He is the magician, the illusionist, the entertainer. This new Wonka seems like a selfish child.

Overall, while this story has the glitz and the glamour down pat, I think it has sacrificed its intelligence.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Coffee and Tissues

This week's update is brought to you through a cloud of tissues (ok, so it's toilet paper. I'm a poor uni bum, so sue me!). It's taken me a few days to realise i am in fact sick and not just suffering from lack of sleep caused by quantum physics exams. My head feels stuffed with cotton, when it's not completely empty. Or in coffee-induced hyper-stupor.

Meanwhile, in my altered state of mind, I have come to the following realisations:
1) Microwaved pies are not meals.
2) I can't find my hat. Again.
3) I see non-existant cats. Does this happen to anyone else?

I've also discovered the possibility that if I want to feel like i'm 'doing something', I can switch my engineering course to part-time and add a social science/psychology course part-time and get a job part-time and keep doing drama on the side and circus on the other side and music and photography squished into the gaps and go completely nuts and be happy! Doesn't that make sense?

... Meanwhile, I'm going to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tomorrow. I've heard only good things, which is a rare event in these times (and with these friends!). I'm very interested to see the added plot (Wonka's past, apparently), and whether Violet scares me as much on screen as she does in the advertisements.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Prayer before Birth

I am not yet born; O hear me.
Let not the bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat or the
      club-footed ghoul come near me.

I am not yet born, console me.
I fear that the human race may with tall walls wall me,
      with strong drugs dope me, with wise lies lure me,
           on black racks rack me, in blood-baths roll me.

I am not yet born; provide me
With water to dandle me, grass to grow for me, trees to talk
      to me, sky to sing to me, birds and a white light
           in the back of my mind to guide me.

I am not yet born; forgive me
For the sins that in me the world shall commit, my words
      when they speak me, my thoughts when they think me,
           my treason engendered by traitors beyond me,
                my life when they murder by means of my
                     hands, my death when they live me.

I am not yet born; rehearse me
In the parts I must play and the cues I must take when
      old men lecture me, bureaucrats hector me, mountains
           frown at me, lovers laugh at me, the white
                waves call me to folly and the desert calls
                     me to doom and the beggar refuses
                          my gift and my children curse me.

I am not yet born; O hear me,
Let not the man who is beast or who thinks he is God
      come near me.

I am not yet born; O fill me
With strength against those who would freeze my
      humanity, would dragoon me into a lethal automaton,
           would make me a cog in a machine, a thing with
                one face, a thing, and against all those
                     who would dissipate my entirety, would
                          blow me like thistledown hither and
                               thither or hither and thither
                                    like water held in the
                                         hands would spill me.

Let them not make me a stone and let them not spill me.
Otherwise kill me.

(by Louis MacNeice)

I always feel moved when I read this poem. The odd little abstract phrases that convey very real fears. The idea that an unborn child may yet live life as a meaningless 'thing'. The portrayal of so many things that are done 'to' a person, and so few that are done 'for'.

I recall reading somewhere that the shape and length of each verse/stanza is related to the stages of childbirth (or something similar). I wouldn't know, but it seems to fit. The newborn coming into the world with 'Otherwise kill me' makes for a rather melancholy start to life!

But the poem also reminds me of the playful spirituality that helps make us human, and of the paths we can take that help make us inhuman.