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Archive for February 20th, 2013

The great scientific art-grab

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — a poet’s rant against the hubris of scientists and the poverty of so much of what passes for art ]

Gorgeous. And fascinating.


I’d like to begin by saying beauty is not the same as prettiness any more than joy is the same as fun or truth than popular opinion. In fact I have an aphorism:

if you shoot for beauty, you’re liable to hit prettiness; if you want to achieve beauty, shoot for truth.

Okay? The beautiful can be grotesque, utterly normal, joyously peaceful, extremely violent, or simply gorgeous — and be beautiful in each case.

Having said that, I’d also like to say that the world, the universe in all it immense scope and scale and variety and possibility, isn’t “science” or “art” — we find science in exploring it one way, find art in exploring it another.

And when scientists want to impress, they often do it by choosing elements of beauty in what science has recorded of a universe that is neither science nor art but seamlessly filled to the brim with both — by appealing to our aesthetic taste, to the “art” side of our being, while claiming the result is science.


Case in point:

The graphic above, from the I fucking love science photo timeline on FaceBook, which comes with the caption:

Caddisfly larvae build protective cases using materials found in their environment. Artist Hubert Duprat supplied them with gold leaf and precious stones. This is what they created.

Did you get that? It’s from a site that bills itself I fucking love science that specializes in presenting, how can I make this simple, nature’s art. It’s the recognition of beauty that makes this site so wonderful — and in this particular case, the work of Artist Hubert Duprat.


I’ve been working with jewelry recently, and as you can see from this image of a Hematite “Tricubi” necklace by Bernd Wolf, the influence goes both ways.


What is beauty? And why does science as an institution so often want to claim what properly belongs in the realm of art? Or is science, perhaps, an art or cluster of arts? I’m tired of these ceaseless wranglings between two supposedly opposing cultures.

Paul Dirac:

I think that there is a moral to this story, namely that it is more important to have beauty in one’s equations that to have them fit experiment.

As art, the jewel-like protective cases those caddisfly larvae make are simply beautiful. The fact that they make them is fascinating.

Stereocognition, intelligence and the movies

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — Zero Dark Thirty & Manhunt, fact and fiction, that old saw about who it is that gets to write history, thence onwards to theology & the arts, von Balthasar & Tolkien, winding up watching UK & US versions of House of Cards with son David ]

How’s this for stereoscopy?


You may know I’m preoccupied with the notion of extending the stereo concept — using twin sources to add a depth dimension to one’s perception — from stereophonic audition and stereoscopic vision to stereocognition more generally.

Nada Bakos‘ image above shows a cinema in which documentary and fictional versions of the story of the hunt for bin Laden are playing simultaneously. The fiction, Kathryn Bigelow‘s Zero Dark Thirty, I saw a couple of days ago, and neither I nor son Emlyn, 17, were terribly enthused: the Camp Chapman scene was the one that touched me most deeply.

I’ll no doubt want to see both films, but it’s Greg Barker’s documentary, Manhunter, that will interest me the most, the more factual of the two. And yet that’s curious in and of itself, because as a poet I’m usually interested in the mythic and imaginative as much as or more than the “merely” factual, and I tend to think of the movies as providing a mythology for our times.

Okay, let me give you the two quotes that get to the heart of my sensibilities about fact and fiction at the movies.

What, after all, happens in a movie theater after the lights dim and the curtain rises? F Scott Fitzgerald tells us what happens in the mogul’s screening room, but it’s the same with us peons, isn’t it?

Dreams hung in fragments at the far end of the room, suffered analysis, passed — to be dreamed in crowds or else discarded.

And I’m also with the poet Kathleen Raine, who said:

Myth, when a real event may be the enactment of a myth, is the truth of the fact and not the other way around…

So where does that leave me?

Right now, it leaves me feeling that in the case of these two filmic treatments of the same “true story” — and no doubt many others — history will likely be “written” by the entertainment makers, not the documentarists. Paradoxically, a sad thought.

But let’s go beyond that.


I said I’m preoccupied with the notion of using twin sources to add a depth dimension to perception — from stereophonic audition and stereoscopic vision to stereocognition more generally. Another way to say that is that I’m interested in figuring out how to think contrapuntally, and how to score contrapuntal thought — thought which holds two or more potentially conflicting concepts in mind simultaneously, so as to arrive at a deeper understanding than one perspective alone can provide…

I’ve talked about these modes of stereoscopic / contrapuntal cognition before, in posts such as Form is insight: a musical experiment and Silent reading, silent thinking, bifocal glasses, and I’m always delighted when I run across a new very bright thinker (Glenn Gould, Edward Said [Power, Politics, and Culture p. 447}, Wm Blake) playing with these ideas — today it’s the late theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar in his book Truth Is Symphonic: Aspects of Christian Pluralism, who speaks of “the entire polyphony of revelation”, suggests that:

In his revelation, God performs a symphony, and it is impossible to say which is richer: the seamless genius of his composition or the polyphonous orchestra of Creation that he has prepared to play it

and states that “Even eternal Truth itself is symphonic.” The only stronger statement I know of concerning the contrapuntal nature of the world from within the Catholic tradition is JRR Tolkien‘s extraordinary short masterpiece of a creation myth, The Music of the Ainur [scroll down at link], with which he begins the Silmarillion.

So the contrapuntal idea is present in theology, as well as the arts…


Stereoscopy, counterpoint.

I’ve been watching the TV series, House of Cards, with my fourteen-year old, David — we’ve now seen the whole first series of the UK version together, and the beginning of the US version, and it’s fascinating to notice the differences.

Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey):

Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson):

See both shows, form your own conclusions…

And their source?

Now I shall have to watch Richard III with David, too.

High Ground in Chicago at the Siskel Center 2/21- 2/23

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013


Hat tip to Kanani Fong of Kitchen Dispatch 

At the Siskel Center, 164 N State St, Chicago. IL. 60601
(312) 846-2600

The award -winning film HIGH GROUND :

Since 2002, almost 50,000 U.S. soldiers have returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan with their lives radically altered by war. With the improvement of battlefield medical treatments, these soldiers return alive yet not whole, and face long painful paths to recovery.

Full integration back into their community and the civilian world is a treacherous road, fraught with obstacles and pitfalls. After initial rehabilitation, these veterans are often left to fend for themselves, and struggle with physical and mental roadblocks, depression, and alienation.

This issue affects every aspect of society, not just families and hometown communities, but our national character and our legacy. How these wounded soldiers transition is one of the most important repercussions of these wars and an adversity with which we will contend for generations.

igh Ground was a showcase expedition bringing together disabled war veterans with world recognized mountain climbers to demonstrate what could be achieved by climbing a Himalayan giant. A key outcome of the expedition was to produce a documentary film that would tell the inspiring stories of these heroes and spread a healing message to a national audience.

This film, featuring stunning cinematography and capturing powerful emotions, will touch the hearts of concerned citizens, military families, outdoor enthusiasts and most of all, soldiers who find themselves wondering how to face the days and months and years ahead. It is an honest and gripping portrayal of our American warriors, telling an action packed story that unfolds in unexpected ways as the team makes their way high into the mountains, through the villages of Nepal, over raging rivers and up terrifying steep terrain risking injury and death for a chance at the summit.

A second and equally important goal is to continue to impact those thousands of injured soldiers in the midst of their own daunting recoveries through the use of the film at veteran’s hospitals and military bases around the United States. In the fall of 2011, a multi-city nationwide tour will be launched to welcome our soldiers home, celebrate their spirit and sacrifice, and to encourage them to pursue their dreams.

Efforts are currently underway to assess the potential of additional expeditions and to create a long-term strategy as a non-profit organization. By getting involved and supporting this project you can participate directly in this vital process and connect your company to the message that our soldiers can indeed… return home to live again.


Grand Blog Tarkin’s Hoth Symposium

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Grand Blog Tarkin is hosting a symposium on the Battle of Hoth. Sparked by WIRED magazine’s original debate begun by Spencer Ackerman, Grand blog Tarkin’s Symposium features some of the finest sci-fi war nerd speculation from keen strategic thinkers from the blogosphere and Twitter.  Oh, yeah, I am participating as well, thanks to Kelsey Atherton.

Here are some excerpts and their authors:

Hoth Symposium Comes Home 

Dunkirk-on-Ice by Graham Jenkins

In 1940, French historian Marcel Bloch wrote a slim volume entitled Strange Defeat, on the incomprehensible defeat of the superior French Army at the hands of the Wehrmacht. 60 years later, Ernest May wrote the complementary version in Strange Victory, an account of the improbable German success in defeating France. Many have written on the utter failure of the Imperial Navy to successfully crush the Rebellion once and for all at the Battle of Hoth, but few have bothered to explore the rather unlikely escape the Rebels made from their icy fortress. “How did they not lose?” Contrary to Spencer Ackerman’s view, the Alliance was faced with dire options and chose mostly the best available.

Ackerman critiques the Alliance for keeping virtually all of their key military players in the same location at Echo Base, but ignores the value of face-to-face, instantaneous communication among Rebel leaders. Collaboration is key to any successful insurgency, and while distributed cells might have a better chance of survival, they still require a core group to perform key coordination and planning functions. This is most effectively provided through close, personal cooperation…. 

The Battle of Hoth and Grand Strategy by Mark Safranski

The key to understanding the Battle of Hoth is not in tactical minutia on the icy surface of the planet, nor in confused imperial strategic objectives or even in the quixotic leadership of Lord Vader, but in grand strategy. As a self-contained polity facing no external foes and only a scattered and poorly armed insurgency, the greatest potential threat to the Empire’s two-man Sith regime would likely emerge from the ranks of the imperial military itself. It was not that the Galactic Empire could not have fielded a vast, overwhelmingly powerful and incomparably competent armada against the Rebellion, it was that Darth Sidious did not dare to do so…..

May the Tech Be With You by Shlok Vaidya

The Star Wars world is a bleak one. Aside from the standard strata of humans, the aristocrats like Leia to the paupers like Solo, there exists a more distinct separation. The Force-enabled and the not. Able to summon electricity from thin air, jump great heights, wield weapons of light, it is no surprise that the Empire is run by those able to use the Force. Or that the Rebel Alliance, filled with battle-hardened veterans who fought day in and day out, for days, months, years in some of the most challenging environments the universe has to offer, suddenly promote the Force-empowered Luke Skywalker despite his lack of combat experience.

In a world where a wave of a hand can change minds, it is hard to say technology matters. But as the Battle of Hoth demonstrates, it invariably does. That particular engagement was an exercise in terrible technology decision making. Tanks with weapons that don’t rotate, raised onto legs reminiscent of ostriches, and move with all the finesse of an overweight wampa. Laser blasts that detonate on impact without consistent grouping. A lack of even basic infrared overlays on a ice-covered planet. The Empire’s foot-soldiers, otherwise decent men pulled from their homes and families to wage war in forsaken lands, were abandoned to the tools provided by the lowest bidder. Minor modifications could have addressed a vulnerability to harpoons. Major platform changes could have wiped out the rebel force in minutes…..

Hoth Symposium Comes Home 2: Late Registration

Let’s Cut the Imperial Fleet Some Slack by Brett Friedman

It’s difficult to tell from the original three movies, but the Imperial Fleet is a very new organization. Their operational and strategic missteps make much more sense in this light. A galactic fleet cannot be built in a day. Although we see a Star Destroyer at the end Revenge of the Sith, a fleet is comprised of more than just ships. Doctrine, tradition, staff work, planning processes, and institutional experience are just as important as the ships themselves. Even though decades elapse between Revenge of the Sith and The Empire Strikes Back, it was just not enough time for the Imperial Fleet to become an elite force.

The Battle of Hoth occurs twenty-two years after Palpatine seized power.The first expeditionary operation conducted by the US Navy after their formative battles during the American Revolution occurred between 1801-1805, twenty six years after its formation. Both of these conflicts were waged against non-state actors by very new nations. Although the First Barbary War was successful for the American Fleet(thanks to a few Marines) there was an embarrassing mistake. The USS Philadelphia was run aground and captured, along with its entire crew, without a fight. Additionally the expeditionary force had to depend on third party support from the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Presuming that years in the Star Wars galaxy are identical to our own, the two young fleets had a similar amount of time to develop. The Imperial Fleet that we see in Empire, while presumably leavened with clone-veterans from its formative battles, just did not have the know-how to conduct counterinsurgency on a galactic scale. The tactical and strategic situation that the fleet faced at Hoth was, to them, a new one…..

Missed Opportunity: Rieekan’s Failure at Hoth by Mike Forbes

The conventional wisdom regarding the Battle of Hoth is that it was a major Imperial victory, described in terms of the Rebels as the massively overmatched ragtag band scattering before the unstoppable Imperial juggernaut. Thecontrary wisdom of sci-fi strategists focuses both on the tactical blunders made by the Imperial force, and thestrategic factors that influenced the decision-making of key leaders. Both narratives are wrong. The Rebel Alliance was anything but a ragged insurgent mob; they were a well-equipped and well-organized hybrid threat# at the time. The Battle of Hoth should have been a decisive victory for the Rebels, perhaps even as significant as the Battle of Yavin had been. The Imperial forces bungled what should have been a fairly simple HVT capture or kill mission, their staggering incompetence playing right to the Rebels’ strengths. However, the Alliance only managed to scrape by with a strategic draw due to their failure to take advantage of key opportunities during the battle to strike a massive blow to the Imperial fleet and the Empire’s key leadership. Hoth was also not a total tactical failure for the Empire; in fact they managed to pull off a partial victory, since Echo Base was indeed reduced to rubble, and the Rebels lost a large amount of materiel in the process of their hasty withdrawal under fire. The Imperial forces managed to salvage a partial success out of what by all rights should have been a crushing defeat, thanks to the even greater failures of their Rebel opponents, in particular the criminal negligence of General Rieekan….


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