Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Food Critics Corner: My Dinner Last Night

While at my apartment last night I was treated to a rather sumptuous meal. The chef, me, had prepared a simple, rustic pasta dish.

The penne pasta was whole-wheat which gave the dish a rather dark color. And the pasta was just slightly overcooked so not al-dente which is my preference. But the sauce was amazing and highly overcompensated for the slight weakness in the pasta itself. The red sauce was freshly made with chunks of whole tomatoes still scampering about. And just the slightest hints of onions peeped through. It was very hearty but amazingly sweet. One must compliment the chef for this minor miracle.

The entertainment was not too bad either. A re-run of Law & Order: SVU was showing. But that was bolstered by my very lovely company. All in all a good dinner.

I give it a 3 out of 4 possible stars.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins

I just finished Richard Dawkins' now classic The Blind Watchmaker. Not a bad book at all. But before I tell you about it I should provide some background.

I have a degree in English and American Literature and my minor was in History. In other words, I'm not great at science or math. But I've always been interested in some aspects of science and biology and evolution happen to be subjects I like. I'm not a complete moron when it comes to scientific subjects but I'm sure any 8th grade science geek could probably run rings around me.

Consequently, this book by Richard Dawkins is made for me. The way I understood it it was written with a general reader in mind. The book is well written and plausibly argued. And as long as you pay attention and follow the logic of the author's arguments it's not that hard to follow.

The basic premise of the book is to show how life could appear in the universe without a creator or any pre-conceived notion of design (the whole "Intelligent Design" argument now being debated across the U.S.). Dawkins obviously loves Darwin and bases his argument on cumulative evolution over billions of years (the age of the Earth [and please shut-up you stupid creationists trying to argue that the Earth is only 6,000 years old!]). Dawkins patiently explains how such a slow and random process like natural selection could evolve our life-forms over vast amounts of time. Like I said, I'm no great scientist, but the argument makes perfect sense and I still fail to see why anyone tries to argue otherwise (except, of course, for religious reasons, but those are very silly reasons).

Overall, this is a good way to try to understand evolution in more depth than the few words hopefully given to you in high school and college. There are a few parts which I found to be boring (like the taxonomy debates and different schools of thought in taxonomy) but I think this book is an important read--especially now that religious nuts are trying to dumb people down.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Brokeback Mountain (or, My Attempt at a Movie Review)

Brokeback Mountain I would rate as a very good film. Apart from whatever political or social issues it raises, it is a good film.

Very simply, it is a love story. The film, in episodic fashion, captures the love affair between two men in Wyoming from the 1960s to the 1970s. Their meeting, the awkwardness of their initial feelings towards each other, their drifting apart and coming back together over the course of a lifetime is shown (for the most part) just as it should be in a love story--slowly, like melting butter.

But then of course there has to be complications in order to make drama. Considering who the characters are (two gay cowboys in Wyoming and Texas in the 1960s) it's not hard to see where the drama comes from. Of course the characters have to confront their own position in society. Plus they have to confront whatever ambiguous feelings they themselves might feel because of how they were brought up (which Heath Ledger does remarkably well). And, sadly, they have to confront their ruptured family lives, again because of who they are. The actors, in my opinion, did superb in capturing all that conflict.

One of the strengths in this film is the understatement. The time, the place, but most especially the characters are very muted. Heath Ledger is wonderful as a man struggling very hard (and winning) at trying to not allow the emotions to seep through. The kind of world they live in doesn't allow huge dramatics from anyone, least of all a couple of gay men. Consequently, much of the film has to work against itself by trying to make the drama as undramatic as they possibly can. There is much loss, anger, heartbreak, and sadness in this film--but very few "Oscar winning moments."

I think this film captures the best and the worst in all of us. It is amazing when feeling those initial slings of passion when we fall in love. It is degrading and dehumanizing when feeling the heartache and grief that can come from it. That is all here. And anyone who thinks this might be just some novelty because there are so few films with gay characters with such depth should watch this film. It is so much a story of our own fragile heart.

Master of Puppets by Metallica

(this is a blog entry from another blog of mine now defunct; originally posted 8/25/05)

Master of Puppets (1986)Produced by Metallica and Flemming Rassmussen

One of the best albums ever, in my opinion. This was Metallica when they started to take over the world.I first heard Master of Puppets shortly before the release of ...And Justice For All. A friend of mine loved Metallica and kept telling me to listen to them, but I wouldn't because another friend of mine who was a huge Iron Maiden fan told me they sucked. Eventually I gave in and borrowed a tape of Master of Puppets. I was amazed that something with that much power and heft was coming out of my cheap stereo. For the next two or three weeks I listened to it non-stop, very loud, over and over again. (My father was pissed!)

What struck me about Master of Puppets initially was how heavy and fast it sounded (at least back in 1988 or so when I heard it). The songs seemed very well-developed and not just a collection of melodies (they almost have a narrative drive behind them). And the lyrics were menacing. I loved it.

The work starts off with Battery, one of Metallica's best songs. There is an acoustic guitar which opens the song--kind of haunting--then the loud electric guitars kick off, picking up the same melody. The rest of the song is like a frenzy, with much power and rhythm.The next song is the classic title track. This is one of the songs on the album which seems to have a narrative drive. There is a purpose to the way the song is structured, with a definite opening, middle and end. The solo in the middle is quite lovely and the "cackles of the damned" at the end add a nice touch.Other songs of note: The Thing That Should Not Be has a very menacing, mesmerizing opening and H.P. Lovecraft-inspired lyrics; Disposable Heroes has a great, driving rhythm throughout the whole song--when you hear the song it feels like going to a war; Orion is a great instrumental with a nice little part by Cliff Burton (bass)--very moody song with a lot of different parts to it (I wish Metallica still did instrumentals); Damage, Inc. closes the album on yet another frenzied note, the song is harsh and ugly (I love it!).

Overall Master of Puppets has a sense of menace, madness, and "hell on earth." Plus it still is one of the heaviest albums I've ever heard.

Cover Art:The cover shows a military cemetery with a reddish sky in the background and giant hands in the sky playing with the puppet strings attached to the crosses on the graves. Very doom-laden cover.

Links:Metallica.com--official website http://www.metallica.com/index.aspThe Metallica Club--fan club website http://www.metclub.com/