And now back to the regularly scheduled program

It’s been far to long since I last did a blog post. I’ve been swamped at work for the last two months preparing for a major software release and have been traveling some too. I must also confess that I haven’t really been inspired to write a post either for much the same reasons that Jen McCreight recently talked about (1). I’ve felt that much of the news lately has just been more of the same old crap we’ve been dealing up, wrapped up in a fresh coat of paint. Thankfully, both of those reasons are no longer relevant. I’ve got free time again, and am starting to feel the desire to write again, partly due to various things grabbing my attention, partly due to knowing that we just have to keep talking about these issues . I’ve got two blog posts coming up, one about the film “Shame,” directed by Steve McQueen, and another about near death experiences, so hang tight.

(1) McReight, Jen. “Sorry for the lack of posts.” BlagHag. 16th Apri 2012. http://freethoughtblogs.com/blaghag/2012/04/sorry-for-the-lack-of-posts/

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Art is for everyone, you just have to know where to look.

I really do believe that art is for everyone, but many people don’t get into it because they are intimidated. I can understand the (false) perception that you have to have this encyclopedic understanding of art history in order to appreciate art, and that if you don’t just absolutely love every piece cited as a masterpiece, then it’s your fault and you just don’t “get it.” It’s unfortunate that this perception is so prevalent because it is patently untrue.

On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt

On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt (1)

Art is, almost by definition, subjective. It is emotional. When experiencing art, we are going on a journey, one in which we bring all of our past experiences and values in to our understanding and appreciation of a work. Given the huge diversity of experiences, it seems obvious (to me at least) why everyone experiences art differently, and thus appreciates different art.

I do think that there is an objective answer to the technical qualities of a work. Some pieces are just simply painted/written/composed better than others. I don’t think that anyone would claim that Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto’s are less technically accomplished than The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, or that the Monet’s On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt is less technically accomplished than Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup.

For me personally, though, I prefer Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band over the concertos because I just don’t respond emotionally to Baroque era pieces. Similarly I like the Warhol piece over the Monet piece because the impressionistic period, well, kinda bores me. Most impressionists painted subjects who were well off, usually in a state of leisure. I don’t get the sense that impressionists were trying to really say anything with there pieces, but rather were trying to push the boundaries of technique. This approach just doesn’t invoke the same response in me that the idea-focused works of Picasso or Dali do.

Campbell's Soup Cans

Campbell's Soup Cans (2)

I don’t mean to diminish the importance of Monet or Bach; they were both pivotal to the growth of their respective meanings, and were very talented artists. They just aren’t my cup of tea is all, which is fine. I recognize that many people don’t share the same tastes that I have. Shostakovich is one of my favorite composers, but critical opinions of him are mixed. For example, French composer Pierre Boulez was critical of  Shostakovich, dismissing it as “the second, or even third pressing of Mahler.” (3) That doesn’t really matter to me though, because when I listen to his work, I love it. I also recognize that Boulez doesn’t like Shostakovich the same way that I don’t like Monet. Everyone is different, and that makes it interesting.

So what about someone who isn’t in to art and doesn’t know where to start? My advice is to try and sample as much as possible. Go to a varied and all-encompasing museum (such as the de Young museum in San Francisco), instead of a more focused museum (like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art). Museums like the de Young make it easy to see a lot of different types of artwork. The same thing for music, film, and literature: just experience as much as possible. There is so much variety in the art world that there is most likely something for everyone. Finding out what one likes is the hard part. Once you know what you like the rest is easy, and rewarding.

(1) “On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt.” The Art Institute of Chicago. Available: http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/exhibitions/Impressionism/Monet
(2) “Andy Warhol.” Wikipedia. Available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andy_Warhol
(3) “Dimitri Shostakovich.” Wikipedia. Available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dmitri_Shostakovich#Criticism

P.S. My banner for this site is a cropped version of a photo I took of a piece at the de Young museum in San Francisco.

The future of space: outlook hazy

The last year has seen a flurry of news related to space exploration; some of it good, some of it bad, and some of it hard to decipher. Here in the US, we have seen the end of the space shuttle and the future of the James Web Space Telescope (JWST) put in doubt. Things aren’t quite as dire at the international level, with some truly exciting things happening, but not all is roses there either.

Artist's rendition of the JWST

Artist's rendition of the JWST (1)

The JWST is on the chopping block in Congress right now, and there are a couple of scenarios that may play out, most of them bad. It may be cancelled alltogether (which the Republicans would love), it may not be cancelled but at the same time may not be funded (which might be even worse), or it may be funded (1). This first two options are terrible, and the third option is the least likely. The JWST funding issues are a sign of a greater problem in the US: the conservative right’s lack of foresight and general disdain for science.

The Chinese have made great strides recently in their space program . In 2003, China became the third country in the world to put a human into space. More recently, they performed a successful docking procedure between two unmanned vehicles, Shenzhou-8 and Tiangong-1, paving the way for future manned docking missions. Their ultimate goal is to get a functional space station, and I would be surprised if they fail (2).

Artist's rendition of Phobos-Grunt

Artist's rendition of Phobos-Grunt (4)

Russia has historically been the other big player in space exploration. They have a fantastic safety record compared to the US, and have put more people in space as well. They are currently the method of getting supplies and people to and from the International Space Station. Recently, things haven’t been going as well, though. In August, a Soyuz resupply spacecraft for the ISS crashed on takeoff, causing all future Soyuz missions to be grounded until the problem was fixed, which left the ISS stranded during this time (3). Just a few days ago, a Mars bound probe suffered a malfunction causing it to get stranded in Earth’s orbit. Most likely the craft will be lost (4).

So what does the future hold? The future of space exploration certainly isn’t as bright as it was back in the 60s and 70s, but I think that there are still good things ahead. The problems that the Russians are encountering will get worked out. I suspect that the China will become a major player in space exploration in the future as well. As for the US? I’m not nearly as confident. The Republicans seem determined to give up on space exploration and let the Russians and the Chinese take our place as the forerunners of space. I really want the US to succeed, but ultimately I just hope that someone does.

(1) Plait, Phill. “The Senate has “saved” JWST? Hang on a sec, folks…” Bad Astronomy. 15th September, 2011. Available: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/09/15/the-senate-has-saved-jwst-hang-on-a-sec-folks
(2) Associated Press. “China space station test modules dock in historic rendezvous.” The Guardian. 3rd November, 2011. Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/nov/03/china-space-station-modules-dock
(3) Brown, Mark. “Grounded Soyuz rockets could leave ISS abandoned.” Wired. 30th August, 2011. Available: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2011-08/30/abandoned-iss
(4) Brown, Mark. “Russia’s Phobos-Grunt Mars probe stranded in Earth orbit.” Ars Technica. 9th November, 2011. Available: http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2011/11/russias-phobos-grunt-mars-probe-stranded-in-earth-orbit.ars

Why I am an atheist.

This image was posted at Atheist Revolution today, and it’s an excellent explanation for why I am an atheist. Reading the comments at Atheist Revolution indicates that many of us feel that way too.

Why I am an atheist

Why I am an atheist (1)

We so often hear from the religious the sayings mentioned above. “Why do you hate god?”, “You Satan worshiper”, “You can’t disprove god”, etc. I do think that taking on these questions individually is important, but it doesn’t help us win the bigger picture. “If one argument fails, it doesn’t matter because there are so many other reasons why god is real” or so believers think. We need to get this type of message out more because it takes on this belief directly. It puts us on the offensive, so to speak, and is more likely to sway people on the fence. Kudos to the author of this image for creating such a concise and effective statement!

Update 11/13/11: This post has become quite popular recently. To everyone visiting my blog for the first time, welcome! I have a few other posts that are similar to this one you might be interested in: “Coming out as atheist,” “The search for meaning without religion,” and “My journey from being a liberal Christian in Texas to an Atheist in California.”

(1) vjack. “Why I am an Atheist.” Atheist Revolution. 14th June, 2011. Available: http://www.atheistrev.com/2011/06/why-i-am-atheist.html

The obsession with Weiner’s wiener

Off topic, but I want to talk briefly about the whole controversy surrounding Anthony Weiner. Mainly, why is there a controversy? Seriously, why the hell do people care about this? Our government is facing some major challenges right now, from high unemployment, to spiraling debt, etc, and yet we’re focusing on this? These are the qualities that we judge a politician on, not how well they do their job? I seriously don’t care that Weiner was unfaithful, and thus like the majority of men in the US. That people tend to decide to support/reject a politician (or more importantly, a candidate) based on their personal lives is just ludicrous. When electing people, we are really serving the role of hiring manager. We are reviewing the candidates and selecting the best person for the job. If a hiring manager at a private company made a hiring decision based on a candidate’s personal life, all hell would break loose. So why is it not only not a big deal, but expected in politics? The best answer I have to give is that people are idiots.