December 2007


I saw Argonautika with Alex on Thursday at the Berkeley Rep. It was quite the visual treat, but I expect no less from Mary Zimmerman. Alex, being Greek, was confused by the Latinization of some of the names (he thinks Pollux should have been Polydefkis or something), and upon further reflection it seemed the naming was inconsistent — Aphrodite, not Venus, but then Hercules, not Herakles. I’m sure others reading this had a similar reaction (Darcy, I’m looking at you).

In the end, however, I was a little unsatisfied by the play — perhaps because the tale is so familiar the tension went out of the storytelling. However, the strength of the play is in how Zimmerman tells the story and brings out parts of the story that resonate with contemporary society. The first act’s main event was Hylas’ death at the spring and Hercules’ madness at losing his lover. Zimmerman makes explicit their relationship and how Hercules really needs Hylas. One of the more powerful moments is Heracles breaking down and crying, holding the pitcher Hylas had before his death, and Hera’s gleeful reaction.

Another thing that Zimmerman did bring out was the way in which Medea’s betrayal of her family is coerced (by the gods and then by Jason, who knowingly takes advantage of her). She is a teenager, and her desire for Jason is like that of a high school crush or obsession. Jason, who is not left off the hook in modern stagings of Euripides’s play, is depicted in Argonautika as a bit more human than his demigod crew. After Eros shoots Medea with his arrow, she appears on stage pierced by it, her white dress becoming more and more blood-soaked in each scene. Her passion is a disease which slowly overwhelms her. This arresting visual image was almost enough to carry the whole play, but it didn’t show up until the second act.

One thing I thought about the next day was how Medea’s impulsive behavior at the beginning of this story and her killing of her own children at the end of the story could be used together as a commentary on our times — in Euripides the Greeks might argue that Jason is the tragic hero and Medea is merely the agent of his undoing, but since contemporary performance puts the focus back on her, we can also ask to what degree society (and by extension the gods) are implicated in her actions? There’s another play lurking in there, somewhere…

Dear Web of Science,

When one is doing a citation search and actually looking at the papers that are turned up, having your search engine decide your session times out after 5 minutes is pretty inconvenient, especially since it means starting the whole search process over again each time. Saying “oh you can save a search” is pretty ridiculous too, since it requires your little cookies to infest my system.

Sincerely yours,
A Frustrated Graduate Student

This one’s for Liz, slogging her way through the semester’s end.

  1. Work Song (Oscar Brown, Jr.)
  2. Big River (Johnny Cash)
  3. Harem In Tuscany (Gogol Bordello)
  4. Turkish Mambo (Lennie Tristano)
  5. Temptation (Tom Waits)
  6. Just squeeze me (Ella Fitzgerald)
  7. History Repeating (Propellerheads feat. Shirley Bassey)
  8. Tank! (Yoko Kanno)
  9. This Year’s Kisses (Billie Holiday and Lester Young)
  10. Barbes-Brooklyn (Stephane Wrembel)
  11. I Am The Walrus (The Beatles)
  12. P.P. (Ornette Coleman)
  13. Alala (Cansei de Ser Sexy)
  14. North American Scum (LCD Soundsystem)
  15. Money, Money, Money (ABBA)
  16. D’yer Mak’er (Led Zeppelin)
  17. Love Potion Number 9 (The Searchers)
  18. The Dull Flame Of Desire (Bj:0uml;rk feat. Antony)
  19. Boys Don’t Cry (The Cure)
  20. Hallelujah, I Love Her So (Ray Charles)

For Rhode’s birthday and quite late, for which I apologize.

  1. Everybody Smokes In Hell (Paul Kotheimer)
  2. Been To Hell (comp. Phil Kline, from texts by Vietnam vets)
  3. Devil’s Haircut (Beck)
  4. Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea (Ella Fitzgerald)
  5. Reckless Night on Board An Ocean Liner (Raymond Scott)
  6. On Peanuts Playground (Wynton & Ellis Marsalis)
  7. Me, Myself And I (Billie Holiday)
  8. Red Hill Mining Town (U2)
  9. Big Rock Candy Mountain (from the O Brother soundtrack)
  10. Young At Heart (Tom Waits)
  11. Fairytale Of New York (The Pogues)
  12. A Christmas Carol (comp. Charles Ives, perf. Jan Degaetani)
  13. Air (comp. J.S. Bach, perf. Yo-Yo Ma & Bobby McFerrin)
  14. Seven Steps to Heaven (perf. Cassandra Wilson)
  15. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan)
  16. Seven Steps To Heaven (Miles Davis)
  17. Monkey Gone to Heaven (The Pixies)

Yes, “Seven Steps” is meant to be on there twice! I love that song…

On KALX this morning I heard the audio from Long-Haired Hare. I think it says something about my upbringing that I could visualize the entire cartoon as I listened to the track, right down to the orchestra members whispering “Leopold!” when Bugs takes the podium to conduct. What a great way to start the day!

The link should work until someone wises up and removes the video:

George makes the following argument: let X be a binary random variable that equals 1 if Iran has an active nuclear weapons program and 0 if not. Suppose that last month we knew that P(X = 1) = p > 1/2. Then we can measure our uncertainty about X via its entropy:

H(X) = hb(p) = – p log p – (1-p) log (1-p)

Here hb(p) is the binary entropy function. Now let Y be a random variable representing the NIE. We know that conditioning reduces entropy:

H(X | Y) ≤ H(X)

Let p’ be our new probability that X = 1 conditioned on the evidence Y. We cannot have p’ < p, because then hb(p’) > hb(p), which is a contradiction. Therefore p’ ≥ p and therefore the NIE shows that the chance Iran has an active nuclear program is even higher than before.

Exercise: Explain the error(s) in George’s argument.

Extra Credit: Write a short essay explaining why one should not abuse information theory for political ends.

Here’s a new recipe for sangria that I’ve played around with. Basically you roast/cook the fruit first. In this version you can steam/poach the fruit in the OJ and liqueur. I think you can then get away with not adding any of the sugar that you find in other recipes. Actually, in that sense it’s not really a recipe, it’s more of a nod in the “try making it this way, it might work” direction. I like it, but I’m still twiddling around with how to do it right.

2 apples cut into 1/4″ pieces
3 small tangerines, sliced into rounds and then quartered
grapes, halved
other fruit if you feel like it

1 cup orange juice
1/3 c brandy
1/3 c triple sec or Cointreau

3 bottles of red wine

put cut fruit into roasting pan and add half of the orange juice, brandy, and triple sec. Cover in foil and bake at 300 for 20 minutes. Remove foil and broil for a few minutes if desired (this is a leftover from the old version where you don’t poach the fruit). Quench fruit with 1/2 bottle of wine. Mix remaining half of brandy, triple sec, and wine with fruit and chill for a few hours. Add a little sugar if you think it’s too tangy, but ideally you shouldn’t have to.

I’ve completely revised my thesis strategy. Before I had hoped to make incremental progress: 2-4 solid pages a day of material I was happy with and would constitute a solid draft. Now I’m just wholesale copying chunks from papers I’ve written in the hopes of getting a handle on what holes I need to fill and how best to organize everything. I started feeling like writing my thesis was a zero-sum game where the payoff is my ability to think; every lemma I finalized in the text took away one potential lemma that I could prove about new and exciting problems. The new method means more tedious proofreading and checking later, but at least I have a sense of the big picture. Of course, now my pages vs. time graph is going to look strictly concave instead of linear, so as long as I stop thinking Δpages = progress it should all work out.

So I (along with many many other people) am looking for academic jobs this year. I wish I could say it felt like only yesterday that I was applying to grad school, but that would be somewhere between wishful thinking and outright mendacity.

Claire Kenyon has a post up at the Complexity Blog that (predictably) has come under some fire, although the comments thread seems to be dominated by a debate over how companies should conduct interviews of PhDs. I think it’s remarkably difficult to come up with universal specific recommendations for your application documents, because the requirements vary so much from university to university. Some ask for a combined research and teaching statement, or the page limits will vary from place to place. Even the delivery medium varies — some places ask you to upload a PDF cover letter (with no signature, I assume), some ask you to email your materials, and some ask you to mail a physical letter.

The one great thing about this process is that I am getting a better sense of how to contextualize my research in a way that gets me excited about new problems. If it wasn’t for the whole thesis writing thing, I’d have enough time to dig in to some of those problems…

On Saturday I saw a sneak preview of Sita Sings The Blues, an animated film by Nina Paley. It was an amazing piece of work. Having seen only some of the musical clips (from waaaaay back in the day), I was not prepared for how many different animation styles she used in the film. The film uses several narrative voices to tell the Ramayana story as Paley understands it.

The film is semi-autobiographical, and the ties between events in Paley’s life and treatment of Sita at the hands of Rama in the story are what lend the film and its implicit critique of Rama their weight. The main story is narrated by three shadow puppet figures, whose lines are taken from unscripted interviews with three Indians who try to hash out how the story goes, with minor disagreements and added embellishments along the way. The figures in this part of the story are painted cutouts that reminded me of the covers of Amar Chitra Katha comic books. As the story progresses there are also a number of musical numbers animated in the style visible in the stills shown on the film’s website. This is where Sita sings the blues in the voice of Annette Hanshaw.

The part of the story that seems to have gotten under Paley’s skin is Rama’s constant second-guessing of Sita. After rescuing her from Lanka, she has to prove her purity, and then after overhearing the dhobi beating his wife, Rama has Sita banished to the forest while she is pregnant. Having tried my own hand at finding a modern critical angle on some Hindu stories, I found this film delightful. Nina Paley is trying to get enough money to print the film to 35mm — hopefully she’ll be able to do that so people can see it in theaters.

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