Month: July 2005

Life of Pi (Yann Martel)

There is something distinctly non-American about the narrative in "Life of Pi." A flow of story that writers here seem to have forgotten: an seemingly infinite expansion when the story becomes wide and sweeping; a narrowing speedup where the story starts rushing like a rapid. Unpredictability is hence the motto, and it serves the story well.

Life of Pi is a narrative that brought me closer to life, to nature, to humanity. It is probably the best work of fiction I have read this year, by a wide margin. Throughout the reading, I felt reminded of writers like Italo Calvino, who by force of their language evoke a world that does not exist, and make us believe in it for the split second we can give them our undivided attention.


Spanish Concert

Friend invited me to an open air concert of the San Francisco Symphony at Dolores Park, with the main theme of "Spain."

It was a packed event, and people streamed into the venue long after it had all started. It was a wonderful day, with the heat of Saturday replaced by Sunday’s stream of cool fog air.

All in all a success. My hosts had packed great lunches, and wine to boot. I had brought some water, ice cream, and a tan-through swimsuit. And of course my bike, and my cycling clothes, as if to underline the recent ending of the Tour de France.


Cancer and Evolution?

Strolling back from my morning coffee run, I noticed a pigeon with a giant cancerous growth underneath its left wing. I didn’t know pigeons suffer from tumors, although it surely makes sense.

I was feeling pity for the poor little fella, but suddenly my thoughts turned in a different direction: what if the tumor growth had actually been something that helps the pigeon survive? What if the distinguishing features of a pigeon were actually determined not by slow mutation and selection, but by a mechanism that allows for sudden appearance of a new feature without slow motion?

I was always puzzled at cancer, because it seems to occur naturally in animals, as if it were a normal condition of life. Given how much time the body spends putting itself in balance, it would have seemed that the cell regulation would have had an easy time suppressing whatever causing the uncontrolled growth that goes with cancer.

Now, if tumors in general are the way new features are tested, this would explain a lot. Animals that are not able to have tumors because they optimized their cellular reproduction would be doomed to eternal stagnation. Animals that are incapable of controlling their reproduction fully would have an easier chance at sudden mutation.

Just a thought, but a fruitful one at that.

Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism (J.S. Spong)

The most outstanding thing an alien from Western Europe notices when crossing the border to the United States is the degree to which Puritanism has influenced the world view of the common human in this country. Literal fundamentalism is something virtually unknown where I come from, and the Bible as a whole is read as a book illustrating the divine, not taking it for granted.

Indeed, Western Europe has spent a great many years and a great many deaths on finally convincing itself the earth is not flat, the sun does not revolve around the earth, and that God did not create the world in seven literal days. Here in America, though, people seem to genuinely believe that the Bible is the literal word of God (which it claims for itself only in special circumstances). In addition, people here seem to believe that any iniquity or inaccuracy is justified if they can find a verse in the Bible that seems to hint in their direction.

Time Frame of Ministries

John 8:57 has the Jews say that Jesus was not yet 50 when he came to Jerusalem. (They mock him for claiming to have seen Abraham). If that is the case, then Jesus was probably close enough, but not yet 50; maybe in his late fourties?

That is of importance, because the Gospels constantly talk about this generation as the target of the words of Jesus. And while Paul portrays himself as the apostle to the Gentiles, nothing in the Gospels mentions him; there is though a reference to a mission to the entire world, but it surely reads like a late addition.


Uploaded Pictures

Here they are! After a lot of waiting (mostly due to the fact I was too lazy to move the pictures from my laptop to the web server – it’s 260MB of them, after all!!!), here the {moszoomalbum:2005-07-02} with the pictures of the trip to Hawai’i.

A few changes to the usual format: this time I refrained from putting all pictures from one day in the same folder, and just highlighted the places we went to. In the end, the Big Island is a big rock with outstanding features, and you really don’t spend all day taking pictures.


Zucchero & Co. (CD)

There are the times when you realize you have been missing home for way too long. In nothing else do I realize it as much as when I get to hear music from Italy, one of my home countries, the one with the more distinct music tradition.

Italy has of course an extremely long tradition in music, as exemplified by the copious amounts of musical terms that are borrowed from the Italian. There is opera, of course, but also concert (from Italian in concerto, together); there is the violin, the cello (from Italian violoncello, little big viola). And there are scores of musicians that are unknown outside Italy, but once in a while reach out and become famous.

Zucchero Fornaciari is one of them. He has a wonderful dark voice, and if he were American, you’d probably hear him called soulful.


The Seven Samurai (1954)

So what’s the deal with this one? Billed as one of the Greatest Movies of All Times on IMDB (#5), it took me four days to watch it. Somehow the plot was too predictable, the scenes too repetitious, the acting unintelligible without cultural context. Didn’t get it. Sorry. Maybe in a next life.

The Tipping Point (M. Gladwell)

I had heard about this book, "The Tipping Point", for a while and decided to give it a read. At first, I thought it was going to be something like "Built to Last" or "First, Break All the Rules": a book with a single message that could have been written as two sentences, but is fluffed up with examples and discussions. Not the case here.

A tipping point, according to the author, is a sudden change in the state of a mass of humans according to which something that was not popular just before the tipping point is popular after. The tipping point fits in the theory of the chasm, according to which there is a strong difference between the first people that adopt a technology and the next group. This book is about what kind of things help moving across the chasm and generating a tipping point.

"The Tipping Point" goes into detail about what exactly constitutes a tipping point, and how to get there. The author focuses on three elements:

  1. The Law of the Few – in any given environment that is subject to a tipping point, there are a select few that can make the tipping occur. There are Connectors, who have lots of people they know and thus function as spreading agents; there are Mavens, who have specialized knowledge and like to pass it on; and there are Salesmen, who are able to convince people who are doubting.
  2. The Stickiness Factor explains that only those changes can cause a tipping point that are inherently sticky. If something is quickly forgotten, it will disappear soon no matter how contagious it is. This is akin to the spreading of viruses: Ebola is highly contagious, but it soon kills the host and an epidemic never occurred on a global scale.
  3. The Power of Context asserts that even a small change in the environment can have a very strong global impact, if it works with the other two principles to pursue a change.


Back from Hawai’i

After a horrific nine hour non-stop flight (four of them spent on the ground waiting for a "battery charger"), I finally made it back in one piece from Hawai’i. A week of travel is about all I can handle right now, especially since the house didn’t close yet and I have a trillion things to do.