The Cringe at the Heart of Christmas

[image via TV by the Numbers]

Giles Fraser from the Guardian blasts it.

Christmas can be a bad time for those of us with an allergy to all that Jesus-is-my-friend theology. As the angels sing, the eternal mystery pulsing through all things becomes a human being. Yes, this is orthodox Christianity. But what too many Christians take from this is theological permission to get terribly chummy with the divine. As God turns into Jesus, mystery can be replaced by sentiment, eternity forced to the scale of the domestic imagination. God becomes my best buddy. It’s the cringe at the heart of Christmas. […]

Evangelical Christianity, with all its emphasis on Jesus as friend, risks domesticating the divine, pulling God too much within the dimensions of the human perspective. With this sort of Jesus at hand, God becomes just too easy.Yes, of course, one can read the incarnation very differently. I would argue that the idea of God as a baby is one of the most disruptive theological suggestions ever made. After all, isn’t God supposed to be omnipotent? Here, Jesus is a supreme form of denial – a denial of God as power. And this powerlessness can be as much intellectual as anything else. To be a Christian is not to have the answers. Sometimes it’s just about living the questions.

Word.

[Giles Fraser @ the Guardian via the Browser]

[Animated GIF via If We Don’t, Remember Me]

December 14, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Reading. 1 comment.

Who Cares About Kanye West?

[image via the Bygone Bereau]

Passion of the Weiss is my favorite rap blog.  Last month their host of contributors held a roundtable discussion on Kanye West’s new album.  The idol worship you’ll find at Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and PopMatters is absent here.  Let’s get into it.

Floodwatch:

Kanye West and his music perfectly encapsulate everything that is fundamentally wrong with pop music and pop culture right now. It’s the reason why I occasionally gnash my teeth in my sleep, why I refuse to watch television anymore, and why my gaze never strays from my shopping cart when I’m standing in the checkout line at the market. It’s unwarranted and self-made celebrity; it’s endless, narcissistic self-isolation on a Facebook page. Its bloated, glitzy splendor is the equivalent of a gated subdivision full of vacant McMansions. It’s everything I’m trying to eliminate from my life in 2010: unnecessary noise and excess.

Jeff Weiss

For my wooden nickel, the best rap music is usually menacing and minimal. This has neither, but it succeeds because Kanye is the only person with enough vision to pull it off. As much as I enjoy this record, I’m loathe to consider the impact it will have on the next generation. […]

If this is the album that American culture deserves, it’s not what we should aspire to– no matter how tongue-in-cheek or self-aware our jokes are.

Aaron Matthews

The album is simultaneously layered and shallow. […]

But Kanye excels at excess. He makes the sprawling personal and compulsively listenable. He’s pulled the strange trick of becoming more relatable as he’s gotten more infamous. […]

Yeezy reupholstered my brain.

Doc Zeus

I’m pushing my entire stack of chips onto black at the roulette table and going to call this the finest album of his career. I’m going all in. No joke. I love this record.

Cleaning up the floor after spitting my most venomous bile on it (you happy now, Jeff?), I still find the record to be uniformly excellent.

Disco Vietnam

Kanye West is a space cadet. I can’t relate to him. It’s unfortunate because my ability to relate to him was the very reason I’d first supported him. I found his passion endearing. I admired his self-assuredness; he seemed to know how to balance it with a sense of humor. […]

To hail it as perfection is beyond foolish, reckless. When the stakes are this high the critical community has a responsibility to be more judicious with its praise. Yes, this album is important; it’s also indulgent, exhausting, ponderous, all the things we tear less fashionable albums to shreds for being. […]

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy believes itself to be perfect; it’s shallow at best and at worst contrived. […]

This album is a triumph in every conceivable way but the one that matters most: is it an effective piece of art?

Sach O

So it’s officially Kanyemania out there today. Pitchfork gave the album a 10.0, Slate’s got it as album of the year and the mainstream press seems officially content to anoint Kanye as the superstar demigod he wants to be perceived as […]

I’d been avoiding getting caught up in the hype surrounding this thing in the goal to listen to it as a whole and to see how I feel about it as a complete album. Since dude thinks he’s a world-class artist making some genius shit, I figured I’d rate him to his desired standards: harshly and mercilessly based on the full record as he conceived it.

To be honest, I was ready to tear into My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but despite it’s masturbatory song-lengths, overcooked sense of self-importance and the fact that it’s made by a man who’s evolved into one of the most annoying celebrities of all time (of all time!)…This is a great album.

Douglas Martin

It’s almost like on this album, Kanye actually has enough money to cater to every impulse, and it’s not always pretty.

Though it ranks in the lower-half of Kanye’s catalog, one thing I can say about this record is that it’s the complete opposite of formulaic, which is downright heroic for a pop star. Although I agree that ambitious failures should not be placed higher in value than modest successes, I think both are commendable.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, even in its flaws, shows that Kanye really cares. Every note– all two-billion of them– seem carefully considered, and you can almost hear Kanye in the background of one of those choir breakdowns saying, “This would sound DOPE if I put a didgeridoo right here!” Pop music is supposed to be formulaic, disposable. Pop stars aren’t supposed to put this music thought, this much effort, into a pop album. Or maybe it’s not and they are, and it takes a record as ambitious as this one to show everyone what pop music could be like if everybody just tried harder.

Abe Beam

This album will age.

December 7, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Reading. Leave a comment.

Stephen Hawking Is out to Sell Books

Tell me you know what an internet troll looks like by now.

How is Stephen Hawking any different? By stirring up controversy over his boring new book about quantum physics, he gets to make bank. Don’t fall for simple shenanigans.

Anthony Gottlieb @ the Economist was not impressed:

The authors may be in this enviable state of enlightenment, but most readers will not have a clue what they are on about. Some physics fans will enjoy “The Grand Design” nonetheless. The problem is not that the book is technically rigorous—like “A Brief History of Time”, it has no formulae—but because whenever the going threatens to get tough, the authors retreat into hand-waving, and move briskly on to the next awe-inspiring notion. Anyone who can follow their closing paragraphs on the relation between negative gravitational energy and the creation of the universe probably knows it all already. This is physics by sound-bite.

So as a book, it’s probably not for you. Let’s get on with why Hawking’s “god is dead” argument is particularly droll.

Graham Farmello @ the Daily Telegraph:

It is perhaps a bit rich for Hawking to make God redundant after granting him/her/it a celebrity cameo at the end of his multi-million selling A Brief History of Time. In his famous conclusion to the book, Hawking wrote that if scientists could find the most fundamental laws of nature “then we should know the mind of God”. To be fair, he was writing metaphorically – we all know what he meant.

He now suggests that the search for this particular Holy Grail is over, now that scientists have come up with a type of theory, known as M-theory, that may describe the behaviour of all the fundamental particles and force, and even account for the very birth of the universe. If this theory is backed up by experiment, it might perhaps replace all religious accounts of creation – in Hawking’s capacious mind, it already has.

Bottom line:

Science and religion are about fundamentally different things. No religion has ever been rendered obsolete by facts or observations, but this happens to most scientific theories, at least in the long run. […]

A useful characteristic of a scientific theory is that it must be possible, at least in principle, for experimenters to prove it wrong. […]

No religion has ever been set out in terms of scientific statements. This is why scientists are able to mock the claims of religions but have never been able to deal a knock-out blow: in the end, a religious believer can always fall back on a faith that does not depend on verification.

So believe what you will and don’t troll or be trolled. Unless you’re trying to sell books that is.

[both articles via the always relevant Browser]

[image via my mmo site]

September 15, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Reading. 4 comments.

Citation Gimmicks

Scientists are a bickering bunch. Great discussion over at Scientopia.org, which, among other things, is a new home for science bloggers who defected from Science Blogs after it imploded.

Anyway, DrugMonkey asked his readers:

How often do you consider, in any way, the identity of the journal in which a finding was published when making your choice?

I was happy to weigh in.

I don’t consider the journal. I do, however, consider the number of citations a paper has already garnered especially if it’s older.
If it was published in 2001 and only has two citations, then it’s probably not the best citation source.
I use Web of Science for this chore.

That comment didn’t go over well with some. Pinus:

wow…people pick what papers to cite based on how many citations it has? seriously? Based on that, once a paper gets enough citations, it is becomes unending loop of building citations?

I pick based on what I am saying. For reviews and other general points that don’t quite require a primary citation, I cite somebody who I think will review it.

DrugMonkey agrees:

Yeah, pinus, agree the circularity is weird. Citing the most-cited also recipe for misciting if you ask me.

I push back directly.

Circularity is weird? Maybe if you’re already an expert in your field, writing reviews, etc. As a recent Master’s graduate I think it’s both a time saver and legitimate practice. Sure, there are times when I think it’s appropriate to shirk this short-cut, but I don’t know enough about my new field to do it all the time.
I think citation nepotism is far more troubling than citing established papers.

DrugMonkey dodges and the conversation goes elsewhere.

If by citing nepotism you mean preferentially choosing your tight science homies’ papers, I’m not really seeing where that is any more objectionable than the practices described in this comment thread.

Discourse!

(Why was I the only one to use my real name?)

[Read more from DrugMonkey @ Scientopia]

[image via thagirion]

September 3, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Reading. 2 comments.

How Long for a Compressed PhD?

David Ng at Boing Boing asks an interesting question:

How long would your Ph.D. have taken if everything worked?

When I meet other scientist types, this can be one of the most interesting questions to throw out there.

We can use mine as an example. […]

6 months.

Fine, fine. Interesting enough premise, but this page really shines in the comments section. Commenter #4 known as “complicity” takes Ng back to school:

The question misunderstands the role and purpose of the PhD. The PhD’s outcome is not the thesis – that’s just a byproduct, an artefact, a recording- but the critical thinking, understanding and knowledge of the person who earns the PhD. You’re not the person who started the PhD; you’re someone else.

So, time for reading, understanding, and developing skills, thought processes and judgement usually needs to be factored in.

The PhD is not just doing the experiments and getting the results; it’s formulating the experiments and understanding why you want to run them, and what the results mean in a broader context.

My PhD took just over five years. Even if all the experiments and programming had worked without error, and other human factors had not occurred to slow things up, a decent number of years would still be needed for developing an understanding the field and formulating the right questions. Less than three years seems unlikely, given my starting point.

In much the same way, undergraduate courses take a number of years, and the person who graduates successfully is very different from the younger person who entered the course.

Often, gaining the necessary maturity can’t be rushed.

[More discussion @ Boing Boing]

[image via PhD Comics]

September 2, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Reading. 2 comments.