Sweet Spot #6

Today’s musical treat includes visits from an old favorite (David Bowie), a new favorite (The Decemberists), an old favorite that I didn’t know about until recently (Kevin Ayers), and three-quarters of the Beatles. Enjoy.



Death, Rebirth, the Universe, and Everything


Doing research for yesterday’s post, I came across an amazing piece in Wired (from whence I stole the gorgeous picture at the top of this page, which I honestly believe in every legal sense to be in the public domain, as most NASA photos are). It’s called “Baby Neutron Star Found Inside Supernova Remnant,” and it starts like this:

Scientists have finally identified the mysterious source of X-ray emissions at the center of our galaxy’s youngest supernova: Inside the remains of Cassiopeia A sits a baby neutron star surrounded by a thin layer of carbon dioxide.

That’s right: A new star is born from the remains of a dead star. It’s just too metaphorically precise, isn’t it? Some might see this as evidence of a benevolent deity, or intelligent design, or some such thing; but it reminds me of the Babel fish:

The Babel fish, said The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy quietly, is small, yellow and leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy not from its carrier but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain which has supplied them. The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language. The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel fish.

Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindboggingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as the final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.

The argument goes something like this: ‘I refuse to prove that I exist,’ says God, ‘for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.

‘But,’ says Man, ‘The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.’

‘Oh dear,’ says God, ‘I hadn’t thought of that,’ and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.

Chaotic Transport

A NASA artist's conception of the Interplanetary Transport Network.

A NASA artist's conception of the Interplanetary Transport Network.

The mutation from terrestrial to interstellar life must be made, because the womb planet itself is going to blow up in a few billion years…. Planet Earth is a stepping stone on our time-trip through the galaxy. Life has to get its seed-self off the planet to survive….

There are also some among us who are bored with the amniotic level of mentation on this planet and look up in hopes of finding someone entertaining to talk to.

–Timothy Leary and L. Wayne Brenner

Last night’s viewing was Werner Herzog’s The Wild Blue Yonder, a bizarre mindfuck of a movie combining found footage, video of scuba diving in Antarctica and a space shuttle mission, and Brad Dourif playing an alien whose narration ties the whole thing together. Herzog calls this science fiction, though he claims his previous exposure to sci-fi consisted of one of the “Star War” movies and one of the movies with “Dr. Spock” in it. (more…)

The Day the Music Tortured

There seems to be a bit of kerfluffle going about the fact that music may have been used as an instrument of torture at Guantanamo Bay and other American detention camps. According to the Washington Post,

A high-profile coalition of artists — including the members of Pearl Jam, R.E.M. and the Roots — demanded last week that the government release the names of all the songs that, since 2002, were blasted at prisoners for hours, even days, on end, to try to coerce cooperation or as a method of punishment.

Certainly one can understand why an artist would not want their work either classified as torture or used for that purpose, although James Hetfield of Metallica seems to take it as a perverse sort of compliment: “We’ve been punishing our parents, our wives, our loved ones with this music for ever. Why should the Iraqis be any different?”