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The secret
8:00pm Tuesday 31 October 2006 by rudy

The secret to enjoying high-culture arts like operas and the ballet is to know the storyline before watching the performance.

We go to symphonies for the pure enjoyment of watching the conductor and the orchestra paint their tableau of music. There may be a backdrop of information behind the music, or more often than not, there is nothing but the music. But what if intead of just music, there is a storyline? The music by itself is not enough to convey the narrative. This is when the music and the musicians go into the background, and characters emerge to carry the narrative. On one end of this is a musical, with dialog and songs. Moving up the scale is the operetta where almost all of the dialog is rendered in song. At opera scales, the dialog itself becomes more stylized in the form of poetry. Topping out would be a ballet, where there is no dialog, and the narrative is danced as a strict discipline.

Most people start distancing themselves at the opera level, largely because the vocals weren’t quite comprehensible. When it comes to ballets, men flee, and women watch it for the beauty and elegance of the dancers, and not necessarily for the plot.

If you know the storyline to the opera or the ballet, then the audience gets to fill in the context for the artists expression of the story.

Without knowing the storyline, Swan Lake is a nice dance. With the storyline, it is a tale of love, betrayal, and redemption. Not knowing the plot, you lose the motivation for Odette: she is just a dancer moving here and there for no really good reason. Knowing the story of Swan Lake transforms her performance to one of sadness at being cursed to live as a Swan by day, and why even though an evil sorcerer cursed her thus, she still protected the sorcerer from being killed by the Prince because the curse could never be broken if the sorcerer was dead. It requires knowing the story of Swan Lake to understand that Odette and Odile are two very different people, even though in this production, both parts were danced by the same person.

Even without knowing the full backstory to Swan Lake, it was a beautiful perfomance by the dancers. The swans were especially graceful, using their bodies, arms, and legs to mimic the sway of swans.

Part of looking up the backstory of Swan Lake, I also discovered that over the years, there has been several different endings to the ballet, from the romantic to the tragic. The production in Pittsburgh is the version danced by the American Ballet Theater, which has a bittersweet ending in apotheosis after their deaths.

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Rules to live by
6:42am Monday 30 October 2006 by rudy

Rules to live by: Never make a “portable” when you can no longer taste the “diet” in the CrystalLight (or whatever that pixie stick of ice-tea mix was). And when you haven’t eaten all day. And you’ve been eating Jello shots like there was no tomorrow because you were hungry.

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Pale Blue Dot
7:14pm Tuesday 3 October 2006 by rudy

See the pale blue dot in the photo below? It’s the little pale dot a little past halfway down the image, in the rightmost lighter colored stripe of sunlight that is in the right quarter of the picture. That is Earth as viewed in 1990 by the Voyager I spacecraft when it was 4 billion miles away.
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On October 13, 1994, the late Carl Sagan with this picture delivered a public lecture at Cornell, excepted here:

We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.

The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity — in all this vastness — there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

More information about this photo can be found in the wikipedia and space.com.

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