Monday, June 19, 2006
The Oilers lost game 7 to the Hurricanes, ending an amazing playoff run.
The playoffs require a combination of endurance, luck, talent, grit, and most of all mental toughness. The Oilers showed all of these, and excited a city that knows how to appreciate what a great gift hockey is to our society.
The final series showed both teams at their best and worst, and the swings of emotion and momentum were remarkable. The lesson for me was that commitment and desire and talent are not enough for peak performance; there is another element, a spirit of performance that comes and goes, but which rests on the winning team more than on the losers. Congratulations to the Hurricanes, of course, but congratulations also to the Oilers who have begun a mighty journey as a team.
Sunday, June 11, 2006
ONE of Britain's most senior military strategists has warned that Western civilisation faces a threat on a par with the barbarian invasions that destroyed the Roman empire.
In an apocalyptic vision of security dangers, Rear Admiral Chris Parry said North African pirates could be attacking yachts and beaches in the Mediterranean within 10 years. Europe could be undermined by growing immigrant communities with little allegiance to host countries -- a "reverse colonisation" as Parry described it.
These groups would remain closely connected to their homelands via the internet and cheap flights. The idea of assimilation was becoming redundant, he said.
Uncritical embracing of all belief systems as being equal is doomed for the basic reason that it can't be true. If all beliefs are created equal, what do you do with the system that says YOUR system is inferior? It's an obvious Gotcha. And if you accept the right of believers to criticize your system, where do you draw the line? And if your system doesn't actually stand FOR anything, what do you draw the line with?
Everyone believes in something. Those who claim to be atheists, or even pantheists for that matter, may deny that there is a God of the universe, but they express beliefs about the true nature of existence and man's role in it that are as coherent as Christianity, only without the omnipotent divine element. Concepts of good and evil, mercy and cruelty, right and wrong exist, but conveniently without any moral consequences, merely natural outcomes. That's fine, but much of the human experience is left unexplained when the explainer's world lacks a divine force.
Me, I am a practising Christian who was a vigorous atheist for many years. I think Christianity explains plenty of things about the world and my place in it. But I am just as convinced that the gap between God and Man is greater than the gap between Man and, say, Cat. My cats have ideas about me, how I think in certain situations, what I can and can't do, how I fill my day. And I in turn have ideas about God, how He thinks in certain situations, what He can and can't do, how He fills his day, or His Eons. And while I am content with the coherence of my ideas about God, they are no more likely to be true than my cats' ideas about me.
So before I go telling someone that they are wrong and I am right about religion, I will think how smart the smartest cat is about me, and I will be silent. But I would expect anyone else who is prepared to act against me in the name of his religion to reconsider and then stop, based on the same thinking. And I applaud those who are vigilant in revealing and ending organized attempts by any persons who, in the name of their God, would seek to impose their cat-brained ideas on the rest of the world.
Sunday, June 04, 2006
Naoki Honjo's photographs have sparked off a wave of imitations. Taken either from a helicopter or a skyscraper with a tilt-shift lens, they depict the urban landscape as though it were a miniature model. A number of articles published online have explained how to use techniques in Photoshop to create the effect in photographs taken with standard lenses. The copycat images broadly produce the same results, but they come across as gimmicks, somehow lacking any sense of the artist's original vision, because Honjo's work is more than just model photography.
In the exhibition at Aoyama Book Centre, which follows his recent show at the Good Design Company, an image of a tiny helicopter taking off from a port reminds the viewer that it is the real world that he is photographing and not just a still-life made of plastic. Finding it strange how much we take for granted surroundings which have been built by people we do not know, Honjo aims to express a "sense of falseness" about the cities we live in. The bird's eye view creates a strong sense of detachment from life at ground level, and the toylike miniaturization of the city makes the urban infrastructure appear incredibly fragile.
Dozens took part in the bizarre event at Cooper's Hill in Brockworth, Gloucestershire, before a crowd of about 3000 cheering spectators.
They raced for 200m down the slope after wheel-shaped Double Gloucester cheeses, decorated in a blue and red ribbon.
Many slipped, somersaulted and tumbled their way to the bottom during five bone-crunching races over two hours.
Of the 25 people hurt, 12 were spectators, one of whom was hit by one of the hard, 4kg, dinner-plate-sized cheeses used in each race, but only two people were taken to hospital for further assessment.
The organisers said the number of injuries was comparatively low. "We usually average around 30 to 40 people who need treatment," said Jim Jones, operations training manager for St John Ambulance.
"The most serious injuries this year appear to be a dislocated finger and a possible fractured ankle."
The wet weather helped protect the racers, as they were able to slide down the slope rather than tumble head over heels.
Among the winners of the five races was Chris Anderson, 18, who knocked himself out to claim the title.
Afterwards, the dazed window fitter said: "I just ran, fell and hit my head. I feel sore but it was definitely worth it."
First prize in each race is a big circle of cheese.
Studies of sediment core samples from the sea bottom reveal that long before the pole froze it was covered with floating ferns and the water on the surface of the Arctic Ocean was 23C or higher, equivalent to today's subtropical seas.
Scientists have had to reassess their understanding of the region because previously it was thought to have frozen only 15million years ago. Sea ice, however, started forming 45million years ago.
The findings were made during analysis of 430m of sedimentary core drilled from the Arctic seabed in 2004.
The core, the subject of three studies published in the journal Nature, provides scientists with a geological record of the region dating back 57 million years.
The Arctic Ocean was, 50million years ago, a basin largely surrounded by land, which meant that much of the surface consisted of fresh or slightly brackish water. [HALFWISE NOTE: What does this tell us about sea levels, with no ice around?]
Such conditions, combined with global warming, allowed the azolla fern to grow in floating mats over a period lasting 800,000 years.
Today most azollas grow in freshwater ponds, canals and rice fields in tropical and subtropical regions and their presence near the North Pole "suggests a substantial rise in Arctic sea surface temperature to subtropical or tropical levels".
During the warmest period, the surface of the Arctic Ocean was up to 33C warmer than it is today. At this time, 55 million years ago, "temperatures peaked near 24C, which is notably higher than previous estimates", the international team of scientists reported.
Such high temperatures conflict with previous models, which estimated that the surface would have been 10-15C while assuming that carbon dioxide levels were at 2000 parts per million -- today's level is 381ppm.
"This suggests that higher than modern greenhouse gas concentrations must have operated in conjunction with other feedback mechanisms," the scientists said.