17/365

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While there is no such thing as normal Kansas weather, the past several months have been more bizarre than usual. Fall gave way to spring in early January. Then winter came, followed by spring again in March. Then winter returned in April, abruptly ending the flowering fruit tree season. I noticed today that a flowering crab along my route to work managed to produce a few last flowers.

Only apparently real

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The first Philip K. Dick book I ever bought. I now have more titles by Dick on my shelves than by any other writer.

It’s Philip K. Dick week. Four of his novels are being reissued by the Library of America: The Man in the High Castle, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Ubik and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It’s about time. The Man in the High Castle is an obvious choice: it’s possibly his best, and it’s one of his more approachable titles for non-SF readers. ((Eve Tushnet comments on the The Man in the High Castle here (scroll down to February 4, 2006).)) The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is also outstanding. Ubik, however, is a mess. It should have been Dick’s masterpiece, but the first seventy or so pages are so painfully bad that I can’t recommend it. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is included, I suspect, because a popular movie that I hated was based loosely — very loosely — on it. Instead of the latter two novels, I would have suggested Martian Timeslip and a selection of his short stories.

The new edition provided the occasion for Charles McGrath to write an account of Dick, emphasizing Dick’s mental instability, amphetamine use and “pulpish sensibility.”

In the current issue of Commonweal, John Garvey writes a much more detailed and sympathetic appreciation of Dick’s work, focusing on the gnosticism of this most peculiar Episcopalian convert. (It’s not available online unless you have a subscription.) He comes much closer than McGrath as to why Dick is worth reading:

In these and his other stories, Dick creates characters struggle who not only for salvation, for ultimate truths, but sometimes merely to be decent human beings — and the two struggles are really one. What reality is and what it means to be authentically human are intrinsically linked. Dick’s answers, such as the are, range randomly from new-age nonsense, through his own episodes of delusion and paranoia, to a Gnostic Christianity that contains more of the pain and compassion of real Christianity than most Gnostic visions. Many Gnostic writings advance an elitism that delights in being among the chosen in who the divine light resides. Dick saw glimmers of the shattered divine light in many confused and struggling people, and he found something of cosmic significance there, both in the light and in the struggle.

A lot of movies have been made from Dick’s stories. I’ve only seen Blade Runner, which I loathed — I had read the book, which the movie betrayed. I may watch A Scanner Darkly someday, but I expect that it will also disappoint me. I gather that the dramatic works that best evoke Dick’s spirit are not directly based on his work, e.g., The Matrix (which I haven’t seen) and Serial Experiments Lain. Satoshi Kon’s new movie, Paprika, has been described as the collision of Hello Kitty and Philip K. Dick.

J-rock, soundtracks and early music

For Erik‘s amusement, here is the most recent iTunes shuffle. Sorry, no piano music, though there is an accordion on the first one.

In Peace, 梶浦由記 — Noir OST II

Minna Dareka ni Aisarete — SeraMyu

Binchou Ondo, Kadowaki Mai — Binchou-tan OST

Si Habeis Dicho, Marido, Circa 1500 — Music from the Spanish Kingdoms

さようなら, Kagrra

Peach Pie on the Beach, Polysics

Desde hoy mas, me madre (Sephardic), The Boston Camerata/Joël Cohen — The Sacred Bridge – Jews & Christians in Medieval Europe

Bel m’es, quan vei chanjar lo senhoratge, Camerata Mediterranea/Joël Cohen — Lo Gai Saber – Troubadors et Jongleurs (1100-1300)

Sebrina, Paste And Plato, Jellyfish — Spilt Milk

Ondas do mar / Altas undas que venez suz la mar, Camerata Mediterranea/Joël Cohen — Lo Gai Saber – Troubadors et Jongleurs (1100-1300)

Against tidiness

Callirhoe involucrata is a member of the mallow family with brilliant magenta flowers. It blooms throughout the summer, but its prime flowering time is right now through the next week or two. There are some large patches of callirhoe along the bike path in south Wichita, along with some stands of blue tradescantia. I had planned to take a few photos of them after work today and post one of them as today’s picture. However, the City of Wichita, demonstrating its conviction that neatness matters more than beauty, mowed the area, scalping the sprawling plants. Maybe this weekend I’ll find an intact patch elsewhere.

Most encouraging news so far this year

In TV’s worst spring in recent memory, a startling number of Americans drifted away from television the past two months: More than 2.5 million fewer people were watching ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox than at the same time last year, statistics show.

*****

NBC set a record last month for its least-watched week during the past 20 years, and maybe ever — then broke it a week later. This is the least popular season ever for CBS’ “Survivor.” ABC’s “Lost” has lost nearly half its live audience — more than 10 million people — from the days it was a sensation. “The Sopranos” (a show that has earned broadcast-network-like ratings in the past) is ending on HBO, and the response is a collective yawn.

Events like “American Idol” on Fox (which is owned by News Corp.) and “Dancing With the Stars” on ABC (owned by The Walt Disney Co.) are doing the most to prop up the industry. But still, in the six weeks after Daylight Savings Time started in early March, prime-time viewership for the four biggest broadcast networks was down to 37.6 million people, from 40.3 million during the same period in 2006, according to Nielsen Media Research.

(Via Chizumatic.)

Fireworks

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I could complain about the manifold implausibilites of Rocket Girls, but it would be pointless. How can you expect logic in a universe where a space agency drafts random high school girls to be astronauts merely because they’re lightweight? Instead, it’s better to focus on the incidental pleasures, such as classic calculators

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or cigarette lighters

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or girls wearing skin-tight space suits. (Never mind that the suits are basically three millimeters of silicone rubber, and the story is set in the tropics. Heatstroke doesn’t happen in anime.)

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The story zips right along, and there’s no time for teen angst. Yukari, spending her vacation in the Solomon Islands looking for her father who disappeared seventeen years ago, is variously bewildered, shocked, appalled, outraged, exasperated, disgusted and just plain angry as she learns just what her “part-time job” entails and discovers a few things about her family. If Yukari really had sense, she would run away from all these crazy people as fast as she could, but then there would be no anime. She’s soon joined by Matsuri, a native islander, and one of Yukari’s classmates from Japan should arrive on the island shortly.

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Despite all the nonsense and the bad computer animation, Rocket Girls is enjoyable. It’s partly because it doesn’t take itself terribly seriously, and partly because, although the show gets the details wrong, it gets the story right. The people who made Rocket Girls, I think, really do want to go into space.