Friday, February 27, 2009

Das Parfum

Grenouille (French for "frog") is an unwanted Parisian orphan who, having little personal scent, is rejected by others because they are disturbed by his lack of odor. He has an extraordinary power to discern odours, and comes to loathe the scent of other people. He becomes apprenticed to a tanner at the age of eight, and after work explores the city. One day he smells a divine scent and follows it, and is shocked to find that the source of this beautiful scent is a young woman. He kills her to get a better smell of her scent, but after death the scent ceases. He dedicates his life to preserve this perfect scent.

In his quest to isolate and preserve scents, he becomes apprenticed to a great perfumier, Baldini, and proves a talented pupil, making Baldini the most popular perfumier in Paris. But Baldini cannot teach him how to isolate the scent of glass and iron. He falls ill with small pox but, on discovering that techniques other than distillation can be used to preserve such odours, he miraculously recovers and resolves to journey to the city of Grasse to further his quest.

On his way to Grasse, Grenouille becomes so disgusted by the scent of humanity that he spends seven years in a cave on top of the Massif Central. One day he wakes with a start from a nightmare of being suffocated by his own body odour, and realises with a shock that he has no personal scent at all.

Grenouille journeys to Montpelier where an amateur scientist, the Marquis de La Taillade-Espinasse, uses Grenouille to test his thesis of the "so-called fluidium letale". The Marquis combines a treatment of decontamination and revitalization for Grenouille, and subsequently, Grenouille looks like a clean gentleman for the first time in his life. Grenouille in turn tricks his way into the laboratory of a famous perfumier. There he creates a body odour for himself from ingredients including "cat shit," "cheese," and "vinegar", whereupon he is accepted by society. But he doesn't want acceptance, he wants to have power and be able to manipulate those within the world who disgust him so much.

Moving to Grasse, Grenouille once again becomes intoxicated by the scent of a young woman, Laure. He decides that she is not quite mature and resolves to kill her in two years time. Meanwhile he embarks on a career of serial murder of beautiful virgins to form a base for the scent he will make from Laure, while at the same time refining his powers until he can preserve any smell.

Eventually Laure's father pieces together the pattern of murders and realises that Laure is to be the next victim. He flees with Laure but Grenouille pursues them and kills Laure, capturing her scent.

He is eventually apprehended and sentenced to death, but on the day of his execution the intoxicating scent of Laure combined with the backdrop essences of the twenty-four virgins he murdered, overwhelms all present, and instead of an execution the whole town becomes a massive orgy.

Grenouille is pardoned for his crimes, and Laure's father even wants to adopt him. But the experience of the power has dissatisfied Grenouille, because he is not loved for himself, but for the perfume which he created. He realises that he had always found gratification 'in hatred, in hating and being hated', not love. He decides to return to Paris upon finding that the satisfaction that he initially felt has transformed itself into hatred and disgust.

In Paris, Grenouille approaches a group of low-life people (thieves, murderers, whores, etc), who do not notice him approaching. He deliberately douses himself with the perfume he created, while among the group. Overcome with desire, they tear him to pieces and devour the remains. They feel slightly disgusted having just eaten a human being, but they feel overwhelmed with happiness. They are "uncommonly proud. For the first time they had done something out of love."

Monday, February 23, 2009

Why can't pagans offer mevushal wine?

The Talmud makes a statement that idolaters would not offer boiled wine to their idols - but as far as I know this is not substantiated anywhere else. Where is the source of this idea? I've never heard anyone boiling wine for any purpose other than to make it taste worse than non-boiled wine, especially the original hard core method of bringing the wine to a boil.

Mojo Music Monday

In light of Eric Holder's comments about a "nation of cowards"...

Muddy Waters performing at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival. The announcer at the beginning is precious - the whitest man I've ever seen. And the crowd shots are hilarious as well...

Monday, February 16, 2009

French Music Monday - Les Ogres de Barback - Contes, vents & marées

If you listen to anything today, listen to this...

Friday, February 13, 2009

Lieberman and Loyalty

I don't really follow or understand Israeli politics, but the controversy over Avigdor Lieberman's proposal to institute a loyalty oath is puzzling me.

I know that reality is often different from how it is reported in the press so I welcome clarifications or explanations in the comments...

Basically, my understanding is that he is is proposing signing a loyalty oath to the state of Israel as a condition of citizenship. Why would this be considered controversial? It seems almost tautological.

Here are some reactions:
Ori Nir, a spokesman for Americans for Peace Now, said that expressions of solidarity by Israeli Arabs with the enemies of Israel should be considered protected political speech, and that asking Israeli Arabs to sign a loyalty oath only would alienate them further.

“Once you put them on the spot, by the mere act of doing that you're going to alienate them in such a way that you will create security challenges to the state,” Nir said. “You will put them on a spot where they will have to make some sort of a decision. That may lead some of them to a situation where they would say, 'You know what, the heck with you.' ”

This I think is an insane argument. Supporting the enemy of your state is "protected political speech"?

Here is a comment more in line with my thinking:

"Is he a racist? No, I don't think so," said Efraim Zuroff, famed Nazi hunter and head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem. "But he's certainly a bit of a demagogue. He's offering 'solutions' to problems that are on a lot of people's minds, and he's playing on the fears of Israel's citizens. It's a mixture of politics, ethnic strife - not racism - and how he can increase the number of MKs in the Knesset.

"But you can't compare what he's doing to, say, Western Europe, where the minorities in many of those countries aren't trying to overthrow the very state in which they live," Zuroff continued. "I suspect that at least some Israeli Arabs, and surely many of their cousins in neighboring countries, do want to see Israel eliminated. So what he's doing is, he's putting Israeli Arabs on the spot and saying, do you want to be loyal to the state and receive its benefits? And if not, he's saying that they will lose their citizenship. He's playing on the reality that is the Middle East. That's not the classic definition of racism, but it is demagoguery."


Monday, February 09, 2009

Surely you jest, Wikipedia!

In certain Ethiopic languages, sarcasm is indicated with a sarcasm mark, a character that looks like a backwards question mark at the end of a sentence...


What Condition My Condition is In Music Monday

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Evolution's new wrinkle: Proteins with cruise control provide new perspective

A team of Princeton University scientists has discovered that chains of proteins found in most living organisms act like adaptive machines, possessing the ability to control their own evolution.

The research, which appears to offer evidence of a hidden mechanism guiding the way biological organisms respond to the forces of natural selection, provides a new perspective on evolution, the scientists said.

The researchers -- Raj Chakrabarti, Herschel Rabitz, Stacey Springs and George McLendon -- made the discovery while carrying out experiments on proteins constituting the electron transport chain (ETC), a biochemical network essential for metabolism. A mathematical analysis of the experiments showed that the proteins themselves acted to correct any imbalance imposed on them through artificial mutations and restored the chain to working order.

Friday, February 06, 2009


I've been reading a lot of complaints about the bailout plan, and rewarding incompetence, and the mortgage bailout plan, and how it is rewarding lazy and stupid people that bit off more than they can chew, etc...

What struck me about all this complaining is that these folks fail to grasp a fundamental change that occurred in our society. There is an old saying "If you owe a bank $1000 and can't pay it back, you have a problem. If you owe the bank $10,000,000 and you can't pay it back, the bank has a problem."

Americans have been putting all their money into the stock market. And so, you can argue for tough love for all these companies, but in the end, you are just hurting yourself. They are corrupt, they are greedy, it was wrong, but guess what - we are all shackled to them. Unions that still have a 1920's view of "workers" vs "management" are not getting the fact that their constituents are shareholders in the same companies that they are striking against! Shareholder means owner! You are making yourselves lose money!

For many years, I worked for a company whose business it was to calculate scores based on large amounts of data and then sell these to customers. They have been doing this for decades. As part of a re-engineering effort we discovered that some of these scores were being calculated incorrectly and we proposed to our customers that we would fix the calculations. They all balked. A sudden change in scores would be deadly to them. They preferred receiving incorrect values, and incrementally fixing the problem.

This is a common property of large, complex systems. Change needs to be introduced in a controlled fashion to avoid the risk of out of control fluctuations. The same needs to happen in our economic system. Reform needs to happen, but it cannot happen in a drastic fashion - that would be an enormous risk to our economy and our well-being.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Modern Major General Music Monday