Monthly Archives: January 2011

The hills are alive, again

The Brooklyn Rundfunk Orkestrata, with the blessing of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, has been hard at work on a debut album and show called The Hills Are Alive — which reimagines the classic tunes from The Sound of Music through the filter of prog rock, jazz, hip-hop, gospel, bluegrass, and other musical idioms.

In my opinion, to incredible effect:

Go to their write-up in the New York Times to hear more. Their version of “My Favorite Things” is what completely won me over; it’s a jolt to the system — Julie Andrews channeled through Ted Leo and the Scissor Sisters. And their conflation of “Do-Re-Mi” with the Jackson 5’s “ABC” is, paradoxically, both unexpected and (in hindsight) completely obvious — and a joyous blast. (Other favorites: the neo-soul “Something Good,” and “The Lonely Goatherd” — the rock masterpiece that Robert Plant never sang.)

The Hills Are Alive officially comes out on March 8. I hope the BRO considers taking the show to the parks and other family-friendly venues, not just the 21-and-over clubs; kids and their parents are going to go crazy for this.

Update: Here’s the video for the excellent “Something Good”:

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America sucks/America rocks: two maps

“There is nothing wrong with America,” Bill Clinton once said, “that can’t be fixed by what is right with America.”

The United States of Shame

click for full image

The United States of Awesome

click for full image

Clearly some dubious accolades here (“most average,” “best license plate,” “best armed”) and some “glass half-full/half-empty” takes on the same data (“nerdiest state” on the Shame map becomes “highest library usage” on the Awesome one), but the overall point is taken: you can slam your state, legitimately, for all its faults, or you can focus on the positive and build on that. America’s very real flaws need to be criticized and addressed, of course, but in my opinion that’s never an excuse to sink into lazy USA-bashing, cynicism, and despair. If you want to improve, you have to identify not just your weaknesses, but your strengths as well.

References and explanations here and here.

(via Ezra Klein)

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“The 25 most influential living atheists”

A list from SuperScholars.org, including Amazon links to some of the authors’ works. Pleased and intrigued to see some names I haven’t encountered (Kai Nielsen? Susan Blackmore?) and some I’ve been meaning to get to (I really should finish Jennifer Michael Hecht’s Doubt: A History and pick up Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation one of these days).

Sadly, the list is still mostly male, and all white. Granted, the listmakers claim their focus is on scholarship rather than “just” advocacy and popularization, and maybe ivory tower atheism isn’t very diverse. But even so: If Christopher Hitchens makes the cut, why not writer, activist, and think-tank intellectual Ayaan Hirsi Ali? And if Philip Pullman makes the cut — with fantasy novels that aren’t exactly straight scholarly treatises — why not fellow fabulist Salman Rushdie, who has written directly about the problem of religion, and whose life has famously been threatened for his blasphemy? Perhaps this speaks to the need to be more inclusive among atheist intellectuals, and in the atheist community at large.

In any case, more additions to my tottering bookpile…

(via RichardDawkins.net)

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Erasing Thomas Jefferson (and Darwin, and civil rights, and…) cont’d

A trailer for Standing Up To The Experts, a documentary-in-progress about the shameful travesty that is the Texas State Board of Education:

The filmmakers are trying to raise funds to complete the project; go here to chip in.

(via Phil Plait, who says: “I for one would very much like to see it completed. They don’t need a whole lot of money to get to their goal, either; they’re already 75% of the way to their target of $10,000. So please help spread the word, and maybe the educational disaster that McLeroy and the Texas BoE created can have a light shone on it so that it can be seen by people all across this country.”)

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Billy Collins, animated

I’m a little late stumbling onto this, it seems:

I’m not a smoker myself, but I love this poem for how it captures the wistful fondness we may feel for old vices long sworn off; and I love what the animator does with it: the smoke becoming as much a metaphor visually as it is in the text, the video itself a second poem.

This is part of a series called “Billy Collins: Action Poetry” — created a few years ago by JWT-NY for the Sundance Channel — which features readings by the former U.S. Poet Laureate (and one of my favorite poets) as brought to life by various animators. You can see the rest on YouTube, or in higher quality here.

(via Tor.com)

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Why stereotypes need to die, cont’d

As I was saying:

Click to see the full image.

Stereotypes are always suspect. Including ones about Americans.

(via xkcd)

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Why the dumb-cheerleader and awkward-nerd stereotypes need to die

Who’s got a background in molecular biology, patent law, medicine, or aerospace engineering — and works as an ER doctor, neuro researcher, or engineer for NASA?

They do:

See, this is why I try never to assume anything about anyone based on first impressions, and why I’m always skeptical when people claim they’re good at sizing someone up at first sight (it never seems to work when they try it on me). People are never just skin-deep — and they’ll rarely fit into the boxes of others’ assumptions.

Learn more about the Science Cheerleaders — and founder Darlene Cavalier’s mission to promote “citizen science” — on their website.

(via Neil deGrasse Tyson)

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