Sunday, February 21, 2010

PSO: A world of water

[Note: Originally posted at Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra: Outside Perspectives]

We've had a long couple of weeks here in southwestern Pennsylvania. With a historic snowstorm wrecking havoc on our region everything has been been affected, including the symphony. After a week of snow storms, it was good to return to the symphony.

Snow and branches

Tonight was a night of new music. And the composer Mason Bates was here to introduce his piece. He spoke of the various movements of the piece, and described that transitions of the states of water. He reminded us that "glaciers ultimately melt." Then followed by hurricanes and floods, reminiscent of the trials experienced by the city of New Orleans.

In the audience were a number of staff and volunteers of the Red Cross. Over the past two weeks they and their community partners have been hard at work, providing shelter, warmth, comfort and food to many who have been effected by these storms and the power outages that have caused so much trouble to so many.

Forest of cots

Earlier today we had been cleaning and repacking our supplies, so many of which were used over the past two weeks. And we also remember that glaciers ultimately melt. As does snow and ice. And as in Liquid Interface following the glaciers melting comes the hurricanes and floods, we are worried about what comes when the snow covering our region melts. But we will be ready.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Book Review: Turn Coat (Book 11 of the Dresden Files) by Jim Butcher (2009)

Turn Coat (The Dresden Files, #11) Turn Coat by Jim Butcher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
One of the things I like about this series is how the principle character, Harry Dresden, matures. By now, it is not just that he is maturing, he is mentoring others, and this book is about them maturing. We have an old antagonist whose presence provides stress for them, and old friends, who are stressed in the conflicts of the story and we wonder just who they are.

Some themes

1. The training of students. Harry is involved in the training of an apprentice and some others who are learning from him. Earlier in the series Harry had a tendency to hide things from people he cared about. This repeatedly had the effect that the people he cared about stumbled into situations which they did not recognize their peril. By now, his apprentices and students are demanding they be told about the dangers they face in the world, so they can make decisions on if they face the hazard or not. Another model is provided by one of Harry's colleagues who likes to bait Harry's students and lead them into a trap. (Which is something that actually seems like something I occasionally witness.)

2. On proof of guilt and innocence. Another theme that runs through the books is on the nature of guilt, and the difference between perception and fact. For many of the characters, the belief that someone is guilty of an offense is enough to warrent punishment, even to the death. Because even perception threatens the purity of their cause. At one point in the book, Harry, who is known for getting walking where angels fear to tread (if there were angels) walks in on a four way standoff and says "Have you people ever considered talking when you've got a problem?" A statement that can be answered in the negative by many groups, churches, political organizations . . .

3. Will vs. fate. In the Dresden Files series is based on the premise that there is a supernatural work coexisting with our own. But the defining characteristic of humans is that humans have free will, and that makes up for the many abilities that supernatural creatures have. But it is something incomprehensible, because most beings in this world do not have free will. So stereotyping and prejudging abound, where people are judged as having a characteristic based on one event, and nothing, no weight of evidence, or evidence to the contrary can possibly make it different. Again, something that is a common view in the real world.

4. Meaning of love (after all this is Valentine's Day). There are a few levels of this. There is that more chaste type between a person and his/her friends/relations/dependents/companions. There is also the contrast between love and lust (magnified because one class of supernatural beings is a type that feeds on lust. And one member of this class now experiences actual love, which is actually painful to them). And Harry, who is identified in the book as someone who is often viewed as 'weird' (or as a former pastor of mine would say, a freak) as opposed to one of his companions who gets compared to a Greek god, has found love. Which is taken away in a manner cruel. (there is foreshadowing that goes on, but you have to be paying close attention since the object of Harry's affection is not present during the moments of foreshadowing)

These books have been getting better as they go. The relationships are richer, all the characters, main and supporting, grow. And the themes of will, justice, learning and love are explored in complex and deep ways. (even if it is in the context of what is effectively a supernatural gang war)

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