FlyOver: August 2008 Archives
There’s an interesting piece over at LiveScience called “Monsters, Ghosts and Gods: Why We Believe.” It was inspired by the recent string of weirdness.
That string began with the so-called Montauk Monster on Long Island, then a Big Foot, then this creature found in Texas last year that the discoverer swore was the Chupacabra, or goat sucker, of Mexican lore.
Turns out we want to believe.
Most people simply can’t not believe.
It doesn’t matter how educated you are. PhDs are as likely to believe in ghosts as high-school drop outs.
But those who hold deep religious beliefs are less likely to buy into the paranormal.
Those who attend church infrequently, or never, are more likely to believe Big Foot and the Montauk Monster are really, really real.
From LiveScience: The bottom line, according to several interviews with people who study these things: People want to believe, and most simply can’t help it… . A related question: Does belief in the paranormal have anything to do with religious belief? The answer to that question is decidedly nuanced, but studies point to an interesting conclusion: People who practice religion are typically encouraged not to believe in the paranormal, but rather to put their faith in one deity, whereas those who aren’t particularly active in religion are more free to believe in Bigfoot or consult a psychic. “Christians and New Agers, paranormalists, etc. all have one thing in common: a spiritual orientation to the world,” said sociology Professor Carson Mencken of Baylor University.
Oh, and that Chupacabra? Not the mythical slayer of domestic animals.
Nope. DNA testing showed it’s just a coyote.
The famed glass artist gave a talk and presentation recently at Google’s speakers series in California. Chihuly is widely recognized for his distinct work. His Gardens of Glass series has been exhibited in municipal botanical gardens throughout the country. The Columbia Museum of Art will open a new exhibit of Chihuly’s works called Seaforms, showcasing about 35 works and preliminary sketches of shells within shells, and other forms inspired by the ocean, which he worked on over a 14-year period. That show begins Sept. 5.
I never thought body painting could be more than what you’d find at the petting zoo (face painting for kids) or in the pages of Sports Illustrated.
But I was wrong.
The German city of Mainz has been showcasing what’s possible for five years with a festival devoted entirely to the art of body painting.
According to the German magazine Der Spiegel:
Bodypainters came to the German city of Mainz for the Fifth International Bodypainting Festival at the weekend to adorn models from head to toe with brightly colored and in many cases highly original artwork. It’s a tough job for the models, some of whom have to sit or stand still for up to 14 hours. The artists competed in a number of categories including special effects, facepainting.
Check out a slideshow of this year’s creations here.
I say it’s about time we bring this to Charleston.
We have everything we need for a body painting festival. Well, not the artists. But we can import them.
As for the models, we’ve got plenty. If you don’t believe me, check out the Windjammer’s annual Bikini Bash.
Dan McCue, a terrific business journalist, has sent City Paper a story about Charleston’s connection to Bollywood, which is shorthand for India’s hugely profitable movie business. Dan reports on Robert Miller, head of a local company called ReelSports that specializes in sports action sequences in films like Miracle.
In June, Miller won the Indian equivalent of a passel of Golden Globes and Academy Awards for a field hockey movie called Chak De! India (or Go! India). A scene from the movie can be seen above. Miller is now working on a movie about cricket, which India’s national pastime.
More significantly, Miller, who works out of his office on East Bay Street, is on the vanguard of a global trend in which Westerners are striking gold on the subcontinent. But the showbiz is a two-way street. Indian power brokers are looking West, too.
Last month, The New York Times reported on hip-hop musician Snoop Dogg’s appearance in an Indian music video called Singh is Kinng. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that actor Sylvester Stallone inked a deal with an Indian movie company. And today, NPR reports that a company called Reliance is buying up movie theaters around the country.
Dan’s story comes out in Wednesday’s issue of Charleston City Paper.
This is from Mark Potts' blog, Recovering Journalist. He's been tracking the decline of American daily newspapers. He's compiled a database of all the job cuts and setbacks in the industry for the past couple of years. While this looks scary -- really, really scary -- we should keep in mind that this is part of a shedding of old ways and embracing of new (with notable expectations and obvious different rates of speed). That shedding, of course, is painful -- really, really painful -- but, hey, there's no putting the 21st century toothpaste back into 20th century tube.
What I think we should be worried about is the quality of discussion about arts and culture. If newspaper don't it, who will? Blogs are fine, but they are only one way of covering the arts. Nothing can replace the dedicated, professional, and relatively well-resourced engagement of the arts by a daily newspaper (even The Post and Courier's theater reviews, however small and lacking of substance they may be at times, are still valuable in that they are present and not absent from the newspaper's pages)
* More than 6,300 employees at the 100 largest newspapers have lost jobs through buyouts or layoffs in the past year.
* More than half of those cutbacks have come since the beginning of June.
* Nearly two-thirds of the top 100 papers have cut staff in the past year, including all but four of the top 34 (the two New York City tabloids, the Indianapolis Star and the Cleveland Plain Dealer are the exceptions-and Plain Dealer management has threatened imminent cuts).
* Even papers that haven't made recent cuts have sliced staff in the past couple of years-in all, three-quarters of the Top 100 have eliminated jobs in the past two years or so.
* Twenty-eight of the Top 100 have cut more than 100 jobs in the past year. Seven have cut more than 200 jobs-and those numbers go up significantly if you go back more than a year.
* The largest cuts have come at the biggest papers, not surprisingly, and at chains. (The worst: 350 jobs lost at the Los Angeles Times since February.) Perhaps the safest place to work is at an independently owned paper in a mid-sized market. So far.
* Virtually all cuts are on the print side -- few papers, if any, have cut online staffing, fortunately.
* Until recently, voluntary buyouts were the usual method of cutting employment-but lately, many cuts have been through outright layoffs.
* Job cuts aren't the only thing going on-papers also are freezing hiring and shrinking through reduction of editions and sections, striking partnerships with other papers, closing bureaus and outsourcing some production (even copy-editing!) overseas.
* More than a handful of papers-and their owners-clearly are in fairly dire financial peril, losing money or having trouble making debt payments. And several papers have been put up for sale.
A Harvard researcher developed a computer program that translates the genes of cancerous cells into music. What does it sound like? Well, Karl Stockhausen might like it, especially if they’re malignant. The scientist, Gil Alterovitz, designed the program to play consonant sounds (that is, they sound good) when cells are healthy and to play dissonant sounds (they sound bad) when they are not. Here’s what it sounds like. At the end of the article, note a local DJ wants to use the music.
In writing today’s story about Dances of Universal Peace, and how it seems to be an interesting counterexample to a historic trend in which art and religion have parted ways during most of the 20th century, I did some research.
I found this article by the sometimes controversial feminist writer Camille Paglia (she wrote the Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson). The 2007 article published in Arion, a journal of the arts from Boston University, is actually a transcript of a speech she gave in 2003. You can read the article in pdf format here.
I also came across John Patrick Diggins’ review of The Secular Age by Charles Taylor. It has nothing to say about the rocky marriage of art and religion but does address the role of spirituality in public life, something that has become unfashionable for liberals to talk about since the 1960s, leaving blowhards like James Dobson to do it for them.
A video making its way around the internet features two debate professors showing students what they should never, ever, ever, never do in a debate. The opponents are the University of Pittsburgh’s Shanara Reid-Brinkley and Fort Hays State University’s Bill Shanahan.
I don’t need to describe much in detail. But I do wonder is which of the forms of rhetoric — ethos, pathos, or logos — is Shanahan using when he drops his pants?
You can read up on the news behind this video here if you care to.
… this happens. Around the same time that the Los Angeles Times closes down its stand-alone book section, this website pops up, taking a stand for books and people who love to read. Called Lit Mob, it looks like the literary version of Pitchfork Media, with the same DIY ethic and snarky attitude.
From the About page:
This is a tough letter to write as technically you do not exist. “They” say that no one reads anymore and that you spend all of your time watching TiVo’d episodes of Dancing With the Stars, playing video games, or stealing music from your computer. If you don’t exist then neither do we, which seems rather odd as we really did write this letter and you are now in fact reading it.
And thank God for that attitude. Even though many daily newspapers are shedding their books coverages, much of it is bland and dry and more like a fourth-grade book report than the product of one person’s thinking filtered by time, passion, and an informed sensibility.
Here’s an example of a dry-as-dust review, from Sunday’s Charleston Post and Courier. It’s a review of Command of Honor: General Lucian Truscott’s Path to Victory in World War II by H. Paul Jeffers.
This is the first painful sentence in dire need of a thoughtful editor:
In a time when it is commonplace to memorialize the fleeting tenures and scant contributions of politicians by attaching their names to public edifices such as bridges, highways and buildings, it is truly startling to realize, by contrast, that some of the truly worthy heroes of the age have become so easily forgotten.
Lastly, Lit Mob is among a bevy of publications, which are themselves run by young, educated professionals who for the most part are solidly ensconced in the GenX and GenY demographic (the very people who are not supposed to be interested in reading, by the way), taking up the cause for books coverage. n+1, New Haven Review, Dark Sky Magazine (a local web-journal edited by CCP critic Kevin Murphy) and Charleston City Paper (as well as our sister publications around the country that can be found at Altweeklies.com) are adding book reviews, essays, features, etc. to their websites.
This is from James Surowiecki, who writes the “Financial Page” for The New Yorker. This week, he writes about something called “the gridlock economy” — when there’s so much ownership of various parts of an industry that laws protecting innovation and investment actually end up stifling both. We’re seeing this happening right now in the fields of technology, science, and culture.
This cropped up last week when a musician named DJ Girl Talk continued to challenge copyright law by stringing together a huge assortment of pop songs and then charging people for the CD. He’s claiming protection under the “fair use” clause of copyright law, but some legal experts challenge that claim.
From The New Yorker: The point isn’t that private property is a bad thing, or that the state should be able to run roughshod over the rights of individual owners. Property rights (including patents) are essential to economic growth, providing incentives to innovate and invest. But property rights need to be limited to be effective. The more we divide common resources like science and culture into small, fenced-off lots, Heller shows, the more difficult we make it for people to do business and to build something new. Innovation, investment, and growth end up being stifled. Opportunities forgone aren’t always easy to see. The effects of overuse are generally unmistakable—you can’t miss the empty nets of fishing boats working overfished oceans, or the scrub that covers an overgrazed field. But the effects of underuse created by too much ownership are often invisible. They’re mainly things that don’t happen: inventions that don’t get made, useful drugs that never get to market.
This blogger gathered statistical data to suggest consumption of porn hovers around 58 percent. Broken down by gender, between 30 and 35 percent of men consume porn. That includes porn found online and in print. If you look at print, the numbers show a drastic decline, but that may be because of porn’s prevalence online. For women, not surprisingly, there is little if any change in behavior.
From a blog called Gene Expression: For men, porn-watching declined at least from 1973 until 1980, and increased until 1987. After that, you may be able to see fluctuations up and down but they’re around a pretty steady value of about 35%. The pattern for women is much clearer to see: essentially no trend, but cycles of varying period and amplitude. I interpret these patterns as a decline during the 1970s when porn theaters became unfashionable, an increase during the 1980s as porn became available on VHS, and no change afterward — in particular, no skyrocket due to the availability of internet porn, something I would not have predicted by intuition.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m interested in new ways of thinking, news ways of understanding, new ways of seeing the world. Art, to me, is the ultimate lens through which to see the world. Art is a product of culture and the mystery of the human brain (mind?), so it’s no surprise that a series by SEED Magazine called Revolutionary Minds caught my attention.
It profiles thinkers, writers, and researchers on the vanguard of human knowledge. It’s really interesting in and of itself. You might consider spending some time with this podcast featuring social psychologist Heejung Kim (pictured above) at the University of California at Santa Barbara, who is exploring that finest of fine lines between nature and nurture, and how our culture is not merely a product of our genes, but how our genes, over long stretches of time, might be a product of our culture.
From the magazine: Sorting out the competing yet complementary influences of genes and culture is a problem that has captured the attention of some of the most talented scientific minds. Researchers have looked for genes that influence behavior regardless of cultural context. In her first foray into the world of genetics, social psychologist Heejung Kim is taking a decidedly different approach by examining how culture shapes individuals’ responses to their biological inheritance. In doing so she is creating a profound new framework for how to think about our genetic and cultural backgrounds.
Just like the banking sector, the music industry wants it both ways.
A free marketplace is fine unless we get into trouble — millions and millions of dollars lost on bad mortgages or millions and millions lost on illicit downloading.
The Feds should back off until we’ve fucked ourselves. In that case, we’re all for government regulation — a bail-out from the Federal Reserve for all the Wall Street goons, Congressional legislation putting the hammer down on college kids.
There’s this …
Congress Passes Law To Prevent Piracy On Campus “Congress this week passed a law to help curb piracy on college campuses. The Higher Education Opportunity Act, passed Wednesday by the House and Thursday by the Senate, promotes education, legal alternatives, and improved monitoring of campus networks. If signed into law by President George W. Bush, the bipartisan bill would require publicly funded universities and colleges to teach students and employees about illegal downloading, distribution of copyrighted materials, and related campus policies. The bill also requires universities and colleges to create plans to prevent piracy by using technology and to present legal alternatives. The bill would provide grants to support those efforts.” InformationWeek, 8/1/2008
And then there’s this …
Music industry ‘should embrace illegal websites’ “The music industry should embrace illegal file-sharing websites, according to a study of Radiohead’s last album release that found huge numbers of people downloaded it illegally even though the band allowed fans to pay little or nothing for it… . The study by the MCPS-PRS Alliance, which represents music rights holders, and Big Champagne, an online media measurement company, found that legal downloads were far exceeded by illegal torrent downloads of the album.” Financial Times, 8/3/2008
Tossing old CDs, DVDs, jewel cases may be bad for environment Downloading is better for the environment: CDs, DVDs and jewel cases are “difficult-to-recycle materials [that] can pollute groundwater and, in turn, contribute to a whole host of human health problems. But the low cost of producing such top-selling consumer items means that replacing them with something greener is not likely anytime soon… . According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, digital sales now account for some 30 percent of all U.S. music sales and 15 percent globally. And most consumer analysts expect these percentages to grow steadily in the coming years, which is good news for the environment.” Arizona Republic, 8/1/2008
You see it all the time as an arts journalist in Flyoverville meeting with people trying to form a new performing arts group — the worry on their faces.
Bright, talented, and clearly energized actors and singers fret about where they’re going to perform in a city that’s increasingly facing a paucity of venues, like Charleston, S.C.
One such group here is the Little City Musical Theatre Company. It’s concerned about being homeless, about being unable to market the theater’s quality work, about being unable to cultivate an audience, because, you know, the audience wouldn’t know where to find them for lack of a permanent venue.
It’s a reasonable concern. Having a theater is probably better than not. But I wonder if a group like Little City might have an advantage. I wonder if being smaller, nimbler, more mobile, and more media-savvier might be just the traits needed to survive, and perhaps thrive, in the 21st century, as we witness the rise of what arts administrators are calling the “active audience.”
Fifty years ago, you went to the theater, sat down in the dark, watched a play, clapped, and went home. You didn’t interact. You didn’t engage. You were passive. And that was fine. Now, more than two decades into the digital era, active participation is the paradigm of the age. To quietly receive a performance, as if it were a church sermon, seems almost antiquated.
That’s because we are otherwise engaged in the act of making more than ever before, privately (knitting circles, book groups, community choirs) and publicly (YouTube, Wordpress, Make Magazine). Viral video, instant communications, and social networking have fueled this urge. The orthodoxy of DIY marginalized in the 1980s is now the center of the 21st century.
Culture used to be controlled by its producers — in particular, mass media culture like broadcast television, Hollywood movies, daily newspapers — but increasingly it’s controlled by consumers. New technologies promulgated a shift in power, and with that shift has come a change of behavior: Instead of waiting for Katie Couric to read the news, we’re now getting it for ourselves.
In other words, we are searching.
Read the whole post at Charleston City Paper.
It’s hard to believe but the Metropolitan Opera’s efforts to expand the profile of opera seems to be working. I’m kidding about the hard to believe thing, but not the results of two years of broadcasting high-definition signals of live Met performances into movie theaters around the country.
According to a new study by Opera America and National CineMedia, more than 920,000 people paid to see the special Saturday afternoon broadcasts in the 2007-2008 season. That’s more people than those who went to New York to see the opera firsthand. In one season alone, eight live broadcasts grossed $13.3 million in domestic theaters and $5 million overseas.
For a long time, people said that the problem with opera and classical music was that they were opera and classical music. They’d never gain wide acceptance the way that popular music has, because they are inherently exclusive — they require specialized knowledge beforehand to get any kind of enjoyment out of them. Solution? Crossover appeal. Dumb down the music to hit the coveted middle market.
With $18.3 million in gross revenue, it’s pretty clear that the product isn’t the problem. Distribution was the problem. That’s what critics like The New Yorker’s Alex Ross have been saying for some time now. With this new means of getting the art into people’s live, the whole elite versus the masses paradigm falls apart. Another way of putting it, the whole niche market versus mass market paradigm falls apart. Why bother aiming to that coveted middle market when you can aim more precisely — getting the product to people who really want it, whether they are in Hollywood, Calif., or Hollywood, S.C.
When we look back at entertainment innovations of the 2000s, we’ll remember that it was opera that blazed the trail. Already big movie companies are looking at what the Met has done and saying they want a piece of that action. Why? People aren’t coming to movie theaters like they used to. Bad movies, stellar home entertainment, and pristine digital products make going to the movies seem like a hassle. So movie studios and theater companies are trying to find way of getting you back.
Regal’s NCM Fathom has been offering special one- or two-night-only broadcasts of anime, sports event, and even the original Rambo lately. These were at the Regal Charles Towne Square 18. Sony Pictures launched last month a division called Hot Ticket, which will offer a live broadcast of Rent when it ends its 12-year run on Broadway. You can expect these to hit Charleston in the fall.
When I moved to Charleston, I had two huge bags full of CDs that were the result of years of record labels sending me unsolicited copies in the hopes that I’d do something with them as a reporter for the Savannah Morning News. Obviously, I never did. Anyway, I was intent on swapping them — there must have been a couple of hundred, though I didn’t count — for an iPod at Millennium Music back when the now defunct retailer was offering its sweet deal.
But then I felt guilty.
Promo CDs were supposed to be used for promotional purposes only. I was informed by record labels that I could listen to them, I could review them, but I didn’t own them. The companies did. They were merely licensing them.
A sticker on the CD (like the one above) said so loudly, authoritatively, threateningly: The company could recall it at any time (though they never did) and selling it to a used record store or on eBay was a violation of federal and state law.
It turns out I should have swapped them for an iPod after all.
A federal judge in California ruled this month that recipients of promotional CDs have the right to do whatever they want with them. U.S. District Court Judge S. James Otero said that, according to the first sale doctrine of copyright law, once copyright owners give away the item — a CD, DVD, or book — ownership is transferred to the recipient.
The judge said:
“The promo CDs are unordered merchandise. … By sending the promo CDs to music industry insiders, UMG transferred title to those insiders and the promo CDs are subject to the First Sale Doctrine.”
He’s referring to UMG, or Universal Music Group, the largest music company in the world. It had sued a guy named Troy Augusto for copyright infringement after he sold a handful of promotional CDs, including a highly prized and hugely valuable recording of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, on eBay.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a digital rights lobby group that represented Augusto, said it was pleased with a ruling that affirmed that copyright law cannot override individual property rights:
“It was clear to the court that these CDs were the property of Mr. Augusto, and therefore he had the right to resell them,” said Joseph C. Gratz, attorney with Keker & Van Nest, which worked with EFF on the case. “Copyright holders can’t strip consumers of their first sale rights just by sticking a ‘Not for Sale’ label on a CD.”
All of this verges on the absurd. Paul McNamara, of Network World, notes in his blog that the practice of sending tens of thousands of CDs to journalists, radio jocks, and CD stores inherently precludes any attempt to exercise control over them. What’s obvious the everyone else, McNamara writes, also happens to be the law.
Of course, we’d never have gotten to this point — that is, a huge conglomerate picking a fight and suing the pants off a solitary record collector with an unfortunate taste for tacky R&B — if the music industry and UMG weren’t already in a state of panic about the millions lost to illicit downloading and the near total lack of control over its products.
In the past, record labels would have let people like Augusto slide. They were making so much money, there’d be no point in a lawsuit. Times have changed. There’s too much at stake now. And that there’s too much at stake may suggest that something had always been wrong with the music industry.
It’s just taken this long for us to see what was broken.
On Tuesday, I mused a bit about how scientists have a lot to say about the arts, but artists don’t seem to have much to say about science. I still believe that’s true, but that’s certainly not a categorical statement, as I concede from the beginning. That said, there is a growing field of artists examining the possibilities of what’s being called “biotech art” or “bioart.” I’m not convinced we know what that actually means yet, but it has to do with this notion of cross-pollination that I talked about. From what I can tell from a quick tour around the internet, this movement is small but based on what I’ve seen, it’s really stunning — and disturbing. A good place to start is a report by Slate that ran this time last year. It’s a slideshow of some of these “bioartists.” The above image is by Adam Brandej. His website, called Genpets.com, is scathing and captivating parody of biotechnology.