main: August 2008 Archives
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.heejung-kim-genetic-accultration.mp3
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, 8/1/2008And 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
"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. Universal plans to appeal Otero's ruling and expects to win, according to this report by the BBC. 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.