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Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Study: If You're Smarter, You Live Longer? As the body ages, so does the brain, and as it does, some people lose their mental ability. This loss can become especially pronounced as we reach our seventies and beyond. Because the quality of life in old age is influenced by how well mental ability is maintained, considerable research is now being carried out on how aging affects our ability to think, reason and remember." A new study reports that "the 70-somethings scored quite a bit better than they did at age 11; second, that mental ability differences are pretty stable from age 11 to age 77; with some interesting exceptions, the high scorers did well and the modest remained so." Discovery (ABC) 09/30/03

In Between Nature And Nurture Is it nature or nurture? It's an old debate. But maybe it's both. "Recent genetic research has shown us not only how genes influence behaviour but also how behaviour influences genes. Genes are designed to take their cue from nurture: the more we lift the lid on the genome, the more vulnerable to experience genes appear to be. Gene expression can be a consequence as well as a cause of what we do. The adherents of the ‘nurture’ side of the argument have scared themselves silly at the power and inevitability of genes, and missed the greatest lesson of all: the genes are on their side. We pick the nurture that suits our nature: having ‘sporty genes’ makes you want to practise sport; having ‘intellectual genes’ makes you seek out intellectual activity. The genes are the agents of nurture.” Prospect 09/03

Monday, September 29, 2003

Does Testing Kill A Love Of Literature? Children's author Philip Pullman says relentless testing of reading and writing in UK schools is causing students to hate reading. "The things you can test are not actually the most important things. When teachers are under pressure to get so many pupils to such-and-such a point, in order to meet an externally imposed target, they have to do things - for the sake of the school - that might not be things they'd do for the sake of the children." The Guardian (UK) 09/30/03

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Connecting: Words In Translation Will a new literary translation website "help reconnect America with the rest of the world?" At least it's an attempt to expose uni-lingual Americans to words written elsewhere in the world. "Words Without Borders (www.wordswithoutborders.org), whose far-flung network of consulting litterateurs includes the Nigerian-born Chinua Achebe and the Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya, is predicated on the idea that translation is as thrill-charged as smuggling. 'Not knowing what the rest of the world is thinking and writing is both dangerous and boring'." Boston Globe 09/28/03

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Celebrating Tape "Forty years ago this month, Phillips launched the compact audio cassette at the 1963 Berlin Radio Show, and our relationship with music has never been quite the same since. Portable, cheap and relatively robust, the new format was an instant success. By the early 1970s, we were voraciously recording music onto blank cassettes: LPs, concerts, tunes from the radio. " The Guardian (UK) 09/26/03

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Looking At All The Web What if you could look at the entire world wide web all at once and make all the possible connections between information? "If this process was applied across billions of web pages—in effect, looking at the entire web at once—it would be possible to spot trends. A new film, for example, might have received terrible reviews from critics, but proved popular among middle-aged women. A new camera model might have some features that are popular, but others that users find too complicated. In short, there might be information hidden on the web that cannot be gleaned from any individual page, but becomes apparent when many pages are examined together. And that information could be of great commercial value." The Economist 09/04/03

The New (Old) Philosophy "The new practical philosophers are bringing critical thinking directly to the people. They are translating the dense, ancient writings of Socrates, Plato, Lao Tzu and Confucius into modern lingo and accessible wisdom. They are writing self-help books based on philosophical principles — books sometimes mocked by academicians for their dumbed-down approach but bought by the same hordes who seek answers from meditation, Oprah, psychologists, Dr. Laura and Dr. Phil. Philosophy, its proponents say, is an alternative to all that. It's a way to think for yourself and to find satisfying guidelines for living. It's a way to analyze complex issues through the prism of values, ethics and character. Philosophy (which means love of wisdom) is a search for answers that have made sense through the ages." Los Angeles Times 09/23/03

Monday, September 22, 2003

Disney Hall - Pressure To Perform Talk about pressure. Frank Gehry's new Disney Hall, home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is expected to sound great and provide a transformative piece of architecture for a city not known for great buildings. "It is ironic that Gehry is being criticized for not producing a building that will transform a dreary, lifeless downtown area, since that is what he did more successfully than any other living architect when he designed the Guggenheim in Bilbao. (The phenomenon is even referred to generally as 'the Bilbao effect.') He made the first truly popular piece of avant-garde architecture in our time, and suddenly everybody else wanted one, including his own city, where he had not received a major commission until 1988, when he won a competition to design the new hall for the Los Angeles Philharmonic." The New Yorker 09/22/03

Why Suing Technology Doesn't Work Trying to fight new technologies with legal tactics is a losing strategy. Trying to block file-sharing will only delay the technology, not stop it. "Technologies can be stubborn. Efforts to knock them down can send them rebounding back with a new twist. In the case of encryption, the technology continued to grow more powerful and researchers poked holes in the government's weaker alternatives. In the case of peer-to-peer applications, the makers have found increasingly clever ways to help traders act anonymously, and without a centralized service that can be shut down." The New York Times 09/22/03

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Why Punishing Downloaders Won't Work "The urge to cast downloading as a kind of black-and-white moral issue that simply needs to be made plain to the kids so that they will knock it off is understandable, but it's also wishful thinking. An estimated 60 million people have downloaded songs illicitly, which makes the phenomenon bigger than a youth fad. It's more like speeding or marijuana use - activities that many people in a wide range of ages know are 'wrong' in a technical sense but not in a behavioral sense. By now, even if the music industry is right on the legal argument, it can't win the moral one." The New York Times 09/21/03

Hi-Tech or Low-Tech, It's All In How You Use It It appears that you no longer need to have your own army to be considered a powerful individual on the global playing field. In fact, if the tapes that have been airing on Arab satellite channels are any indication, all you need is a portable video camera, or, failing that, a cassette recorder. We've all heard the old credo that "information is power," but these days, it seems that the efficient dissemination of information, and a keen grasp of how to make use of the global media, is as important as the information itself. The New York Times 09/20/03

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Welcome To The TV Revolution "Time-shifting has progressed to the point that millions of viewers rely not on a VCR but on a digital video recorder, which makes it easy to find anything on those hundreds of channels and watch it anytime while fast-forwarding through the ads. The revolution that started in analog is now exploding in digital, and suddenly everything about television is up for grabs - the way we watch it and the ads that pay for it, the kinds of programs we get and the future of the networks that carry them." Wired 09/03

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

In Praise Of Elitism "The elitism question is a complicated matter, not least because of the widely-observed paradox that claims of anti-elitism emanate from academics who write a language of deliberately clotted opaque jargon and make a parade of not particularly relevant erudition, such as Lacan's forced marriage of psychoanalysis and mathematics. It's also complicated because the word elitism is thrown around with wild abandon with no particular definition being stipulated, as if its meaning were entirely transparent and self-evident and generally agreed on. But nothing could be farther from the truth." Butterflies & Wheels 09/03

Why We Got Rhythm "Music is still a mystery, a tangle of culture and built-in skills that researchers are trying to tease apart. No one really knows why music is found in all cultures, why most known systems of music are based on the octave, why some people have absolute pitch and whether the brain handles music with special neural circuits or with ones developed for other purposes. Recent research, however, has produced a number of theories about the brain and music." The New York Times 09/16/03

Sunday, September 14, 2003

What The Heck Is A Fascist, Anyway? People seem to be throwing the term 'fascist' around a lot these days, and when you think about it, no one really seems to have any idea what it means anymore. Oh, sure, everyone knows that fascists are bad guys, and no one wants to be publicly identified as one. But how exactly can Osama bin Laden, George W. Bush, Saddam Hussein, John Ashcroft, and parents who send their children to bed early all be fascists? Alexander Stille is concerned that such a fascinating and evocative word may be losing its meaning altogether. It may be time for a gentle reminder that 'fascist' is not a synonym for 'powerful person who makes me want to scream.' The New York Times 09/13/03

Tuesday, September 9, 2003

Don't Worry... Be Happy "How do we predict what will make us happy or unhappy - and then how do we feel after the actual experience? For example, how do we suppose we'll feel if our favorite college football team wins or loses, and then how do we really feel a few days after the game? How do we predict we'll feel about purchasing jewelry, having children, buying a big house or being rich? And then how do we regard the outcomes? According to this small corps of academics, almost all actions -- the decision to buy jewelry, have kids, buy the big house or work exhaustively for a fatter paycheck -- are based on our predictions of the emotional consequences of these events." New York Times Magazine 09/07/03

Sunday, September 7, 2003

The Politics (And Utility) Of Early Education "Nowadays, some kind of education before the age of 6 has become common, whether it comes in federally funded Head Start programs or at expensive Manhattan preschools with admissions procedures to rival Harvard's. President Bush's recent proposals to steer Head Start funds to the states while stiffening the program's academic standards have stirred up debate over whether such an approach would widen inequalities or narrow them. They have also raised the age-old question of just how our youngest children, rich or poor, really learn." Boston Globe 09/07/03

Friday, September 5, 2003

Art All About ME "The artist serving as his or her own art form is hardly a new phenomenon. Andy Warhol is remembered as much for the wigs and the blank responses to interview questions as for his soup cans and screen-printed repetition. Yet this branding of the artist as the product itself dovetails all too well with a contemporary culture fixated with transient fame and unwarranted celebrity. Ours is, after all, an age in which celebrity no longer requires even the pretence of achievement or charm. Set against such an environment, the artist-as-art phenomenon lies somewhere between a metaphysical statement and an egomaniacal disorder." The Times (London) 09/03/03

Is Software Code Art? Creative Expression? "The issue of patents for software and business methods has been causing a stir in America ever since the Patent and Trademark Office started issuing patents on internet business methods in 1998, most famously that for one-click shopping. Proponents argue that these patents provide the necessary incentives to innovate at a time when more inventions are computer-related. Critics claim that such intellectual monopolies hinder innovation, because software giants can use them to attack fledgling competitors. Moreover, as software is often built on the achievements of others, writing code could become a legal hurdle race. By analogy, if Haydn had patented the symphony form, Mozart would have been in trouble." The Economist 09/04/03

Wednesday, September 3, 2003

The Blackboard Jungle Teaching is a profession which is constantly made to sound more glamorous and fulfilling than it ever is in reality. Inspiring young people to learn Great Things seems like a noble vocation, but in practice, too many teachers are left battling the double demons of boredom and disdain in their students. "In time I would learn that language and literature wouldst sucketh forever and that life at home (wherever that was this week) sucked like a veritable vortex... I wanted to engage them in critical thinking, but surely nothing could suck more than that, and this was a shame, because I'd gone back to school as an old bag just to get a credential to teach it." San Francisco Chronicle 09/03/03

Now That's Education Reform! Deep Springs College is not your typical outpost of higher education. The all-male school is part college, part working cattle ranch, and, in a unique twist on the usual power dynamic, the 26 students more or less run the whole operation. "From the slaughtering of cows to the hiring of faculty, the day-to-day operations of the school are borne on the backs of 18- and 19-year-olds." Chicago Tribune 09/03/03

The Age Of Aesthetics We are living in a world increasingly focused on aesthetics. "We are demanding and creating an enticing, stimulating, diverse, and beautiful world. We want our vacuum cleaners and mobile phones to sparkle, our bathroom faucets and desk accessories to express our personalities. We expect every strip mall and city block to offer designer coffee, several different cuisines, a copy shop with do-it-yourself graphics workstations and a nail salon for manicures on demand. We demand trees in our parking lots, peaked roofs and decorative facades on our supermarkets, auto dealerships as swoopy and stylish as the cars they sell." The Atlantic 09/03

Monday, September 1, 2003

Dancing To Relativity Einstein's theory of relativity is almost 100 years old. So how to celebrate and at the same time shed a little light on how to understand it? "The Institute of Physics has asked a contemporary dance company to produce a new work marking the centenary of the 1905 publication of Einstein's most famous and important ideas. The show will be premiered at Sadler's Wells theatre in May 2005, and if London audiences are wowed, a national tour is planned. 'Dance is an expressive medium. It will be ideal for abstract concepts like the theories of Einstein on everything from tiny atoms to the dynamics of the whole cosmos'." The Guardian (UK) 09/01/03

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