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Thursday, October 30, 2003

The Debate Beyond Po-Mo 9/11 was the final nail in the coffin of post-modernism, writes Michael Barnes. "No matter which side one takes in these post 9/11 conflicts - which could make the culture wars of the 1980s and '90s look like child's play - the rantings of late 20th-century postmodern relativists seem as quaint and distant today as the prattlings of Victorian sentimentalists. The absence of a seductive replacement for postmodernism has left public intellectuals - can we use that word in a daily newspaper these days without smirking? - with a renewed respect and affection for the paramount movement of the 20th century: modernism." Austin American-Statesman 10/30/03

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Measuring The Origins Of Ideas Charles Murray did a statistical analysis of humankind's greatest accomplishments in history. "According to his statistics, a whopping 72 percent of the significant figures in the arts and sciences between 1400 and 1950 came from just four European countries: Britain, France, Germany and Italy. But after weighing a number of possible explanations, including the effects of war, civil unrest, economic growth, cities and political freedom on achievement rates, Mr. Murray still was not satisfied. Why, he wondered, when he factored in population growth, did the achievement rate in Europe appear to plummet beginning in the mid-19th century, a period when peace, prosperity, cities and political freedom were steadily increasing?" The New York Times 10/25/03

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Critically Realist? So post-modernism is dead. And what's to succeed it? Perhaps a period of critical realism? "Clearly, critical realism is by now a diffuse and interdisciplinary movement, covering a wide spectrum of opinions. The question is: how broad a church can critical realism be if it is to remain both critical and realist?" Philosophy Now 10/03

Friday, October 24, 2003

The Death Of Languages There are only about 5000 languages left in the world. And the number is shrinking fast. "With the rise of international travel, world commerce, globalization and mass media, that number is declining rapidly. Of working languages still in everyday use, there are perhaps only 120. And more than half the world speaks one (or more) of only a dozen languages, including Chinese, French, German, Spanish, Russian - and, of course, English, the most pervasive of them all. Some linguists estimate nearly two billion people have at least a workaday knowledge of English, and that number is growing." National Post (Canada) 10/24/03

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Is Thinking Just A Series Of Inferences? "It's plausible that at least some kinds of thinking just are processes of drawing inferences. It's the same for a lot of other things the mind does, such as learning, perceiving and planning. The picture that emerges is of the mind (or the brain if you prefer) as some kind of inferring machine; perhaps some kind of computing machine, since computations are themselves plausibly construed as chains of inference." The Guardian (UK) 10/24/03

Forget The Trial! What's Up With The Building? Libby Copeland is covering the trial of accused D.C. sniper John Allen Muhammed in Virginia Beach. It's a fascinating legal spectacle, but Copeland can't get her mind off the architecture of the city's judicial complex. It's not that it's ugly, exactly. But it's not very judicial, either. "Is there such a thing as too much brick? Can beige and brown -- the colors of all the signs here -- be considered colors of oppression with their monotony, ubiquity and utter authority? ... In short, this is a place where people bring their lunches from home. A place unfriendly to feet. A place that ceases to exist after dark." Washington Post 10/23/03

Arts: The Antidrug? A consortium of community groups, medical researchers, and arts groups in Cleveland has receieved a $1 million federal grant to mount a major study intended to determine whether the arts can play a major role in keeping children from indulging in illegal drugs and risky sexual behavior. The study will revolve around 300 test subjects, all African-American youths between 11 and 14 years old, who will participate in a specially designed arts curriculum, which will be partially designed by community leaders in the city. The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 10/23/03

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Making The 'Creative Class' Feel Welcome. Or Not. What with the down economy, the war, and all, it can be easy to forget that an urban revival is continuing to progress in cities throughout North America. Thanks in large part to author Richard Florida's urban planning idea-of-the-moment (that cities should embrace the arts, culture, and something called the "creative class" in order to spur economic development,) cities are seeking out new ways to include the arts in their plans for a bigger and better future. But there's a difference between throwing a theatre festival designed for the same old elite (and mostly suburban) crowd, and actually looking for new ways to bring a community together around a cultural scene. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 10/22/03

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

How Technology Trumps Law-making Technology always finds a way around obstacles, writes Clay Shirkey. Peer-to-peer file-sharing technologies will continue to adapt to the ways recording companies try to stop them. Social softwarefinds ways to connect people. "In hostile environments, organisms often adapt to become less energetic but harder to kill, and so it is now." Shirkey 10/03

Monday, October 20, 2003

Study: Brain Forms Maps To Make Sense Of Music New studies of the brain show that mental "maps" to make sense of what you hear in music begin to form within minutes of studying an instrument. "In professional musicians at least, recent brain imaging studies have shown that the different ways they respond to sound and finger movements seem paradoxical: when they hear a sound it activates areas of the brain that process movement, but when they silently tap out musical phrases it evokes brain activity in areas involved in hearing." Discovery 10/20/03

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Conceptualism Comes of Age, Finally The notion that art is about more than objects, and that artists and their ideas are as significant as the works they create for public display, developed in the 1960s and '70s, and a new exhibit in Baltimore aims to deconstruct the movement which would eventually become known as 'conceptual art.' "Forty years ago, a small group of artists challenged the idea that works of art were about showing off the genius of a maker's hand -- a notion that had lasted right from Raphael and Rembrandt through to Jackson Pollock. The works they used to make that challenge still feel powerful and exciting, sometimes even radical and unsettling, all this while later. Sometimes they look gorgeous, too." Washington Post 10/19/03

Thursday, October 16, 2003

The Death Of The Middlebrow? "Middlebrowism, which dominated mid-century culture in the Anglo-American world, can be a complex subject beset by issues of status and social power, but at its heart lay the duty of all educated persons to become "well-rounded" citizens, especially by exposing themselves to great ideas, great art, and great literature. The precipitous decline in middlebrow culture is in large measure a function of technological innovation, which has had the effect of redrawing culture's sociological map. 'Cable, VCRs, satellites, and the multidimensional changes wrought by the home computer have not only opened a vast array of new cultural choices to people, they are achieving something much larger: They are moving the consumption of culture out of the city and into the home. Reason 10/16/03

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Open Source, The Revolution Spreads Open source is a big movement in software. But the idea is spreading beyond computers. "In 2003, the method is proving to be as broadly effective - and, yes, as revolutionary - a means of production as the assembly line was a century ago.But software is just the beginning. Open source has spread to other disciplines, from the hard sciences to the liberal arts. There is open source publishing: Prentice Hall is publishing a series of computer books open to any use, modification, or redistribution, with readers' improvements considered for succeeding editions. There are library efforts like Project Gutenberg, which has already digitized more than 6,000 books, with hundreds of volunteers typing in, page by page, classics from Shakespeare to Stendhal; at the same time, a related project, Distributed Proofreading, deploys legions of copy editors to make sure the Gutenberg texts are correct. There are open source projects in law and religion. There's even an open source cookbook." Wired 10/03

The Rise Of "Illegal Art" "Around the country, copyright concerns are fueling a grassroots movement that brings together artists frustrated by the corporate lock on popular-culture icons, musicians pondering the distribution of their work in the era of sampling and Napster, and technophiles worried about the ways that new digital copyright-protection technology is fencing in the formerly wide open electronic frontier. More than protecting those who create, this growing chorus of critics says, the current copyright system serves to enrich big corporations, stifle innovation, silence social criticism, and impoverish the culture." Philadelphia Inquirer 10/15/03

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Japan's Cartoon Culture Why is it that "a nation with one of the world's highest literacy rates would become so obsessed with cartoons" Men and women of all ages can be seen on the subway, in coffee shops, or at racks in convenience stores, poring over thick, bound comic books. And Japanese TV is filled with anime shows. Can't get enough of 'em. And it's not just the shows and books. Animation pervades the entire society." Slate 10/14/03

Painting Is Dead, Long Live Painting! A recent survey suggested Britons know next to nothing about fine art. But how can this be true, really? "If half the population can’t remember who painted the ‘Mona Lisa’ — or never knew in the first place — the other half seem anxious to travel to Paris and stand in front of it. In fact it is an excellent example of a work of art so popular that no one has had a chance to see it properly for decades. There is a constant, jostling throng in front of the picture, so only the staff of the Louvre and those lucky enough to be let in after hours ever get a chance to look at it as a painting should be looked at, slowly and tranquilly. " The Spectator 10/11/03

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Academia, Politically Speaking (Oh Really?) Is Academia liberal? Is there a liberal bias in higher education? "The state of the job market these days makes things especially hard to pin down. Ayn Randian, liberal, Marxist, conservative: In most fields, there aren't jobs for anyone." Boston Globe 10/12/03

Thursday, October 9, 2003

The Schwarzenegger Effect: Politics and American Culture When Arnold Schwarzenegger took the stage to give his first speech as governor-elect of California, he was introduced by none other than talk show host Jay Leno. Leno was careful to avoid making any overt statements of political support for Schwarzenegger, but his very presence at the event raises now-familiar questions about the nature of our increasingly entertainment-dominated society. With the line between "hard news" and softball entertainment programming all but gone from many American minds, the candidacy - and success - of Schwarzenegger is triggering alarm bells for many cultural observers. Washington Post 10/09/03

Monday, October 6, 2003

An Essay Defending Essays "It is an article of the most unshakable faith that the personal, familiar, Montaignian - call it what you will - essay is minor stuff, a second-rate employment undertaken by bankrupt novelists and other failures. In literary rankings its place lay well below the novella and scarcely above the book review. Indeed, the personal essay’s most esteemed and acclaimed practitioners have to a man voiced misgivings about their trade." And yet, is it true that "there are no second-rate genres, "only second-rate practitioners?” Butterflies & Wheels 10/03

Friday, October 3, 2003

Fuzzy Thinking (No, Really, It's Good) "Traditionally, logicians have made a stark distinction between truthhood and falsity. A statement was considered to be either true (given a truth value of one) or false (a value of zero). In the 1960s, Lotfi Zadeh of the University of California at Berkeley came up with the catchy innovation of 'fuzzy logic'. In this system, things could be sort-of true, or only partially false. A 'truth value' of 0.5 meant that a statement was half-true, and so forth. The Economist 10/02/03

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