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Wednesday, December 31, 2003

2003: Year In Review What were the top stories of 2003? Here's our updated archive of year-end stories from publications around the world. ArtsJournal 12/28/03

A Nation Of Idiots? Or Just Navel-Gazers Addicted To TV? "The American intelligentsia is anxious these days... Anyone who watches television for more than five minutes can be forgiven for worrying about dumbing down, but the past year has seen a lively renewal of debate on this perennial topic." From Terry Teachout's blog post (here on ArtsJournal) calling for a re-embrace of 1950s-style "middlebrow" culture, to Curtis White's disgust with a new breed of self-important intellectual wannabes which "wants to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and has bought an SUV with the intent of visiting it," America's thinkers are unanimous that we need more old-fashioned thinking in our lives, but Canadian Kate Taylor feels they may be missing the point. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 12/31/03

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Theoretically Speaking...Theory Might Be Dead For two decades now, the world of humanities studies has been ruled by theory. "But there are reports from the academic world that theory may have run out steam. 'Confidence in the technology of theory has faded. Theory's opacities and arcane terms may be entrenched, but 'they don't come at you with the old assurance and swagger." Boston Globe 12/28/03

Monday, December 29, 2003

The Nature OF Nurture (Or The Other Way Around) "Fifty years after the discovery of the molecular structure of DNA, we are for the first time in a position to understand directly DNA’s contribution to the mind. And the story is vastly different from—and vastly more interesting than—anything we had anticipated. The emerging picture of nature’s role in the formation of the mind is at odds with a conventional view." Boston Review 12/03

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Economist View: Gifts Are "Inefficient" Giving a present might make you feel good. But as an economic transaction, economists consider it inefficient. "So when I give up $50 worth of utility to buy a present for you, the chances are high that you'll value it at less than $50. If so, there's been a mutual loss of utility. The transaction has been inefficient and "welfare reducing", thus making it irrational. As an economist would put it, "unless a gift that costs the giver p dollars exactly matches the way in which the recipient would have spent the p dollars, the gift is suboptimal"." The Age (Melbourne) 12/24/03

The 17th Century Internet Think the internet is a revolution of sharing ideas? Nope. "The coffee-houses that sprang up across Europe, starting around 1650, functioned as information exchanges for writers, politicians, businessmen and scientists. Like today's websites, weblogs and discussion boards, coffee-houses were lively and often unreliable sources of information that typically specialised in a particular topic or political viewpoint. They were outlets for a stream of newsletters, pamphlets, advertising free-sheets and broadsides. Depending on the interests of their customers, some coffee-houses displayed commodity prices, share prices and shipping lists, whereas others provided foreign newsletters filled with coffee-house gossip from abroad." The Economist 12/18/03

Monday, December 22, 2003

Design For Design's Sake - Must We Always Be Entertained? "Highly noticeable design in itself has become an acknowledged competitive strategy, so that the public now expects to be perpetually captivated and entertained and flattered by the novelty and the variety of design in every kind of commodity, not just in the aspect of goods but in their physical ambience. Restaurants are as over-designed as the meals they serve; new boutiques selling wine or cheese or jams or cookies are fitted up like exquisite art galleries, with hushed spatial arrangements so arcane that the goods cannot readily be distinguished from the décor. Such establishments might not sit on the same street with the fake-ethnic diners, but the source of their overt allure is the same." The New Republic 12/12/03

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Human Creativity vs. Human Crisis "Are we as a species really on the razor's edge between salvation and destruction? How does this impact the creative spirit of our generation?" Ben Tripp has had these and other fairly weighty questions on his mind of late, especially as the world appears to have settled into a near-permanent state of Global Crisis, which makes it fairly hard to concentrate on such niceties as Art. Still, we know from past experience that "the springs and freshets of Art will bubble up to wet the stoniest ground, if you must put it that way. But are all great works accomplished in the face of hardship, or can I get a massage?" CounterPunch 12/20/03

The Once And Future Toronto? There was a time when Toronto was one of the world's intellectual centers, writes Philip Marchand, a gathering place for the study of what used to be called "arts and letters," and there are those who believe it can be again. But as Canada embarks on a supposed 'new direction' under Prime Minister Paul Martin, one has to wonder about the priorities of the new PM and his countrymen. With the University of Toronto deemphasizing many of its less 'glamorous' departments and the country as a whole seemingly under-interested in the pursuit of studied thought for its own sake, can Toronto really be on the intellectual comeback trail? Toronto Star 12/20/03

Reasonable Faith, Or Faith In Reason? The 21st century's great intellectual conflict seems to be coming into focus, and it is a battle between Reason, the logic-based truth of scientists and academics; and Faith, the popular notion that truth is as much what we believe as what we can prove. The battle could be seen as a conflict between East and West, but those lines are blurring daily. It could be perceived as a battle between Left and Right, with the American right now teeming with evangelical Christians, and the left with secular intellectuals, but that leaves out the complicating factors of what is shaping up to be a truly global debate. "It is a conflict between competing certainties: between followers of Faith, who know because they believe, and followers of Reason, who believe because they know." The New York Times 12/20/03

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

The Commonplace Genius (What Fun Is That?) Is Mensa, the "genius" IQ organization, inflating applicants' test scores so as to boost its membership numbers? "Membership in the UK currently stands at a lowly 26,247 - the lowest figure in 15 years, more than 17,400 below the figure 10 years ago, when membership reached an all-time high of 43,652. While Mensa has a worldwide membership of 98,861, British Mensa, the heart and home of the society, is in a very sorry state indeed. So what has gone wrong? Well, pretty much everything..." Financial Times 12/14/03

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Discrimination On The Basis Of... Not all generalizations are wrong. "Lawyers, philosophers and others have long pondered the legal and moral distinctions among discrimination, stereotyping and statistical probabilities, but they have not reached broad agreement. Beyond suspicions about rounding up the usual suspects, how do we know whether generalizations are based on sound empirical information or are a jumble of pop culture shorthand and bad science? What kinds of broad judgments are right and what kinds are wrong? How are categories constructed in the first place?" The New York Times 12/13/03

Theory Is Dead? "In the 1970's and 80's, legions of students and professors in humanities departments embraced the view that the world was a 'text' - that the personal and political were shaped by language and that literary and cultural critics possessed tools as powerful as those of, say, political scientists for understanding the world and effecting social change. While outside observers have long inveighed against theory's abstruse argot and political pretensions, this year theory seems to have lost much of its cachet, even among its would-be defenders." The New York Times Magazine 12/14/03

Stop Explaining My Art! Astronomers in Texas have determined that the famous figure in Edvard Munch's famous painting, The Scream, is meant to be reacting to a frightening, fiery Norwegian sunset, caused by the eruption of an Indonesian volcano. Kate Taylor would like these astronomers, and all other art-explaining scientists, to kindly take a seat and stop telling her what her favorite paintings are about. "The eager detectives who ferret out the scientific details of these artistic experiences always argue they don't mean to diminish the art, but that is the effect, however unintended, of their discoveries." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 12/13/03

Friday, December 12, 2003

It's Official - We're All Nerds "Over the past decade, those cultural phenomena that we once filed as geeky minority pursuits have become our masters. The internet now boasts a global community numbering 679 million. Video gaming pulls in more annual revenue than Hollywood. For its part, the film industry seems increasingly in thrall to the comic-book movie , the sci-fi epic and the wizard fantasy. Next week sees the release of the final instalment in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, awash with elves and hobbits and surely the most monumental nerd-fest of the lot. All of which raises some frightening implications. Could it be that there are more nerds today than there were before?" The Guardian 12/12/03

"Y" Me? Every generation has those writers who somehow help define it. But "Generation Y, the teens and early twenty–somethings who are said to represent the biggest chunk of pop culture marketing power, have no one who has encapsulated their generation in their writing so far. Sure, there are some authors their age but they haven't produced a work meant to encapsulate the generation. Nor has one of them been called upon to become the chief essayist, chronicler or spokesperson for their peers. So where are they? 'This isn't a literary generation. It's the MTV/high–speed Internet generation'." MobyLives 12/10/03

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Class Warfare Meets The Digital Divide The gap between countries with ready access to information technologies and the internet, and those without, is rapidly becoming the next likely staging ground in a global class war of haves and have-nots. A summit in Geneva is attempting to identify some potential solutions before the problem explodes into an open conflict which could result in the have-not countries setting up their own semi-global networks in an effort to sidestep American 'net dominance. But the major obstacle to finding an equitable solution appears to be that the countries with all the clout - most notably, the U.S. - have little to no interest in sharing their power. Wired (Reuters) 12/11/03

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

The Year That Was (And Not Any Better) Why do annual reports always make things look as rosy a possible, asks Theatre Communications Group director Ben Cameron. So his assessment of the current year in theatre business: "Conceived in affluent times, the 2002 fiscal year was one redefined by the events of 9/11, by unanticipated new patterns of audience behavior and fears of terrorism, by a crumbling national economy and rapidly escalating unemployment. As our recently released TheatreFacts 2002 demonstrates, it was a year in which local and city funding fell by 44 percent, in which the number of corporate donors fell, in which foundation funding slipped and in which field expenses grew more quickly than earned revenues. It was a year in which 54 percent of theatres finished the year with a deficit—a shocking slide from the 71 percent that had achieved a surplus just two years earlier—and had not individual contributors rallied in unprecedented numbers, covering more than 20 percent of expenses, as opposed to the 9.6 percent covered five years ago—the results would have been far worse." Theatre Communications Group 12/03

Should America Get To Control The Internet? Many Americans probably aren't aware that their country controls the global Internet, and the vast majority of information technologies which make it up. But the rest of the world is well aware of it, and many other countries aren't happy about it. "Some developing countries, including China, South Africa, India and Brazil, want control out of the hands of a private organization selected by the United States and instead with an intergovernmental group, possibly under the United Nations." Wired (AP) 12/09/03

Tuesday, December 9, 2003

Who Really Invented The Telephone? Did Alexander Graham Bell really invent the telephone? "Documents marked 'confidential' that recently were found buried in the archives of the Science Museum in London suggest British telephone executives covered up the fact that a German science teacher invented a working telephone 13 years before Alexander Graham Bell created a somewhat similar device." Discovery 12/09/03

Monday, December 8, 2003

Death Of Theatre Criticism? Theatre criticism is dying, writes Bill Marx. But why? "The fact is most of today's critics have no interest in ideas: they are functionaries who treat reviewing as diplomacy rather than provocation. Once criticism becomes a job, rather than an act of passionate thought, timidity inevitably follows. 'The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction,' proclaims poet William Blake. The consumer guide critics are winning; the horses that provide context are going to the glue factory on their knees. And a tear or two should be shed. But do not despair, because in the future the tygers of wrath will growl and a mad dog or two bark." WBUR (Boston) 12/04/03

Sunday, December 7, 2003

Knowledge For Wisdom, Not Acquisition Academia screwed up, writes Nicholas Maxwell, and we need a revolution to fix it. "We urgently need to bring about a third intellectual revolution, one which corrects the blunders of the Enlightenment revolution, so that the basic aim of academia becomes to promote wisdom, and not just acquire knowledge. Every branch and aspect of academic inquiry needs to change if we are to have the kind of inquiry, both more rational and of greater human value, that we really need." The Philosopher's Magazine 12/03

Saturday, December 6, 2003

The Downfall Of MTV "MTV has always pursued teenagers; what has changed is the sort of teenagers it is chasing, and what ideal of cool it established to court them. During the 1980s and early 1990s, the network tried to convert its viewers, suggesting to hungry-for-hipness suburban teens that there was something out there cooler and more compelling than their own high school melodramas. The gospel has since changed. What MTV is selling its teen audience now (with "Sorority Life," "Fraternity Life," "Spring Break: Cancun," a more juvenile "Real World") is a bland vision of the immediate future in which the first years of college look pretty much like high school, but without parents or homework. The focus is on having fun, not being challenged by new or different experiences." Washington Monthly 12/03

Thursday, December 4, 2003

Is Copyright Killing Culture? "Culture as we know it is increasingly bound up in the very laws that are supposed to nurture it. Copyright law has gone from promoting creativity to hindering artistic expression, thanks in part to the efforts of a few giant corporations that are sitting on billions of dollars worth of intellectual property. Culture is paying the price for these bad laws. In fact, the labyrinth of copyright has already had a devastating effect on an entire art form." Durham Independent 12/03/03

Wednesday, December 3, 2003

Who Owns What After We've Bought It? This idea that companies ought to be able to control music after we've bought it is a flawed one. "The issue is one of who owns, or has rights to use our common culture. That means stuff we created ourselves, and only we can decide is worth sharing. And as many of you pointed out, what we call the 'entertainment industry' today is merely a distributor, much like the Victorian canal owners were in the last century, in Britain. The smarter Bridgewaters bought into the upcoming railways, while the dumber canal owners didn't, and died a natural death. Today's pigopolists don't "own" the culture simply by claiming that their exclusivity is based on technology - that's a social contract we don't buy, and history, in most cases, is on our side." The Register 12/03/03

Monday, December 1, 2003

In My Humble Opinion... "There are perhaps three types of opinion. The first is the educated man's opinion that certain popular beliefs are stupid. The second is the sort that drove Flaubert to near madness, the opinion that certain original thoughts are stupid. Third, there is the conventional "wisdom" about what is correct. Opinions flourish only in periods or cultures without a dominant religion." The Telegraph (UK) 12/02/03

Art - I Can't Conceptulaize It Is conceptual art really art at all? The debate never seems to end. "Conceptual art refuses to be judged in conventional artistic terms, in terms of the material art object. But nor can it be judged as a pure idea, either. The result is that it occupies a kind of no-man's land, where it is difficult to judge or hold it to account." spiked-culture 11/20/03

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