Sunday, February 29, 2004
America's Deaf Ear To The Rest Of The World
America sells more and more to the rest of the world. And more and more of its good are manufactured abroad. But increasingly the country is closing its eyes and ears to foreign culture - movies, books, music... all are having a more difficult time getting into the country and being seen/heard/read. Los Angeles Times 02/29/04
Thursday, February 26, 2004
Does America Exist Because We Shop?
America often gets criticized for being consumerist and driven by its appetite for consumption of goods. Yet, writes one historian, it may be precisely this talent for shopping that allowed America to break from Britain back in the 1700s and create a modern nation that works. The New York Times 02/28/04
Wednesday, February 25, 2004
Multiculturalism - Trust The Ones You Know?
"A large ongoing survey of American communities seems to show, uncomfortably, that levels of trust and co-operation are highest in the most homogenous neighbourhoods. People living in diverse areas, it turns out, are not just more suspicious of people who don't look like them; they are also more suspicious of their own kind. Because of that, they suffer socially, economically and politically." The Economist 02/26/04
Tuesday, February 24, 2004
Plugged In, Tuned Out
How are portable electronics changing our behavior? Take iPods, for example. "Music allows people to use their eyes when they're listening in public. I call it nonreciprocal looking. Listening to music lets you look at someone but don't look at them when they look back. The earplugs tell them you're otherwise engaged. It's a great urban strategy for controlling interaction." Wired 02/25/04
Monday, February 23, 2004
Miles: Passion Is A Story Made For Hollywood
As one of the few people in the world who speaks and understands Aramaic, Latin, and Hebrew, Jack Miles belongs to "the over-educated sliver of the audience for “The Passion” that can hear both “original” languages with a measure of comprehension." Of course there are historical inaccuracies. But "time will tell whether this film will have any longer a life or any deeper an impact than its predecessors in the genre, all of which seem faded or eccentric failures in retrospect. The plot of the Gospel—good, beautiful man confronts evil, ugly establishment, loses everything, but then miraculously wins everything back in the end—is Christianity’s supreme gift to Hollywood." Beliefnet 02/24/04
Taking It To The Streets - UK's Only Viable Youth Culture?
"A new report, based on interviews with young people across Britain, suggests that more and more white youths now see black street culture as their only credible influence in the UK. And, what's more, the predominance of black culture has even led to the formation of a fledgling hybrid language - 'Blinglish'." The Guardian (UK) 02/22/04
Sunday, February 22, 2004
The Paralysis Of Choice
"A few decades of research has made it clear that most people are terrible choosers—they don’t know what they want, and the prospect of deciding often causes not just jitters but something like anguish. The evidence is all around us, from restaurant-goers’ complaints that “the menu is too long” to Michael Jackson’s face. The phenomenon isn’t new..." The New Yorker 02/24/04
Make It Real (But What Is Real?)
"The way we perceive what we call 'real' speech in drama is constantly changing: the mirror held up to nature is a lens whose focal length changes with time. In the theatre the search for documentary truth is the logical extension of an art form that seeks to present slices of life while always reminding the spectator (unlike film) that what they are watching is a simulation of life, a metaphor for it, not the real thing. The desire to make that experience of simulated reality more "real", more like life as it is rather than how it's supposed to be, is the motor of modern theatre." The Guardian (UK) 02/21/04
Thursday, February 19, 2004
Getting To The Soul Of Things
"As traditionally understood, the soul is something that is both within us and yet superior to us, a repository for the most precious (or in some accounts "divine") aspects of us. The soul survives when the rest of us dies, it can continue indefinitely (like a kind of hardy seed preserved in arctic tundra), and may even reinhabit a bodily form at another time. The idea that we have a soul should, if we can manage to believe it, stop us feeling quite so sad that we must die. What makes a history of the soul rewarding is that it offers a useful way into the question of what different societies and thinkers have at various points viewed as the most important aspect of life." The Telegraph (UK) 02/16/04
A Language From The Beginning
How are languages created, and how do they evolve? A group of deaf kids in Nicaragua have developed their own sign language and are teaching linguists much about the evolution of language. The Economist 02/19/04
Wednesday, February 18, 2004
The Art Of Ethical Industry
"Over the past couple of decades, the ethics industry has kicked into high gear. We now have a growing number of professional ethicists who are prepared to act as superegos for hire to the various professions. Indeed, take any given profession and there is another profession called the ethics of that profession. (Think bioethics, medical ethics, legal ethics, computer ethics, and so forth.)" Chronicle of Higher Education 02/20/04
Tuesday, February 17, 2004
Trafficking In Ideas - It's Getting Complicated
Debates over who owns ideas and creative work are getting fierce. "As a result of the move from a manufacturing and service economy to a knowledge and creative economy, intellectual property is now being asked to play a primary role that it is not capable of. Each kind of intellectual property, with its distinctive historical antecedents and unique characteristics, is under considerable strain. Multiple trends are undercutting and de-stabilising the entire system. We can see shifts and changes in how we have and share ideas and especially in how we develop and commercialise them." Cultural Commons 02/04
The Aware Teen
Critics act like teenagers are completely at the mercy of the mass culture, that they're empty vessels that can be filled up and manipulated by whatever base, nasty thing that comes along. But teens have a lot more going for them than they're given credit for, and this is actually not the case... Reason 02/17/04
Monday, February 16, 2004
The All-Important Essay Question - Would You Pass?
The SAT's are making a change. A short essay will be required, and said essay will be graded by readers who will spend about a minute reading and considering its quality. All of which got the Atlantic and the Princeton Review wondering what the graders would have made of writing by several famous writers... The Atlantic 03/04
Open Source As Guiding Principle
The open source movement isn't just for computers anymore. Numerous businesses and intellectual projects are adopting the open source model, and enjoying good results. "Open source draws on some of these collaborative traditions but remains a highly distinctive phenomenon. It has come of age thanks to global electronic networks that make exchanging information cheaper than ever before, at a time when the market for information-based products, whether software, music or opinion, is larger than ever. Prospect 02/04
Sunday, February 15, 2004
So Who Needs Libraries?
"Only now in the bright light of the Google Era do we see how dim and gloomy was our pregooglian world. In the distant future, historians will have a common term for the period prior to the appearance of Google: the Dark Ages." Washington Post 02/15/04
Wednesday, February 11, 2004
Love - After The Artists, Scientists Weigh In
Is there a bigger theme in the history of art than love? Poets, playwrights, composers and artists have explored love from all sides. "Romance has seemed as inexplicable as the beauty of a rainbow. But these days scientists are challenging that notion, and they have rather a lot to say about how and why people love each other. Is this useful? The scientists think so." The Economist 02/13/04
Tuesday, February 10, 2004
America's Christian Right
The potent force in American culture? "An estimated 70 million Americans call themselves evangelicals, and their beliefs have already reshaped American politics. In the last election, 40 percent of the votes for George W. Bush came from their ranks, and now those beliefs are beginning to reshape the culture as well - thanks to a group of best-selling novels known as the 'Left Behind' series." CBSNews 02/08/04
Of New York And Intellectuals
Will the tradition of the New York intellectual survive? "The failure of the New York Intellectuals, finally - after a life in the American public as critics and theorists, pundits and intellectuals-was the failure to pass on a tradition. They became but a historical quirk when they failed to bequeath the tradition onto another generation and another age." Work Research Foundation 02/04
Monday, February 9, 2004
From Where Do We Get Technology?
Since World War II, the notion that "science is the engine that drives technology" has been dominant. "Before technology could advance, "scientific capital" had to be built up through research. Such a view implied that technology ultimately depended on knowledge of the natural world: Technology was nothing more than applied science. Yet increasingly, the scientists who do the sort of pure research explain natural phenomena by invoking such man-made artifacts as the computer." Wired 02/10/04
Saturday, February 7, 2004
Columbia University's Arts Initiative
Columbia University wants to become more involved in the arts. How to do this? First, Columbia has hired director Gregory Mosher. "All of us believe there should be far less separation among intellectual and creative activities. We don't know exactly how we will do this. But we are going to make an effort. We hope to build something quite distinctive, and to make a contribution." The New York Times 02/09/04
That's Great (Isn't It?)
Charles Murray attempts to quantify greatness. Is such a thing a good idea? Is it even possible? Denis Dutton believes so: "We take pleasure in watching an athlete break a record, hearing a soprano in full flight, or reading a philosopher of depth and insight. Human accomplishment is the ultimate spectator sport. Apply as much historical analysis to it as we wish, and we’ll not unlock all its mysteries. The continuous capacity of genius to surpass understanding remains a human constant." New Criterion 02/04
Thursday, February 5, 2004
Familiar Music In New Settings
Looking for ways to present classical music in new formats, one French entrepreneur has developed a new sound for some familiar classics - Beethoven, Strauss, Vivaldi and others - and he's become quite the virtuoso. Okay, it's a joke, but it's fun! Hugi-Is 02/04
Wednesday, February 4, 2004
Chewing Gum Makes You Smarter?
A dentist at NYU devises an experiment, and discovers that students who chew gum while they study, score higher grades in a test than those who don't chew. "The gum chewers scored, on average, a B-minus on the written component while the abstainers managed only a C-plus." The New Yorker 02/03/04
Between Diversity And Common Dreams
Britain has become ever more diverse in the past few decades. But is this a threat or an advantage? "When solidarity and diversity pull against each other, which side should public policy favour? Diversity can increasingly look after itself - the underlying drift of social and economic development favours it. Solidarity, on the other hand, thrives at times of adversity, hence its high point just after the second world war and its steady decline ever since as affluence, mobility, value diversity and (in some areas) immigration have loosened the ties of a common culture." Prospect 02/04
Tuesday, February 3, 2004
The Illusion Of Saftey Makes Us Less Safe
Does all this added security post-911 actually make us safer? Actually, most of it doesn't, and some of it even makes us less safe. Consider ID checks: "The ostensible reason is that ID checks make us all safer, but that's just not so. In most cases, identification has very little to do with security. Let's debunk the myths..." San Francisco Chronicle 02/04/04
Does Money Equal Art?
Is it true that "nothing great ever happens in art unless there's some big money somewhere on the scene?" That "there must be some kind of economic boom and not too much warring" and that "peace tends to equal commerce and commerce equals art?" New Statesman 02/02/04
Monday, February 2, 2004
Cheap Music (And Movies) For All!
How to make all this file-sharing business legal and profitable? Harvard professor Terry Fisher (a very smart guy, and a leading thinker on intellectual property issues) has devised a system that would pay artists and their recording labels and make the trading of music and other digital media cheap and plentiful. And what would it cost? Six bucks a month, and painlessly collected... The Register 02/01/04
Sunday, February 1, 2004
When Biology and Technology Converge
We've tended to distinguish sharply between things and biology. Biology has always occupied a special status, but "advances in fields as disparate as computer science and genetics are dealing our status another blow. Researchers are learning that markets and power grids have much in common with plants and animals. Their findings lead to a startling conclusion: Life isn't the exception, but the rule." Wired 02/04
What Really Happened...
"Are we living in a golden age of conspiracy theory? And if so, what stands behind this apparent upsurge in global anxiety? Fortunately, no shortage of observers has turned their attention to such questions..." Boston Globe 02/01/04
Does Taste Matter?
One man's taste is another's "funereal" ugliness. "Taste is what we share with others, as well as what sets us apart. The word has sharply contrasting meanings, when taken individually or collectively. The history of taste, an absorbing subject, tends to concern itself with generalities, and its great categories apply across the board..." The Guardian (UK) 01/31/04
A Link Between Religion And Success
A new Harvard study suggests that economic success around the world is linked to whether or not you believe in a religion. "Our central perspective is that religion affects economic outcomes mainly by fostering religious beliefs that influence individual traits such as honesty, work ethic, thrift and openness to strangers. For example, beliefs in heaven and hell might affect those traits by creating perceived rewards and punishments that relate to `good' and `bad' lifetime behavior." The New York Times 01/31/04