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Tuesday, March 30, 2004

How America's Literary Culture Has Changed America's critical literary culture has changed over the years, writes Sven Birkerts. "The commercial consideration (sales, circulation, publicity) has in recent years become paramount. The logic of the situation is obvious. And desperation driven. What we are seeing is an effort in certain quarters to awaken a somnolent literary culture, to create attention, the idea somehow being that power and money go where the noise is. There is no way to solve the problem at the source, of course—it is systemic—so the best strategy is the quick fix." Bookforum 04/04

Art Of The Talk - Public Debating Blooms Again Across the UK, public debates are drawing huge crowds, speakers' series are mobbed, and lectures are pulling in fans. The art of public talk and debate has bloomed again as people seek out others to talk. Why is this happening? One theory: "Email cuts you off, in one way, and yet it also links us all up. People are separated as they sit in front of their screen, but they are also much more quickly alerted to what's happening out there. Public debates have become more attractive because the old places for meeting, like pubs, had grown too noisy." The Observer (UK) 03/28/04

Monday, March 29, 2004

Saving A Language Just For Women Chinese archivists are trying to save an ancient language created just for women. "Nushu, meaning women's script, was held so securely by its speakers and writers that women used to burn manuscripts to keep them away from men, or they would bury items containing Nushu with female friends upon their deaths. The language's origins are unclear, but most scholars believe Nushu emerged in the third century during a time when the Chinese government prohibited education of women." Discovery 03/29/04

Sunday, March 28, 2004

The Brain - One Man's Theory The brain's cortex contains "at least 30 billion neurons with 1 million billion connections between them; counting one a second, it would take 32 million years to count them all. There are also multiple brain regions, 200 types of neurons, even large-scale neuronal deaths. How does such an object function, let alone give rise to consciousness?" The New York Times 03/27/04

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Humans - We're Jaw-Dropping Smart (Literally) How did humans develop such big brains? It could be because our jaws got smaller and weaker, says a new theory. "A mutation 2.4 million years ago could have left us unable to produce one of the main proteins in primate jaw muscles, the team reports in this week's Nature1. Lacking the constraints of a bulky chewing apparatus, the human skull may have been free to grow, the researchers say." Nature 03/25/04

Words, Words, Words (And More Words) They're All Here The American National Corpus, an "annotated body of over 10 million words" is being released. "If the dictionary is like the drawer with bugs on cards, the corpus is the jungle. The ANC collects blocks of text from newspapers, books and conversations so words and phrases can be viewed in their natural habitat - that is, in an American English context." Chicago Tribune 03/25/04

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

The New Coke... But Then What? "Coca-Cola is perhaps the most successful American brand ever. Each day, about 1.2 billion servings of Coca-Cola products are consumed around the globe. Coca-Cola is remarkably well-established in the world's wealthiest consumer market. The company's 2002 annual report noted that the average consumer in North America 'enjoys at least one serving of our products every day.' But once you have the entire population of the world's richest nation using your product at least once a day, what do you do for an encore?" Slate 03/24/04

What's Wrong With Germany? If it is true, as Jimmy Carter once asserted, that nations can find themselves in a state of collective malaise, there is no doubt that Germany in 2004 would qualify as downright sickly, at least as far as its own residents are concerned. Strangely, when viewed from an objective standpoint, Germany doesn't seem to be any worse off economically, culturally, or politically, than most other European nations, but England and France "do not seem to be in quite the despairing mood that Germany is in. Is the difference perhaps, as some have been saying, Germans just enjoy complaining? Or does it run deeper?" The New York Times 03/24/04

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Our Culture Through A Wagner Filter The English like their mythologies to work out, to resolve themselves. But Wagner doesn't let you do that. "Bluntly, he's a critical component of our culture. We are compelled to make sense of why Wagner deploys myth to prove our own moral uncertainties." The Observer (UK) 03/21/04

Of Fairness And Discrimination "A graduate student at the University of Wisconsin studied the difficulties of former prisoners trying to find work and, in the process, came up with a disturbing finding: it is easier for a white person with a felony conviction to get a job than for a black person whose record is clean." The New York Times 03/20/04

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Gambling With Bankruptcy "With personal bankruptcy filings at historic highs, a growing number of grass-roots organizations contend that the phenomenon is fueled, at least in part, by the explosion of legal gambling in the United States over the past quarter of a century." And here's data to back up the claim - a study shows that bankruptcy rates are highest where casinos are. Christian Science Monitor 03/18/04

Be The Smartest Person On Your Block! (On Paper, Anyway...) Handing out diplomas is big business these days, and not just for the colleges and universities that actually expect you to go to class to earn one. "Diploma mills," online companies which churn out fake diplomas, either purporting to be from real, prestigious schools, or from obscure schools which aren't actually schools at all, have become a major problem for employers seeking to verify the credentials of job applicants. Now, two members of the US Congress have "asked the [Government Accounting Office] to investigate the matter after reports surfaced last summer that a high-level employee in the Homeland Security Department claimed to have three degrees from a suspected diploma mill." Wired 03/18/04

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

An Invented World (It's Nice In Here) "In an entertainment culture suffused with spectacle, the desire to be dazed, dazzled, carried away and left speechless has never seemed more compelling. In movie houses and theaters, rock concert arenas and horse-filled tents, visual amazement abounds and overwhelms. Language, lyrics, character and narrative make way for sensory superabundance. Buffeted by world events too menacing to fathom, we've become eager, wide- eyed witnesses, our faces longingly pressed to ever larger windows. We want to be enveloped and transported by intensity now, not merely diverted. Consider some of our current fixations." San Francisco Chronicle 03/16/04

Monday, March 15, 2004

Why You Can't Understand Sopranos Why is it so difficult to understand what sopranos are singing when they sing high notes? "Acoustical physicists have carried out an experiment that demonstrates why different vowel sounds are almost impossible to distinguish when sopranos are singing in the highest octave of their range. The experimental subjects were eight professional operatic sopranos." Physics Today 03/04

Sunday, March 14, 2004

How The Internet Is Changing Popular Culture "More and more people are consuming their popular culture on the internet, particularly as faster connections become more widely available." In the process, the business and creative sides of our creative industries are being transformed. BBC 03/14/04

Back To The 50s: Renegades Of Cool As Pitchmen Fifties icons of cool such as Miles Davis, James Dean and Jack Kerouac are being used in commercials to promote various products. "Sure, nothing's sacred. And certainly there's more to the enduring appeal of 'cool' - an attitude that says, 'I know who I am, whether you know it or not, and I really don't care if you do' - than the marketing strategies that threaten to cheapen its legacy. But there's a bitter irony in the fact that Davis, Dean and Kerouac were anything but unquestioning, lock-step consumers." St. Louis Post-Dispatch 03/14/04

The Growing Divide: Europe And The US International politics over the past few years have magnified the cultural differences between Europe and the United States. "These growing divisions — over war, peace, religion, sex, life and death — amount to a philosophical dispute about the common origins of European and American civilization. Both children of the Enlightenment, the United States and Europe clearly differ about the nature of this inheritance and about who is its better custodian." The New York Times 03/13/04

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Creating A Marketplace of Ideas: But First, The Bill Do we get the culture we deserve? William Osborne takes a look at the way America and Europe promote their cultures. There is, he reports, an obvious reason why Europe has more orchestras, operas, and dance companies and why the citizenry seem more culturally literate. ArtsWatch (AJ) 03/11/04

Will How We Consume Music Change The Music Itself? "Although there has been plenty of debate about the legalities of downloading, one important question has so far gone unasked: will downloading affect how pop music sounds in the future? In other words, will the way that people access music have an effect on the content of that music?" CBC 03/11/04

How The 60s Changed The Way America Communicates "Not only did we come to regard political speech as manipulative, but we started to see formality in general as old-fashioned and insincere. The culture that bred casual Fridays and microwave dinners came to value 'doing your own thing' over older standards of propriety, and this attitude has shaped our language." Chicago Tribune 03/11/04

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

NY Sun: AJ Bloggers Meet Readers So you missed last week's ArtsJournal Live at the Landmark Tavern in New York? Here's New York Sun columnist Gary Shapiro's take on the evening... New York Sun 03/05/04

Sunday, March 7, 2004

Activism And The Law What is this "activist judges" charge that George Bush keeps flinging around? What he means, of course, are courts with whose rulings he disagrees. "Still, the charge isn't going away. Though it is misused by partisans, scholars have for generations held serious debates about judicial activism - and have sometimes even found ways to embrace it." Boston Globe 03/07/04

Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Arab World - Looking For legacy A thousand years ago the Arab world was a center of learning, a civilization that led the world. So what happened? "According to a number of highly self-critical reports that have come out in the past few years, the 21 countries that make up the region are struggling to teach even basic science at the university level. For poor countries, such as Yemen and Sudan, the problem is a lack of money and resources. For wealthier ones, such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, complacency and a relatively new and underdeveloped university system have hampered progress." Chronicle of Higher Education 03/05/04

Who Can Own A Fact? As the US Congress struggles to find a reasonable way to update copyright law for the digital age, an alarming possibility has emerged. A draft bill known as the Database and Collections of Information Misappropriation Act is designed to allow companies which collect and disseminate data (online search engines like Google, say) to protect their product from being copied. "But critics say the bill would give the companies ownership of facts - stock quotes, historical health data, sports scores and voter lists. [If that's true, t]he bill would restrict the kinds of free exchange and shared resources that are essential to an informed citizenry." Wired 03/03/04

Tuesday, March 2, 2004

The Wrong Way To Go About Teaching Music Is the way we teach kids music in America wrong? Libby Larsen thinks so. It's a system that hasn't evolved much since colonial times. "We have a musical education system that was developed out of a displaced European sensibility that was brilliant, but we have a culture now in which the music is ever so much more complicated and diverse in the world. The music education system has a crisis in relevancy." Washington Post 03/02/04

You Remember (Well, You Could If You Practiced) "The three-day international event pits mnemonic experts from around the globe in competitions that include memorizing a previously unpublished and non-rhyming lengthy poem in 15 minutes, and writing it down complete with proper spelling and punctuation; memorizing a list of 400 random words and reciting them back in order; and the dreaded "binary competition," in which competitors have a half hour to memorize a random string of thousands of 1s and 0s." Wired 03/02/04

Monday, March 1, 2004

Should Some Languages Be Allowed To Die? "Linguists now estimate that half of the more than 6,000 languages currently spoken in the world will become extinct by the end of this century. In reaction, there are numerous efforts to slow the die-off -- from graduate students heading into the field to compile dictionaries; to charitable foundations devoted to the cause, like the Endangered Language Fund; to transnational agencies, some with melancholic names appropriate to the task, like the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages. But how does one salvage an ailing language when the economic advantages of, say, Spanish are all around you? And is it possible to step inside a dying language to learn whether it can be saved and, more rudely, whether it should be?" New York Times Magazine 02/29/04

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