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Thursday, April 29, 2004

War and the Power of Images Everyone in America knows that the U.S. is currently fighting a war in Iraq, and that American soldiers are dying there on a regular basis. So why the big brouhaha over whether photos showing the flag-draped coffins of the dead are published stateside? Because, says Joanne Ostrow, images of war have always been the most powerful method of swaying public opinion in times of war. "The debate hasn't changed since Matthew Brady's 1862 battlefield photos of the Civil War. Printed as etchings in newspapers, they shocked the nation." The coffin photos, however respectful, have the same capacity to bring the horror of war home in a starkly visible way, at a time when political leadership would prefer that Americans keep a pragmatic outlook. Denver Post 04/29/04

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

The Confusions Of Multiculturalism "We live in a multicultural society now, right? Well, I think we deserve a lot better from it. On the other hand, maybe Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, is right when he says we should abandon multiculturalism completely. Encourage everyone, immigrants and asylum seekers included, to embrace English culture and history as their own. Perhaps that will help to remove stereotypes for ever. But that brings up a new set of problems. What form of English culture do we all adopt? In fact, what is English culture? I do not know what that is." The Guardian (UK) 04/29/04

Harvard Looks To The Liberal Arts Model Harvard University, that great American bastion of the high-intensity, ultra-focused education, is apparently ready to lighten up a bit. A 15-month internal study has concluded that the university would benefit from allowing students more time to choose majors, and limiting the set-in-stone class requirements for those majors, so as to encourage a balanced, wide-ranging educational experience. The study also suggests that Harvard students be encouraged to study abroad, and emphasizes the importance of science for all students. The New York Times 04/27/04

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Richard Florida Defends His Creative Class Richard Florida's Rise of the Creative Class has been taking a lot of hits in the past few months. Now he rebuts his critics: "The Rise of the Creative Class has little to do with making cities yuppie-friendly, though leftist critics have tried to frame it (and belittle its message) in that way. Rather, my core message is that human creativity is the ultimate source of economic growth. Every single person is creative in some way. And to fully tap and harness that creativity we must be tolerant, diverse, and inclusive." The Next American City 04/27/04

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Cultural Cross-Purposes - What Binds Europe? As Europe's countries tie themselves closer, one wonders about what ties them together culturally. "The union's old and new members alike know surprisingly little about one another's artistic inventiveness today. Creative life may be flourishing in widely different ways across Europe, but the most common cultural link across the region now is a devotion to American popular culture in the form of movies, television and music. In a Europe committed to seeking 'ever closer union,' where a dozen countries already share a currency, culture seems to have fallen out of step. Even as Europeans visit one another's cities and beaches more than ever, national self-obsessions prevail in the visual arts, new plays, literature, contemporary classical music, pop music and movies." The New York Times 04/26/04

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Getting Older? So What! You hear it everywhere - we're getting older, and society will be the worse for it. "Even as we reap the benefits of longevity and vitality, we are becoming more anxious about the social and economic effects of ageing upon society. Demographics has turned from a peripheral issue into a major source of concern. We are told we need to confront some pretty big questions. Can society cope with having so many more old people? Can we really afford our future? But just because the mood of social pessimism is so ubiquitous does not mean we should simply accept it." spiked-online 04/21/04

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Arts Programming Ranks Last With BBC Viewers What programs do BBC viewers most value? "High quality news topped the list of 'public service' programming - 70 percent of respondents said it was important for society and to them personally. Then came sport, drama and, perhaps surprisingly, soaps. Viewers said they valued them because they dealt with current social and health issues in an engaging way. Right at the bottom came arts and religious programmes - fewer than 10 percent thought these were of particular value to society." BBC 04/21/04

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Of Value And Art Sure, there's the obvious connection between art and money, writes Thomas Crow. But art also "has its business in the world, in how a society functions and sees itself. As works of circulate from creator to patron, from dealer to collector, from private interior to public gallery, the transactions can be as much about sheltering the emotional, cultural and intellectual value of art as they are about money, even as prices climb and currency changes hands." Los Angeles Times 04/19/04

Monday, April 19, 2004

What makes Us Write? Can the art/act of writing be explained by studying the brain? "The choice of writing as a living and a way of life is more complex than is likely to show up in a neurologist’s PET scan. Nor, unlike in other artistic fields—music, the visual arts—does literary talent make such a life any easier by appearing early. "No Mozarts in literature," more than a well-known saying, is a fact. There are not too many Joseph Conrads, either, and Conrad published his first book when he was thirty-eight. Nor, despite all the programs and creative-writing classes, can writing really be taught." Commentary 04/04

One Store Fits All? How is it that everyone on earth seems to be happy shopping at Walmart? "Eight out of ten American households shop at Wal-Mart at least once a year. Worldwide, more than 100m customers visit Wal-Mart stores every week. Photographs circulated over the internet and purporting to come from the Exploration Rover show NASA's recent discovery of a Wal-Mart on Mars. The mathematics of big numbers suggests that Wal-Mart's growth must slow. Amazingly, the opposite appears to be happening." The Economist 04/16/04

Sunday, April 18, 2004

The Sad Seedy Side Of Legendary Legendary performances take on an aura of their own. "The trouble with legends is that they simultaneously attract and repel. There's a serious downside. The world of legend worship is patrolled and inhabited by very sad people, almost all of them men. This is not a world that suffers fools gladly. There is something embarrassing about being part of it." The Guardian (UK) 04/17/04

Friday, April 16, 2004

On Pop Culture And The Art Of John Rockwell: "Pop culture is not necessarily interesting in itself: it's merely an index of the state of the broader social culture, or a way to sell newspapers or CD's or commercials. The trouble with that mercantile mindset is that the popular arena is indeed the source of some of the best art out there, and artistic excellence calls forth smart criticism. Even elitist criticism — the kind produced by critics who love popular art but scorn the populace as a bunch of Menckenesque rubes easily manipulated by commercial interests." The New York Times 04/16/04

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Learned Aggression "A surprising natural experiment, reported in Public Library of Science Biology, an online journal, suggests that the level of violence in baboon society is culturally determined. Cultural transmission of behaviour has been seen in many animals besides humans. But until now, it has concerned what foodstuffs are good to eat, how to make and use tools, and how to communicate (many bird songs, for example, have learned regional dialects). Cultural transmission of, for want of a better word, manners, has never before been observed outside Homo sapiens." The Economist 04/16/04

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

The God Culture: Heavenly Comeback Or Hellish Culture War? "Nearly 40 years after Time magazine posed the question "Is God Dead?" signs of His resurrection are everywhere: Mel Gibson's 'The Passion' is on its way to becoming the highest-grossing independent film of all time, while the apocalyptic 'Left Behind' novels, based on the Book of Revelations, have sold 58 million copies, a publishing jackpot... The nation's born-again president pronounces Jesus his 'favorite philosopher' and trumpets America's mission to battle evil in the world. And faith avowals are all but requisite on the campaign trail - with hell to pay for anyone who demonstrates biblical illiteracy... Is all this ferment a result of post-Sept. 11 anxiety? Or has spirituality become just another commodity in a world where consumerism has become the ultimate value?" Newsday 04/14/04

Monday, April 12, 2004

Jumbling Up Culture (Whatever You Want To Call It) How is it that "high" culture and pop culture separated so thoroughly? "I'm not quite sure how it got to be this way -- writers of heavy books on one side, mass media on the other -- because it wasn't always so. The great American cultural blender once produced whole art forms, such as Broadway musicals and jazz, that might well be described as a blend of the two. But nowadays, that gap is so wide that I'm not even sure the old descriptions of the various forms of "culture" -- highbrow, middlebrow, popular -- even make sense any more." Washington Post 04/07/04

When Fans Become Organized Fans (Is That Bad?) "Most people are fans of some cultural product or another: a football team, a soap opera, a rock band, a political party. But organized fandom is widely derided for its allegedly excessive devotion to trivial entertainments. Similar stereotypes used to dominate the academy, particularly among critics of capitalism and/or modernity, for whom the fan was the slack-jawed, brainwashed embodiment of consumer culture—the viewer who didn't merely swallow passively the pulp fictions produced by the culture industry, but centered a large part of her life around those same products..." Reason 04/12/04

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Diversity In Education? Not Even Close "In the end, we like policies like affirmative action not so much because they solve the problem of racism but because they tell us that racism is the problem we need to solve. And the reason we like the problem of racism is that solving it just requires us to give up our prejudices, whereas solving the problem of economic inequality might require something more -- it might require us to give up our money. It's not surprising that universities of the upper middle class should want their students to feel comfortable. What is surprising is that diversity should have become the hallmark of liberalism." New York Times Magazine 04/11/04

Hockey: Built For Life In Canada Everyone knows that hockey is a national obsession in Canada, but even some Canadians are surprised by the way the game has suddenly exploded across the nation's cultural scene. Just as baseball has inspired generations of American authors, singers, playwrights, and photographers, so hockey is now finding its way onto Canadian stages, screens, and bookstore shelves. If baseball is as pastoral and cerebral as Americans would like to believe themselves to be, hockey is distinctly Canadian: simultaneously graceful and gritty, with a quiet undercurrent of ugliness that almost requires a poet's soul to understand. And just as hockey is facing a crisis that threatens to destroy the sport, many Canadians fear that their unique culture may be slipping away as well... The Globe & Mail (Canada) 04/10/04

The Dream and Nightmare Of The Asian Megacity "The United Nations says that by 2010, some 18 of the world's 30 largest cities will be in Asia (compared to only three from Europe and North America). In the region's new megacities, height is might, speed is wealth, density is power, and the skyscraper — that American symbol of modernity — grows on steroids and is colonizing the sky." Trying to define these supermetropolises as good or bad, dangerous or progressive, is useless, and misses the point in any case. Any organism as huge and complex as a city cannot be reduced to such platitudes, and the startlingly fast growth going on in Asian cities provides plenty for urbanists of all stripes to marvel and shudder at. The New York Times 04/11/04

Friday, April 9, 2004

Diversify This! Cultural diversity in the UK is mainstream policy for arts organizations. "The pursuit of aesthetic or historical understanding, of attempting to distinguish good paintings from bad or correct interpretations from false ones, is deemed impossible. Instead, all cultural institutions can do is to revel in 'diversity', by promoting different kinds of art and competing judgements. Today's cultural policy rejects the ways of the traditional cultural elite, and presents itself as far more enlightened. However, if we examine the legacy that cultural diversity policy has rejected, we find that some valuable principles have been lost by the wayside." spiked-online 04/07/04

  • Sorting Out The "Multi" In Multi-Culti The latest attacks on multiculturalism in Britain have been coming from the left. "An elite that is unwilling to make judgements about why any one cultural practice is better than another, to set universal standards about what role individuals should be expected to play across society, and to promote a distinct set of values that a society should agree upon, finds a useful tool in multiculturalism. This is why it has been so well-suited to Western societies in the past few decades, increasingly disorientated by the erosion of cultural and political certainties. Clearly, the official promotion of multicultural policy has not provided any solution to this disorientation - indeed, by actively encouraging expressions of difference and divisions between communities, it may well have fuelled the process of fragmentation." spiked-online 04/09/04

Wednesday, April 7, 2004

Chess: Measuring Artificial Intelligence "Chess has long served as a touchstone for the progress of artificial intelligence. For years, the best human players retained a clear edge over chess-playing computers. Computers appeared to gain the advantage with the 1997 defeat of the reigning world champion, Gary Kasparov, by IBM's Deep Blue. But since then, the top ranks of chess have settled into an unexpected equilibrium between humans and computers. The computers and grandmasters are both getting better (and the grandmasters are getting better at playing computers). This is a disappointing state of affairs for enthusiasts of artificial intelligence." Tech Central Station 04/06/04

Sunday, April 4, 2004

The Gore! The Horror! (We Love It) We seem to be more and more fascinated by images of gore and mutilation. The raw aftermath of violence and death is increasingly captured in images that many people find both repelling and compelling. "The contemporary iconography of carnage is unprecedented and unique in its visceral force." The Observer (UK) 04/04/04

The Arabization Of Europe? Europe's population is getting older, more secular and smaller. It's a model that cannot sustain its current level of social services such as retirement and health care. Where to get a flush of new blood? Neighboring Arab countries have rising propulations... New York Times Magazine 04/04/04

Friday, April 2, 2004

Celebrating Boredom "We're terrified of boredom and simultaneously sunk up to our knees in it, a post-"Seinfeld" generation running as hard and frantically as we can to avoid a condition we increasingly regard as inevitable. Not so fast. As more and more people seem to recognize, the universal experience of being bored -- unengaged, detached, afloat in some private torpor -- may be far more precious, fruitful and even profound than a surface apprehension might suggest. As ordinary as gray skies and equally pervasive, boredom deserves its own sun-splashed attention and celebration." San Francisco Chronicle 04/02/04

Thursday, April 1, 2004

Lebrecht: Why American Arts Journalism Is So Bad Norman Lebracht doesn't think much of American arts journalism. "The failure to challenge is a fundamental flaw in US arts journalism. The tone in US arts coverage is uniformly respectful, uninquiring, inherently supportive." And how did this happen? Because there are few cities with multiple critical voices. "This monopoly places an unhealthy burden on critics. If theirs is to be the only voice to pronounce on a new show or the fate of an institution, they are obliged to wear a mantle of responsibility that is antithetical to good journalism. A critic is licensed to get it wrong from time to time. Restrict that license and the reviews grow safe and solemn. An era of incorporation fostered a pontifical tone in American arts criticism." La Scena Musicale 04/01/04

English As The Global Language? Think Again. "With the emergence of the Internet and the growth of global commerce, many assume English is on its way toward becoming the dominant global language, wiping out its competitors as it spreads around the world. Actually, the number of people who speak English exclusively is declining worldwide, while people who speak two or more languages are becoming more common." Arabic and Spanish are on the rise, and Chinese (which, let's not forget, is spoken by three times as many people as its nearest competitor) isn't going away anytime soon. Nonetheless, researchers predict that English will remain the language of international business and commerce for the foreseeable future. Chicago Tribune 04/01/04

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