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Thursday, May 27, 2004

Creativity And The Working City "The return of cities can only be explained in the context of the rise of the creative age – a long wave of change affecting every sector of the economy, in which competitiveness and wealth have become increasingly determined by the capacity for innovation and creativity. The contrast with the industrial age could not be sharper..." Demos 05/20/04

Are We Coming Apart? Samuel Huntington argues that "if peoples and countries with similar cultures (that is, values, traditions, religions) are coming together, then countries made up of different cultures are in danger of coming apart. He argues in 'Who Are We?' that multiculturalism, diversity and bilingualism in the United States are strengthening racial, ethnic and other 'subnational identities' at the expense of an overarching national identity, while global business ties, global communications and global concerns (about matters like the environment and women's rights) are increasingly promoting 'transnational' identities among American elites. As a result, Mr. Huntington suggests, the United States is not only undergoing a profound identity crisis, but it may eventually find its very existence threatened." The New York Times 05/28/04

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Who (Should) Own What The laws that govern who owns ideas and creative products are being rewritten as big corporations struggle to shore up business models that are under attack in the digital age. So shouldn't we be having a broad cultural debate about what the new world will look like? spiked-online 05/26/04

Monday, May 24, 2004

All In A Name "The “mutation rate” in names is higher for girls than for boys. Parents, in other words, are more liable to be inventive when choosing a name for a baby girl. The researchers have found that for every 10,000 daughters born in America there is an average of 2.3 new names. For sons, the figure is 1.6. One possibility is that in a society where family names are inherited patrilineally, parents feel constrained by tradition when it comes to choosing first names for their sons. As a result, boys often end up with the names of their ancestors. But when those same parents come to choose names for their daughters, they feel less constrained and more able to choose based on style and beauty." The Economist 05/22/04

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Tutoring For Advantage "Years ago, with a very few exceptions, tutoring was for students who were floundering or failing. Today it is a booming industry, fueled by parental angst over the college admissions process, that helps not only children who are struggling, but also gilds the lily, moving "B+" students to "A" students, giving extra support to students enrolled in honors and Advanced Placement courses and propelling children with high test scores into the very top percentiles." The New York Times 05/22/04

Structural Holes and the Origins of Ideas So you've got a great idea. Where did it come from? Did you come up with it all on your own, right out of thin air? Probably not, says sociologist Ronald Burt. In fact, most ideas are not entirely original, but are merely examples of people finding a use for thoughts and facts, the significance of which may have eluded other individuals. In other words, a mundane fact which has no real use to one set of people may spark great creativity in another social or professional setting. According to Burt, this is all evidence that social structure can stifle creative thinking, and has become known as the study of "structural holes." The New York Times 05/22/04

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Keep It Simple "There is too much needless complexity in the world. Technology, which was supposed to make our lives easier, has taken a wrong turn. In 20 years we've gone from the simplicity of MacPaint to Photoshop. While the first fostered a creative explosion, the second gave birth to an industry of how-to books and classes. And such complexity is commonplace. Despite the lip service paid to "ease of use," "plug and play," and "one-click shopping," simplicity is an endangered quality in the digital world, and it is time to break free from technology's intimidating complexity." The New York Times 05/20/04

Does Education = Upward Mobility? (Maybe Not) There is a widely-held assumption that "wider, more universal education will act as a leveller of social opportunities. The assumption has thus far proved wrong. Comprehensive education, which should be considered a success on many other grounds, did not dent relative social immobility. Better-off kids still did better, either within the comprehensives or in the private sector." New Statesman 05/24/04

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Religion - The Cultural Dividing Line Of Politics? The majority of Americans who attend religious services regularly vote Republican. The majority of Americans who don't attend religious services vote Democrat. "For more than a century, our culture has been divided on the question of whether individual moral actors may justly be held responsible for their deeds. Marx and Freud rocked the 19th century faith in moral responsibility and freedom of will, arguing that human beings are unknowingly in the grip of, respectively, powerful economic and psychosexual forces. Later analysts would discover other latent structures in society that supposedly determine our moral choices. Today, the ideological struggles of liberals and conservatives mirror the clash initiated by Marxists and Freudians with 19th century individualism." Los Angeles Times 05/19/04

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

The Politics Of The Next Big Thing What's the Next Big Thing in visual art? Some are making the case for figurative painting. But the truth? "There is no next big thing. In any case, the novelty of the YBA generation wore off a decade ago. For younger artists, Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin probably look as old hat and establishment as Howard Hodgkin or Henry Moore. Emulating the strategies of the past generation - in terms of self-promotion as well as their more formal devices - would be pointless and self-defeating. Artists have to carve out their own territory." The Guardian (UK) 05/18/04

Monday, May 17, 2004

The Bare Breasts Of The 1600's "Women of the 1600s, from queens to prostitutes, commonly exposed one or both breasts in public and in the popular media of the day, according to a study of fashion, portraits, prints, and thousands of woodcuts from 17th-century ballads. The finding suggests breast exposure by women in England and in the Netherlands during the 17th century was more accepted than it is in most countries today. Researchers, for example, say Janet Jackson's Super Bowl baring would not even have raised eyebrows in the 17th century." Discovery 05/17/04

Sunday, May 16, 2004

The Enterainment Value Of Destroying New York And now, another movie that manages to destroy New York City. Why do we seem to get so much pleasure wrecking one of America's greatest cities? "Cities are meant to be civic, communal places, yet - looking at Piranesi's panoramas of ruined Rome, or Bill Brandt's photographs of a lunar London during the blitz - we take a perverse pleasure in imagining them emptied. Is this because we wish our obnoxious fellow citizens dead, or because we know that the city will outlive us?" The Observer (UK) 05/16/04

Las Vegas - America's Best? "In a city where the only currency is currency, there is a table-level democracy of luck. Las Vegas is perhaps the most color-blind, class-free place in America. As long as your cash or credit line holds out, no one gives a damn about your race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, address, family lineage, voter registration or even your criminal arrest record. As long as you have chips on the table, Vegas deftly casts you as the star in an around-the-clock extravaganza. For all of America's manifold unfulfilled promises of upward mobility, Vegas is the only place guaranteed to come through--even if it's for a fleeting weekend." The Nation 05/15/04

Semiotically Speaking "Shout the word semiotics across a room today, and the room will very likely shout back at you, 'What do you mean, semiotics?' It is a good question and at the same time, according to semiotics, a uselessly subjective question, for semiotics is the study of meaning itself -- or rather how images and words (like semiotics, for example) come to mean anything at all. Put another way, semiotics is about how we derive meaning from context. Brown University semiotics program produced a crop of creators that, if they don't exactly dominate the cultural mainstream, certainly have grown famous sparring with it." Boston Globe 05/16/04

Thursday, May 13, 2004

So Birds Are People Too? "Many philosophers believe humans are the only species which understands that others have their own personal thoughts. That understanding is known in the trade as having a “theory of mind”, and it is considered the gateway to such cherished human qualities as empathy and deception. Biologists have learned to treat such assertions with caution. In particular, they have found evidence of theories of mind in a range of mammals, from gorillas to goats. But two recent studies suggest that even mammalian studies may be looking at the question too narrowly. Birds, it seems, can have theories of mind, too." The Economist 05/13/04

Explaining The Science Around Us These days, laptop computers employ technology scarcely dreamed of during the Apollo moon missions. Physicians prescribe gene-triggering drugs that were fantasy elixirs a decade ago. And microchips have become so small that they're measured in billionths of a meter. But more than 80% of U.S. adults still are not knowledgeable enough to digest a science story in a major newspaper." So how do scientists learn to explain without dumbing down? Los Angeles Times 05/13/04

Fake Intellectuals Running Amok In U.S. Gov't! "At least 28 high-ranking government officials, including three managers responsible for emergency operations at nuclear facilities, have fake degrees from so-called diploma mills, according to a government report issued Tuesday... The investigation, which was prompted by a request from Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chair Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), found that these schools -- which charge a flat fee for a degree -- received at least $170,000 in government tuition-reimbursement funds. The GAO noted that although it was able to identify 28 high-level employees from eight different agencies who had degree-mill diplomas, 'this number is believed to be an understatement.'" Wired 05/13/04

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

World Turning Away From American Products American-made consumer products have been popular all over the world. Partly, they're sold as embodying an American lifestyle. But with America's image declining worldwide, a new study reports that "the number of people who like and use US branded products has fallen significantly over the past year, while brands perceived to be non-American have remained relatively stable." The Guardian (UK) 05/11/04

Explore Your Inner Greekness "Perhaps due to the rise of cultural anthropology or, more recently, to a variety of postmodern schools of social construction, it is now often accepted that the lives of Socrates, Euripides, and Pericles were not similar to our own, but so far different as to be almost unfathomable. Shelley’s truism that “We are all Greeks” has now become, as we say, inoperative.” The New Criterion 05/04

Monday, May 10, 2004

America - Culture To the World? Samuel Huntington's now infamous new book argues that America is losing its sense of itself. This is an idea full of flaws, as Huntington articulates it. "Why isn’t internationalism, as a number of writers have recently argued, a powerful resource for Americans? The United States doesn’t have an exclusive interest in opposing and containing the forces of intolerance, superstition, and fanaticism; the whole world has an interest in opposing and containing those things. On September 12, 2001, the world was with us. Because of our government’s mad conviction that it was our way of life that was under attack, not the way of life of civilized human beings everywhere, and that only we knew what was best to do about it, we squandered our chance to be with the world. The observation is now so obvious as to be banal. That does not make it less painful." The New Yorker 05/10/04

Sunday, May 9, 2004

How Globalization Is Killing Pop Music "Put bluntly, Anglo-American popular music is among globalisation's most useful props. Never mind the nitpicking fixations with interview rhetoric and stylistic nuance that concern its hardcore enthusiasts - away from its home turf, mainstream music, whether it's metal, rap, teen-pop or indie-rock, cannot help but stand for a depressingly conservative set of values: conspicuous consumption, the primacy of the English language, the implicit acknowledgement that America is probably best. Even the most well-intentioned artist can't escape." The Guardian (UK) 05/08/04

Can Creative Architecture Lead To More Creative Science? "To the delight of many architects and scientists, the lab-in-a-box is losing favor. In recent years, more science buildings have begun to feature flexible work spaces, large common areas, fancy atriums, irregular shapes, and other relative extravagances once unseen in the workaday laboratory. These changes are not just ornamental. Increasingly, they come from the drawing boards of architects who have been pondering how scientists think and work." Boston Globe 05/09/04

Saturday, May 8, 2004

Ideas: Let Freedom Ring (Sort Of) (Maybe) The cause of freedom gets thrown about rhetorically quite a bit these days as Anmericans debate the whys and wherefores of war and the balancing of freedoms and safety. These arguments are finding parallels in the arena of culture in the form of debate about intellectual property and copyright. As a "free" society, how much freedom do we want to allow to the products of creativity? The New York Times 05/08/04

Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Images Of War, And Of A National Disgrace The photos that emerged from Iraq last week - showing American soldiers exulting next to naked Iraqi prisoners forced to adopt humiliating poses - are a disturbing piece of visual evidence that America is its own worst enemy, says Philip Kennicott, and only the stark reality of a photograph was able to bring that fact home to us. "These photos, we insist, are not us. But these photos are us. Yes, they are the acts of individuals... [but] great national crimes begin with the acts of misguided individuals... Every errant smart bomb, every dead civilian, every sodomized prisoner, is ours." Washington Post 05/05/04

Tuesday, May 4, 2004

I'll Take Three Memories To Go... The human mind is a mysterious thing. Or is it? "Memory-improving and memory-deleting medicines may be available within five to 10 years. More than 40 drugs aimed at improving memory are currently going through clinical trials with the US Food and Drug Administration." Will there come a day when what we remember is the product of our own science? BBC 05/04/04

Monday, May 3, 2004

US Loses Ground In Brain Power The United States is losing its dominance in basic research. "Even analysts worried by the trend concede that an expansion of the world's brain trust, with new approaches, could invigorate the fight against disease, develop new sources of energy and wrestle with knotty environmental problems. But profits from the breakthroughs are likely to stay overseas, and this country will face competition for things like hiring scientific talent and getting space to showcase its work in top journals." The New York Times 05/03/04

Where All The Students Are Above Average What is with the psychology of grade inflation where every student must be above average? "Several years ago, Harvard awarded ''honors'' to 90 percent of its graduates. For its part, Princeton has disclosed that A's have been given 47 percent of the time in recent years, up from 31 percent in the mid-1970's. Perhaps grade inflation is most severe at the most elite colleges, where everyone is so far above average that the rules of the Caucus Race in ''Alice in Wonderland'' apply: everybody has won, and all must have prizes." New York Times Magazine 05/02/04

Sunday, May 2, 2004

How Do We Sort Out Violence For Entertainment And Violence For Horror? "Rarely has the dissonance between the news and popular entertainment been so striking. One can react only with horror as Iraq descends into a chaotic bloodbath, Israel continues to be engulfed in a sickening cycle of revenge upon revenge and terrorism spreads to other countries. Some ABC-TV stations refused to carry Ted Koppel reading the names of killed American soldiers on Friday's "Nightline." Yet week after week we're offered supposedly cathartic stories of devastated families and bloodthirsty vengeance to consume." Chicago Tribune 05/02/04

Too Many Snips & Snails Put Asia's Future At Risk Most of the reasons for the preference in many Asian cultures for sons over daughters have long since passed into irrelevance, but "a strong preference for sons persists, enhanced by technology that increasingly allows parents to realize their desires. Amniocentesis and ultrasound can easily identify the sex of a fetus, and sex-selective abortion has become an everyday practice... Scholars and feminist organizations in both Asia and the West have produced many volumes of often conflicting advice about how to combat the practice. Now two political scientists have joined the fray with an ominous argument: Offspring sex selection could soon lead to war." The Chronicle of Higher Education 04/30/04

Atlantis Discovered! (Again.) (Maybe.) "A quest for the lost island of Atlantis began off the southern shores of Cyprus yesterday. After a decade of intense study an American, Robert Sarmast, claims to have assembled evidence to prove that the fabled island lies a mile deep in the sea between Cyprus and Syria... By August he hopes to have proved that Atlantis was not simply a figment of the imagination but a real empire with stone temples, bridges, canals and roads." Of course, Sarmast is hardly the first to have claimed that the mythical island exists, and recent claims as to its whereabouts have spanned at least four continents. The Guardian (UK) 04/30/04

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