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Wednesday, June 30, 2004

A Link Between TV and Puberty? Though there's still no definitive link between watching TV and an increase of violence, there may be one between TV-watching and puberty. "Girls are reaching puberty much earlier than in the 1950s. One reason is due to their average increase in weight; but another may be due to reduced levels of melatonin. Scientists at the University of Florence in Italy found that when youngsters were deprived of their TV sets, computers and video games, their melatonin production increased by an average 30 per cent. New Scientist 06/30/04

The Secret Of London's Success (Hear That US?) London has become one of the great world cities just a decade or so after pundits were predicting her decline. What's the evidence? "An amalgam of the world language, an open culture, two of the world's top 10 universities and a vibrant cultural and intellectual life. Example: Britain now publishes more book titles than any other country. Further example: there are more Chinese students in the UK than in any other country, again more than the US. Of course, this is a UK phenomenon but it is one that is skewed disproportionately to the South-east." The Independent (UK) 07/01/04

  • Is London's Success Harming The Rest Of UK? Yes, London has become a powerhouse. But is it to the detriment of the rest of England? "In the last decade, the island of Britain has become split effectively into two provinces: the megalopolis of London, and everywhere else. The seeds of this north-south divide go a long way back, but the final transformation of the British Isles into an appendage of Greater London has really taken place since the start of the 1990s." The Scotsman 07/01/04

In Praise Of "Difficult" Art "Life in the cultural universe of the difficult tribe could be bleak - yet perhaps this is a time to revive those debates, for the silencing of such severe examinations of value has occurred in step with the closing down of cultural spaces wherein complexity or difficulty might thrive. The enemy of complexity has always been the commodity - the work of art reduced to mere gratification." The Guardian (UK) 06/30/04

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

The New Criticism (Or Not) "Critics today, it is claimed, are too cozy behind the ivied walls of academe, content to employ a prose style that is decipherable only to a handful of the cognoscenti. The deadly dive of university critics into the shallow depths of popular culture, moreover, reveals the unwillingness of these critics to uphold standards. Even if the reasons offered are contradictory, these Jeremiahs huddle around their sad conclusion that serious cultural criticism has fallen into a morass of petty bickering and bloated reputations. Such narratives of declension, a staple of American intellectual life since the time of the Puritans, are misplaced, self-serving, and historically inaccurate. And difficult to prove. Has the level of criticism declined in the last 50 years?" Chronicle of Higher Education 07/02/04

Monday, June 28, 2004

Erring On The Side Of No Progress? The 'precautionary principle' is the idea that "scientists, medical researchers, technologists and just about everybody else these days should err on the side of caution lest they cause harm to human health or the environment." But one of Britain's leading medical experts says the principle inhibits knowledge. "He wonders whether, if the precautionary principle had been about for the past 200 years rather than the past 20, breakthroughs such as blood transfusions would ever have been made." spiked-online 06/16/04

Getting Educated - A New Paradigm Helen Vendler proposes a new baseline of cultural education in this year's NEH Jefferson Lecture. "The day of limiting cultural education to Western culture alone is over. There are losses here, of course--losses in depth of learning, losses in coherence--but these very changes have thrown open the question of how the humanities should now be conceived, and how the study of the humanities should, in this moment, be encouraged. I want to propose that the humanities should take, as their central objects of study, not the texts of historians or philosophers, but the products of aesthetic endeavor: architecture, art, dance, music, literature, theater, and so on." National Endowment for the Humanities 06/04

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Information Ought To Be Free (It's In Our Best Interests) "The high subscription cost of prestigious peer-reviewed journals has been a running sore point with scholars, whose tenure and prominence depend on publishing in them. But since the Public Library of Science, which was started by a group of prominent scientists, began publishing last year, this new model has been gaining attention and currency within academia. More than money and success is at stake. Free and widespread distribution of new research has the potential to redefine the way scientific and intellectual developments are recorded, circulated and preserved for years to come." The New York Times 06/26/04

Musical Notes Match Arrangement Of Words In Language An Argentinian physicist has analysed the patterns of music and of written words and concluded that musical notes are strung together in the same patterns as words in a piece of literature. "His analysis also reveals a key difference between tonal compositions, which are written in a particular key, and atonal ones, which are not. This sheds light on why many people find it so hard to make sense of atonal works." Nature 06/14/04

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Advertising - Losing The Message Businesses spend $1 trillion a year on advertising. But "the advertising industry is passing through one of the most disorienting periods in its history. This is due to a combination of long-term changes, such as the growing diversity of media, and the arrival of new technologies, notably the internet. Consumers have become better informed than ever before, with the result that some of the traditional methods of advertising and marketing simply no longer work." The Economist 06/24/04

Who's Who Of UK Intellectuals Prospect Magazine lists Britain's top 100 public intellectuals. Its most interesting value is comparing it with lists of decades past. "The list may also seem curiously old-fashioned. It offers little room for the new "isms" that have broken through in recent decades: feminism, multiculturalism, postmodernism. There aren't many young voices: few under 45, hardly anyone under 40. It is very middle-aged, and also very male and very white." Prospect 06/24/04

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Can't Keep A Tune? You Were Born That Way! At least that's what current research shows. "Researchers suspect that as much as 4 percent of the world's population have a congenital brain abnormality that renders them tone deaf. Others can acquire amusia following head trauma or stroke. They have narrowed the hunt to the right auditory cortex, an area of the brain that processes pitch perception." Newsday 06/23/04

Monday, June 21, 2004

Higher Ed - The Moral Choice? Should universities teach you how to be moral? Nope. "The university also makes little effort to provide you with moral guidance. Indeed, it is a remarkably amoral institution. Today, elite universities operate on the belief that there is a clear separation between intellectual and moral purpose, and they pursue the former while largely ignoring the latter." The New York Times 06/19/04

Are Happy People Evil? New research suggests that happy people are not all they're presented to be. "Researchers found that angry people are more likely to make negative evaluations when judging members of other social groups. That, perhaps, will not come as a great surprise. But the same seems to be true of happy people, the researchers noted. The happier your mood, the more liable you are to make bigoted judgments -- like deciding that someone is guilty of a crime simply because he's a member of a minority group. Why?" New York Times Magazine 06/20/04

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Understanding Music From The Ground Up "To understand music, we have been taught, that room has to be unlocked, the windows opened and the world fully engaged. But now the emphasis may be changing. The appeal of a more abstract way of thinking about music may be growing. There is a search for timeless laws and principles; it may be that something can be learned from the listener in the locked room." The New York Times 06/19/04

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Risking Art On What You Believe (Not!) "Where is the artistic engagement with the huge, threatening issues that hang over us? One would have expected an intense blast of production if artists wanted to live up to the role in which they have been cast for over a century - as exponents of humane and liberal values, as revolutionaries, gadflies, the ones who see further than ordinary mortals." The Independent (UK) 06/17/04

Monday, June 14, 2004

The Great Florida Debate Ever since Richard Florida published his book, The Rise of the Creative Class, urban planners and thinkers around the U.S. have been lining up either to sing Florida's praises or to knock his ideas as half-formed and unrealistic. "Many of Richard Florida's critics try to marginalize his theory of the creative class as being just about a few kooky artists in Austin. They are wrong... As governments take a serious look at his ideas, billions of dollars spent on subsidies of politically-connected industries hang in the balance." So isn't it time for a serious, substantive debate on the issues that Creative Class raised? The Next American City 06/04

Get Paid For Your Opinions! You can make a nice little income as a focus-group member: "If they ask you whether you’ve done one in the past six months, just say no. They never check. If they ask you something off-the-wall, like “Have you purchased a treadmill in the past year?,” say yes; they wouldn’t ask if that weren’t the answer they wanted. If they ask you what brands you purchase most often, always name big ones: Sprint, Budweiser, Marlboro. They’re representing either one of those companies or a smaller one trying to figure out how to steal you away. And, most important, let the recruiters lead you. Before you answer a question you’re not sure about, pause for a couple of seconds. They’ll tip their hand every time." New York Magazine 06/14/04

Friday, June 11, 2004

Do Dogs Understand Language? Ask any dog owner, and he'll tell you: it's not what you say to a dog, it's how you say it, with your tone of voice the key to the dog's understanding. But a team of German scientists and a border collie named Rico say different, and their evidence that dogs can understand language is compelling. Rico can fetch up to 200 objects by name, and can even figure out which object his master wants when confronted with a word he's never heard. "Rico's abilities seem to follow a process called 'fast mapping,' seen when young children start to learn to speak and understand language." Wired 06/11/04

Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Kimball: Pining For The Melting Pot Roger Kimball writes that multiculturalism is destroying America. "Multiculturalism and 'affirmative action' are allies in the assault on the institution of American identity. As such, they oppose the traditional understanding of what it means to be an American. This crucible of American identity, this 'melting pot,' has two aspects. The negative aspect involves disassociating oneself from the cultural imperatives of one’s country of origin. One sheds a previous identity before assuming a new one. One might preserve certain local habits and tastes, but they are essentially window-dressing. In essence one has left the past behind in order to become an American citizen. The positive aspect of advancing the melting pot involves embracing the substance of American culture." New Criterion 06/04

Sunday, June 6, 2004

What World Problem Would You Try To Fix With $50 Billion? What would you do if you could spend $50 billion fixing one of the world's great problems? "To answer that question, Bjorn Lomborg, a statistician and environmental iconoclast, brought eight economists, including three Nobel Prize winners, to this harbor city last week to rank the world's 10 worst problems. Forget politics, they were told, just look at how to get the most bang for the buck. After studying all the contenders and running the numbers, the economic "dream team" decided" The New York Times 06/05/04

The Crowd Knows Crowds are more often right than the individual. "The simplest demonstration of this is the jellybean experiment. Ask a group of 50 people how many jellybeans are in a jar, and the group's average answer will be uncannily accurate — within 2% of the right number — and it will be better than the answers of nearly everyone in the group. And though the jellybean experiment is artificial, the truth is that groups demonstrate the exact same intelligence in the face of far more complicated problems." Los Angeles Times 06/05/04

How Boston Invented The World Boston has a long tradition of innovation, and some of America's great inventions have been born there. "There's a continuous thread, stretching across centuries, of powerful new ideas developed and commercialized in Boston. But that thread is always vibrating, at least faintly, with worry: Will there ever come another idea as big as the last? What new industry will create jobs sufficient to replace those lost as older industries fade? And how does the environment for company-creation here compare with other parts of the country, particularly Silicon Valley?" Boston Globe 06/06/04

Lone Inventor Rides Again It used to be that great inventions were the product of odd individuals working in home workshops. But sometime in the past century most of the lone inventors moved inside large corporations where they found resources to work with. Now, some are arguing that being inside large corporate structures inhibits true innovation. So how about a return to the lone inventor?... Boston Globe 06/06/04

Thursday, June 3, 2004

Dare To Be Wrong The author of a new book says scientists have forgotten how to be wrong. "In any branch of science there are only two possibilities. There is either nothing left to discover, in which case, why work on it, or there are big discoveries yet to be made, in which case, what the scientists say now is likely to be false. The problem is, the top scientists seem to have forgotten that. The result is a generation of scientists who have become a little too confident that their understanding of the world is more scientifically accurate than it will be proved to be." The Guardian (UK) 06/03/04

Wednesday, June 2, 2004

The Asperger's Connection Michelangelo is the latest historical figure to be diagnosed posthumously with Asperger's Syndrome. It's conjecture, of course, but "what is the link between this condition and creativity, be it in the arts or sciences?" Some experts suggest that it makes people more creative. "People with it are generally hyper-focused, very persistent workaholics who tend to see things from detail to global rather than looking at the bigger picture first and then working backwards, as most people do."
BBC 06/02/04

Tuesday, June 1, 2004

The Bohemians Won The Bohemian lifestyle, romanticized in Victorian times, has been absorbed into the mainstream. "We have to recognise that many of our present assumptions about life have originated from people who, sometimes in very small ways but motivated by revolutionary ideals, hope and defiance of convention, challenged the establishment 100 years ago. In a way, we're all Bohemians now. We can conduct relationships with people from any social class without fear of ostracism, while deploring oppressive, stratified societies." The Guardian (UK) 06/02/04

Complexity Complex Complexity theory is "the ultimate of interdisciplinary fields." It "has blossomed into a broad movement of scientists searching for universal patterns that occur at all levels of nature and society when local interactions give rise to new collective behaviors. They want to know, for example, how millions of amoebas swarm into a self-directed slime mold, how a trillion-celled organism develops from a single egg, and how markets arise from the interactions of individual human beings. Complexity theorists want to reproduce these patterns with computer models, in order to gain a kind of insight that equations or statistics supposedly cannot match. What's more, they want to see both the forest and the trees, by viewing big patterns through the local rules of interaction that produce them." Boston Globe 05/30/04

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