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Friday, July 30, 2004

Tired Muscles Might Be Brain Function... So maybe we don't get tired after exercising because our muscles are tired. "Traditionally, fatigue was viewed as the result of over-worked muscles ceasing to function properly. But evidence is mounting that our brains make us feel weary after exercise. The idea is that the brain steps in to prevent muscle damage." New Scientist 07/30/04

The Politics Of Art Of Politics Should Linda Ronstadt have been able to express her politics at a Vegas concert? John Rockwell: "Art exists in a context inevitably conditioned by politics, and politics and the values behind it express themselves in art. There is an obvious linkage between mass commercial art and politics, quite apart from individual actors and directors and pop musicians espousing a political view. Popular art makes money by reflecting what its producers think people want. But given the leftward tilt of Hollywood and our coastal cultural elites, the right has reason to complain that commercial television, films and music often advance a left-leaning political agenda." The New York Times 07/30/04

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Been There, Done That... "The fleeting melancholy and euphoria associated with déjà vu have attracted the interest of poets, novelists, and occultists of many stripes. St. Augustine, Sir Walter Scott, Dickens, and Tolstoy all wrote detailed accounts of such experiences. Most academic psychologists, however, have ignored the topic since around 1890, when there was a brief flurry of interest. The phenomenon seems at once too rare and too ephemeral to capture in a laboratory." Chronicle of Higher Education 07/27/04

Monday, July 26, 2004

A New Initiative In Public Cultural Discourse This Wednesday, in partnership with the Aspen Music Festival, ArtsJournal will host a new 10-day blog - Critical Conversation - featuring a dozen of the best classical music critics in America. They will discuss whether or not it is still possible for a Big Idea to animate classical music. Our bloggers include: Alex Ross from the New Yorker, Kyle Gann from the Village Voice, Justin Davidson from Newsday, Scott Cantrell from the Dallas Morning News, Charles Ward from the Houston Chronicle, Wynne Delacoma from the Chicago Sun-Times, Andrew Druckenbrod from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Kyle MacMillan from the Denver Post, John Rockwell from the New York Times, and John von Rhein from the Chicago Tribune. Then, on August 7 in Aspen, Greg Sandow of the Wall Street Journal, Anne Midgette of the New York Times, David Patrick Stearns of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle will participate in a live discussion of the topic, moderated by ArtsJournal editor and founder Douglas McLennan. That event is free and open to the public. This is a new initiative in public cultural discourse, the first of what we hope will be a series of such events. ArtsJournal.com 07/28-08/06

The Continuity Trap Behind any story is the concept of "continuity." It gives stories coherence, a logical framework in which the story can unfold. But "we have reached the point where continuity is almost an end in itself. Film directors and comic-book writers and TV producers will go to incredible lengths to make sure their creations have a natural-seeming history. This has resulted in some pretty strange narrative contortions." CBC 07/23/04

Sunday, July 25, 2004

America's New Culture War, As Viewed From Britain "If it is true to say in the run-up to the 2004 presidential election that America has never been more politically divided, then it is equally true that the battle for control of the country's cultural landscape has never been more bitterly fought... Ironically, the push for more controls on what is shown [on television] is coming largely from right-wing, religious politicians and organisations who have long argued that market forces should prevail in every aspect of society: education, healthcare, social services - everything except broadcasting, it seems." The Observer (UK) 07/25/04

Not To Mention The Whole Spelling Issue The English language as we know it today has deep roots in both Latin and Greek, and that dual history can sometimes cause conflicts, especially when two different words develop independently over the centuries to mean the same thing in two different English-speaking cultures. For instance, North Americans use the Latin-based word "quadriplegic" to describe an individual who has lost the use of all four limbs; in the UK, the common form is the Greek-derived "tetraplegic." So, who cares? Well, linguists do, especially since many such idiomatic expressions have begun to gradually vanish from several Western languages. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 07/24/04

Thursday, July 22, 2004

A City's Lessons For A Nation's Leaders The Democratic Party convention arrives in Boston next week, and Holland Cotter says that the pols could do worse than to leave the convention hall for a few hours of good old-fashioned Bostonian-American culture. "Utopian thought is a visionary version of yes-saying; principled dissent among the most constructive ways of saying no. The two are flip sides of the same coin; together they can bring out the best, and curb the worst, in human behavior. Boston knows all about them." The New York Times 07/23/04

The Law That Could Kill New Ideas "The Senate Judiciary Committee will consider a bill Thursday that would hold technology companies liable for any product they make that encourages people to steal copyright materials. Critics say the bill would effectively outlaw peer-to-peer networks and prohibit the development of new technologies, including devices like the iPod." Wired 07/22/04

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Is It Art? Or Is It A Copy? (Is There A Difference?) "Scanners, computer-aided design software and automated milling devices are assisting sculptors and in some cases replacing them, creating detailed pieces from slabs of marble and reverse-engineering complex forms. The result is the seemingly oxymoronic concept of mass customization, in which infinite copies of infinite variations are possible as long as there is stone to quarry. But the harnessing of these granite-grinding Xerox machines, able to duplicate just about any sculpture, may also blur the line between what is authentic and what is not. Is such a sculpture art, or merely a computer-aided copy?" The New York Times 07/22/04

Group Art... Really? "Just how inventive can an anonymous group of people be? Could an online mob produce a poem, a novel, or a painting? We like to believe that the blue bolt of artistic inspiration strikes only the individual. '[The] group never invents anything. The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man,' John Steinbeck wrote in East of Eden. Hollywood scriptwriters constantly moan over how their brilliant ideas were mutilated by studio 'editing by committee'. But collaboration has a long history in art. Slate 07/21/04

Monday, July 19, 2004

Arts & Science - A Clash Of Cultures Why are arts people so wary when scientists tread into arts territory? "Humanists are trained to make judgments and support them with a range of qualitative evidence and arguments; scientists are trained to test arguments with empirical, replicable evidence and to use quantification as a tool. Interdisciplinary work will flourish when both sides realize that scientific questions about art do not replace humanistic ones. They are simply different. The disciplines of the sciences and art history ought to trade insights rather than insults." Chronicle of Higher Education 07/02/04

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Visual "Noise" Tricks The Brain "The equivalent of snow on a TV screen, visual noise is a major but poorly understood part of the daily input into our minds. The noise can have many sources, including changes in the number of light particles hitting cells in the eye, which can alter people's perception of facial expression." Discovery 07/17/04

Looking For Mr. Right With the retirement of William F. Buckley, the intellectual conservative movement he founded seems to be in danger of fading into the past. After all, as one prominent conservative thinker puts it, the movement was founded to "defeat Communism and roll back creeping socialism... The first was obviated by our success, the latter by our failure. So what is left of conservatism?" Does the current dominance of the Republican Party in national politics mean that conservatism has won out, or has it merely dumbed itself down to achieve short-term victory? It's a problem that a new crop of young conservatives are already wrestling with, and there is a definite hope among the old guard that Mr. Buckley's ideas will find a voice among the youth. The New York Times 07/17/04

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Have We Put A Halt To Evolution? "It is easy to argue that many, perhaps most, of us would not have survived to pass on our genes without the benefits of modern technology. Now that we have eliminated many of the worst infectious diseases from our cities, some even say that we are no longer subject to the destiny of natural selection. For 21st-century human beings, could evolution have come to a full stop?" Prospect 07/04

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

When Philosophy Met Science "One of the leading themes of current philosophy is that the notion of objectivity is utterly illusory. This is not some post-modern pose: the subjectivity of scientific knowledge has been proved with mathematical rigour. The upshot of these proofs is that data merely serves to update our pre-existing beliefs, and that its impact on those beliefs depends on such touchy-feely concepts as trust. There was a time when philosophers would have been content to point all this out, and then sit back with a smug smile. No longer..." The Telegraph (UK) 07/14/04

A Brain RAM Problem? "If the computer is bringing such momentous intellectual gains, where is the evidence of it? Only 42% of the 2003 freshman class in the California State University system were proficient in math and English. SAT scores, reading levels and other measurements of achievement reported by the press show a steady decline and a consistent lowering of levels of understanding, knowledge and abilities, most markedly since the God-like computer came on the scene. Certainly there are social, cultural and economic reasons for some of it, but the most basic cause may be neurological." Los Angeles Times 07/10/04

Who Speaks What Where "The teachers and scholars of the Modern Language Association have been studying written and spoken language for 120 years. One of their recent projects created a map of where languages are spoken in the U.S., based on the 2000 census. The map holds some great nuggets of information." Chicago Tribune 07/13/04

Monday, July 12, 2004

Ditch Those Hard-To-Play Instruments "Scientists are developing ways of capturing human movement in three dimensions which would allow music to be created with the gesture of an arm. It would eliminate the need for music technicians to twiddle hundreds of knobs to achieve the perfect sound. The technique could also be used for scrolling a webpage, especially useful for people with limited mobility." BBC 07/11/04

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Why Do They Hate Us? Well, We Gave Them The Idea. Since 9/11, the mainstream media can't get enough of the question: 'Why do the terrorists hate us?' The answers tend to divide along political lines, but there is very little question that many in the Muslim world view the West as decadent, materialistic, imperialist, and dangerously secular. "But how did such ideas develop? One surprising source turns out to be a little-known group of 20th-century European intellectuals. They passed these ideas on to small groups of ardent followers, but their books and pamphlets gradually shaped a worldwide subculture of belief and devotion." The New York Times 07/10/04

Is Pulling Rank A Social Injustice? When a power-hungry boss, an overzealous coach, or a powerful politician uses his perceived authority to slap down an underling, most people would label the guy a jerk, a bully, or worse. But Robert Fuller is taking it one step further, accusing such types of "rankism," a serious social injustice which points up the need for society to begin tearing down traditional structures of rank, or at least to demand better treatment from those in authority. Fuller, a prominent physicist and past president of Oberlin College, is proposing some controversial societal changes to combat rankism, including the abolition of university tenure. The New York Times 07/10/04

Friday, July 9, 2004

When A Mime-Lover Becomes Mayor Bogota Colombia's mayor had an unusual approach to getting citizens to behave. He hired mimes to "follow, imitate and mock citizens who committed public incivilities like jaywalking, picking pockets and driving recklessly. So successful were the first mimes that 400 more were trained as "traffic mimes" to monitor pedestrians at street corners. Just how the good citizens of Bogotá responded to mimes holding up signs chiding their manners, I cannot say. To my knowledge no mimes met an untimely end. But the experiment was successful enough to be replicated in Lima, Peru." The New York Times 07/09/04

Thursday, July 8, 2004

Europe: Rethinking Work With 35-hour work weeks and two months annual vacation, Europeans work much less than Americans. "From the 1970's until recently, Europe followed a philosophy of less is more when it came to labor, with the result that Europeans work an average of 10 percent fewer hours a year than Americans." But the realization is dawning that less work might not be working. "We have created a leisure society, while the Americans have created a work society. But our model does not work anymore. We are in the process of rethinking it." The New York Times 07/07/04

Wednesday, July 7, 2004

Successful Art - It's Who You Know "One of the hardest things in art, outside of creating it, is to be that very first person who looks at an unknown and his or her work and says: I like it. Any idiot can second the motion. But to look at an unknown and say, 'You, yes you, you are worthy'—that is different. That means taking a risk, to say yes where probably dozens have already said no. It is also what changes the course of an art form. And this is why I sometimes nurse the suspicion that the real gatekeeper of American literature is not the publisher, not the critic, and not Jack Warner's fabled 'schmucks with Underwoods'—i.e., writers. No, it is the schmuck with a Rolodex: the literary agent." Village Voice 07/06/04

Monday, July 5, 2004

The Human Computer Microsoft, that imperialist of the information-technology world, has actually succeeded in patenting the human body as a computer network. What Microsoft is proposing is to use the skin's own conductive properties to transmit the data needed to create a network. And the firm does not stop at people. A 'wide variety of living animals', it says, could be used to create computer buses, as they are known technically, in this manner." The Economist 07/02/04

An UnSATisfying Test Just What does the infamous SAT test measure? "Just before the SAT undergoes another of its periodic transformations -- a new version of the exam, referred to as the 'New SAT,' will be unveiled next spring and will include, for the first time, a writing portion -- a study published in the June issue of the journal Psychological Science claims to prove that the current SAT is, in the end, an IQ test." Boston Globe 07/04/04

Ready For My Close-up? Awww, Forget It! The new generation of movies has abandoned the close-up. "This trend towards wide shots is in part explained by the landmark technological changes which cinema is undergoing. Those who doubt that the digital revolution is significant should consider the fact that the two previous occasions on which film "went wide" and turned to stories set in classical times were the 1950s - after the switch to the various widescreen processes such as CinemaScope - and the very first decades of filmmaking, when audiences were still agog and directors such as Cecil B DeMille presented frieze-like tableaux of classical excess. Both were formative moments, and so is the present one. In each of these three periods, producers and directors who were faced with a new technology fell back on primitive, likeable, pre-cinematic ideas of showmanship." Prospect 07/04

Sunday, July 4, 2004

Claim The Slur, Or Bury It? A new documentary purports to examine one of the most delicate debates in American race relations: who, if anyone, should be able to say the word "nigger," and what do the various taboos surrounding the word tell us about our society? "To some degree the filmmakers are using the debate over language as an emblem for a host of uncomfortable racial issues that are pushed to the side, in Hollywood as in other parts of American society." The New York Times 07/03/04

Thursday, July 1, 2004

Here's A Good Idea - Music Reviews For Dummies? National Public Radio ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin has a problem with NPR's music reviews. "NPR regularly reviews new music. This is good, since it takes NPR listeners out of what is familiar and exposes them to what is happening in other parts of the culture. problem, according to some listeners, is that NPR's reviews are too hip to be good journalism. In short, some musical commentary, especially on All Things Consdered, is incomprehensible to some listeners, and I confess, to me." National Public Radio 07/01/04

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