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Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Editor: The End Of Books? "Collectively we may stand—as Marshall McLuhan suggested years ago—at an exit from the time when the book, with its writing, its publication, and its reception, was central to human flourishing. We owe it to ourselves, then, to figure out what it was we, as members of the human species, most valued about the book, so we can try to preserve it. The humanities must now take steps to preserve and protect the independence of their activities, such as the writing of books and articles, before the market becomes our prison and the value of the book becomes undermined." Village Voice 08/31/04

Monday, August 30, 2004

Study: Music Lessons Boost IQ A new study shows that children who study music score higher on IQ tests. The University of Toronto study also tested students who studied drama and found an increased IQ but not as big an improvement as in those who studied music. Science Daily 08/20/04

How Tabloids Took Over Pop Culture TV news, reality shows, pop magazines - they're full of stuff that was formerly the domain of the supermarket tabloid. "Our world has been tabloidized. Where once tabloids occupied a fantastic fringe of pop culture, they now are at the center of pop culture." Dallas Morning News 08/29/04

Sunday, August 29, 2004

"Hearing" A Building Before It's Built "Acoustics, in particular, are a crucial part of the experience of a building — concert halls and corporate offices alike. But as the long, sad history of acoustical missteps proves, perfecting a sound aesthetic is easier said than heard. Most architects are forced either to make an educated guess about the play of sound or begrudgingly consult acousticians, who have technical expertise but few practical ways to demonstrate their ideas." Now, a way to find out what a building will sound like before it's built... The New York Times 08/29/04

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Your Brain, Your Politics Are your political beliefs dictated by the architecture of your brain? "Is there something intrinsically reductive or fatalistic in connecting political values to brain functioning? No more so than ascribing them to race or economic background, which we happily do without second thought. Isn't it more dehumanizing to attribute your beliefs to economic conditions outside your control? At least your brain is inalienably yours -- it's where the whole category 'you' originates." New York Times Magazine 08/22/04

Sunday, August 22, 2004

The Cure For The Over-Published World A 100,000 new books published in a year? 120,000? 175,000? Yikes - who can keep up? And yet, gentle reader, who wants to keep up? How many books can you read in a year? How many books are actually worth reading in a year? Fear not, Chickens Little, your innate taste will save you! The Observer (UK) 08/22/04

Friday, August 20, 2004

A Persistence Of Beauty "A lot of art, especially of the past, has set out to be beautiful; a lot of art, especially of the present, has set out to be ugly. Or, if not ugly, then at least workaday in its surface sheen, for fear that too much beauty might distract from whatever hard truths the film or painting or composition wishes to tell us. And yet there has been a kind of semi-guilty underground cult of beauty that has persisted through our ugly times." The New York Times 08/20/04

Thursday, August 19, 2004

How (Whether) To Reform German Spelling In 1998, Germany undertook to reform its spelling. Six years on, there are big forces at work to change back to old spellings. "Backers of reform say simplification of spelling is badly needed to make life easier for schoolchildren; rolling back now would cause chaos in the classroom and cost millions. Critics say the overhaul has failed and Germany could become a land of dyslexics. Both sides have a point..." The Economist 08/19/04

What Role Language? "It seems that words for exact numbers do not exist in all languages. And if someone has no word for a number, he may have no notion of what that number means. While there is no dispute that language influences what people think about, evidence suggesting it determines thought is inconclusive." The Economist 08/19/04

Of Pugilism And Philosophy Is there really much relationship between boxing and philosophy? Well... "The deeper you get into the fights, the more you may discover about things that would seem at first blush to have nothing to do with boxing. Lessons in spacing and leverage, or in holding part of oneself in reserve even when hotly engaged, are lessons not only in how one boxer reckons with another but also in how one person reckons with another. The fights teach many such lessons -- about virtues and limits of craft, about the need to impart meaning to hard facts by enfolding them in stories and spectacle, about getting hurt and getting old, about distance and intimacy, and especially about education itself: Boxing conducts an endless workshop in the teaching and learning of knowledge with consequences." Chronicle of Higher Education 08/13/04

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

The Lit Olympics (Why'd We Forget 'em?) "The world has forgotten that literary 'happenings' were once an essential ingredient of all ancient athletic festivals; for those well-rounded Greek crowds, the 90-pound-weakling writers could be as compelling an attraction as the beefcake that paraded stark naked around the stadium. In fact, we should thank the first Olympics for several crucial breakthroughs in the Western literary tradition—including the pioneering act of self-promotion by a celebrity-hungry author." Village Voice 08/17/04

How Your Brain Distorts Muscles A new study into exercise-induced fatigue shows that "the brain's ability to judge the position of limbs is distorted when muscles are fatigued. Before this research, scientists believed athletes' 'clumsiness' after a strenuous performance was caused by damage to sense organs in the muscles." Discovery 08/17/04

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Outside The System - Guerrilla Art The guerrilla art movement is all about creating art - movies, music, visual, publishing - outside the established channels of production. "Two forms in particular seem perfectly suited to the guerrilla ideal. In the activities of admirably resourceful musicians and film-makers, one sees the same broad approach: the skilful use of technology (the internet, mobile phones, digital video), along with a desire to slip free of the schedules of studios and record labels." The Observer (UK) 08/15/04

Thursday, August 12, 2004

The Artist Beyond The Success Artists like success of course. "But what about being trapped by success? Being widely admired and richly rewarded for something you do, but secretly wishing to do something entirely different?" A surprising number of artists harbor ambitions beyond their renown... The New York Times 08/13/04

ID'ing Your Handwriting Okay, so handwriing analysis has a bit of a hinky reputation (can you really tell I have problems with my mother by the way I cross my T's?) But a new method promises accurate interpretation of handwriting. "Their method employs holography. This technique makes three-dimensional images from the interference patterns of two laser beams used to scan an object—in this case a sample of handwriting. When the holographic information in an image is transferred to a computer, that image can be interpreted as a series of troughs of varying depths, denoting the pressure of the pen strokes used to make them." The Economist 08/13/04

Inducing A Chill On Technology Critics are lining up against the Induce Act, the anti-copying legislation now being considered by the US Congree. "The Induce Act would have a definite chilling effect on technological innovation. Even if judges are not inclined to interpret it broadly, the vague language opens the door to harassing lawsuits. Companies creating multipurpose technologies would have to be prepared to defend themselves against copyright infringement allegations." Reason 08/11/04

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The Style Vs Content Debate In recent times, the mark of good academic writing has been in the information contained. But what of style? Doesn't it convey useful information too? "Everyone understands that the content is constant, frequently ordinary, and sometimes banal; that the (wide) variation, the arena for expression and excellence, the fun, the art - are all in the individual style." Chronicle of Higher Education 08/13/04

Shouldn't Research Be Free For All? "For centuries, printed journals destined for university libraries have been the focus of publishing activity. The winds of change, though, are sweeping through these quiet and dusty corridors. Because of the internet, cost and distance are no longer barriers to providing the results of research to more than just a restricted and privileged few. This is leading people to ask why those results are not, in fact, freely available to all." The Economist 08/05/04

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Your Brain On Work - Use It Or Lose It "A mentally stimulating career may help to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease, research suggests. According to a study carried out in the United States, those who develop the debilitating form of dementia are more likely to have had jobs that do not tax the brain. The discovery lends weight to the 'use it or lose it' theory." Nature 08/10/04

Lying Liars And The People Who Can Tell... "For decades, psychologists have done laboratory experiments in an attempt to describe differences between the behavior of liars and of people telling the truth. Some researchers, however, are now moving away from those controlled conditions and are inching closer to understanding liars in the real world. The researchers are examining whether several behaviors that have emerged as deception signals in lab tests are associated with real-life, high-stake lies." Science News Online 09/10/04

Monday, August 9, 2004

Apathetic For a Reason Today's twenty-somethings are constantly tagged with the 'apathetic' label, due in large part to their disdain for traditional activism and their embrace of an overtly cynical worldview. But could the apathy and cynicism stem from the devastating reality that a small but vocal band of activists can no longer have the world-changing impact they once did? Anyone who sits and watches a film like "Fahrenheit 9/11" or "The Corporation" will be angry at the world afterwards, but if you don't believe that you can do anything about it, what's the point of trying? The Globe & Mail (Canada) 08/09/04

Thoreau the Survivor "Survivor" was not the first reality TV series. And it wasn't "The Real World," either. No, the first individual to conceive of the idea of performing ridiculous stunts in public in order to prove a point (or just amuse the neighbors) was Henry David Thoreau, says Julia Keller. But in all seriousness, the importance of Thoreau's little stunt - abandoning city life to live like a hermit in the middle of nowhere - has been twisted and misconstrued over the years since "Walden" was written. And just as in most reality shows, Thoreau wasn't above a slight varnishing of the truth if the editing process could help out the narrative flow. Chicago Tribune 08/09/04

Sunday, August 8, 2004

What Dreams May Come "Dreams have captivated thinkers since ancient times, but their mystery is now closer than ever to resolution, thanks to new technology that allows scientists to watch the sleeping brain at work. Although there are still many more questions than answers, researchers are now able to see how different parts of the brain work at night, and they're figuring out how that division of labor influences our dreams. In one sense, it's the closest we've come to recording the soul." Newsweek 08/03/04

Thursday, August 5, 2004

Outdated Classism, Or Individualized Education? A new British reality TV show is taking its contestants on a sociological journey to the past, and possibly the future, of public education. The participants, all mediocre-to-abysmal students, are plucked from their regular classes, and placed in specific vocational training programs, as many UK students were in the 1960s. "At the end of the series, the results of the pupils' exams in woodwork, metalwork and domestic science will be compared with their GCSE results. But the most interesting aspect of the programme will be whether they thrive on learning practical skills in a disciplined environment." The Telegraph (UK) 08/05/04

Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Said: The Artist As An Old Man Before he died last year, Edward Said mused on the powers of the artist late in life: "What of the last or late period of life, the decay of the body, the onset of ill health (which, in a younger person, brings on the possibility of an untimely end)? These issues, which interest me for obvious personal reasons, have led me to look at the way in which the work of some artists acquires a new idiom towards the end of their lives - what I've come to think of as a late style." The Observer (UK) 08/01/04

Monday, August 2, 2004

Today's Educators - No Time To Think "Today the role of professor has veered to a ludicrously opposite extreme from the untrammelled freedom of the postwar years. Under huge pressure to be labelled a highly starred international researcher in the next research assessment exercise, a professor is expected to produce top-quality books and papers, while buried under a ferocious bureaucracy of business plans, mission statements, forecasts, audits of every kind, endless meetings, paperwork, quality inspections, performance assessments and interim reviews. It is no way to treat talented and creative people, on whom the next generation of scholars, and indeed our society, depends." The Guardian (UK) 08/03/04

Imprint Of Memorization Students don't memorize texts anymore. "Aren’t exercises in memorizing and reciting poetry and passages of prose an archaic curiosity, without educative value? That too-common view is sadly wrong. Kids need both the poetry and the memorization. As educators have known for centuries, these exercises deliver unique cognitive benefits, benefits that are of special importance for kids who come from homes where books are scarce and the level of literacy low. In addition, such exercises etch the ideals of their civilization on children’s minds and hearts." City Journal 08/04

Science Expressed As Art (It's Easier That Way) "Most of us have seen the cyclonic swirl of water running down a drain, but what about the turbulent rush of the jet stream or the dance of an electromagnetic field? John Belcher and colleagues at the MIT Center for Educational Computer Initiatives developed a computer program that turns the mathematical descriptions of these phenomena, technically known as vector fields, into visual patterns showing the fields frozen in time. Then he took the program a step further, allowing students in his introductory-level class on electricity and magnetism to design their own field patterns." Discovery 08/02/04

Sunday, August 1, 2004

The Real Manchurian Conspiracy? In the original version of The Manchurian Candidate, soldiers were turned into cold-blooded assassins by "a diabolical method of mind control based on memory's emotional power." The brainwashing technique seemed suspiciously familiar to a lot of actors, says Lee Siegel, because it was, in fact, nearly identical to the school known as Method acting, which was developed by "left-wing, socially adversarial" Russians. Hmmmm... The New York Times 08/01/04

The Sage Of Conventions Past One name kept popping up in the international coverage of last week's Democratic National Convention, and it wasn't John Kerry. The name was H.L. Mencken, the famous journalistic curmudgeon who covered political conventions for nearly a half-century, and whose words describing the process have never been equaled: "There is something about a national convention that makes it as fascinating as a revival or a hanging... It is vulgar, it is ugly, it is stupid, it is tedious, it is hard upon both the higher cerebral centers and the gluteus maximus, and yet it is somehow charming." Baltimore Sun 07/31/04

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