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Thursday, December 29, 2005

A Quantum Experience "Nary a week goes by that does not bring news of another feat of quantum trickery once only dreamed of in thought experiments: particles (or at least all their properties) being teleported across the room in a microscopic version of Star Trek beaming; electrical "cat" currents that circle a loop in opposite directions at the same time; more and more particles farther and farther apart bound together in Einstein's spooky embrace now known as "entanglement." At the University of California, Santa Barbara, researchers are planning an experiment in which a small mirror will be in two places at once." The New York Times 12/27/05

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Why You Should Put Off Till Tomorrow... "Most people who write about procrastination write about how to cure it. But this is, strictly speaking, impossible. There are an infinite number of things you could be doing. No matter what you work on, you're not working on everything else. So the question is not how to avoid procrastination, but how to procrastinate well." Paul Graham 12/05

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

How Closely Have You Been Paying Attention? We here at ArtsJournal like to think of ourselves as people who pay close attention to news of the cultural world. So we're somewhat embarrassed to score only 15 out of 20 in this year's Guardian cultural literacy quiz... The Guardian (UK) 12/25/05

If Hollywood Says Torture Is Okay, It Must Be True! Ever since the photographs of prisoners at Abu Ghraib being abused by American service personnel emerged into public view, the U.S. has been embroiled in a hot debate over the use of torture, and whether it can ever be justified. Strangely, although all available research indicates that torture doesn't actually work if the goal is to extract information, many Americans seem to believe that it can be a highly effective method of interrogation, and furthermore, that it is somehow morally justifiable if lives might be saved. Where are we getting these ideas? Probably from every cop drama, spy film, horror flick, and suspense movie released in the last 40 or so years. Toronto Star 12/27/05

Monday, December 26, 2005

Is It Time To Retire "The Literary Canon"? Scott McLemee thinks so: The term “canon” rests on an analogy between an established set of cultural masterpieces, on the one hand, and the authoritative body of scriptures, on the other hand. And the problem with this comparison is that, deep down, it is almost impossible to take seriously. “Canon” is not so much a concept as a dead metaphor — or rather, perhaps, a stillborn one. InsideHigherEd 12/21/05

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Where's Our Sense Of Utopia? "There is no doubt that we're living in anti-utopian times. The political imagination is, if not dead exactly, certainly in a coma. Politics today is about fiddling, making a tweak here or there but not changing anything much. We can't conceive of a future much better than the present. Perhaps we imagine that computers will be quicker and mobile phones cleverer, but there is little notion that human beings could live vastly more fulfilled and improved lives than our own. There is no sense that history holds possibilities that we haven't yet imagined. Utopian impulses persist, of course, but these impulses are for the most part expressed in banal ways." spiked-online 12/22/05

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

In Rats, At Least, Brain Goes Nuts For Sugar Scientists have pinpointed a spot in the brain that associates pleasure with sweet tatses. "Sweetness by itself is merely a sensation, they note. Its pleasure arises within the brain, where neural systems actively paint pleasure onto the sensation to generate a 'liking' reaction. The study pinpointed a pleasure spot within a larger part of the brain responsible for appetite in the nucleus accumbens, the lower front of the brain. There's a 'liking' cube tucked within a larger 'wanting' cube."
New Scientist 12/21/05

Thinking Pain-Free "Researchers asked people in pain to try to control a pain-regulating region of the brain by watching activity in that area from inside a real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, machine. Initial results showed subjects could reduce their pain, some quite dramatically. It's the first evidence that humans can take control of a specific region of the brain, and thereby decrease pain." Wired 12/21/05

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Real Greatest Generation (Just Ask Them) The first wave of the massive generation known as the Baby Boomers is about to turn 60, and Alex Beam can think of nothing worse than continuing to live in a world where the culture is dominated by his fellow self-absorbed children of the '60s. "The continuing cultural hegemony of the boomers means that, for the rest of my life, every time I turn on a radio, I run the risk of hearing the song A Horse With No Name. Now there's a reason to move to Canada. How does one loathe the boomers? Let me count the ways." Boston Globe 12/20/05

Monday, December 19, 2005

Deck The Halls With Blood And Tears "What's going on in [London] theatres this Christmas? Discerning theatregoers have long had access to alternative shows at the festive season as innovative companies eschew the commercial instincts of the panto industry. But this year, it seems, some theatres have abandoned the glitz entirely, taking audiences to a far darker world where macabre is all the rage." The Guardian (UK) 12/19/05

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Wave Goodbye To Mass Culture The days of the mass media culture are over, says Reed Johnson. "There will be no survivors, except on select reruns of Lost. In lieu of flowers, friends may send checks to the 'Bring Back Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw Emergency Fund.' There — that wasn't so painful, was it? After all, it's been common knowledge, or at least conventional wisdom, that traditional mainstream mass culture has been clinging to life for decades, like one of Anne Rice's mottled vampires. But 2005 is when a chronic condition may have turned terminal." Los Angeles Times 12/18/05

God: That Peculiarly American Obsession "If anyone still requires proof of the gulf of difference between the US and everywhere else, look no further than the current storm-in-a-cappuccino about The Chronicles of Narnia. For weeks, it seems, there have been spats in the papers about C.S. Lewis' classic children's fantasy series, the first instalment of which has just been adapted as a lush blockbuster by Andrew Adamson, who directed the Shrek films, for Disney. The storm is over religion. C.S. Lewis had it; the Americans have a lot of it; the rest of us don't, supposedly, or at least we don't like to put a hat on it and give it a ticker-tape parade." The Age (Melbourne) 12/18/05

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Virtual Economics "Millions of people now spend several hours a week immersed in 'massively multiplayer online role-playing games' (MMORPGs). These are often Tolkienesque fantasy worlds in which players battle monsters, go on quests, and build up their virtual power and wealth. Some synthetic worlds are deliberately escapist; others are designed to be as lifelike and realistic as possible. Many have a strong libertarian bent." But there's another side to this: economics. The Economist 12/14/05

Help! All My Packages Are Blinking At Me! "Electronics maker Siemens is readying a paper-thin electronic-display technology so cheap it could replace conventional labels on disposable packaging, from milk cartons to boxes of Cheerios. In less than two years, Siemens says, the technology could transform consumer-goods packaging from the fixed, ink-printed images of today to a digital medium of flashing graphics and text that displays prices, special offers or alluring photos, all blinking on miniature flat screens." Wired 12/15/05

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

What's Happened To Literary Theory? Some say it's dead. Others see sparks of new ideas. "The devolution and fragmentation of theory may well be a survival strategy, an adaptation to the new realities of academic institutions. An optimist might see it as something nobler, a turn from linguistic grand gestures and outdated ideological gambits toward measurements taken on a more humanistic scale." Chronicle of Higher Education 12/16/05

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

How Wars Destroy Physical History "In times of conflict, civilian homes are invariably singled out for attack. In recent decades, whole villages have been eradicated in various parts of the world, from Saddam Hussein's Iraq to Rwanda and Darfur. But homes are not the only type of building that has been targeted. Countless libraries, museums, churches and monuments have also been destroyed, representing an incalculable loss to the world's cultural patrimony." New Statesman 12/11/05

Study: Violent Video Games Affect Response To Real Violence Researchers "have found that people who play violent video games show diminished brain responses to images of real-life violence, such as gun attacks, but not to other emotionally disturbing pictures, such as those of dead animals, or sick children. And the reduction in response is correlated with aggressive behaviour." New Scientist 12/13/05

78 Ideas That Mattered This Year The New York Times Magazine surveys the intellectual landscape for its annual list: "Once we have thrown back all the innovations that don't meet our exacting standards, we find ourselves with the following alphabetical catch: 78 notions, big and small, grand and petty, serious and silly, ingenious and. . . well, whatever you call it when you tattoo an advertisement on your forehead for money." The New York Times Magazine 12/11/05

Monday, December 12, 2005

Rushdie: The Culture Inside All Of Us Salman Rushdie writes that "when we, as individuals, pick and mix cultural elements for ourselves, we do not do so indiscriminately, but according to our natures. Societies, too, must retain the ability to discriminate, to reject as well as to accept, to value some things above others, and to insist on the acceptance of those values by all their members. This is the question of our time: how does a fractured community of multiple cultures decide what values it must share in order to cohere, and how can it insist on those values even when they clash with some citizens’ traditions and beliefs?" The Times (UK) 12/12/05

Sunday, December 11, 2005

My Life Online The generation coming of age today straddles life between online and the physical world. "Although social networks are still in their infancy, experts think they're already creating new forms of social behavior that blur the distinctions between online and real-world interactions. In fact, today's young generation largely ignores the difference. Most adults see the Web as a supplement to their daily lives. But for the most part, their social lives remain rooted in the traditional phone call and face-to-face interaction. The MySpace generation, by contrast, lives comfortably in both worlds at once." BusinessWeek 12/12/05

Friday, December 9, 2005

Urban Sprawl Bad? Maybe Not "Sprawl has been as evident in Europe as in America, and can now be said to be the preferred settlement pattern everywhere in the world where there is a certain measure of affluence and where citizens have some choice in how they live."
Los Angeles Times 12/09/05

Thursday, December 8, 2005

2005: Where Science And Culture Met "The developments of the past year show that the 'accepted wisdom' on science isn't as quickly or as widely accepted as perhaps it once was — partly because of a skeptical political climate, and partly because the Internet provides wider access for dissenting views. Those societal challenges are sparking the rise of a new breed of scientists: media-savvy folk who aren't afraid to join the fray themselves." MSNBC 12/08/05

I'm 206. Live With It! "Thanks to advances in medical technology, an overall improvement in working conditions and a better understanding of how nutrition and exercise affect longevity, the average biped can reasonably expect to hang around for 80 years or more. But 80 years is a trifle. Why not live 150 years? Why not 200? Why not forever? Some people think this is not only possible, but that it's a good idea." Wired 12/08/05

  • Living Longer (But Living Healthier?) "Life expectancy in the U.S. has been rising almost without interruption since 1900, thanks to several factors, including extraordinary advances in medicine and sanitation, and declines in some types of unhealthy behavior, such as smoking. Those trends may allow life expectancy to continue to inch up despite the increases in obesity and high blood pressure." Wired (AP) 12/08/05

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Young Rebels Who Work From Inside? There was a time when young artists got their energy from opposing the establishment, being subversive. So what's happened? "Maybe today’s innovators have realised that there is little point in putting a lot of effort into being an embittered outsider youth rebel out to impress a few friends at some esoteric club." The Times (UK) 12/07/05

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

The Bystander Effect People in a group are much less likely to help someone in need than if they're by themselves. "Research at Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich suggests even when accompanied by another person, individuals are more likely to intervene if the situation is dangerous or violent."
Physorg.com 12/06/05

A Story To Go With That Big Mac? Disney and McDonald's could be teaming up to offer digital entertainment with your Happy Meal. "Patents filed by Disney reveal plans to drip-feed entertainment into a portable player while the owner eats in a restaurant. You only get the full programme by coming back to the restaurant a number of times to collect all the instalments. McDonalds could use the system instead of giving out toys with Happy Meals, suggests Disney’s patent." New Scientist 12/06/05

Umberto Eco: The New Gods "Human beings are religious animals. It is psychologically very hard to go through life without the justification, and the hope, provided by religion. You can see this in the positivist scientists of the 19th century. They insisted that they were describing the universe in rigorously materialistic terms - yet at night they attended seances and tried to summon up the spirits of the dead. Even today, I frequently meet scientists who, outside their own narrow discipline, are superstitious - to such an extent that it sometimes seems to me that to be a rigorous unbeliever today, you have to be a philosopher. Or perhaps a priest." The Telegraph (UK) 11/27/05

Monday, December 5, 2005

Why Publishers' Obsession With Short Attention Spans? There's research to say that's what people are afflicted with. But "the data that exist come from people with short attention spans, the kind who participate in focus groups and telephone surveys relied on by corporate research. Guess what? SAS in, SAS out. Well-educated, successful people with good incomes and long attention spans don't waste time on focus groups or telephone marketing surveys. They're too busy reading books, serious magazines, and long-form journalism." Philadelphia Inquirer 12/04/05

Sunday, December 4, 2005

Tallest Building May Be Causing Quakes The world's tallest skyscraper - in Taiwan - specially built to withstand earthquakes, may be causing more quakes because of its immense weight. "The pressure of the building's 700,000 tons on the ground may be leading to increased seismic activity. The tremors could be a direct result of the loading of the mega-structure." Wired 12/04/05

The End, Finished, Done Everyone talks about the importance of first lines in novels. "But they aren't really as important to a novel as the last lines. From a terrible first line, a novel may recover; the last line is what it leaves a reader with." The Telegraph (UK) 12/21/05

Friday, December 2, 2005

Save Venice By Flooding Her? Presented last week to city leaders, the $117-million project would involve injecting seawater under Venice to raise it 30 centimeters (12 inches) in 10 years. "Our hypothesis entails drilling 12 holes, each 30 centimeters wide and 700 meters long, within a 10-kilometer radius around the city. Each hole will pump seawater into the ground beneath Venice. At 700 meters below ground there are sand formations saturated 100 percent with water, which will expand if we put more in. This would generate an increase in volume and the raising of the floor." Discovery 12/02/05

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