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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Is Scots A Language? "There are any number of Scots words still in common use, but most public discourse [in Scotland] is conducted in the language England still calls its own. It is still possible, meanwhile, to find any number of otherwise distinguished English academics who dismiss all claims for Scots." So the question remains: "Is the leid a real language, or merely 'the bastard offspring of a superior tongue?'" The Herald (Glasgow) 03/01/06

Art That Glamorizes The Slums? "Scarred by violence and political repression, Brazil's shanty towns have responded with an outpouring of art, music and film. But as "favela chic" becomes all the rage in the west are we in danger of glamorising slum life?" New Statesman 02/27/06

Sunday, February 26, 2006

A Complex World, Reduced To A Buzzword In much the same way that conventional wisdom in the Arab world tends to view "America" as a monolithic place speaking with a single, domineering voice, Westerners have begun to discuss "the Islamic world" as if such a thing could really be reduced to a simple set of ideas and actions. By extension, "Islamic art" is often seen as monolithic and single-minded, when the truth is far more complex. "It's a political story, an ancient and universal one, about how an image, and almost any image will do, once it is fused to cultural identity — Islam, in this case — can end up being used as a weapon." The New York Times 02/26/06

The Devil, The Teacher, & The Very Small Town The residents of the tiny town of Bennett, Colorado, have no desire to be held up as a national example of religious extremism and ignorance. But ever since an elementary school teacher in the town was suspended for showing a video version of the opera Faust to her class, the backlash against the town has been swift and severe. "Tensions can be found in many of Colorado's smaller communities as development pressures and population growth cause friction between longtime residents and newcomers, who often have differing backgrounds and values. These differences sometimes explode in cultural clashes." Denver Post 02/25/06

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Technology Makes Us More Productive (Or Less?) "Technology has sped everything up and, by speeding everything up, it's slowed everything down, paradoxically. We never concentrate on one task anymore. You take a little chip out of it, and then you're on to the next thing. It's harder to feel like you're accomplishing something."
Wired (Reuters) 02/23/06

Can Movies Be Agents Of Social Change? "Movies can envision the need for social change, but it is unclear that they can help bring it about. They are better at pointing the way to a different, happier, more fulfilling life. Not the least interesting thing about the hopeless love dramatized in 'Brokeback Mountain,' which garnered eight Oscar nominations last week, is how many social hopes it has inspired." Still, those hopes might not translate. "Movies can take on the great social problems of their time, but they may be the least effective — or appropriate — medium for solving them." Los Angeles Times 02/23/06

What Are We Losing In Iraq's Destructive Chaos? "As the first images of a massive destruction at one of Iraq's holiest shrines began coming in yesterday, it was hard not to think of the building, rather than what it stands for. How old was it? What was the architecture like? Was this another loss, like the Bamiyan Buddhas, needlessly destroyed by the Taliban? Is its destruction equivalent, say, to the bombing of St. Peter's in Rome, or Chartres Cathedral? The mind grasps for an easy equivalence... Unlike so many images of terrorist destruction, the calculated demolition of the shrine in Samarra captures the 'was' and 'is' with rare power." Washington Post 02/23/06

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Why Paris Is It For American Artists "Paris, for Americans, has for two centuries embodied something other, and simpler. For two centuries Paris has been attached for Americans to an idea of happiness, of good things eaten and new clothes bought and a sentimental education at last achieved. To Americans, Paris suggests the idea of happiness as surely as an arrival in New York suggests hope and Los Angeles, in literature at least, hopelessness." The Guardian (UK) 02/23/06

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Banality Of The New "We live in an age addicted to newness. It is a core attribute of any successful person or product in our consumer society. The whole economic system in the developed world depends on our continuing desire for new things that we often do not need. Do you remember the Innovations catalogue? How long has being new been a way of saying something is good in art? When did this quality take on a life of its own apart from being beautiful or thought-provoking?" The Times (UK) 02/22/06

Seven Wonders Of The Modern World What would they be? "In the past few years, voters nominated a number of manmade sites, and the 77 top vote-getters advanced. They were narrowed to 21 in January by a panel of world-famous architects (seven of them). Results will be announced Jan. 1, 2007. The only remaining U.S. site in the top 21 is the Statue of Liberty, though at least the Golden Gate Bridge, Empire State Building and Mount Rushmore made the list of 77 finalists. Even so, it's an interesting glimpse at which of humankind's architectural accomplishments still have the power to inspire." Seattle Times (Chi Trib) 02/19/06

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Brainy Drainy "When educated people emigrate, they leave with skills and experience crucial to solving their countries’ critical problems. The migration of doctors leaves poor countries (and eventually other global population centers) subject to the ravages of highly communicable diseases. Public services are deprived of trained personnel, and countries lose revenue from some of their highest-earning taxpayers. Sending countries also lose educated citizens who otherwise might play key roles in developing responsive governments and organizing civil society, often resulting in political instability and regional conflict." InsideHigherEd 02/16/06

Math So Complex It Can't Be Proved Mathematical proofs are getting so complex, they're becoming difficult to verify. "I think that we're now inescapably in an age where the large statements of mathematics are so complex that we may never know for sure whether they're true or false. That puts us in the same boat as all the other scientists.” New Scientist 02/19/06

Friday, February 17, 2006

A Multi-Tiered Internet? Bad Idea! Should the internet be reconfigured to allow internet companies to provide premium access for some content? It's a very bad idea. "After all, once we get away from the idea that the pipes just move bits around without really caring what data is being transmitted, it's a small step to discriminating against some forms of content and then targeting specific sites, services or users. Instead of an "end-to-end" network, we would end up with something more like the phone network, along with a complicated array of charging schemes for "0800", "0845" and "0871" sites." BBC 02/12/06

Want To Make Better Decisions? Don't Think So Much Tests show thinking about difficult decisions too much causes bad choices. "The problem with thinking about things consciously is that you can only focus on a few things at once. In the face of a complex decision this can lead to giving certain factors undue importance. Thinking about something several times is also likely to produce slightly different evaluations, highlighting inconsistencies. Participants who chose their favourite poster among a set of five after thorough contemplation showed less post-choice satisfaction than participants who only looked at them briefly." The Guardian (UK) 02/17/06

Unattractive: The Face Of Crime Researchers say that unattractive people have a tendency to commit more crime than attractive people. "We find that unattractive individuals commit more crime in comparison to average-looking ones, and very attractive individuals commit less crime in comparison to those who are average-looking." Washington Post 02/16/06

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Traces Of Action, Evidence Of Torture Disturbing new photos have emerged of the violence committed by U.S. troops against prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and some of the most shocking images don't have a single human being in the frame. Instead, spattered blood serves as a metaphor for the horrors we have yet to hear about. "Comparing blood to paint, violence to art, is dangerous, even repellent. But in one sense, the blood on this floor is exactly like the paint drippings of Jackson Pollock, who captured the visible traces of action, the visual memory of gestures." Washington Post 02/16/06

Why Can't We Be High-Tech And Literate? Is our reliance on new technologies weakening our grip on the English language? With e-mail, text messaging, and countless other ways to do whatever it is you do faster, "dumbing down the language is not only seen as acceptable, but is tacitly encouraged as the status quo. Any number of my acquaintances excuse the bad writing and atrocious punctuation that proliferates in e-mail by saying, in essence, 'Well, at least people are writing again.' Horse droppings. People have never stopped writing, although it's reaching a point where you wish a lot of them would." Wired 02/16/06

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Sweet By Nature Trying to pass on the sweets? Recent studies show why that might be hard. "The study strongly suggests that attraction to sweets and aversion to bitters is hard wired into the brain and is therefore programmed into our genes." Discovery 02/15/06

Embrace The Chaos If the global argument over the Danish cartoons that so offended Muslims tells us anything, it is that we can no longer afford to be quite so surprised by the global reach of information, and further, that censoring the flow of content is not a solution to the worldwide culture clash. "The truth is, the internet cannot be both globally acceptable and a force for democracy... Spraying the world with a fire hose of information may not be the answer, but it's closer to the right result than filtering the internet down to a trickle." Wired 02/15/06

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Design Debate: Engineering Or Art? There's a debate going on about the mainstream of design. "The key point at issue is whether design should retain its traditional industrial focus and concentrate on assisting in the creation of new devices that work better and more efficiently than old ones, or whether it should move with the times, align itself with the so-called 'knowledge economy' and offer a primarily aesthetic experience. The Telegraph (UK) 02/14/06

Do The Beatles Still Rate? It's been 36 years since the Beatles made their last album. Terry Teachout wonders: "What was it that made these four musically untutored pop stars stand out in such high relief from their contemporaries? And has their music proved to be of lasting interest, as their admirers of four decades ago predicted it would?" Commentary 02/06

Monday, February 13, 2006

Handwriting As A Disappearing Art "Rather than sinuous penmanship, our identities are increasingly confirmed by numbered sequences that have been imposed on us. And, if signatures are becoming increasingly irrelevant, what then is the future for handwriting in a world when one in three children has a computer in the bedroom, many more are accustomed to writing on them at home and school and, if I had a penny for every time I have heard or read parents and teachers bemoaning the poor state of pupil's handwriting, I would have enough for a £335 Mont Blanc Meisterstück fountain pen in precious resin with a gold-plated finish?" The Guardian (UK) 02/14/06

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Opening Torino With Art & Absurdity The visually captivating and decidedly over-the-top opening ceremonies of the twentieth Winter Olympiad proved once and for all that "other nations can be as cheesy as the United States. That people the world over seem to share a common urge to stage bizarre interpretive dance... The Olympics are ordained to be completely self-important -- no smirking allowed! -- which perhaps is why the opening festivities always seem so campy. Still, as a general spectacle, last night's show wasn't bad." Boston Globe 02/11/06

Thursday, February 9, 2006

Baaaah! The Music We Like? Turns Out We're All Sheep! "A new study reveals that we make our music purchases based partly on our perceived preferences of others. Researchers found that popular songs were popular and unpopular songs were unpopular, regardless of their quality established by the other group. They also found that as a particular songs' popularity increased, participants selected it more often. The upshot for markerters: social influence affects decision-making in a market." LiveScience.com 02/09/06

Bureaucracy In Action There's quite a debate going on in Canada over health care, and in particular, over government bureaucracy and its role in 'streamlining' hospitals and clinics perceived as inefficient. But how can us arts folk understand such a debate? One doctor is happy to provide a useful analogy: what if the Montreal Symphony were similarly 'streamlined'? "All 20 violins were playing identical notes! This constitutes needless duplication. The staff of this section should be cut drastically... For considerable periods during the concert, the oboe player and the percussionist had nothing to do. Both jobs could be done by the same person... The position of conductor, a non-player who amazingly is paid the highest salary, should be eliminated [and replaced with] an inexpensive metronome." McGill Reporter (Montreal) 02/09/06

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

How The Internet Was Saved (The First Time) It was ten years ago that Congress passed a sweeping law that would have stunted the Internet (it was later challenged and defeated in the courts). "The Communications Decency Act, or CDA, was passed by Congress as part of the Telecommunications Act and signed into law by President Clinton on Feb. 8, 1996. The law aimed to extend to the internet the same "decency" standard that applies to broadcast TV and radio, and is now most famous for leading to fines for Howard Stern and CBS television for explicit language and a wardrobe malfunction respectively." Wired 02/08/06

India's Sexual Problem India is modernizing itself at a breathtaking rate, and while the economic benefits of embracing technology and Western culture have been obvious for some time, the inevitable culture clash has begun. "What is happening now, at least for India's moneyed younger class, is a cultural shift akin to what happened in the 1950s and the 1960s in the United States. The topic of sex is coming out from behind closed doors and drawn shades... The result is a growing gap between affluent, urban young people who embrace the idea of sexuality and a prevailing society that still idealizes virgins; between a country struggling with an AIDS epidemic and the refusal by many men to even contemplate the use of condoms." Chicago Tribune 02/08/06

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Prize Portents "In the fields of literature, movies and music, prize scandals prompt people to pay attention to awards, if only to see what gauche lapse in taste happens next. And debates about the credibility of a prize, by their very existence, benefit the concept of art and artistic value by implying that they exist in a realm separate from politics and compromise. Clearly, questions about prizes' credibility haven't hampered their proliferation: ours is a culture beset by and obsessed with prizes, even if we disagree about their meaning. So what do they mean?" Toronto Star 02/07/06

The Neuroscience Of Dance Improv Neuroscientists are studying improvisation in dance. Is there some similarity with how birds move in flocks? "There's no lead bird who dictates, 'Now we'll be in this V.' They're forming patterns by sensing where they all are in space, by wind currents, all the different variables. They're self-organizing themselves into a pattern. That's what the dancers are experiencing, they're forming their own patterns from within." San Diego Union-Tribune 02/07/06

Monday, February 6, 2006

Is The Internet Endangered? Big media and telecommunications companies are considering plans that would dramatically change how the internet works. "Under the plans they are considering, all of us--from content providers to individual users--would pay more to surf online, stream videos or even send e-mail. Industry planners are mulling new subscription plans that would further limit the online experience, establishing "platinum," "gold" and "silver" levels of Internet access that would set limits on the number of downloads, media streams or even e-mail messages that could be sent or received." The Nation 02/01/06

Sunday, February 5, 2006

Our Eroding Cultural Lingua Franca "Not so long ago it seemed as if we all spoke the same pop-culture language. But in an era of 500 TV channels, billions of Web pages, unlimited Netflix rentals, and iPods with music libraries of Smithsonian proportions, popular entertainment has suddenly become mind-bogglingly vast. As the overlap between what we all watch, read, and listen to steadily erodes, the water cooler has become a modern-day tower of Babel, where conversations sound like the jumbled voices emanating from the jungle in "Lost." (If that reference is lost on you then, well, Q.E.D.)" Christian Science Monitor 02/03/06

The Arts Race Colleges are escalating their arts offerings. "According to College Board data, there was a 44 percent increase from 1996 to 2005 in the number of high school seniors who say that they plan to major in visual and performing arts. For business and commerce majors, the gain was much less modest, at 12 percent, while the percentage who plan to major in social sciences and history has decreased by 15 percent." InsideHigherEd 02/03/06

Friday, February 3, 2006

Mapping The Music Genome "Customizable Internet radio such as Yahoo's Launchcast.com has been around for years, but Pandora is a twist on the concept: Instead of relying solely on computer software to spit out playlists, Pandora draws on its Music Genome Project, a 6-year-old effort by a group of musicians to identify the hundreds of traits and qualities that form the building blocks of music — and then to map out each individual song within this framework, or genome. Genre disappears, and every song is at once relatable, however closely or distantly, to every other." Los Angeles Times 02/03/06

Thursday, February 2, 2006

Are Political Beliefs A Psychological (Dis)Order? "When presented with negative information about the candidates they liked, partisans of all stripes found ways to discount it. When the unpalatable information was rejected, furthermore, the brain scans showed that volunteers gave themselves feel-good pats -- the scans showed that 'reward centers' in volunteers' brains were activated. The psychologist observed that the way these subjects dealt with unwelcome information had curious parallels with drug addiction as addicts also reward themselves for wrong-headed behavior." Washington Post 02/02/06

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

R.I.P. - Western Union Has Delivered Its Last Telegram After 145 years, Western Union has stopped delivering telegrams. "The decline of telegram use goes back at least to the 1980s, when long-distance telephone service became cheap enough to offer a viable alternative in many if not most cases. Faxes didn't help. Email could be counted as the final nail in the coffin." LiveScience.com 02/01/06

US Congress Considers Full Assault On Free Use A reform of the Trademark Act would prohibit artists from using company marks in any way. "The Act would give companies considerable leverage in preventing artists and photographers from employing their marks in images by claiming the mark is being 'diluted'. The bigger the company, the more famous the trademark, the easier it will be to prevent you guys from using it. National companies with highly recognizable marks would have more leverage than any single creator or small business and would easily outspend any of you to prevent your using their mark." Stockphotographer.info 02/06

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