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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Turn To God? "The decline in church attendance in Europe is seen as evidence that secular modernity has entered the lives of ordinary people. Some optimistic secularists even see signs that the US, noted as a religious exception among western nations, is finally showing evidence of declining church attendance. But amid the apparent dusk of faith in Europe, one can already spot the religious owl of Minerva taking flight. This religious revival may be as profound as that which changed the course of the Roman empire in the 4th century." Prospect 11/06

Monday, October 30, 2006

Meet The Mega-Niche The internet is all about niches, right? But with a billion people online, some of those "niches" are getting pretty darn big. "The Net is chockablock with special-interest sites and services you've never heard of but whose user base exceeds the print circulation of The Washington Post." Wired 10/30/06

To Tell The Truth (The Machine Knows) Technology is being developed that claims to be able to tell if a person is lying. "In the pipeline are several cheaper, faster, easier-to-use brain-examining technologies, all intended as major improvements on the unreliable chicken-scratching polygraph we use now. Some seem to identify mental preparations for telling a lie even before the liar opens his mouth -- verging on mind-reading. Another is meant to work from across the room, even if you do not wish to cooperate." Washington Post 10/30/06

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Europe's New Proletariat "The main thing that sets the modern poor apart from the industrial age pauper is a sheer lack of interest in education. Today's proletariat has little education and no interest in obtaining more. Back in the early days of industrialization, the poor joined worker associations that often doubled as educational associations. The modern member of the underclass, by contrast, has completely shunned personal betterment." Der Spiegel 10/26/06

If You Have To Explain The Joke... Comedy is big business these days, but the art of making people laugh remains as mysterious as ever, particularly for those of us who don't know how to do it. "Irony and detachment are not enough. Joke writing and performing is a craft, and while an all-encompassing theory of humour may elude us, it is possible to identify some of the basics in the building of a successful joke." The Telegraph (UK) 10/28/06

Quiet. Please. A Canadian ecologist is on a crusade to preserve silence in his country's national parks. Specifically, Gordon Hempton wants the government to legislate certain areas in which all kinds of man-made noise - airplanes, traffic, electric generators, even overly chatty campers - are forbidden. CNews (AP) 10/29/06

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Wikipedia - The Debate Continues "Wikipedia's supporters often portray the site as a brave new world in which scholars can rub elbows with the general public. But doubters of the approach — and in academe, there are many — say Wikipedia devalues the notion of expertise itself." Chronicle of Higher Education 10/26/06

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Why Has Audio Technology Stalled? "Today, everybody should be able to enjoy music reproduced much better than a 1980 standard audio CD allows. Instead, people seem to be happy with music systems that are distinctly inferior to that, such as DAB radio and compressed music files. People care about picture resolution: they buy cameras with more megapixels, prefer DVD to VHS and are increasingly willing to buy hi-def TV sets. But they don't seem to care about sound resolution - or not enough to spend money on it." The Guardian (UK) 10/26/06

Are Newspapers Killing Classical Music? "Pick any city, look at its newspaper, and you'll find attention to classical music diminished to the basic minimum. It will focus on the 'big ticket' events — which, in the Bay Area, means the San Francisco Symphony, Opera, and Ballet, plus the most celebrated visiting artists. As is well-known to any person interested in classical music, such coverage just skims the surface. Who's responsible? Newspaper publishers and their editors who have a hand in setting policy and then executing it. What to do about this downgrading of classical coverage?" San Francisco Classical Voice 10/17/06

Why Language Matters "Language is more than a tool for expressing ourselves. It acts as a mirror to our world, reflecting back to us the way we live. It reflects our attitudes about the way we see things and how we are seen by others: in public life; in politics and commerce; in advertising and marketing; in broadcasting and journalism. Yet the prevailing wisdom about language seems to be that anything goes." The Telegraph (UK) 10/25/06

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Meditation: Better Than Caffeine "Meditation is often credited with helping people feel more focused and energetic, but are the benefits measurable? A new study suggests that they are. When researchers tested the alertness of volunteers, they found that the practice proved more effective than naps, exercise or caffeine." The New York Times 10/24/06

Monday, October 23, 2006

Have Awards Replaced Critical Judgment? "Ours is truly the age of awards. Prizes are becoming the ultimate measure of cultural success and value. In a time of information overload - of cultural excess and superabundance - our taste is being increasingly created for us by prize juries and award ceremonies. Art is beginning to resemble sport, with its roster of winners and losers and its spectacles of competition: the Oscars, the Baftas, the Brits. Indeed, the larger cultural festivals and prizes, such as the Venice Biennale, the Oscars and the Nobels, are consciously imitative of international sporting competitions like the Olympics." The Observer (UK) 10/22/06

Sunday, October 22, 2006

An Evening At The Theatre? Let Me Just Grab My Flip-Flops... "What is it about dressing up that sophisticated people now find so off-putting? And who needs guests showing up at Halloween parties who are too cool or smug to bother wearing anything but black? Black is not a costume. It’s a downer. Say what you want about Marie Antoinette. At least she made an effort." The New York Times 10/21/06

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Harnessing The Collective Brainpower "For the past decade, much of the Internet has been animated by the 'wisdom of crowds,' the notion that the tremendous masses drawn to the Web can together provide collective knowledge that outperforms even that of experts. By marshaling the knowledge and tastes of millions of people, the Web has fundamentally changed the way people can gain knowledge about their world." Washington Post 10/19/06

Will Humans Evolve Into Two Species? An evolutionary theorist predicts the human race will peak in 3000, and that we will split into two races. "The descendants of the genetic upper class would be tall, slim, healthy, attractive, intelligent, and creative and a far cry from the 'underclass' humans who would have evolved into dim-witted, ugly, squat goblin-like creatures." BBC 10/19/06

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Fighting Disease With Good Grammar "Grammar may have gone out of fashion in English lessons, but it is making a comeback as a weapon for fighting disease. Some short chains of amino acids have been found to kill antibiotic-resistant pathogens. Gregory Stephanopoulos at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his colleagues reasoned that if the amino acid sequences of these peptides were treated as a language with grammatical rules, the rules could be used to create new peptides with similar properties." New Scientist 10/18/06

Literary Nobel - Why So Political? "The clear bias toward politically motivated choices for the world's top literary prize is a shame, because politics is overrated. Certainly politics deserves a central place in the consciousness -- and conscience -- of every thinking person, but to banish from literature all but the relentlessly topical is to impoverish the world beyond measure." Chicago Tribune 10/18/06

Monday, October 16, 2006

Artists - A Cautionary Tale Some artists provoke. It's their job. But "Van Gogh's murder, the cartoon riots and the violent response to the pope's comments may finally have jolted artists out of their solipsistic cocoon. These days, it would be lethally naive to forget that art can unleash murderous passions." Newsday 10/16/06

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Can't Buy Me Love (Or Happiness) "Several economic studies affirm that the correlation of income and happiness is nowhere near what people think. One finds that in developed societies there is slightly more happiness at the 75th percentile of income than at the 50th, but that above the 75th percentile more money doesn’t matter." Boston Globe 10/15/06

Cure Cancer? Or Fund The Arts? Hmnnn "It's a rising concern for many potential donors to the arts: What is the justification for donating to the opera when the money could help stamp out malaria - or stem global warming, reform education or solve any of a number of humanitarian crises?" The Wall Street Journal 10/14/06

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Eisenberg: New Tax Law Won't Harm Museums Pablo Eisenberg writes that museums ought to stop whining about losing one of their tax breaks. "Most other charitable gifts don't come with the flexibility and big write-offs available for artworks. What's more, the museum directors dismiss the fact that only about 10 percent of all donations of art are accomplished through fractional giving. And it paints the restrictions on fractional giving as earth-shattering, as though the end of the museum world is about to unfold. What palpable nonsense." Chronicle of Higher Education 10/12/06

When Satire Becomes More Important Than News That comedian and fake news anchor Jon Stewart has more credibility with much of the public than real journalists or the politicians they cover is old news. But what does such a state of affairs say about our country and this moment in history? Are we sliding towards a desperate decline, or do we just have a highly developed sense of humor? The truth may be more boring: "we live in an era of the most sophisticated and relentless media manipulation ever, but the news media has not adjusted to the new environment." Baltimore Sun 10/12/06

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Babeling In Translation Computerized language translation programs are getting better and better. But they still have a propensity for making babel out of ordinary phrases... Wired 10/10/06

Sunday, October 8, 2006

Is String Theory Tying Science In Knots? String theory, a complex equation-based way of viewing the universe, has been in vogue among the world's top scientists for decades now. But in the last few months, a growing chorus of voices within the scientific community has begun to claim that not only is string theory likely inaccurate, its relentless promotion as the only viable theory of unification is hurting science as a whole. The Observer (UK) 10/08/06

Sunday, October 1, 2006

Study: New Teachers Are Best "Research reveals that 80 per cent of staff in their first seven years in the classroom produced value-added results at or above the expected level. But this fell to 68 per cent for those with between eight and 23 years’ experience and to 59 per cent for those with 24 years or more." Times Literary Supplement 09/29/06

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