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Sunday, November 26, 2006

The New Blackface? Hip-hop culture has always held a mirror up to the racism embedded in American life, but in recent days, references to some of the most disturbing racial stereotypes have begun creeping into the genre in most disturbing fashion. "Free of irony or tongue-in-cheek cleverness, so-called 'minstrel rap' appears to be a throwback to the days when performers (some black, some white) rubbed burnt cork on their faces and depicted African-Americans as buffoons." Baltimore Sun 11/26/06

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Now Big Brother Is Truly Listening Officials in a Dutch town have set up a system of street microphones set to pick up on aggressive sounding voices. The system "helped police make three arrests in a trial run earlier in the year. According to New Scientist Tech, the secret sauce is software that detects 'high frequency vowel sounds [that] span a broader frequency range'." Wired 11/22/06

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

How YouTube Is Changing The World "Until about five minutes ago, remember, almost all video-entertainment content was produced and distributed by Hollywood. Period. That time is over. There was a time when advertisers could count on mass audiences for what Hollywood thought we should be watching on TV. That time is all but over. There was a time when broadband penetration was too slight and bandwidth costs too prohibitive for video to be watched online. That time is sooooo over." Wired 11/21/06

The End Of (Getting Away With) Plagiarism "Given the popularity of plagiarism-seeking software services for academics, it may be only a matter of time before some enterprising scholar yokes Google Book Search and plagiarism-detection software together into a massive literary dragnet, scooping out hundreds of years' worth of plagiarists—giants and forgotten hacks alike—who have all escaped detection until now." Slate 11/21/06

Monday, November 20, 2006

Some Concerns About Google's Book Project Jean-Noël Jeanneney is president of France's Bibliothčque Nationale. And he has some big-picture concerns about Google's project to digitize the world's books. "Jeanneney, in short, looked at Google's 'boast' on its Corporate Information page - 'Google's mission is to organize the world's information' - and thought, 'Mais non. Not your job.' And too important a task to be run by a company whose "dominant philosophy is still that of short-term profit." Philadelphia Inquirer 11/19/06

A Rant About Diversity "What is culture? Walter Benn Michaels argues that our respectful talk about cultures is just a way of preserving racialist thinking. He asserts that belief in cultures is based on circular logic (how do we know what practices belong to certain identities if there are no intrinsic identities for them to belong to?) but we cling to it out of an ulterior motive." Los Angeles Times 11/20/06

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Yawwwwwn... More Masterpieces (Can Nothing Move Us?) "Once, it must have been possible to have stood in front of a great painting and to have felt your world being slowly flooded as if by some wondrous light. Now, it is possible to stand in front of a great painting and to feel nothing more than: yeah, I've got the postcard." The Observer (UK) 11/19/06

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Getting Inside Your Head A new study suggests that religious people who believe that God can take over their minds and cause them to "speak in tongues" are at least correct that those in such a state are not fully in control of their own brains at the time. Another study proves that brains can like ice cream. "These studies play with the ticklish notion that our brain mediates all of our inner experience—whether we're angry, or in love, or enjoying a vanilla ice-cream cone. Every feeling can be expressed in patterns of neural activity spread out on a computer screen. But does the specific pattern associated with enjoying ice cream tell us anything new—about the brain, or ice cream, or ourselves?" Slate 11/17/06

Whaddya Mean There's Nothing Funny About Religion? To Americans steeped in the daily rhetoric of the Iraq War, the words "Islam" and "comedy" might seem jarring together. But even as the cultural chasm between Christian and Islamic fundamentalists widens, a new generation of Muslim comedians are attempting to bring everyone who falls in between the two extremes back to their senses, and to the basic reality that everyone loves to laugh. The Age (Melbourne) 11/17/06

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

VHS, R.I.P. "After a long illness, the groundbreaking home-entertainment format VHS has died of natural causes in the United States. The format was 30 years old. No services are planned. The format had been expected to survive until January, but high-def formats and next-generation vidgame consoles hastened its final decline." Variety 11/15/06

The Age Of Innocence (Or Just Naivete?) "This will be remembered as the age in which the internet was still trusted... despite the fact that Wikipedia's entry about Kazakhstan was recently amended to list Borat the fictional Kazakh reporter as president. [What once] promised to be a symphony of knowledge is turning out to be a monotone of static. When a computer and a search engine are considered as good as a degree, the result is a culture of shallow knowledge." Sydney Morning Herald 11/14/06

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Air Guitar That Actually Plays Engineers in Australia - the home of rock legends including AC/DC and INXS - have developed a new T-shirt which enables the wearer to play air guitar and create real noise in the process. The Guardian (UK) 11/14/06

Monday, November 13, 2006

Mozart On Wheels There are all sorts of ways you can play Mozart, of course, but with your feet? And wheels? VideosLegais (Media player required)

Picking Hits (Scientifically) "Every year, a handful of songs do much, much better than all the others, and nobody has much idea why. If the hits only did a little better than the non-hits, this unpredictability wouldn't matter. But that's not how it works. Only about one-fifth of artists end up making money for the label, and a few make so much that they subsidise everyone else, but you can't tell in advance which ones will do well." But new software hopes to have cracked the hit code. The Guardian (UK) 11/11/06

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Rethinking How Languages Are Taught "Too often, in practice, bilingual education has been a disaster in America. However, the problem has been one of implementation, not of philosophy. Worldwide, it has been shown endlessly that children learn to read more quickly when first taught in their native language and are gently transitioned into the dominant one." New York Sun 11/11/06

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Study: A Failure In Higher Ed? A new study offers some dismal news about what college students learn in four years. "Seniors scored 1.5 percent higher on average than freshmen. In other words, four years and a couple hundred grand doesn’t buy much knowledge of American history. If the survey had been administered as an examination, seniors would fail with an average score of 53.2 percent The more elite institutions do not perform better than their less prestigious cousins—far from it." New Criterion 11/06

Speaking In Tongues: And The Brain Scan Says ... "The passionate, sometimes rhythmic, language-like patter that pours forth from religious people who 'speak in tongues' reflects a state of mental possession, many of them say. Now they have some neuroscience to back them up. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania took brain images of five women while they spoke in tongues and found that their frontal lobes — the thinking, willful part of the brain through which people control what they do — were relatively quiet, as were the language centers. ... The women were not in blind trances, and it was unclear which region was driving the behavior." The New York Times 11/07/06

Monday, November 6, 2006

So Orchestras Are Going About Survival All Wrong? "If a new report is indeed correct, much of the accepted wisdom about saving America's orchestras--which rests on the idea that if people can just be lured into the concert hall, they'll buy tickets and come back--is wrong. And that explains why, decades after the alarums were first rung, the knell still sounds and the debate within the classical-music set remains much the same." OpinionJournal.com 11/05/06

Sunday, November 5, 2006

African Eugenics Debate Rears Its Head In London "The London School of Economics is embroiled in a row over academic freedom after one of its lecturers published a paper alleging that African states were poor and suffered chronic ill-health because their populations were less intelligent than people in richer countries. Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist, is now accused of reviving the politics of eugenics by publishing the research which concludes that low IQ levels, rather than poverty and disease, are the reason why life expectancy is low and infant mortality high." The Observer (UK) 11/05/06

Envisioning 22nd Century New York Daydreaming about the future of your favorite city is not a new pasttime, but when the city is New York, which on the surface would appear to be at maximum density already, the game becomes both difficult and fascinating. Ten New York architectural firms gave it a shot this month, and the results were as dreamlike as they were diverse. The New York Times 11/04/06

Demagogues & Dollars Election Day looms in the U.S., and when the polls close on Tuesday evening, more than $2 billion will have been spent to urge, cajole, and frighten Americans into voting one way or the other. And all this for a midterm election! What does this orgy of political spending teach us about our democracy? Well, maybe this: "the demagogue's secret is to make himself as stupid as his audience so that they believe they are as clever as he really is." Los Angeles Times 11/04/06

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Where Science And Religion Part Company "Trying to quantify religious experience by counting the number of times a person reports attending church, the most commonly used index of religious involvement, is like trying to measure a sunbeam with a ruler: It may be possible, but the essential character of the experience is lost in the process. It is like trying to quantify the aesthetic experience of listening to a Beethoven symphony by counting the number of times a listener smiles." Chronicle of Higher Education 11/03/06

Casualties In The Culture War "The idea that American historians are refusing to study the illustrious dead — let alone that they are doing so because they are 'anti-American' — is too bizarre for sane people to indulge." InsideHigherEd 11/02/06

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Moral Panic Sounds About Right How do you suck the fun right out of Hallowe'en, a holiday seemingly designed to encourage frivolity? It's easy, really: just sic a bunch of academic types on it. "They find Halloween to be 'a site of some considerable discursive ‘struggle’ between, amongst other things,national identity and globalization, childhood independence and moral panic, carnival and asceticism.'" New York Sun 11/01/06

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