June 2011 Archives

I had this exchange on Twitter about the death of actor Peter Falk:

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I know that it was just a bot, but I still had to laugh. RIP Mr Falk--your art lives on.

The Power of Open talks about the value of Creative Commons licensing over restrictive copyrights. "The world has experienced an explosion of openness," they write:

From individual artists opening their creations for input from others, to governments requiring publicly funded works be available to the public, both the spirit and practice of sharing is gaining momentum and producing results.

"As we look ahead," they continue, "the field of openness is approaching a critical mass of adoption that could result in sharing becoming a default standard for the many works that were previously made available only under the all-rights-reserved framework:"

Even more exciting is the potential increase in global welfare from the use of Creative Commons' tools and the increasing relevance of openness to the discourse of culture, education and innovation policy.

We hope that The Power of Open inspires you to examine and embrace the practice of open licensing so that your contributions to the global intellectual commons can provide their greatest benefit to all people.

Creative Commons provided "a free, public, and standardized infrastructure that creates a balance between the reality of the Internet and the reality of copyright laws:"

The combination of our tools and our users is a vast and growing digital commons, a pool of content that can be copied, distributed, edited, remixed, and built upon, all within the boundaries of copyright law. We've worked with copyright experts around the world to make sure our licenses are legally solid, globally applicable, and responsive to our users' needs.

Interested parties can download a PDF or purchase a printed copy to read explanations of each type of license. I've opted for the CC BY-SA (Attribution-ShareAlike) license on this blog, the two parts of which are described like this:

Attribution -- You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.

ShareAlike -- If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you must distribute your contributions under the same license as the original.

"The Beer Archaeologist" (Smithsonian) discusses Patrick McGovern, an academic visitor to Delaware's Dogfish Head brewpub:

"Dr. Pat," as he's known at Dogfish Head, is the world's foremost expert on ancient fermented beverages, and he cracks long-forgotten recipes with chemistry, scouring ancient kegs and bottles for residue samples to scrutinize in the lab. He has identified the world's oldest known barley beer (from Iran's Zagros Mountains, dating to 3400 B.C.), the oldest grape wine (also from the Zagros, circa 5400 B.C.) and the earliest known booze of any kind, a Neolithic grog from China's Yellow River Valley brewed some 9,000 years ago.

Widely published in academic journals and books, McGovern's research has shed light on agriculture, medicine and trade routes during the pre-biblical era.

Scientific director of the University of Pennsylvania's Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health, McGovern comments:

"I don't know if fermented beverages explain everything, but they help explain a lot about how cultures have developed," he says. "You could say that kind of single-mindedness can lead you to over-interpret, but it also helps you make sense of a universal phenomenon."

McGovern, the piece continues, "believes that booze helped make us human:"

In what might be called the "beer before bread" hypothesis, the desire for drink may have prompted the domestication of key crops, which led to permanent human settlements. Scientists, for instance, have measured atomic variations within the skeletal remains of New World humans; the technique, known as isotope analysis, allows researchers to determine the diets of the long-deceased. When early Americans first tamed maize around 6000 B.C., they were probably drinking the corn in the form of wine rather than eating it, analysis has shown.

Maybe even more important than their impact on early agriculture and settlement patterns, though, is how prehistoric potions "opened our minds to other possibilities" and helped foster new symbolic ways of thinking that helped make humankind unique, McGovern says. "Fermented beverages are at the center of religions all around the world. [Alcohol] makes us who we are in a lot of ways." He contends that the altered state of mind that comes with intoxication could have helped fuel cave drawings, shamanistic medicine, dance rituals and other advancements.

It's an interesting thesis--certainly worth discussing over a pint.

In "Policing the Police," The Atlantic publicizes apps from OpenWatch that surreptitiously record audio and video. Designed for documenting the actions of public officials, the apps OpenWatch Recorder and Cop Recorder are justified by Alexis Madrigal this way:

"If we aren't living in a surveillance state run by the government, we're certainly conducting a huge surveillance experiment on each other."

He also asserts that "in some states -- Massachusetts and Illinois among them -- it is illegal to use a recording device to document a police action"--but I wonder what the ACLU would say about that...

Over at PopMatters, Eric Klinger and Jason Mendelsohn have a long-running feature called Counterbalance that examines discs from the rock-and-roll canon; for their latest outing, they venture into the jazz realm to take on the 1959 Miles Davis/John Coltrane classic Kind of Blue. Mendelsohn gets in the piece's best lines:

I think my copy of Kind of Blue is broken--no matter how loud I play it, this record still makes me want to take a nap. Am I doing something wrong? Should I try turning the volume up even higher? [...]

I have a healthy respect for the genre and the talents required to play it properly [but] I've never been able to hear it. I don't dislike it and I don't find it intimidating, but there is still a disconnect in my brain that is unable to push my appreciation for jazz into anything more than just that.

Likening Kind of Blue to the proverbial Bible in everyone's house, Mendelsohn then calls the disc "boring:"

It's well-respected, immediately identifiable, everyone has a copy, everyone says they love it, but no one ever really listens to it. It's on your shelf to make you look good and because you want to represent yourself as a pious music fan with wide-ranging tastes.

Klinger responds that "even if you're right that most people are only pretending to like Kind of Blue because it makes them look suave and sophisticated, that still doesn't detract from the brilliance of this album:"

Miles brought together some of the best players in the business, and their styles meshed together perfectly. Pianist Bill Evans' more impressionistic touch works surprisingly well with Coltrane's more aggressive approach. And through it all there's Miles, cool, never flashy, and always pursuing a vision that defies what's expected of him. Kind of Blue wasn't the first time Davis changed jazz, and it wasn't the last, but it provides a perfect entry point into this music. And even if only a percentage of people dig deeper as a result of Kind of Blue, I'm calling that a victory.

The piece dealt more with jazz as a whole than with Kind of Blue in particular, a flaw which I hope is remedied in their upcoming discussions of Coltrane's A Love Supreme and Davis' Bitches Brew.

Jonathan Bernstein writes about silly liberals and their so-called facts, sarcastically berating conservatives for their insistence on tax cuts and resistance to tax increases--it's because of the evidence:

Bill Clinton's tax hikes in 1993 pretty clearly caused the 2001 recession, and despite the heroic efforts of Republicans, the hangover from those tax hikes moderated the otherwise exceptional growth rates of the Bush years. I mean, the Bush years between recession and even bigger recession. Which we'll get to later.

So why did the economy grow so fast in the 1990s? No question about that -- it grew because of the Reagan tax cuts of 1981. Now, granted, those tax cuts couldn't prevent a recession in 1990-1991, which was caused by Clinton's tax increases in 1993, but the effects of the Reagan tax cuts kicked back in again around 1994 and resulted in several years of excellent growth.

Now, what about that 1982 tax increase? That's easy: if we never speak about it, then it didn't really happen, and it can't really affect economic growth. [...] If you've understood everything so far, it should be pretty easy to deduce why the economy fell into another recession in late 2007. George W. Bush was term-limited, and the odds were high that Barack Obama would soon be president and usher in an era of unprecedented tax increases. Faced with that inevitability, no wonder the economy collapsed! The Obama tax increases were devastating, and businesses in 2007 were helpless in their wake, rippling backwards through time.

If only actual conservative logic about taxes was less nonsensical than this parody...

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I won't be at the starting line of the Western States 100 tomorrow--such insanity may never be a part of my life, although I can't quite bring myself to rule it out completely--but here's a description of and a trailer for a film entitled "Unbreakable: The Western States 100" about the "amazing journey" of last year's race:

Hal Koerner, two time defending Western States champion, and running store entrepreneur from Ashland, Oregon. Geoff Roes, undefeated at the 100-mile distance, an organic chef from Juneau, Alaska. Anton Krupicka, undefeated in every ultramarathon he has ever started, a graduate student living in Boulder, Colorado. Killian Jornet, the young mountain runner and two time Ultra-trail du Mont-Blanc champion, from Spain.

Here's a clip of Geoff Roes (who is currently 8-and-0 at the 100-mile distance) making a dramatic comeback to win last year's race:

That's some real-life running drama there--I can't wait to see the film!

Kim Brooks' piece at Salon asking "Is it time to kill the liberal arts degree?" contains my Quote of the Day:

There were courses I took in college, courses in Renaissance literature and the anthropology of social progress and international relations of the Middle East and, of course, writing, that will, in all likelihood, never earn me a steady paycheck or a 401K, but which I would not trade for anything; there were lectures on Shakespeare and Twain and Joyce that I still remember, that I've dreamt about and that define my sensibility as a writer and a reader and a human being.

After the debacle with his last campaign slogan, Rick Santorum has switched to a new one in conjunction with his official announcement this morning that he's "in it to win:"

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ThinkProgress lists Santorum's 12 most offensive statements, reminding us that his "courage" is largely the craven demonization of gays, feminists, and Muslims.

I'm so impressed.

There's a surfeit of silliness on the Right, attempting to revise history so that former half-term governor Palin's mangling of Paul Revere's ride somehow becomes a little less like word salad. Andrew Sullivan nails it:

One of the most pernicious and dangerous features of Palin is her clinical refusal to understand reality, to accept error, to acknowledge when the facts she has cited are not actually facts, but delusions. And her vanity and pathologies are so deep she will insist that black is white until her minions actually find a source to prove it.

She's dangerous; she's shrewd; she's an exhibitionist. But she is also, we must keep reminding ourselves, a farce. What worries me about this political leader incapable of telling fantasy apart from fact is that, in a long and deep recession, someone who can lie that readily and manipulate religious and cultural resentment as well as she does is a danger. Not just to America, but to the world.

Do you remember the conservative accusation that New York City workers deliberately slowed down blizzard cleanup? An investigation into the allegations "found no evidence of an organized slowdown:"

In fact, the report found, Mr. Halloran had no evidence for his accusation, and his account of conversations with two workers differed sharply from what the workers told investigators.

"In toto," the report said, "Mr. Halloran's information about city employee statements contributed no actual evidence about a possible slowdown."

H/t to Oliver Willis, who summarizes:

It's almost as if conservatives, Republicans, and the conservative media pushed a fraudulent story simply to kick unions in the balls as part of the decades-long attempt to bust unions and screw over working-class people. Wait, that's exactly what happened.

Inconceivable!

Today is American Hiking Society's National Trails Day:

Through National Trails Day, American Hiking Society introduces people to a wide array of trail activities such as hiking, biking, paddling, horseback riding, trail running, and bird watching. Held every first Saturday of June, National Trails Day brings together people who enjoy trails and the outdoors to participate in trail work projects, educational workshops, trail dedication ceremonies and gear demonstrations.

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The venerable Loeb Classical Library (website, Wikipedia) is, though perpetually significant, only periodically newsworthy outside an education setting. Christopher Shea praised the series, but http://www.slate.com/id/2147782/ Emily Wilson expresses some doubts about the pedagogical utility:

I still wonder whether we really should be welcoming these splendid new translations with open arms. I, for one, would be extremely wary of recommending a Loeb in an undergraduate class in which the students were expected to read the original Latin or Greek. The temptation to rely too heavily on the translation would be all the greater now that the translations are so much better than they used to be.

Tracy Lee Simmons discusses the Loebs in the pages of the Weekly Standard, observing that "within the English-speaking world, they are deemed an essential accouterment to the life of the mind." A.N. Wilson writes about his experiences wrestling with Latin and Greek, noting that those languages' inscriptions and quotations are "not merely part of our mental furniture [but] also a vital part of our shared intellectual and spiritual inheritance." The publication of the Loeb Classical Library's 500th volume [the series is currently up to 513, with six more due in September], he writes, "is a cause for tremendous celebration:"

It means that all the great works of classical Latin and Greek, and many of the works of Late Antiquity, are now published in a scholarly text with a good translation on the opposite page.

Just as the world has decided it can get along without classical literature, we are in a position to read nearly all of it.

The NYT notes that the new Loeb translation "no longer tiptoes around Plato's writings on homoerotic love or cleans up Aristophanes' bathroom humor:"

For years college professors have shared the earthiness of these writers with their students, or at least challenged them to learn their Latin and Greek and figure it out for themselves. More precise English translations have been around for a while from other publishers, and the less-squeamish French were doing accurate translations as early as the 1920's. But the tidy Loeb volumes were the last bastion of Anglo-American restraint, and their conversion represents how the definition of what is mainstream has changed.

The LCL attracts me greatly, except for two factors: the cost of those little red and green volumes, and the fact that I don't (yet) know either Greek or Latin. These 1912 comments from James Loeb about the Library's purpose and scope are, perhaps, more relevant than ever:

It has always seemed to me a pity that the young people of our generation should grow up with such scant knowledge of Greek and Latin literature, its wealth and variety, its freshness and its imperishable quality. [...]

These books will appeal not only to scholars who care for a uniform series of the best texts, and to college graduates who wish to renew and enlarge their knowledge with the help of text and translation, but also to those who know neither Greek nor Latin, and yet desire to reap the fruits of ancient genius and wisdom. Some readers, too, may be enticed by the text printed opposite the translation to gather an elementary knowledge of Greek and Latin, thus greatly enhancing the interest of their reading...

A return to German, which I studied briefly in high school, would be a quicker route to becoming bilingual (and would increase my appreciation of Bach, Beethoven, Mahler, Schubert, and Wagner), but Latin strikes me as being far more useful in making me a better writer. I might wind up working through Wheelock's Latin on my own, partly due to my natural autodidact tendency and partly to avoid this sort of experience:

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