28 July 2010

Daily Digest, 2010.07.27

Tuesday: more on the Afghan war documents at Wikileaks; film industry thrives while being "decimated" by file sharing; copies v copyrights; more on the new DCMA exemptions; romantic breakups are (literally) like cocaine addiction in the brain; the benefits of perceptual training in older adults; "What Makes Humans Unique? (II)"; PubMed hits 20 million records; weird fauna of the Ediacaran; an interview with Margaret Atwood; Kent Anderson on Clay Shirky's new book; review of a new book by Joseph Margolis; the music of Mieczysław Weinberg; updates on: Hollman Morris's visa, the "new" Caravaggio, and the bogus BitTorrent study; Primer now (well, not quite yet) available free at Google Video; La Règle du jeu (the site, not the film).


Xeni Jardin at BoingBoing interviews Jacob Appelbaum, a volunteer at WikiLeaks who helped prepare the 92,000 documents on the Afghan war that were leaked earlier this week.  He says that there are 15,000 more to come.

Meanwhile, BoingBoing also reports that the Department of Defense Twitter feed (they have only 9k followers) has chimed in on the thread #wikileaks:


Techdirt reports on the mixed messages put out by the film industry, which on the one hand is loudly claiming that file sharing is decimating its business, and on the other hand is reporting record business.  The focus in the linked post is a new report from the UK Film Council, which shows that business in the UK has never been better, at least as far as film goes.

John Bergmayer at Public Knowledge has an incisive piece on the clear legal distinction between copies (physical entities that can be owned, bought, and sold) and copyright (an abstract right that can be licensed, but not bought and sold). This is a distinction that software companies, in particular, are trying continually to blur in claiming that you only "license" the software that you buy.

Three additional stories (of which the one from the EFF is perhaps most informative) on the new DMCA exemptions just granted by the Copyright Office and the Librarian of Congress:

At EFF:  "EFF Wins New Legal Protections for Video Artists, Cell Phone Jailbreakers, and Unlockers"

80beats: "Gvt Makes It Legal to JailBreak iPhones, Takes Other Steps to Limit Copyrights"

: "So What DMCA Exemption Requests Got Rejected?"

Reporting on the video exemption has been somewhat confusing, but the EFF story seems to imply that any short illustrative extracts from DVDs "for the purposes of criticism or comment" are now exempt.  Period. (Some academic-oriented blogs have implied that only educational uses are exempt, but this seems to be wrong.)
EFF also won a groundbreaking new protection for video remix artists currently thriving on Internet sites like YouTube. The new rule holds that amateur creators do not violate the DMCA when they use short excerpts from DVDs in order to create new, noncommercial works for purposes of criticism or comment if they believe that circumvention is necessary to fulfill that purpose. Hollywood has historically taken the view that "ripping" DVDs is always a violation of the DMCA, no matter the purpose.
This should mean, then, that the use of illustrative clips from, say, the DVD of a Kurosawa movie or a documentary biography of a musician could legitimately be included in a critical essay in a blogpost.

Provided one legitimately owns the DVD....


BoingBoing links to a press release at Science Daily touting a new study on the neuroscience of romantic breakups, in which brain imaging shows similarities between romantic rejection and the craving of cocaine. The article is:
Helen E. Fisher, et al. (2010), "Reward, Addiction, and Emotion Regulation Systems Associated with Rejection in Love," Journal of Neurophysiology.
The article is freely available for download, so what are you waiting for?  Go ahead.  You know you want to.

Here is the abstract:
Romantic rejection causes a profound sense of loss and negative affect. It can induce clinical depression and in extreme cases lead to suicide and/or homicide. To begin to identify the neural systems associated with this natural loss state, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to study 10 women and 5 men who had recently been rejected by a partner but reported they were still intensely "in love." Participants alternately viewed a photograph of their rejecting beloved and a photograph of a familiar individual, interspersed with a distraction-attention task. Their responses while looking at their rejecter included love, despair, good, and bad memories, and wondering why this happened. Activation specific to the image of the beloved occurred in areas associated with gains and losses, craving and emotion regulation and included the ventral tegmental area (VTA) bilaterally, ventral striatum, medial and lateral orbitofrontal/prefrontal cortex, and cingulategyrus. Compared with data from happily-in-love individuals, the regional VTA activation suggests that mesolimbic reward/survivalsystems are involved in romantic passion regardless of whether one is happily or unhappily in love. Forebrain activations associated with motivational relevance, gain/loss, cocaine craving, addiction,and emotion regulation suggest that higher-order systems subject to experience and learning also may mediate the rejection reaction.The results show activation of reward systems, previously identifiedby monetary stimuli, in a natural, endogenous, negative emotion state. Activation of areas involved in cocaine addiction may help explain the obsessive behaviors associated with rejection in love.
And that, in a nutshell, is why I'll never do that again.

Deric Bownds points to a new article of interest:
Anne S. Berry, et al. (2010), "The Influence of Perceptual Training on Working Memory in Older Adults," PLoS OneOpen access!

Michael at a replicated typo posts the second installment of "What Makes Humans Unique?," an excellent survey of six candidate theories (not at all mutually exclusive), with an extraordinarily useful bibliography.  In a truncated summary, they are: 1) the capacity for shared point of view (the "we-perspective"); 2) a "decoupled" system of representation (language and other symbolic systems) that can be used for "symbolic, relational and analogical reasoning"; 3) a "theory of mind"; 4) sharing intersubjective frames of reference (it's not immediately clear to me how this differs from number 1); 5) the capacity for "mental time travel"; 6) a "truly human language faculty," with a capacity for merging and recursion.

I was aware of some of the work referred to in this post, but not all of it.  I wish I were in a possession to access all of it, as this is, to me, the most fascinating of all research topics, especially when combined with the closely related topic of the evolution of music, another capacity that appears unique to humans, at least in the infinitely flexible and various forms in which the human capacity for music is expressed.

And, from the front line of research in these topics: 80beats reports a new study showing the same brain regions are activated in a storyteller and his or her listeners (in other words, a concrete demonstration of the "we-perspective").
You may be talking and I may be listening, but our brains look strikingly similar.
That’s the conclusion of a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week. After conducting brain scans of a woman telling a story off the cuff and then of 11 people listening to a recording of her, researchers Greg Stephens and Uri Hasson say they found that the same parts of the brains showed activation at the same time, suggesting a deep connection between talker and listener.
The study is:
Greg J. Stephens, et al. (2010), "Speaker-listener neural coupling underlies successful communication," Proceedings of the National Academy of SciencesFree for download!
Here is the abstract:
Verbal communication is a joint activity; however, speech production and comprehension have primarily been analyzed as independent processes within the boundaries of individual brains. Here, we applied fMRI to record brain activity from both speakers and listeners during natural verbal communication. We used the speaker's spatiotemporal brain activity to model listeners’ brain activity and found that the speaker's activity is spatially and temporally coupled with the listener's activity. This coupling vanishes when participants fail to communicate. Moreover, though on average the listener's brain activity mirrors the speaker's activity with a delay, we also find areas that exhibit predictive anticipatory responses. We connected the extent of neural coupling to a quantitative measure of story comprehension and find that the greater the anticipatory speaker–listener coupling, the greater the understanding. We argue that the observed alignment of production- and comprehension-based processes serves as a mechanism by which brains convey information.


PubMed, the freely available and essential database of biological and medical research literature, has just reached 20 million entries.  Duncan Hull at O'Really considers the pluses (it's free and essential!) and minuses (too much rubbish, too narrowly focused, missing DOIs (a problem I've encountered frequently), and mostly abstracts only).

Sean Carroll (that's Sean B., the celebrated Evo-Devo biologist, not Sean M., the celebrated physicist) has a nice introduction in The New York Times to the weird and wonderful fossils of the Ediacaran, the period immediately preceding the Cambrian, 630 to 542 million years ago.  Includes a short slide show of Ediacaran fossils, which, however, doesn't really give a sense of the full range of weirdness and wonder in these fossils. For a good introduction and further links, see "Ediacara biota" at Wikipedia, where one can find (among many others) this image of the classic ("iconic," as Wikipedia puts it) Dickinsonia costata:


The Globe and Mail interviews Margaret Atwood about her novels Oryx and Crake (which I recently read and have referred to several times in this blog) and The Year of the Flood (which I haven't read yet, but am putting at the top of my list).

Kent Anderson at The Scholarly Kitchen discusses Clay Shirky's Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, a book that is going on my reading list.

A review by Paul Guyer at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews of Joseph Margolis, The Cultural Space of the Arts and the Infelicities of Reductionism.

I can't pretend that the review is fun to read: it is a fine example of the kind of academic review that assumes you already know the framework of the debate and so doesn't bother to present that framework in any systematic or even coherent way. 

But if you're interested at all in the question of the "work" of art (and I have done quite a bit of research and writing on the topic) then you should read the review.  I haven't read any of Margolis's writings, but if I get back to this topic (and it is, in fact, closely intertwined with the question of copyright, among other things), then I probably should.


David Fanning has a fascinating extended essay at signandsight on the composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg (also Moisei Samuilovich Vainberg), who is new to me. Weinberg was born in Warsaw, fled at the time of the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939, first to Belarus, then Tashkent, and finally to Moscow in 1943, where he remained for the rest of his life (he died in 1996). He was a close friend of Shostakovich, whose influence is evident in Weinberg's music, although Weinberg has a clear personal voice.  Fanning makes a persuasive case for Weinberg's music, and I'm planning on digging further.

Quite a lot is available on YouTube. Here is a recording of the first movement of Weinberg's Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, op. 43 (1958), from the premiere by Mstislav Rostropovich and the Moscow Philharmonic under Kirill Kondrashin in 1964.

And here is David Fanning talking about Weinberg:

Weinberg's music is feature at the Bregenzer Festspiele, going on right now. The program of orchestral works is here.  His operas The Portrait and The Passenger (Die Passagierin) are also being performed (it is the first staged performance of the latter), and a symposium on Weinberg is being held this coming weekend.  Wish I could be there.

Here is a report on The Passenger from ORF (auf Deutsch, but with lots of rehearsal clips).

Shirley Apthorp reviews the production of Die Passagieren at FT.com.  She begins:
A forgotten opera about the Holocaust, penned by protagonists who experienced its horrors, is the astonishing find of this year’s Bregenz Festival.


Its story, the largely autobiographical narrative of survivor Zofia Posmysz, is grim and complex. Told largely from the perspective of perpetrator Lisa, an SS officer at Auschwitz, it is a tale of guilt and denial, of victim and oppressor, lies and truth, of fear, courage and love. Weinberg’s opera is superbly crafted. In style, his music recalls Shostakovich, though the reverse could also be true – the two composers were mutual admirers. Weinberg quotes effortlessly from Russian and Polish sacred music, jazz, Johann Strauss and Bach, borrowing descriptive elements to serve a story told with awful clarity.
Apthorp gives it 5 stars.  A wrenching conclusion to her review:
That Die Passagierin had to wait so long to see the light of day is tragic. Two days before his death, Weinberg told librettist Alexander Medwedew that he regretted never having heard his opera. To comfort him, Medwedew promised to listen twice as hard to the premiere – once for himself, once for the composer.
Medwedew was too ill to attend last weekend’s premiere. He died on Monday. The onus is on us to listen now for both of them.


Some updates on stories that I've covered here recently.

The U. S. State Department has now reversed it's decision denying a visa to Colombian journalist Hollman Morris, who has a Nieman fellowship at Harvard. Brad Wittwer at Miller-McCune reports, following up on the story at Miller-McCune that I mentioned last week.

Last Tuesday, I pointed to the story of a new Caravaggio attribution, a painting of "The Martyrdom of St. Lawrence," now in the possession of the Jesuit church in Rome. The article on the new attribution originally appeared in the Vatican paper, L'Osservatore Romano on 18 July. None of the stories I have seen so far on this attribution link to the original article by Lydia Salviucci Insolera,"Un nuovo Caravaggio: Il 'martirio di san Lorenzo' rivenuto a Roma offre l'occasione per analizzare il rapporto dell'artista con i gesuiti" (the link is to a text-only version of the story; so far as I can see, no pdf version of the original story is available—but I may be wrong, as the Vatican site is confusingly organized).

The BBC and Associated Pres report that the painting has now been unveiled to the public—and the Vatican is now backing away from the attribution.

Here is a photo of the full painting, with someone unhelpfully standing in front of it with an outstretched arm.  But we take what we can get:

Yesterday I pointed to a TechDirt post on the dubious statistics in a recent "study" of the proportion of illegal content in BitTorrents (the claim was that 99.7% of content is illegal).

links to an analysis by TorrentFreak showing that the statistics are, indeed, bogus (and that the research was outright incompetent); the numbers in the study seem to stem from a bogus tracker, something that the author of the study seems not to have realized.  The study is from the Internet Commerce Security Laboratory (ICSL) and you can download it here.


Shane Carruth, writer and director of the wonderful low-budget and low-tech time-travel-paradox sci-fi flick Primer, has now made the film freely available to view at Google video.  Watch it! (via io9 via Dr. Mike)

NB: the video is ostensibly here, but as of Wednesday morning the video is still "not available."  Perhaps still being processed?

I've just run across the site of the French journal La Règle du jeu (a name with great resonance for any film buff), which has the subtitle Littérature, Philosophie, Politique, Arts.  I haven't had time to investigate it, but it seems worth a closer look.  Several current headline articles (including this one) deal with the case of Croatian writer Pedrag Matvejevitch, who is under threat of going to prison for openly expressing opinions that the government of Croatia dislikes.  See also the cross-posting of the English-language open letter on this case by Bernard-Henri Lévy at the HuffingtonPost.
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