21 September 2010

Readings, 2010.09.20

Monday's Readings

The Economy

Motoko Rich at The New York Times has an article with a self-explanatory title: "For the Unemployed Over 50, Fears of Never Working Again." 

Why is no one rising up in protest against the absurdities of the systems that have created this mess....

Really Most Sincerely Dead

The Deepwater Horizon well has now been declared officially, permanently, irrevocably, and safely dead.  Andrew Moseman at 80beats summarizes the press coverage. 

How much oil was leaked?  No one really knows, but one guess that has been bandied about often enough to become a pseudo-fact is 205.8 million gallons. 

Decimal points always inspire confidence when you want to sound as if you know what you're talking about (see also the article above on long-term unemployment among those over 50).


Razib Khan at Gene Expression (Discover) has an excellent post on the genetics of European gypsies, summarizing the study:
A. Gusmão, et al. (2010), "A genetic historical sketch of European Gypsies: The perspective from autosomal markers," American Journal of Physical Anthropology 141:4.  The article is behind a paywall at Wiley.


Neuroskeptic revisits Bruno Bettelheim's devastatingly wrong-headed "refrigerator mother" theory of autism.

Deric Bownds discusses two recent studies showing that video games do, in fact, change childrens' brains.  The studies are:
Daphne Bavelier, et al. (2010), "Children, Wired: For Better and for Worse," Neuron 67:5.  Freely available for download.

C. Shawn Green, et al. (2010), "Improved Probabilistic Inference as a General Learning Mechanism with Action Video Games," Current Biology 20:17. Behind a paywall at ScienceDirect, where it costs $31.50
The two studies seem to come from the same group.

Joshua Hartshorne at Games with Words explains why he thinks Jonah Lehrer got the science wrong in his recent piece, the "Future of Reading."

Mark Changizi offers "eight half-baked" potential answers to the question of "Why Do We Cry?," and asks for more ideas.  If Changizi had been a typical armchair evolutionary psychologist, he would have been satisfied with just one of these, and gone on to explain why it was obviously true.

Jason Goldman at The Thoughtful Animal writes on "inequity aversion" (a building block of moral thinking) in dogs.  The post gives an excellent summary of:
F. Range, et al. (2009), "The absence of reward induces inequity aversion in dogs," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106:1.  The article is freely available for download.
Tyler Cowen points to an freely-available paper by Elijah Millgram, "Serial hyperspecializers, and how they think."  I haven't read the paper yet (and it looks like something less than a fun read), but there's something in the passage quoted by Cowen that makes me suspect a possible application to the current state of humanities academia.

Jennifer Welsh at 80beats reports on a new study in Science on the part of the brain (the anterior prefrontal cortex) that seems to be involved with a person's ability to estimate the accuracy of his or her decisions and beliefs.  The study is:
Stephen M. Fleming, et al., "Relating Introspective Accuracy to Individual Differences in Brain Structure," Science 329. The article is behind a paywall, and costs $15.00 for 24-hours of access.

Edmund Blair Bolles celebrates the fourth birthday of his blog on the evolution of language, Babel's Dawn, by dissecting the introductory editorial by Thomas Scott-Phillips in a special issue of Journal of Evolutionary Psychology devoted to the 20th anniversary of Steven Pinker and Paul Bloom's paper "Natural Language and Natural Selection."

Max Miller has a short piece at Big Think on language and the brain, as part of the series "Going Mental," which is partly a plug for Big Think's interview with Pinker

Michael Pleyer at A Replicated Typo continues with part 4 of his series "Language, thought, and space," here looking at experiments contrasting speakers of languages that use relative vs. absolute frames of spatial reference.


Most unusual musical headline of the day: "Ein Truthahn für Haydn" ("A Turkey for Haydn"), at derStandard.at.

Manuel Brug at Die Welt interviews René Jacobs about his recent recording of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte.  Jacobs mentions the key influence on his concept of the opera of Egyptologist Jan Assmann's book Die Zauberflöte: Oper und Mysterium.  In reference to the music of the opera, Jacobs says: "Ich finde, Mozart hat da teilweise wie ein Filmmusikkomponist gearbeitet."


Niklas Maak at FAZ.NET has an excellent and fascinating article on the recent "Sammlung Jäger" forgery scandal, asking in particular how the forgers were able to get away with it for so long and so successfully.  The second of two parts; the first part (which I haven't read yet) is here.  I wrote about an earlier report of the scandal here.


B. R. Myers at The Atlantic tells us how awful Jonathan Franzen's new novel Freedom truly is.  In spite of the otherwise apparently uniformly glowing reviews, Oprah's imprimatur, and the fact that Franzen was omnipresent in the German press over the past two weeks, I secretly suspect that Myers is right.  The prose in the quotations that Myers includes is indeed dire, and the comparisons to DeLillo are perhaps indicative.  When I finally persuaded myself to read a novel by DeLillo a couple of years ago (White Noise, I think), I found it pretentious, but cartoon-like (in a bad way) and incredibly dull.  I picked up a pristine hardback copy of Franzen's The Corrections at a yard sale a year ago, but haven't cracked it yet, because I can't help feeling that I'm going to be deeply disappointed by it in just that same way.

Justin E. H. Smith, at 3quarksdaily, tries to come to terms with the Midwest and his memories of his two and a half years there, and ends up with a pretty piece of writing which will, very likley, be more worth your time than an equivalent amount of Franzen or DeLillo.


Kent Anderson at the scholarly kitchen wonders about the blindness that keeps Borders and Barnes & Noble from carrying the iPad and the Kindle.  (I agree that carrying the iPad would make sense for them.  But why should they sell the Kindle, if Amazon is the only source for ebooks that can be read on it?)

Goats on a Roof

Mike Masnick at TechDirt summarizes a story from the WSJ about Lars Johnson, who has claimed trademark on having goats feeding on the grass roof at Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant.


Nostalgia corner:  Matt Young at The Panda's Thumb posts a photo by Paul Fund that received an Honorable Mention in the site's photography contest.  The plant is Scotch Broom (Cytisus scoparius), which dominated the open spaces in which I played when I was growing up in Shelton, Washington.  I didn't know then that it was an " an escaped ornamental that colonizes disturbed areas and competes with conifer seedlings and forage plants," but that certainly makes sense in light of the way it dominated vacant lots and other previously cleared tracts.


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