18 September 2010

Consumer Schubert

I'm about to head over to the Atrium Mall on Route 9 (the one with the Borders) to accompany Maria Termini in a short program of Schubert songs. Here's our set list:
1. Heidenröslein

2. Frühlingsglaube

3. Wanderers Nachtlied

4. Ständchen

5. Lob der Tränen

6. Lied der Mignon

7. Du bist die Ruh

8. Gretchen am Spinnrade

9. Ave Maria
Pretty much a "greatest hits," as you can see. 

But it has been a great pleasure to revisit these songs, to work on them in a more serious way than I have in the past, and to coach them.  As hackneyed as some of them may seem, they are all rich and perfect jewels, in which every note counts (which makes them difficult to play well).

The set is short, and we may repeat a couple (we are, after all, providing background music for shopping).

Doing our part to promote consumerism and the economic recovery.

It's not doing much for my economic recovery, unfortunately, as they're not paying us and we're not allowed to take tips.  So I probably won't be doing much shopping myself.

But it should be fun anyway.
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Readings, 2010.09.17

Friday's Readings


Chris Hedges at TruthDig has a blistering manifesto on the how the corporate state has undermined and co-opted democracy: "Do Not Pity the Democrats."  The piece is a rant and reads like one:  but it's a rant that I think is largely true (although I think that it is difficult for those with relatively safe positions within current institutional structures to see that it is).

Via the level-headed John Wilkins at Evolving Thoughts, who goes on to explain how Hedges' points also apply to Australia.

And as an example of how money utterly corrupts democracy, read Jane Mayer's disturbing profile in The New Yorker of "libertarian" billionaires Charles and David Koch, who spend untold millions in a deeply cynical agenda to promote their own corporate ends.  I will never again knowingly buy or use anything produced by any of the Koch industries (and I am going to do my best to inform myself about this), and I urge you to do the same.  That means no more Dixie Cups, for one thing.


Emily Badger at Miller-McCune Online writes on the movement to institute a "Do Not Track" option for those who wish not to have companies track their browsing in order to provide targeted marketing.


Elizabeth Strickland at 80beats summarizes what climate scientists have to say about the summer of 2010.  It was hot.  Very hot.  In fact (quoting ScienceNOW):
According to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the first 8 months of 2010 is the warmest such January-to-August period in climate records stretching back 131 years.


Via Mind Hacks:  An outstanding article by John Donvan and Caren Zukcer at The Atlantic, "Autism's First Child," on Donald Gray Triplett, the initial case that led Leo Kanner to formulate the notion of autism as a distinct condition, after meeting Donald in 1938. Donald, now 77, still lives in his home town of Forest, Mississippi, and is by every appearance happy and content, playing golf, driving, and traveling the world, accepted by and integrated into his community.  A fascinating story, beautifully told.  Highly recommended.

And an outstanding post by Neuroskeptic on a new study that examines the relative roles of deletions in two genes in the case of two brothers with autism:  "A Tale of Two Genes." The article is:
Alistair T. Pagnamenta, et al. (2010), "Characterization of a Family with Rare Deletions in CNTNAP5 and DOCK4 Suggests Novel Risk Loci for Autism and Dyslexia," Biological Psychiatry 68:4. The article is currently freely available for download.


Scott Horton at Harper's Magazine poses six questions to Julian Young, author of Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography, a book that has gone onto my "to read" list. My musical readers will be especially interested in Young's claim to have discovered precisely what led to the final break between Nietzsche and Wagner:
Wagner had long disapproved of Nietzsche’s close friendships with men—love he held could only exist between the sexes—and by 1877 he was offended by the developing anti-Wagnerian tenor of Nietzsche’s thought. To Nietzsche’s doctor he wrote that the cause of the patient’s many health problems–which included near blindness–was “unnatural debauchery, with indications of pederasty.” His former disciple was, in other words, (a) incipiently gay and (b) going blind because he masturbated. Somehow Nietzsche learned not only of the existence of the letter but of its the exact wording. That was the “deadly insult.”
What Young has to say in general about Nietzsche and music is extremely interesting.  And the interview even makes me want to read Nietzsche (Vonds take note).

Young has made recordings of 17 compositions by Nietzsche available here.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has just posted a revised version of the article "The Language of Thought Hypothesis" by Murat Aydede.  The LOTH "postulates that thought and thinking take place in a mental language."


Alexander Rehding has a guest post at Amusicology which some may find enlightening, on the "birthday of tonality, the 200th anniversary of the use of the term "la tonalité" by Alexandre Choron in the "Sommaire de l'histoire de la musique" at the beginning of Choron and François-Joseph Fayolle's Dictionnaire de musiciens.

From the Using-Mozart's-Name-in-Vain Department:  The Amadeus Music Awards, recently given out in Vienna.  The recipients were not....how can I put this?....by and large associated with those parts of the music world that the name of the award might lead you to expect.... (reported at derStandard.at).


Wieland Freund at Welt Online reviews the German translation of the "Urfassung" (the one typed on a 40-meter-long roll of paper) of Jack Kerouac's On the Road.


Wolfgang Jean Stock at FAZ.NET reviews the exhibition "Geschichte der Rekonstruktion – Konstruktion der Geschichte" at the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich (through 31 October), on the history of architectural reconstruction, with 300 examples from around the world.  It sounds fascinating; I wish I could see it.
Eine Kopie ist kein Betrug, ein Faksimile keine Fälschung, ein Abguss kein Verbrechen und eine Rekonstruktion keine Lüge.

Daniel Lende at Neuroanthropology examines various theories of why gonorrhea is called "the clap."  The most painful of these:
A strong possibility is because of a once-prescribed treatment: clapping the penis hard, for example, with a book against a table or a swift clap with the hands.

Those of you who follow this blog regularly will know that I'm always partial to free software that allows me to play with language or numbers.  The Natural Language Toolkit was one example (see my Daily Digest for 23 July), and Frink was another (see my posts here, here, and here).

On Friday, I downloaded and played with eSpeak, an open-source program for speech synthesis.  eSpeak is a command-line program with versions for Windows, Linux, and OS X.  It's not difficult to install on OS X (you just have to move a one file and one folder to the correct directories).  The syntax is very command-line like, but it works and it's fun to play with.  Several regional accents are built in.  Here is the first sentence of Pride and Prejudice read in a synthesized Scottish accent in a whisper:

The command to create this file was: speak -ven-sc+whisper -f austen -w scottishausten.wav

This is the first time I've tried to embed a sound-file of my own in a web post.  I'm using SoundCloud, which worked in my test run; but let me know if you have any trouble.  SoundCloud requires Flash, and if you're using a Flash blocker (as I do) you may need to enter SoundCloud into the list of exceptions (as I did).


der Herumtreiber
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17 September 2010

Supernatural Poodles

Sentence of the Day

From Clifford A. Pickover, The Math Book (Sterling, 2009), p. 214, the entry on "Prince Rupert's Problem."
Prince Rupert [of the Rhine, 1619–1682] was an inventor, artist, and soldier. He was fluent in virtually all the major European languages and excelled at mathematics. Soldiers were frightened of the large poodle he took with him during battles, believing that it had supernatural powers.
As we can see, Prince Rupert modeled his appearance after that of his poodle:

(Image from Wikipedia)

In honor of my favorite poodle (no, my favorite dog....no, my favorite being), Peecy Nork.
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Readings, 2010.09.16

Thursday's Readings


A new study in Cognition suggests that religion may bias visual attention; see the summary at BPS Research Digest.

This may be one of those studies where you want to read the data and analysis, not just the conclusions, which smell overstated to me.


According to a new study led by Robin Dunbar at Oxford, falling in love will (on average) cost you two of your closest friends.  Steve Connor reports at The Independent.

Research Tools

A new open source project that looks to be of potential interest to anyone who does archival work, Scripto:
Scripto is a light-weight, open source, tool that will allow users to contribute transcriptions to online documentary projects.  The tool will include a versioning history and full set of editorial controls, so that project staff [can] manage public contributions.
Scripto is based on MediaWiki, the platform used by Wikipedia. Some technical details are here.  There's not much to look at so far, but the project bears watching.


It has been reported in the Austrian press that Cecila Bartoli will take over leadership of the Salzburg Pfingstfestspiele in 2012, from current director Riccardo Muti.  See the brief report in Der Standard.

This year is the 200th anniversary of Chopin's birth.  Chopin's first performances outside of Poland were in Vienna, during visits to the city in the years 1829 to 1831. The Polish government has now donated a Chopin memorial to the city of Vienna. The artist is Krzysztof M. Bednarski; the memorial will be in the Schweizer Garten (about a five minute walk from where I used to live), and will be unveiled in November. (Der Standard.)

Thursday was the 33rd anniversary of the death of Maria Callas, who died on 16 September 1977 at the age of 53. Alex Ross offers this clip from a live performance of La Traviata at La Scala in 1955, which he describes in his new book, Listen to This.  He calls what happens at 3:30 ("Amami Alfredo") "one of the great moments in recorded music."  I may have to agree (and I say this as a former Callas basher).

And from perhaps the greatest example of operatic acting ever filmed: the end of act II of Tosca, with Callas and Tito Gobbi at Covent Garden in 1964 (but you should watch the whole thing, because this clip doesn't show how extraordinary Gobbi was; some other clips of him from this performance are available on YouTube, and the whole of Act II is available on DVD).  If Callas's chest voice at "È morto! Or gli perdono!" doesn't give you chills, you'd better check your pulse.

German Zombies

Especially for Dr. Mike: Patrick Bethke at sueddeutsche.de reviews the German zombie film Rammbock, directed by Marvin Kren.  The bumbling hero, Michael (no, really), returns to Berlin from Vienna to find that a virus has turned everyone into bloodthirsty flesh-eating zombies ("Die san total durchdraht alle, die wolln bäßn"—roughly: "They're all completely nuts, they wanna bite.")

Mozart lovers should also take note:
Bis auf einen heillos verirrten Schluss, in dem Kren allen Ernstes eine Zombie-Liebesszene mit dem Lacrimosa aus Mozarts Requiem unterlegt, wandelt "Rammbock" schlafwandlerisch sicher zwischen Momenten intensiven klaustrophobischen Horrors und absurder Komik.


Douglas Coupland at The New York Times offers "A Dictionary of the Near Future," including terms such as Airport-Induced Identity Dysphoria, Blank-Collar Workers, Dimanchophobia ("Fear of Sundays, a condition that reflects fear of unstructured time"), Karokeal Amnesia, Limited Pool Romantic Theory, Rosenwald's Theorem ("The belief that all the wrong people have self-esteem"), and many more.

From Tom the Dancing BugGod Man vs. Science Hero (who looks remarkably like Stephen Hawking).

And, via Mark Frauenfelder at Boing Boing, the ant death spiral.

A description from The Ant Room (quoted by Frauenfelder):
This is one of my favorite things about ants — the ant death spiral. Actually, it’s a circular mill, first described in army ants by Schneirla (1944). A circle of army ants, each one following the ant in front, becomes locked into a circular mill. They will continue to circle each other until they all die.

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16 September 2010

Readings, 2010.09.15

Wednesday's Readings

Making a Living Creatively

Julie Bosman at the Arts Beat blog at the NYT reports that Scribner is trying out an "iTunes model" for writers, making the essays of author Chuck Klosterman individually available through Amazon, Apple, and BN.com for 99 cents.  But we don't need Scribner to act as middleman to do that, do we?

Mike Masnick at TechDirt reports on yet another study showing that musicians are, in fact, financially benefiting from the world of digital distribution (including file sharing). In other words, musicians are actually making more money than they use to. It's the record companies that are crying "panic" over lost revenue...


"When You Realize that Copyright Law Violates Free Speech Rights, You Begin to Recognize The Problems." Mike Masnick at TechDirt explains.  For those of you who haven't been following the story, Russia's recent use of IP law to stifle dissent is a good illustration.

And Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing reports on the draconian (and idiotic) consequences of the Digital Economy Act rammed through Parliament by the dying Labour government without debate just hours before the election.


Doctorow also writes "The US Corn Refiners Association has petitioned the FDA for permission to change the name 'High Fructose Corn Syrup' to the much more innocuous-sounding 'Corn Sugars'."  I guess they must finally have gotten around to reading Omnivore's Dilemma.

Jonathan Freedland at The Guardian is appalled by Lithuania's suppression of it's role in the Holocaust:
In my travels, visiting a whole clutch of sites, I did not encounter one that gave a direct, explicit account of this bald, harsh truth: that Lithuania's Jews were victims of one of the highest killing rates in Nazi Europe, more than 90%, chiefly because the local population smoothed the Germans' path. Indeed, they began killing Jews on June 22 1941, before Hitler's men had even arrived.

Sam Geall at New Humanist (tagline "Ideas for Godless People") has an excellent article on Chinese science, and the debunkers who risk life and limb (literally, in some cases) to call to account the pseudoscience and plagiarism that seem epidemic:  "Lies, damn lies and Chinese science."


The chocolate genome:  Rachel Ehrenberg at Science News reports "Competing teams announce impending completion of cacao DNA sequence."  One of the teams combines the efforts of the USDA, IBM, and ... Mars, Inc. 

It sounds like the other team has a more detailed draft.


Brain Posts reports on a Frontiers in Neuroscience lecture earlier this week by Walter Kaye, M.D. on the neurocircuitry of anorexia.

Brain Posts also writes on a new study out of Hong Kong on the common features in brain anatomy between autism and schizophrenia.


John Kenney at the L.A. Times has a very funny piece, "Jonathan Franzen, world's greatest writer, I guess."  Here is the first paragraph:
Once in a generation, or perhaps once every two generations, or twice in one generation, or even something longer than a generation time-wise (be it once or twice), a writer comes along and fundamentally changes not merely fiction or literature or the way words are linked together, but society and cognitive behavior and our understanding of time and sporting events, television and life on Earth and even the way animals mate and how humans use a debit or rewards card. That man is Jonathan Franzen.
Although you didn't read about it here, Franzen was everywhere in the German-language press last week (and still this week), turning up nearly as often as Thilo Sarrazin.  (Franzen also has a new book.)

Aditi Muralidharan at Text Mining and the Digital Humanities summarizes (and critiques) the paper "Extracting Social Networks from Literary Fiction," recently presented at the conference of the Association for Computational Linguistics.


Irony-challenged Calvin College has canceled a scheduled performance by the band "The New Pornographers," because of the band's name.
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15 September 2010

Remembering Bill Evans

The great jazz pianist Bill Evans died 30 years ago today, on 15 September 1980, at the age of 51.  Doug Ramsey has an appreciation in The Wall Street Journal.

I heard Evans live once, at a time when I was too inexperienced and probably too much still in the grip of "reverse racism" in regard to jazz to fully appreciate what I was hearing.  I knew Evans's playing at that time almost solely from Kind of Blue, and I loved that.  And yet I had no concept then of his range or of the depth and breadth of his influence, and no sense that he ranked among the greatest players in jazz.  Since then I have come to understand how his playing changed and enriched the pianistic language of jazz:  he changed how the piano could be played, just as Coltrane changed how the tenor sax could be played, and Miles Davis the trumpet.

Unfortunately, all I remember of the live performance is that he looked terribly strung out...which he may well have been, or it may just have been the lugubrious lighting and the way he bent his head so deeply down toward the keyboard.  But that doesn't take away from his extraordinary accomplishment as a pianist, something I have been happy to become better acquainted with over the past few years (and I'm still working at it).

The sound quality on most of the Evans videos on YouTube is pretty awful, and some of the pianos are out of tune, so it's hard to choose one clip as representative.  Not quite at random, here he is in 1979 playing "My Romance":

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Readings, 2010.09.14

Tuesday's Readings

Open Access

Matthew Nisbet at Big Think points to Transforming Scholarly Publishing through Open Access: A Bibliography, containing over 1,100 items. The bibliography is available as a free pdf, or as a paperback.  It looks extraordinarily useful.

Creative Rights

Boing Boing reports that filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard has contributed €1000 to the defense of James Climent, a French citizen accused of illegally downloading 13,788 mp3s.  A commenter on the Boing Boing post has contributed an English translation of Godard's statement:
« Je suis contre Hadopi, bien sûr. Il n’y a pas de propriété intellectuelle. Je suis contre l’héritage, par exemple. Que les enfants d’un artiste puissent bénéficier des droits de l’œuvre de leurs parents, pourquoi pas jusqu’à leur majorité... Mais après, je ne trouve pas ça évident que les enfants de Ravel touchent des droits sur le Boléro... »

I am against Hadopi [the French internet-copyright law, or its attendant agency], of course. There is no such thing as intellectual property. I'm against the inheritance [of works], for example. An artist's children could benefit from the copyright of their parents' works, say,
until they reach the age of majority... But afterward, it's not clear to me why Ravel's children should get any income from Bolero...
In my first ever comment to Boing Boing, I point out that Ravel didn't have any children...indeed, he is not known (according to Wikipedia) to have had any sexual liaisons whatsoever.  I agree completely with the point Godard is trying to make; he just needed a better example.  The Gershwins, perhaps?


According to an article by Pascal Riché at Rue89, Noam Chomsky has signed a petition to free Holocaust denier Vincent Reynouard, on the grounds that even a Holocaust denier has a right to free speech ("Chomsky se risque encore dans le bourbier des négationnistes").

In looking for an English-language article on this, I ran across a brief interview with Chomsky at the New Statesman. The petition to free Reynourad is not discussed in the interview, but one of the commenters reproduces an English-language press release on the topic.  The petition (French and English) is here; it calls for the repeal of the "Gayssot Law" under which Reynouard was jailed, and for Reynouard's release.

In the interview, Chomsky refers to Obama as a war criminal.

Human Rights

At The Independent, Roger Fisk has published a series of investigative articles on the sickening practice of "honor killing."  (I mean "sickening" literally.) The first of the series (the only one I've read so far) is here, with links to the rest.   Reading these is not to be undertaken lightly; they are profoundly disturbing.


In the first decade of the 20th century, Jewish industrialist Viktor Zuckerkandl commissioned Josef Hoffmann, Kolo Moser, and the Wiener Werkstätte to design and build the Sanatorium Purkersdorf.  The sanatorium was appropriated by the Nazis in 1938, and after the war, it came into the possession of the new Austrian government. Der Standard reports that Zuckerkandl's heirs are now fighting for fair restitution (the family accepted a meager payoff in 1952 when it was under financial stress).  Sounds like they're getting a run-around from the Austrian bureaucracy.

Corrupt Health Care

Duff Wilson at The New York Times reports on new study showing that highly paid consultants to medical device companies chronically fail to report this conflict of interest in their published research.  The article is:
Susan Chimonas, Zachary Frosch, & David J. Rothman, "From Disclosure to Transparency: The Use of Company Payment Data," Archives of Internal Medicine. The article is freely available for download.
And if that doesn't spoil your breakfast, try Carl Elliott in The Chronicle of Higher Education on "The Secret Lives of Big Pharma's 'Thought Leaders'," physicians who are highly paid and lavishly pampered by drug companies to act as "thought leaders" or "key opinion leaders" (KOLs) for their peers:  in other words, to act as marketing shills.

And you thought current clinical practice was science-based.  Silly you.  It's all about the money.

Evolution of Religion

John Cookson at Big Think writes on "The Neurological Origins of Religious Belief."  Rather less here than meets the eye: much of the post deals with Lionel Tiger, an "evolutionary biologist" from Rutgers, who is quoted as saying "[Religion] is a secretion of the brain."  And that secretion is, according to Tiger, seretonin.  (So I guess SSRIs should make us more religious?).  Can you say "egregious oversimplification"?

Much better is a segment with Alix Spiegel on All Things Considered: "Is Believing in God Evolutionarily Advantageous?"  This first aired on 30 August, as part of the series "The Human Edge," but I just caught up with it on Tuesday.  The focus is on the work of Jesse Bering and Dominic Johnson. Well worth a read (or listen).

Human Evolution

David Dobbs has just taken his blog Neuron Culture to Wired (where the first rate science-blog lineup now also includes Jonah Lehrer and Brian Switek, among others).  He kicks off with a superb post on the "social sensitivity" gene (which I blogged about last week):  "The depression map: genes, culture, seretonin, and a side of pathogens."  Read it.  You can educate yourself about the topic by following the links in this post, which is how this kind of science journalism should be done.  And the two principal research articles that he discusses are freely downloadable.

See also the comments by Razib Khan at Gene Expression.


At Der Standard, Dominik Kamalzadeh reviews a new film by Percy and Felix Adlon, Mahler auf der Couch, on Mahler's relationship with Alma Schindler, and Mahler's eventual visit to Freud to discuss it.

The Liberace museum in Las Vegas will close on 17 October, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. The museum isn't bringing in enough money to cover its expenses. Jeffery Koep, chairman of the board of directors of the Liberace Foundation, is quoted as saying: "When this started 30-some years ago, Lee was still a name ... Keeping that brand alive has been very difficult."


die Kolportage
schielen (nach)
das Tohuwabohu
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My Life as a Blog

This my 150th post, an appropriate point to reflect on the “the blog so far,” and where I may be going with it.

Today is 15 September, my 111th day of blogging. I published my first post on 27 May, and I have been averaging around 1.35 post per day. Not bad for a beginner.

Although I’d been following quite a number of blogs over the past two years, and I thought that I had a good feel for the process, much about blogging has been a surprise. For one thing, I hadn’t expected to become so caught up producing Daily Digests and Weekend Roundups, which have dominated the blog so far.

In fact, I initially didn’t intend to do them at all; at first I thought I might publish simple lists of links once or twice a week. When the blog began, I subscribed to around 65 RSS feeds. Harvesting and reading items from these had been my morning ritual (in lieu of a traditional morning paper) since 2008, and I thought that I might simply pass on to my readers links to what I’d been reading.

But as I began to write the digests, my own interest in the topics I was writing about blossomed. To take just one example: although I had long thought in a rather unfocused way about the future of publishing, the very process of using a blog to publish my own writings drew me into reading and thinking more about the broader consequences of digital publishing: What happens to traditional models of publishing when publishing itself is no longer a scarce resource? (And publishing is now essentially free.)

Traditionally, publishers have acted as gate-keepers or “filters,” allocating the scarce resource of print to writing (and writers) they felt worthy or potentially lucrative. This gate-keeping function has collapsed, although the “legacy media” have not quite figured this out yet. The need for filters has not disappeared: in fact, there’s a hell of a lot more chaff than there used to be. But legacy publishing houses and “brand name” print periodicals (like The New York Times) no longer play an essential (or even desirable) role in doing that filtering.

But this is a topic for future posts.

The blog has brought me back in a serious way to writing, a necessity of life for me, although recently a neglected one. For me, writing is the natural and necessary continuation of thinking. To have a bright idea and to scribble it in a pocket notebook while walking in the Arboretum or riding the Orange Line is only the beginning of a process. What seems like a brilliant insight on Peters Hill may become transformed into something entirely different (and, with luck, something richer) in the process of being put into a form that can be communicated.

Blogging quickly became a part-time job, and I quickly realized that time management was going to be a major problem. It was, however, a problem to which I couldn’t immediately see a solution. I enjoyed putting together the Digests—but it was like publishing a small magazine single-handedly every day, and I usually ended up not having time to work on anything else. Yet I had a continual stream of ideas of things to write about:  in fact, last month I made a list of over 30 major posts on a variety of topics that so far I simply hadn’t found time to write.

I had done considerable preparatory work on several of these. For example, I wanted to write reviews:  of the Glyndebourne Don Giovanni (I have pages of notes on this); of artist Deb Todd Wheeler’s show Blew (which I went to see twice, taking very copious notes); of Robin Kelley’s biography of Thelonious Monk; of Ben Yagoda’s Memoir: A History, of Louis Menand’s The Marketplace of Ideas; of the film Io sono l’amore. I wanted to write on composer Edwin Geist; on the Boston Public Quartet; on “fandom” as a business model; on Robert Johnson and musical biography; on the history and reception of the “Mozart Effect”; and many other things. Also neglected were two prospective series that were the principal motivations for starting the blog in the first place:  Confessions of a Recovering Musicologist, and Reflections on Life with BDD.

The frustration of chronically not having the time to get to any of these grew to the point that it became clear something was going to have to give. And that meant I was going to have to stop publishing a mini-magazine every day.

Thus, as regular readers will already have noticed, I’ve scaled back the Daily Digests and Weekend Roundups to daily Readings. I rather like the new format (which may not look that different to some of you):  the Readings seem much more manageable than the Digests. I’ve set out in the Readings with the intention of providing just single-sentence links to items I’ve read during the day (although I sometimes add a bit more). The Readings require less editing and less formatting, and overall, the format gives me the time I need to begin to write some of the other things I am itching to write.

One pleasant surprise: writing this blog, as modest as it is, has already put me into contact with people I wouldn’t have otherwise met, from all parts of the world. I’ve even had occasional responses to what I’ve written from much more prominent bloggers. Neuroskeptic, for example, made an especially deep impression on me:  the writer of that blog responded to something rather snarky I’d written with wonderful graciousness. Since that time, I’ve aspired to be like that, too.

Writing this blog has so far been tremendously educational and broadening. Since beginning the blog at the end of May, I’ve nearly doubled the number of RSS feeds that I follow (currently 127). I’ve begun to follow music news again, and I’ve added several feeds from the German-language press, as I came to realize that I could serve as a “filter” for German-language news (particularly arts news) to some of my readers who don’t regularly follow these papers.

So this blog now enters its adolescence.  In the near future, I intend to write introductory posts for Confessions of a Recovering Musicologist and Reflections, and I have in the works reviews and posts on diverse topics (including, perhaps, some of those mentioned above).

If you have any thoughts on this blog so far, please feel free to comment or to write to me privately.
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14 September 2010

Readings, 2010.09.13

Monday's Readings


Mike Masnick at Techdirt reports that the 9th Circuit has wiped out the "first sale" doctrine for software, a decision Masnick refers to (rightly, to my mind) as "tragic."  Masnick writes:
This ruling is pretty depressing if you actually believe in property rights. It shows, once again, how copyright is not a property right, but often quite the opposite: restricting what people can do with their own property.

Razib Khan, writing as "David Hume" at Secular Right, has a thoughtfully critical piece on Islam, written from his perspective as a secular atheist from a Muslim background: "Islam, generalizations, barbarism, and structural conflicts."


Sarah Kendrew at SarahAskew writes on "Scientific hubris, or Everything you thought you knew about straight line fits is wrong," summarizing a new article (available at Arxiv) by David Hogg, "Data analysis recipes: Fitting a model to data." 

Why does this matter?  Because pretty much any random research article in cognitive science, psychology, psychiatry, medicine, etc. etc. will at some point have a graph fitting a straight line to scattered data points.  And if they're doing it wrong..... (And if you think the average level of statistical sophistication in these fields is high, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you...)


Eugene Raikhel at Somatosphere points to a special issue of BioSocieties devoted to "biohistory" (that is, the use of genetics to reconstruct the historical migrations and interactions of human populations). The abstracts do not inspire confidence that the writers have a good grasp of the science. 

But I could be wrong. Unfortunately, only the guest editor's introduction to the issue is free, so I'm unlikely to read the rest.


Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science has an excellent post on a new article by James Cotton and James McInerney that provides support for a "ring" (rather than a "tree") model of the deep genealogy of life on earth.  The model in question suggests that eukaryotes (that is, organisms, like us, with complex cells that contain structures like a nucleus that are contained within a membrane) descend from an ancient fusion of an archeaon (a member of the domain Archaea) and a bacterium. 

If this all seems like Greek to you, read Yong's article, and it won't be.  He's one of the best science writers writing today.


Edmund Blair Bolles at Babel's Dawn believes that language evolved over a period of roughly 2 million years. A new doctoral thesis by Susan J. Lanyon of the University of New South Wales argues that language is only around 120,000 years old and was brought about by a single "crucial mutation" (the dissertation is a free download here). Bolles takes the opportunity to summarize the evidence for the long view, including anatomical changes that allow speech.  Bolles also outlines the theory that the loss of body-hair in humans was potentially a driving factor in the evolution of language.

An alert for my Mozartean readers who generally skim over the "science stuff" in these posts: you'll want to check out Bolles's reference to the "Papageno period" in the evolution of human language.

Reviews are already beginning to appear of Guy Deutscher's book on the new linguistic relativism, Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages.  See, for example, the rather prolix and dyspeptic review of Part I at The Lousy Linguist, and John McWhorter's critique at The New Republic, "Language as Thought: Watch Out for the Hype."  (McWhorter's review is the first section of a three-parter: part 2 points out that Yiddish is alive and well—there are 150,000 people in the U.S. alone who speak Yiddish at home; and part 3 points out that "Blacks Have been Using the N-Word Affectionately Forever"...in other words, it isn't something that grew up in the wake of rap.)


Daniel Lende at Neuroanthropology summarizes and comments on Benedict Carey's article in the NYT last week, "Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits," which was published a week ago, and is still no. 3 on the list of "Most Popular" articles. (And indeed, all students and teachers should read it.)

Jonah Lehrer at The Frontal Cortex explains why "Attention Deficit" disorder should more accurately be called "Attention Allocation" disorder.

Neuroskeptic summarizes a new article by Charles E. Dean, "Psychopharmacology: A house divided," which claims that, paradoxically, modern psychiatry has, in its use of drugs, largely abandoned the medical model of psychiatric illness. (Dean's article is behind some kind of registration wall at Swets Information Services.)

Kalman Applbaum at Somatosphere has an excellent review of Carl Elliott, White Coat, Black Hat: Adventures on the Dark Side of Medicine, on the institutional corruption of modern medicine in its collusion with commercial interests (e.g., Big Pharma).  Elliott's book has just gone on my reading list.

Applbaum links out to Arnold Relman's piece at The New York Review of Books, "Health Care: The Disquieting Truth."  Also a must read.


Michael Pilz has a bemused review at Welt Online of Thomas Freitag's imagined conversation in a London pub in early 1962 between John Lennon and composer Hanns Eisler: "Bleiben Sie dran, junger Mann!"

Victoria Williamson writes on a workshop at King's College last week on "Music and shape."

For those musical readers who skip over the "science stuff" in these blog posts, you'll want to scroll back to the reference to the "Papageno period" in the evolution of human language.


Some writers in the German press are less than overwhelmingly enthusiastic about Sofia Coppola's Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for her film Somewhere. See, for example, Cristina Nord at taz.de, who also discusses some of the other prize winners.


Unusual German Headlines:

"Kurt Palm: Bad Luck in Bad Fucking" (derStandard.at)


der Mitschnitt
die Rauschhaftigkeit
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13 September 2010

Readings, 2010.09.12

Sunday Readings (and Listenings)


In an op-ed at the Los Angeles Times, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus (who are promoting their verbosely titled new book, Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids and What We Can Do About It) ask "Where the money goes" in higher education. Tuitions have increased much faster than inflation, and little of that money goes to teaching students. According to Hacker and Dreifus, it goes instead to sports teams (which are very expensive and almost universally fail by far to earn enough to cover their costs), administration (the number of adminstrators per student has doubled since 1980), and rising faculty salaries (although most of the money goes to senior faculty who avoid teaching). Rising costs for room and board have also far outpaced inflation.

As it happens, the Hacker and Dreifus book is on hold for me at the library, and I'm picking it up today.  I'll need to read it right away, as the book is much sought after (there are currently 38 holds on 10 copies in the system), so I won't be able to renew it.... You'll be hearing more about it here.

When, by the way, did it become part of a regular marketing strategy for the authors of books like this to plant op-ed pieces in big name papers?  We've seen the same thing recently from Mark Taylor.

Tyler Cowen links to a recent paper on (according to the title of Cowen's post) "The preference for low quality in Italian academia." The paper is:
Diego Gambetta and Gloria Origgi, "L-worlds: The curious preference for low quality and its norms," Sociology Working Papers (University of Oxford), 2009-08.  Freely available here.
I haven't read the paper yet, but I suspect, based on the last sentence of the abstract, that their analysis may have wider applications to academia in the U.S. and elsewhere:
...high quality collective outcomes are not only endangered by self-interested individual defectors, but by ‘cartels’ of mutually satisfied mediocrities.
Yup, "cartels of mutually satisfied mediocrities." That sounds like the academia I know ...


The newest issue of the Boston Review includes a forum on "Democracy After Citizens United." So far I've read Lawrence Lessig's lead article, a must read for anyone concerned with that Supreme Court decision. So far, as of early Monday morning, only three of the nine responses are available on line, but it looks as if the publication schedule is intentionally staggered.

The Economy

Joshua Clover at The Nation reviews three new books on the economy—two on the current mess and one that takes a broader view:
John Lanchester, I.O.U.: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay
Simon Johnson and James Kwak, 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown
David Harvey, A Companion to Marx's 'Capital'
Clover's review is well worth reading for its own stylistic and intellectual merits.  In writing, I'm usually a proponent of plain and direct over ornate and showy.  But sometimes ornate and showy works.


At PCWorld, Jeff Bertolucci suggests "Apple iPad Already Long in the Tooth," and speculates on improvements that may be in the offing.

Meanwhile, Samsung has just previewed its new Android-based tablet, the Galaxy Tab.  (Just yesterday at lunch, Dr. Mike asked me whether anyone had come up with a tablet running Android.  The answer appears to be yes.)

But when will the makers realize that glossy screens on tablets are a really bad idea (as the many photos and the video demo of the Galaxy Tab repeatedly demonstrate)?


Hugh McGuire at O'Reilly Radar writes that "The line between book and Internet will disappear," that this is inevitable, that this is a good thing (and it is), and that this will happen sooner rather than later....but traditional publishers aren't even beginning to deal with the transition. 

Except, as a commenter points out, Bible publishers.  McGuire himself points out that the Bible at http://www.youversion.com/ is "the most sophisticated implementation of truly webby books."

Meanwhile, as the media storm over the threatened Koran burning fades into well-deserved oblivion, Justin Erik Halldóe Smith asks "Can an E-Book Be Burnt?"


Geoffrey Pullum at Language Log wonders what would dissuade columnist Simon Heffer (a "daft old Tory," in the words of one of Pullum's commenters) from his absurd grammatical prescriptivism, which he is about to inflict on the world in a book.  Pullum's post includes a comment submitted by yours truly, based on corpus research done over my morning cereal.

And Mark Liberman follows up with another post at Language Log on Heffer's spurious explanation of the "true" meaning of "collision."

James Winters at a replicated typo links to a video of a lecture by Terrence Deacon describing his recent work on the evolution of language.  I have not yet watched the video (ca. 1 hr 17 min.), but Winters gives a good short summary.


The first hour of On Point this past Friday was devoted to the newly rediscovered Savory Collection of live jazz recordings from the late 1930s and early 1940s.  Tom Ashbrook's guests were Loren Schoenberg, executive director of the National Jazz Museum (where the Savory Collection now resides) and Michael Cogswell, director of the Louis Armstrong House & Archives.  You can listen to the discussion here (ca. 48 minutes).

"Breaking news" on the show was that Schoenberg and his co-workers had just discovered a "pristine" recording of a jam session featuring Fats Waller, Eddie Condon, Zutty Singleton, Pee Wee Russell, Bud Freeman, and Jack Teagarden.

Lots of clips on the show: Mildred Bailey ("Rocking Chair," and another), Count Basie ("Bugle Call Rag," 1940, and "Jumpin' at the Woodside" with Lester Young), Benny Goodman (incluing "Sing, Sing, Sing," with Lionel Hampton on drums), Billie Holiday ("Strange Fruit"), Fats Waller ("Honeysuckle Rose," 1938), Teddy Wilson ("Love Me or Leave Me"), Coleman Hawkins ("Body and Soul"), Art Tatum ("I'm Beginning to See the Light," 1945), Bunny Berigan (blues, 1938, with Slam Stewart), Cab Calloway ("Bugle Call Rag"), and a couple not clearly identified.

They discuss the copyright issues around 20 minutes in.

So far, only one fifth of the discs have been digitized, and it is anticipated that there are around 100 hours of music in total.
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