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rebecca's pocket

.: 2005 --> april


@ Because Brad L. Graham is our favorite April Foolster. [Brad links here to all seven of his April Fools sites.]
[ 04/01/05 ]

@ RealClimate April 1 Report: Scientific consensus, or political dogma? Doubts About the Advent of Spring.

In a new novel, State of Euphoria, bestselling author Michael Crikey uncovers major flaws in this theory and warns against false hopes for the arrival of spring.
This is not merely fiction: Crikey underpins his thesis with numerous scientific diagrams. He presents measurements from over a dozen weather stations in the Northern Hemisphere where temperatures show a cooling trend in March. He further cites scientific results which show that in some places, snow and ice have increased in the past weeks, counter to climatologists' claims that they should be melting away in the spring sun. He further argues that even the average temperature of the Northern Hemisphere has not increased steadily; during one week of March, it showed a slight cooling despite the increase in solar radiation.

[ 04/01/05 ]

@ A Little Weekend Reading: Southern Views of Northern Logic. Examining the differences between commodity-based agriculture and food production. It's a lot more interesting that than sounds.

The destruction of rural culture needs to be seen for what it is, that is, a serious loss of capacity. The shift from rural to urban, as it's currently proceeding, signifies a loss of food producing capacity that means more and more people (who once knew how to produce food) are becoming increasingly dependent on industrial agriculture, with its myriad problems, for their food. It represents a steady homogenization of the many farming cultures developed over the centuries in response to local conditions. Skills and knowledge built up over generations are being lost almost overnight. It means that communities as well as the global food system are both becoming less resilient to shock and to change.
All healthy cultures, be they urban or rural, can be thought of as being 'thick' with choices. The 'thicker' a culture, the more resilient it will be to catastrophe and dramatic change. The 'thinner' a culture the more brittle it will be. In a 'thick' culture if your crop fails or some disaster strikes you always have a handful of choices left open to you. While they may well be unpleasant choices, they ensure that you or your family won't starve. In contrast, declining cultures can be thought of as 'thin' with choices. If the crop fails or you lose your job there are no other choices left within your culture.

Anyone who is familiar with Bruce Schneier's work will recognize "thick" and "thin" as a mirror of his "resilient" and "brittle" security systems.
[ 04/01/05 ]

@ Covering the Economics of Real Life. Peter Gosselin on finding meaningful ways to report on people's economic lives.

Sooner or later, almost every reporter who covers economics faces the same set of confidence-shaking doubts: Do our standard gauges of economic performance--GDP, inflation, unemployment and so forth--really capture what matters most to people, or are they at such a remove from everyday life that their importance is lost? When economists talk--as they so often do--about trends balancing out in the long run, are they sliding right past what readers most want to know?
Does the reason I got into this racket--to write about people's concerns where they live and work--turn out to be a pipedream?

[ 04/01/05 ]

@ Jay Rosen and Lisa Stone have compiled reviews of 14 bloggers you probably don't know. These weblogs look great. I'm planning to spend some time reading them this weekend.
[ 04/01/05 ]

@ The Guardian says we are living in a golden age of children's literature. Now I want to go read all these authors. (via my apple menu reader)
[ 04/01/05 ]

@ How to write a thank-you note. Learn it, love it, live it. (via make ready)
[ 04/01/05 ]

@ It boggles the mind to think of the specialty conferences that happen every year. Primedia produces events that range from theatrical lighting design and electrical contractors, to the commercial fitness industry and anti-aging, to a lineman's rodeo, and finally--my favorite--the Medical Waste Conference.
[ 04/01/05 ]

@ Mr. Motivation.
[ 04/01/05 ]

@ CJR Daily is hosting the MIPSY's: searching for the Most Inane Pope Story.

Here's the problem facing news directors at the moment: The pope's death is a dominant, all-consuming story, but when it comes right down to it, there's not much to report. [...] Admittedly, the selection of the pope's successor will likely be interesting, and his passing gives an opportunity for a look back at his life and accomplishments, but those stories aren't gonna fill a weeklong news hole. So, instead, we get breathless coverage of the tiniest of developments. This morning, the top story at most outlets was the fact that the pope's body had been moved to St. Peter's Basilica. Now that the basilica has opened its doors for public viewing, they're reporting on the fact that, in an entirely expected development, the public is viewing him. And on and on it will go.
So we had an idea: ...[W]e'd like you to pass along the most inane, unnecessary pope-related stories you can find in your daily news search, with whatever comment you like.

[ 04/04/05 ]

@ As promised, here is a list of weblogs doing local restaurant reviews. Thanks to Nichole and Alaina for supplying me with these links. Please send me links to any others you find. This will live permanently on my weblog portal. [more...]

Alaina adds Food Porn Watch as "another way to discover and follow food blogs."
[ 04/04/05 ]

@ Are hybrid vehicles more deadly than conventional cars?
[ 04/05/05 ]

@ In an attempt to prevent illegal immigration, group of 1500 concerned citizens calling themselves Minutemen are ready to begin monitoring the Arizona-Mexico border. They say they plan to report, not confront, immigrants who pass by their stations; the ACLU is posting hundreds of their own volunteers to monitor the Minutemen; and the US Border Patrol says it fears that having civilian volunteers on the ground will set off ground sensors, complicate video surveillance, and create security problems. America!
[ 04/05/05 ]

@ Rafe points to an important editorial that explains how a proposed Congressional bill would override state laws that prohibit predatory lending practices.

U.S. Reps. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Penn., have introduced a bill that gives too much leeway to those who prey on borrowers. The so-called Responsible Lending Act creates gaping loopholes that accommodate some of the worst lending practices in the subprime mortgage market.
For example, the bill would permit high loan fees that strip a homeowner's equity, some of which are banned here in North Carolina. It would fail to prevent loan "flipping," where homeowners lose their home equity through repeated refinances without receiving a reasonable, net tangible benefit from the loan. When borrowers are victimized by predatory lending, the bill would ensure they have limited ability to protect their homes from foreclosure. Given that one in five subprime home loans over the past five years has gone into foreclosure -- and that studies show predatory loan terms lead to foreclosure -- the ability of homeowners to protect their homes is an essential ingredient to any solution.

[ 04/05/05 ]

@ Sometime during March, art prankster Banksey entered the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Museum of Natural History and mounted his own art on the walls. [more...]

By planting bogus works that escaped the attention of casual viewers (and guards), Banksy may be pointing out how little knowledge people bring to the viewing of art. "That's the trade-off in the democratization of art," Vincent says. More people have access, but fewer people bring any background to the experience.

This prank reminds me of the shop-gifting aspect of the wonderful Barbie Liberation Project.

Update: Margaret Marks sends a link to the Wooster Collective's photos of Banksy, diguised as a British pensioner, installing the artwork, with photos of the artwork itself. It's a hoot: a beetle specimen equipped with missles, a classically arrayed lady wearing a gas mask, a generic can of soup, and an 18th century nobleman holding a can of spray paint. Margaret had written about an earlier Banksy prank: his 6-meter-high statue of Justice dressed as a prostitute.
[ 04/06/05 ]

@ San Francisco pizza: not lousy? I beg to differ. Oh, I'm willing to concede to the writer's expertise in this matter. I'm sure the pizza at these places is wonderful. But these are the high points of a very bleak landscape, indeed. My position is this: in even a medium-sized city, it should not be hard to find pizza that consistently surpasses what is available from the national chains. In San Francisco, it is. (via a full belly)
[ 04/06/05 ]

@ Ancient! Mayan! Saltworks! (via dangerousmeta)
[ 04/06/05 ]

@ I just like the headline: Europe in New Banana Dispute.
[ 04/05/05 ]

@ A new day is here: When the Pope died, the Vatican alerted the press via text messages to their cell phones.
[ 04/07/05 ]

@ A local Sengalese development program that focuses on health, human rights education, and economic development has had surprising success eradicating female circumcision.

Once Tostan commences its a village, it typically takes two to three years before citizens decide that they want to abandon FGM, says Ms. Melching. The public declarations the villages make, amid vibrant celebrations with music, dancing, and speeches from elders and prominent citizens, generally contain other statements about respect for women's rights and children's education.
According to Gerry Mackie, a professor at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., the groundswell of opposition to FGM in Senegal is approaching a "tipping point." No one is willing to predict a date by which the practice will cease, but Mr. Mackie suggests that there are parallels with the practice of foot-binding in China, which went from widespread at the turn of the 20th century to nil within a generation.

[ 04/07/05 ]

@ Illegal Immigrants Are Bolstering Social Security With Billions.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act did little to deter employers from hiring illegal immigrants or to discourage them from working. But for Social Security's finances, it was a great piece of legislation.
Starting in the late 1980's, the Social Security Administration received a flood of W-2 earnings reports with incorrect - sometimes simply fictitious - Social Security numbers. It stashed them in what it calls the "earnings suspense file" in the hope that someday it would figure out whom they belonged to. The file has been mushrooming ever since: $189 billion worth of wages ended up recorded in the suspense file over the 1990's, two and a half times the amount of the 1980's. [...]

[ 04/07/05 ]

@ Hybrid savings calculator. The commenting thread provides a good overview of the economic benefits--or not--of buying a hybrid car.
[ 04/07/05 ]

@ Mick Fealty is having a fundraiser so he can cover the upcoming Northern Ireland Westminster and Council election campaigns. As he says, 'There's only one way to do this kind of blog reporting properly. That's to spend time on the ground and talk to people: both the ordinary and the experts.' If you're interested in supporting blog journalism, or if you just care about the Northern Ireland elections, please lend your support.
[ 04/11/05 ]

@ The Culture Cult

[A]s early as 700 BC the Greek poet Hesiod felt humanity's heroic days were past and that he lived in an era of lamentable decline. In the Golden Age (which Hesiod says was long before his own time) men were naturally peaceable, and for that reason there was no war. Nor was there any foreign trade or travel to confuse us with luxuries: everyone stayed home happily knitting their own sweaters, and no-one fussed about Paris or Pierre Cardin. Among other attractive features of the Golden Age, the people were vegetarians, made everything out of wood, and because they were naturally good their communal society was free of conflict and required no lawyers. [...]
[R]omantic primitivism has been with us for a very long time. In round figures, it looks as if people have been gazing nostalgically backward for nearly ten thousand years. And that is highly significant. Because the last ten thousand years is exactly the epoch in which civilization itself emerged; and what it suggests is that idealizing earlier and more primitive ways of life is a fixed mental tendency, a psychological constant if you will, inseparable from the rise of civilization itself.

(via my apple menu reader)
[ 04/11/05 ]

@ Save the Payphone

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the number of pay phones in the US dropped to 1.5 million in 2003, down from 2.1 million five years earlier - as the number of cellphone users surged. [...]
Yet not all Americans, especially older Americans, have cellphones or live in places where coverage is available or adequate. Not to mention the human factor: inadvertently leaving a phone at home or forgetting to recharge the battery.
For many, though, the fight boils down to a battle for equal access. Even in this age of BlackBerries and camera phones, of blinking and beeping pocket accessories of every stripe and sound, 6.5 percent of American households have no telephone. Many use pay phones as their primary means of communication.

[ 04/11/05 ]

@ A group of activists in Washington, DC are trying to raise the funds to buy naming rights to the ballpark where DC's new baseball team will play. Their proposal? Taxation without Representation Field at RFK Stadium. I'm inclined to give them a dollar myself. Of course they have a blog. (via now this)
[ 04/12/05 ]

@ The Man Date

The concern about being perceived as gay is one of the major complications of socializing one on one, many straight men acknowledge. That is what Mr. Speiser, now a graduate student at the University of Virginia, recalled about another man date he set up at a highly praised Italian restaurant in a strip mall in Charlottesville. It seemed a comfortable choice to meet his roommate, Thomas Kim, a lawyer, but no sooner had they walked in than they were confronted by cello music, amber lights, white tablecloths and a wine list.
The two exchanged a look. "It was funny," Mr. Speiser said. "We just knew we couldn't do it."

(via randomwalks)
[ 04/12/05 ]

@ Women get down to business in Aceh

For those outsiders who are unused to Indonesia's relatively moderate Islamic culture, it may be surprising that half of the participants in this program are women. (A separate program for men and women is being run by the Islamic Students Association.) But women have always been active in the business community of Banda Aceh. Some have also been active in politics. One of the last and most successful sultans of Banda, before the arrival of the Dutch East India Company, was a woman. [...]
Usually, their biggest obstacle is not male chauvinism or cultural restrictions, but lack of basic machinery. Most lost all their equipment to the surging waters that pulverized Banda's business district. Many also lost some of their top employees. Starting over is a dream they can believe in. But without money and equipment, it is still only a dream.

[ 04/12/05 ]

@ Animal remote control. Really. Science fiction story, here I come.
[ 04/12/05 ]

@ Chalkboards? Try chessboards.

The grandmaster and bona fide chess luminary Maurice Ashley was...calling out commentary as he often does when championship matches are broadcast around the world. He is known to use lines like, "Pawns are attacking mercilessly!" and "The bishop is slicing and dicing!"
But what Mr. Ashley had to say about chess on this night was more academic. Literally. "A lot of times in education we try to teach kids the one right answer and that leads, in my opinion, to robotic thinking," he told the players, encouraging them to think of multiple possible moves before choosing the best play. "Real life isn't like that. Is there ever one right answer? Generating alternatives for the sake of alternatives is a good thing." [...]
The seminar, an elective class worth two graduate credits, meets once a week for two and a half hours. Mr. Ashley tries to get the teachers to do what he does in chess and in life: think backward with a desired outcome in view, generate multiple options as possible solutions to any question, consider the perspectives of others, and give respect to the least powerful, the pawns of the game.

[ 04/13/05 ]

@ The CJR Daily provides a nice summary of the Apple court case, in which the computer manufacturer brought several websites to court in an attempt to uncover the source of leaks about their products. The judge in the case neatly sidestepped the issue of whether bloggers and other personal publishers are legally considered journalists by labelling the published information as "trade secrets". Now, several journalists and bloggers have filed amicus briefs in support of defining the defendants as journalists. [more...]

This issue will have to be decided by a court sooner or later. The First Amendment clearly extends to bloggers: it protects free speech as well as freedom of the press. First Amendment protection isn't really the issue. Defining bloggers as journalists--conferring that legal standing--is. Once that standing has been established, it's a short step to extending reporter's privilege and shield laws to bloggers, which is what this debate is really about. (Shield laws which, by the way, do not exist in every state.)

I have argued strenuously that bloggers rarely function as journalists--that, in fact, we are stronger standing outside the established media than we ever can be as junior reporters. However, all bloggers are publishers, and for legal purposes, should qualify as "the press". Consider "the press" this amendment was designed to protect. There was no establishment media at the time. It was, literally, some guys with printing presses, publishing pamphlets and the occasional newspaper. Journalism is a practice, not a professional title, and bloggers who add to the record of verifiable fact are clearly journalists. Whether this work is practiced online or on paper--or by one person with a notebook and a computer, or one person in a crowded newsroom--is irrelevant. A fact is a fact even when revealed by an amateur. Fiction is fiction, even when broadcast by an established news organization.

Having said that, I think the judge in this case made a good decision. This isn't the case we want the issue decided on. We want a situation in which bloggers reveal facts that are clearly in the public interest, not just in the interest of driving traffic to their sites. Then let the court--and the public--examine the practice and promise of online publishing and decide whether the work we do is for the public good.
[ 04/13/05 ]

@ Using Skype as a Media Production Tool

Among my favorite public television programs is the Charlie Rose Show. Host Charlie Rose has a knack for getting his interview subjects to share their ideas and views in a way that illuminates the matters at hand. But did you ever stop to think that the only people who appear on his show are celebrities? And that 99 percent of the interesting people in this world are not celebrities?
So, who is going to interview all those people? Answer: the people will interview the people. What tool will they use to create high-quality interviews that can be widely distributed? Skype.

[ 04/13/05 ]

@ More Animal Remote Control News: Robotic riders for camel racing. You must enlarge the photo. It looks like something out of Star Wars. (thanks, Chris!)
[ 04/13/05 ]

@ Bruce Schneier hacks the papal election.
[ 04/14/05 ]

@ Here's an interesting way of looking at it: The US is moving toward a flat tax. Bigger tax breaks for wealth produces a system in which the middle class pays about the same as the rich.

Chalk up President Bush as not just a tax cutter but also a tax flattener. Under Mr. Bush and a Republican Congress, big tax cuts since 2001 have given major tax reductions to those wealthy individuals presumed, up to now, to be able to afford paying a bigger chunk of their income in taxes. By one measure of the federal, state, and local tax burden, just 3.4 percentage points separate the effective tax rate paid by the top 1 percent of earners from the other 99 percent of American households.[...]
If the Bush tax cuts are made permanent by Congress, by 2010 billionaires and millionaires will be paying a smaller percentage of their income in federal taxes than those in the upper middle class, according to a calculation by Brian Roach, an economist at Tufts University, in Medford, Mass.

[ 04/14/05 ]

@ Across the country, school budgets are shrinking, and extra curricular programs are being cut. What's a school district to do? Hire a conservation expert.

Brittin Witzenburg, the district's first resource conservation manager, has helped Olympia schools reduce their utility costs in the 2004-05 school year by $20,695 over the previous year.
Plus, this week she's working on installing new thermostats in 43 Olympia school portables, which will save the district an estimated $6,435 annually. The new thermostats -- which the district is getting free through a Puget Sound Energy rebate program -- can be programmed for 365 days. That means she can set the devices to automatically turn down during breaks in the school year.

(via worldchanging)
[ 04/14/05 ]

@ Can the U.S. stop using oil by 2050?

[In the 1970's, Amory] Lovins pointed out that the least expensive, safest and most secure energy we could acquire...would come from using energy more efficiently.... All we had to do was to make cars, trucks, houses and buildings more energy efficient. [...]
Lovins -- ridiculed as a dreamer at the time -- was right. The conventional wisdom was wrong. Energy efficiency in the next decade reduced our oil consumption so fast, it broke the pricing power of OPEC and crushed oil prices.
Now, working with a team from his Rocky Mountain Institute and with the support of the Department of Defense, Lovins has a bolder idea: Apply energy efficiency to end our dependence on oil.

It certainly would uncomplicate quite a number of our most complicated international relationships, wouldn't it?

Bonus: part of Loven's plan would replace 20% of oil with domestic bio-fuels, tripling farm income and ending the need for agricultural subsidies. Loven's book is available from your favorite bookseller, or for free in pdf format on his website. (via alternative energy blog)
[ 04/14/05 ]

@ A new report [pdf] from Oxfam says that heavily subsidized farm goods from rich countries are rigging the market, wedging out farmers from poorer countries which are being forced to drop their own tariffs. [more...]

According to Oxfam, the United States spends $1.3-billion in subsidies to support a rice crop that costs $1.8-billion to grow.
This situation enables U.S. exporters to dump 4.7 metric tonnes of rice on world markets at 34 per cent below the cost of production, a move that hurts struggling farmers in countries such as Ghana, Haiti and Honduras.
"This is an example of rigged rules and double standards at their baldest," said Phil Bloomer, head of Oxfam's Make Trade Fair campaign. "Rich countries are demanding that poor countries pull down their barriers to trade and, at the same time, they are continuing to subsidize massive overproduction and dumping."

It's pretty interesting to see who reported on this story. I see a number of developing countries represented, but only one US news organization on the list. It's also interesting to note the bias of each report--most of the headlines describe a rigged system, or describe rich countries as "dumping" their products on the market (language that comes straight from the Oxfam news release.). On the other hand, the Financial Times headline reads: "Oxfam backs protection for farmers in poor countries".
[ 04/14/05 ]

@ Neat! The newly formed LitBlog Co-op have created an online book club. The Co-op will select four books a year in an attempt to promote new literary fiction. The first selection will be announced May 15. (And they sure ought to offer that information via email for people who might not remember to check back at the appropriate times.)

While he won't reveal the inaugural nominees (there are five) until after May 15, he said that they include a novel in translation, experimental fiction and a graphic novel.
The Co-op members limited their choices to literary fiction, short stories and graphic novels for the first round, but Sarvas said that everything about Read This! is open to change.

It's Oprah online! (via arts journal)
[ 04/15/05 ]

@ When Numbers Solve a Mystery Meet the economist who figured out that legal abortion was behind dropping crime rates. This review of Steven Levitt's Freakonomics has me itching to read the book. (via dangerousmeta)
[ 04/15/05 ]

@ Nobel laureate Steven Chu is studying the way termite guts process food in an effort to save the world.

Chu...has begun studying termite guts - one place in nature where a key hurdle for carbon-neutral energy supply has already been solved. Termite guts take indigestible cellulose, which makes up the bulk of all plant material grown on earth, and convert it to ethanol, which even today is a versatile and popular fuel.

(thanks, neil!)
[ 04/15/05 ]

@ A Little Weekend Reading: Spirits in Stones.

In the early summer of 2004, a research expedition consisting of two colleagues and me visited Canada to find out if the mysterious engraved and painted glyphs and signs of prehistoric American Indian rock art could, in a fashion, speak to us. We wanted - literally - to listen rather than to look. As perverse as this seems, it was in keeping with a newly recognised aspect of archeology called "archeoacoustics". Archeologists...have discovered that various kinds of acoustic effects - from eerie echoes to resonant frequencies that can affect the brain - seem to have been an intentionally planned component of a number of prehistoric sites worldwide, from ruined temples to rock art locations. Prehistory is at last gaining its own soundtrack.

[ 04/15/05 ]

@ BlogHerCon is a day-long conference to be held Saturday, Jul. 30, 2005 in Santa Clara, CA. It is designed to connect and empower new and experienced bloggers - of all genders. Registration is open now.
[ 04/15/05 ]

@ Jay Fienberg sends a followup to last week's archeoacoustics link: Early Rock. [more...]

Experiments in a replica of the Newgrange passage, at Princeton University, showed that if a site was smoky or misty, standing sound waves would become visible as they vibrated particles in the air. Could this visualising effect account for the zigzag and concentric ring markings on the chamber walls?
Intriguing acoustic effects have also been noted at sites in the Americas, from Anasazi kivas (ritual chambers) in New Mexico, to Chichen Itza on Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. Here, the famed Mayan pyramid of Kukulcan, or Quetzelcoatl, is known for the way the solstices and equinoxes are reflected in its stones, but professional acoustician David Lubman has observed another aspect to its design. If you clap in front of the pyramid, the sound is reflected back by its stone steps, sounding, Lubman claims, like the chirp of the quetzal bird, sacred to the Mayans.

This is so interesting. Our culture is so visually oriented that the very idea - obvious once proposed - that pre-literate cultures would exploit the acoustic properties of their sacred spaces had never, ever occurred to me.
[ 04/18/05 ]

@ Next week is TV turnoff week! I got cable for the first time in my life in January. Our television viewing has gone way up, (from maybe 3 hours a week to - oh, wait. I guess to about 5. Is that way up? It feels like it. From 1 hour 3 nights a week to 1 hour most nights we are home.) The increase, however, is due to our travel schedules. We watch our usual shows together, and when one of us is gone, episodes pile up on the TiVo. So we always feel behind. So far, we watch only one cable television show, and that's only 15 minutes long. [more...]

On a side note, even as little as I watch TV, I would never be without my TiVo. Or rather, if I were, I'd just stop watching television altogether. TiVo makes you the master of your television set, not the slave. Before I had one, I could never remember to turn on the television on the proper night to catch a show that seemed interesting. Now that I have one, it would just be annoying to have to arrange my schedule to accomodate the networks - if I could even remember to try. If you like TV, go get thee a TiVo. (via US Food Policy)
[ 04/18/05 ]

@ Battery recharger for conventional batteries

Disposable alkaline batteries are not perceived by most people to be rechargeable, and that's how the manufacturers like it.... There are new chip-controlled chargers which will safely and effectively recharge "disposable" alkaline batteries. I have a Buddy-L Super Charger, one of the first designed this way. Bought it about 7 years ago, and I still use it to recharge all my alkaline batteries. Saves me a BUNDLE!

[ 04/18/05 ]

@ More evidence that the genders are hardwired to miscommunicate.

Whether it's driving too fast, bungee-jumping or reckless skateboarding, young men will try almost anything to be noticed by the opposite sex. But a study of attitudes to risk suggests that the only people impressed by their stunts are other men.
To test this idea, William Farthing of the University of Maine in Orono surveyed 48 young men and 52 young women on their attitudes to risky scenarios. Men thought women would be impressed by pointless gambles, but women in fact preferred cautious men.

Also spitting. We hate that.
[ 04/18/05 ]

@ Danuta Kean reflects on the differences - real and perceived - between the ways and things men and women write about, and challenges the inherent sexism reflected in conventional attitudes about romance writing.

I see no such self-doubt haunting the consciences of crime writers. Instead, crime is cool: it has cultural cachet, which is why leading lights such as Ian Rankin are regulars on the hip lit circuit and review shows. When was the last time anyone saw Marian Keyes or Elizabeth Buchan on Newsnight Review? Yet both are excellent storytellers who are unafraid of dealing with the darker side of life. Crime writing is judged by the best of the lot, romantic novelists smeared with the same cheap rouge as Mills & Boon.
There is more than a tinge of sexism to the disparaging treatment of romantic novelists. Women writing for women about issues other women are interested in are not taken seriously by the male-dominated cabal that rules lit crit. Why else would Louis de Bernières' unashamedly romantic Captain Corelli's Mandolin be regarded as better literature than Joanna Trollope's dark tales of tangled love? It is not a question of commercial snobbery: both sell shed-loads and score highly among reading groupies. It cannot be thematic either. Romantic novelists frequently tackle tough issues: Adele Parks wrote about female infidelity in her first book Playing Away and has since tackled divorce and bigamy.

[ 04/18/05 ]

@ Remember the Minutemen? The organization's founder is leaving early: "We're bored to death."
[ 04/19/05 ]

@ Schneier: Failures of airport screening
[ 04/19/05 ]

@ When life doesn't imitate art: The CSI Effect.

Stoked by the technical wizardry they see on the tube, many Americans find themselves disappointed when they encounter the real world of law and order. Jurors increasingly expect forensic evidence in every case, and they expect it to be conclusive.
"Your CSI moment." Real life and real death are never as clean as CSI's lead investigator, Gil Grissom, would have us believe. And real forensics is seldom as fast, or as certain, as TV tells us. Too often, authorities say, the science is unproven, the analyses unsound, and the experts unreliable. At a time when the public is demanding CSI-style investigations of even common crimes, many of the nation's crime labs--underfunded, undercertified, and under attack--simply can't produce. When a case comes to court, "jurors expect it to be a lot more interesting and a lot more dynamic," says Barbara LaWall, the county prosecutor in Tucson, Ariz. "It puzzles the heck out of them when it's not."

(via my apple menu reader)
[ 04/19/05 ]

@ Jay Rosen posts an email from columnist Nick Coleman and asks his readers to decipher it. I don't think it's hard. As I read it, Coleman says that right-wing bloggers are making it more difficult for mainstream media to honestly report the news. By putting partisan pressure on news outlets to "balance" their reports, they are pulling mainstream media to the right. Such pressure, I would extrapolate, would increase the incidence of "he said/she said" reporting, and/or create a chilling effect, resulting in news outlets not reporting anything that might be construed as critical of right-wing politicians and causes. [more...]

Is Coleman right? I don't know, but I think it's worth Jay's time to honestly investigate. Jay is fond of talking about the "decertification" of the press, but if, as Coleman suggests, the press is now concluding that blogging is the domain of wingnuts, the public may well be drawing the same conclusion. Weblogs are now read by only about a third of Internet users [pdf]. Is the entire enterprise in danger of being marginalized before it gains a foothold with mainstream Web users? The "decertification" of blogging due to the effect of a small number of highly influential blogs - how is that not a PressThink story?

The rise of weblogs is not an unmixed good. There will be positive and negative effects. Some blogs and blog clusters will be more influential than others. We will see some of the effects we've seen with traditional media reproduced by weblogs. Some things will be new. A few journalists are unwilling to admit the positive potential inherent in blogging; but too many bloggers are equally unwilling to admit the negatives. It will always be easy to identify the serious students of the form: they will look at both.
[ 04/19/05 ]

@ Completing the collection: Archaeacoustics, or paleoacoustics as it is sometimes called, is such a new field of inquiry that very little has been written. Yesterday I found another link: in Shaping Sound, Scientific American introduces the subject with a modern-day example, a sculpture by Eusebio Sempere. [more...]

As Meseguer's team soon reported in a letter to Nature, the sculptor had inadvertently created a "sonic band gap structure." Such band gaps were first observed in crystals where the arrangement of the atomic lattice permits only certain wavelengths of electromagnetic energy to pass. Recently, researchers have constructed synthetic "crystals" that can filter and channel certain wavelengths of light by creating photonic band gaps. Audible sound, with its longer wavelengths, responds in the same way to larger structures.
At the recent meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in Norfolk, Virginia, Meseguer reported his group had designed similar structures that could be manipulated and studied in the controlled environment of a sound-absorbing, echo-free (anechoic) chamber. By manipulating the diameter and spacing of the rods they found that some frequencies of sound could be amplified or blocked out altogether. He proposed that structures creating "deaf bands" could be used by architects to design screen out or filter noise. [...]

Confusingly, there is another definition of both terms as described in this paper. Briefly, this theory is that environmental sounds may affect the structure of objects as they are being created, which sounds could later be retrieved with the right equipment.

Apparently, there are two short stories on the second theme: Time Shards by Gregory Benford, and, according to this Half-Bakery thread, another, White Noise, by Gary Kilworth.
[ 04/19/05 ]

@ Science Fiction Fans: If You Liked This, Then You'll Like That. Arranged by subgenre and bookcover. Part of the eclectic Magic Dragon Multimedia site, which, in addition to its Science Fiction Guide offers a Mystery/Detective Guide, Romance authors, Westerns, and Scottish Inventions.
[ 04/19/05 ]

@ The history of the Western world is being rewritten.

The original papyrus documents, discovered in an ancient rubbish dump in central Egypt, are often meaningless to the naked eye - decayed, worm-eaten and blackened by the passage of time. But scientists using the new photographic technique, developed from satellite imaging, are bringing the original writing back into view. Academics have hailed it as a development which could lead to a 20 per cent increase in the number of great Greek and Roman works in existence. Some are even predicting a "second Renaissance".

(via dangerousmeta)
[ 04/20/05 ]

@ Nerdy Social Commentary.
[ 04/20/05 ]

@ One drawback to traditional nutritional supplements used to fight malnutrition is that they require clean water and exact mixing. Plumpy'Nut is a new, self-contained nutritional supplement that is helping doctors in developing countries feed the world.

Dr. Manary initially used Plumpy'nut he'd received as a donation in 2001. Recovery rates soared to 95% from 25%. "We didn't need a statistician to tell us this was better," he says.

[ 04/20/05 ]

@ Let's have some ice cream!

People who are overweight but not obese have a lower risk of death than those of normal weight, federal researchers are reporting today. [...]
As for whether there is truly a mortality risk in being underweight, Dr. Mark Mattson, a rail-thin researcher at the National Institute on Aging who is an expert on caloric restriction as a means of prolonging life, said it was not clear that eating fewer calories meant weighing so little, since some people eat very little and never get so thin. In any event, while caloric restriction may extend life, Dr. Mattson said, "there's certainly a point where you can overdo it with caloric restriction, and we don't know what that point is."

[ 04/20/05 ]

@ On reading well: [more...]

If we consider men and women generally, and apart from their professions or occupations, there is only one situation I can think of in which they almost pull themselves up by their bootstraps, making an effort to read better than they usually do. When they are in love, and are reading a love letter, they read for all they are worth. They read every word three ways; they read between the lines and in the margins; they read the whole in terms of the parts, and each part in terms of the whole; they grow sensitive to context and ambiguity, to insinuation and implication; they perceive the color of words, the odor of phrases, and the weight of sentences. They may even take the punctuation into account. Then, if never before and after, they read.

- Mortimer Adler, How to Speak, How to Listen. Adler claims that paragraph comes from How to Read a Book, but I don't remember it, and I can't find it.
[ 04/20/05 ]

@ Two paths back from the Tsunami: one family relies on foreign charity to rebuild, the other on their own resources.
[ 04/21/05 ]

@ The First Fiction Tour

"Whenever I would see a band in a bar, I'd be amazed that the place would be packed even if the band was terrible. So I started to think, what if we brought book writers and readers together in places other than bookstores. Of course, we didn't invent this -- Allen Ginsburg did this years ago in bars in New York."
"But we also wanted to take books to where the people are since they weren't coming to bookstores. And we wanted to try to make writers of literature as cool as rock stars."

[ 04/21/05 ]

@ A Little Weekend Reading: autism, gender differences, and assortative mating. Fascinating. (via dangerousmeta)
[ 04/21/05 ]

@ What is Google is doing? My browser is set to alert me whenever a site wants to set a cookie. A few times now, while doing a search on a Google, I've noticed non-Google websites trying to set a cookie. For example, yesterday I did a search for cochlear, and - the top search result - tried to set one. Is this doing what I think it's doing? If so, how?

Google's privacy policy clearly states that they set cookies "in order to improve their service". It doesn't mention that other sites might set cookies while you are there, nor does it take responsibility (obviously) for information other sites might collect while you use their service.

Update: Rafe and Jason write to say that Google is prefetching the first result for any search in Mozilla-based browsers. More here and here.
[ 04/21/05 ]

@ A British theatre critic surveys Broadway.

As The Independent's reviewer, I have seen theatre across the globe, from Bucharest to Phnom Penh. But nothing feels more foreign than Broadway. This is because, in some respects, it has the appearance of being so like home, while actually being very different.

[ 04/26/05 ]

@ I knew it! A new study shows that information overload reduces people's IQ by 10 points - double the amount seen in people who use marijuana. Dude! (thanks, Chris!)
[ 04/26/05 ]

@ Soylent Rice News: "In the first modification of its kind, Japanese researchers have inserted a gene from the human liver into rice to enable it to digest pesticides and industrial chemicals. The gene makes an enzyme, code-named CPY2B6, which is particularly good at breaking down harmful chemicals in the body."

But he and other scientists caution that if the gene were to escape to wild relatives of the rice it could create particularly vicious superweeds that were resistant to a wide range of herbicides.

(thanks, lizard!)
[ 04/26/05 ]

@ Pornography in Clay.

The discoveries have reopened an old rift in the academic world, in which two camps are at odds over a fundamental issue. The question they're quarreling over is this: Did our ancestors live relaxed and uninhibited lives, or was asceticism the order of the day in the primeval age?
The two sides of the debate are clearly defined: Socio-biologists believe that the early hominids were basically promiscuous, and that they spent their lives running around the fields and woods of their day, constantly in pursuit of sex, following the genetic dictates of their rampant hormones. The other side of the equation are those -- sometimes referred to as "tabooists" -- who assume that even early man lived under a strict system of sexual abstinence, and that the sex lives of Neanderthal man were everything but orgiastic.

[ 04/26/05 ]

@ In Portland, living the green American dream.

Part of its allure is that "green" is no easy name to come by. It is akin to a status symbol, and it must be earned. Even the Higgins hesitate to call their house green, despite its many environmentally sensitive features. [...]
But as the owners of green homes know firsthand, the cost difference is largely superficial. Any up-front costs are recaptured over time because these buildings use so little energy. Portland General Electric, for instance, reimburses houses that generate more power than they use. An award-winning green house in Cannon Beach, Ore., with its solar panels and eco roof (a roof planted with greenery to deflect heat and improve insulation), is actually making money this spring.

[ 04/27/05 ]

@ Can We Make Boys and Girls Alike? Read it with a grain of salt: it's a partial survey of pop gender studies selected to make a pre-conceived point. But there are some interesting ideas here, if only the author had been interested enough in the subject to actually consider them. [more...]

The intellectual cornerstone of women's studies is "gender," the notion that differences between men and women are not rooted in biology, as Summers had hypothesized some might be, but are cultural artifacts, inculcated by an oppressive patriarchal society. [...] So when Summers asserted that something besides artificial cultural roles - something besides "gender" - might account for the distinct positions of men and women in society, he was undermining the intellectual and political foundation of the entire women's studies establishment.
The alternatives to feminist orthodoxy don't end with Summers-style invocations of biology as destiny. Take psychiatrist Leonard Sax's new book, Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About the Emerging Science of Sex Differences, for example. Sax begins by arguing that variations in how boys and girls learn result from brain biology. But, unlike many believers in hardwired sex differences, he goes on to argue that we can triumph over biology through single-sex education. If we teach boys and girls separately and in sync with their biologically based learning styles, he claims, they will perform equally well in all academics, including math.

It's interesting to see this commonly held notion of feminism as aspiring to "androgeny". As I recall, the early feminists wanted two things: parity in the workplace and respect for traditional "women's work" (and the opportunity for men to share in it, as a positive thing). The second part of that equation seems to have been abandoned by feminists early on. However, as far as I can see, the current generation of women workers are starting to agitate for two things: work environments that reward them - or at least, don't penalize them - for their differences from men; and work environments that accomodate child-care and elder-care. Back to our roots. (via my apple menu reader)
[ 04/27/05 ]

@ Martha Stewart has signed a deal with Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. to produce a 24-hour women's lifestyle radio channel.
[ 04/27/05 ]

@ A new study shows that what you wash with can make a difference, but frequent handwashing is more important still.
[ 04/28/05 ]

@ A food critic lays out his six-step program for how to eat anything.

I was also convinced that Greek cuisine was an oxymoron. Nations are like people. Some are good at cooking, while others have a talent for music or baseball or manufacturing VCRs. The Greeks are really good at both pre-Socratic philosophy and white sculpture. They have not been good cooks since the fifth century B.C., when Siracusa in Sicily was the gastronomic capital of the world. Typical of the Greeks' modern cuisine are feta cheese and retsina wine. Any country that pickles its national cheese in brine and adulterates its national wine with pine pitch should order dinner at the local Chinese place and save its energies for other things. The British go to Greece for the food, which says volumes to me. You would probably think twice before buying a Russian or Algerian television set. I had thought for 10 years before buying my last Greek meal.
This had to stop.

[ 04/28/05 ]

@ Steven Johnson: TV Makes You Smarter.

For decades, we've worked under the assumption that mass culture follows a path declining steadily toward lowest-common-denominator standards, presumably because the "masses" want dumb, simple pleasures and big media companies try to give the masses what they want. But as that "24" episode suggests, the exact opposite is happening: the culture is getting more cognitively demanding, not less. To make sense of an episode of "24," you have to integrate far more information than you would have a few decades ago watching a comparable show. Beneath the violence and the ethnic stereotypes, another trend appears: to keep up with entertainment like "24," you have to pay attention, make inferences, track shifting social relationships. This is what I call the Sleeper Curve: the most debased forms of mass diversion -- video games and violent television dramas and juvenile sitcoms -- turn out to be nutritional after all.
I believe that the Sleeper Curve is the single most important new force altering the mental development of young people today, and I believe it is largely a force for good: enhancing our cognitive faculties, not dumbing them down.

Please don't tell my husband.
[ 04/28/05 ]

@ Automated Storyteller. The curse of the prolific author.

There is an acknowledged double standard in how we view a prolific genre writer and a fruitful literary author. Musing on the seemingly inexhaustible John Updike, David Foster Wallace once asked, "Has the son-of-a-bitch ever had one unpublished thought?" Updike's absurdly prodigious output - in the form of novels, as well as short stories, travel writing and literary criticism - has undermined his stature in the eyes of Foster Wallace, as well as many fiction readers. It hearkens back to this notion we have of how "serious" novels are created - that every sentence is the result of years of contemplation and agonized toil. Anything less is deemed half-assed - or purely for a commercial audience.

[ 04/29/05 ]

@ How to be Your Own Publisher. The further mass amateurization of publishing.

"Publishing has been an arcane specialist skill under the control of a guild of people that are unique and different from anyone else," the founder and chief executive of Xlibris, John Feldcamp, says. "Those skills have been so complicated they haven't been accessible to normal human beings. What's happening is all the technologies of publishing are becoming increasingly cheap and accessible," as almost every aspect of production, including design and printing, has gone digital.
"Companies like Random House and Simon & Schuster are in the process of investing in highly valuable properties. They want to find Deepak Chopra; they don't want to find a writer necessarily who has an audience of 10,000 people," Feldcamp says. Ultimately, he predicts, "companies like us will support the lion's share of content out there," though probably not of best sellers, he concedes. The majority of books produced by self-publishers sell a few hundred copies at most.

[ 04/29/05 ]


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