Sunday, June 30, 2013

We took 380 billion photos last year

According to this Google report (PDF), that's 10% of the photos ever taken.

WOW!

Will there ever be a year in which the number of photos effectively doubles? That is, the number of photos taken in that one year is equal to the cumulative number of photos taken in all previous years? How many photos will be taken in the year after that?

Bleg: Do Memes Matter to You?

For those doing or training to do academic research on linguistic and/or cultural evolution: Do memes matter to you?

I've got the impression that the issue that I've been chewing on recently, the appropriate account of memes of, if you prefer, the cultural analog of the biological gene, is mostly a theoretical one and has, so far, little bearing on empirical issues. However, I've also got the impression that most of the work on cultural evolution in the past decade or so has been empirical, either analysis of real-world data of one kind or another, or running simulations, and that the appropriate definition of meme doesn't matter. You count what you can count. What matters is the quality of the raw data and the quality of the analysis.

If that is so, who cares about memes?

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Refugees

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Does Bhutan's Proclaimed Happiness Rest on an Act of National Cruelty?

Viduyapati Mishra writes in the NYTimes:
After tightening its citizenship laws in the mid-1980s, Bhutan conducted a special census in the south and then proceeded to cast out nearly 100,000 people — about one-sixth of its population, nearly all of them of Nepalese origin, including my family. It declared us illegal immigrants, even though many of us went back several generations in Bhutan. It hasn’t let any of us move back.

The enormity of this exodus, one of the world’s largest by proportion, given the country’s small population, has been overlooked by an international community that is either indifferent or beguiled by the government-sponsored images of Bhutan as a serene Buddhist Shangri-La, an image advanced by the policy of “gross national happiness,” coined by King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in the 1970s.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Port Authority Bus Terminal in NYC to be rebuilt?

It's been years since I took a bus through NYC's Port Authority Bus Terminal, decades in fact. My memories are dim, and not very favorable. It's even worse than Penn Station, and that's pretty bad.

But the Port Authority is planning to renovate it or even replace it. This particular statement struck me in a NYTimes article:
David Samson, the Port Authority chairman, said the plan would position the terminal — which with 225,000 travelers a day, is the world’s busiest bus hub, according to the authority — as a “world-class facility.”
The world's busiest bus hub! That's something, and we know that NONE of the 1% travel through that terminal. 

A world-class facility, by all means.

A world-traveling friend of mine, Eddie Reynolds of Ireland, Austria, and Hong-Kong, tells me that NYC's been living on its laurels for too long. It's still a world-class town, but its authority and luster are diminishing by comparison.

They better get on it.

Three Quick Notes on Harman

Graham Harman has just published An outline of object-oriented philosophy, Science Progress, Volume 96, Number 2, June 2013, pp. 187-199(13). It's available online for 60 days.

I've just read through it quickly and have some quick remarks.

Science

On science, Harman says (pp. 180-190):
But there are two basic reasons why science cannot replace metaphysics. The first is that science itself is based on a metaphysics whose truth is by no means evident. In focusing on the forces and elements of nature, science tacitly assumes that these are more real than artificial compound things such as languages, societies, armies, class struggles, bridges, and rail networks. There is an unspoken reductionism at work here, as if the smallest constituents of the world possessed a reality that was withheld from the macro-sized entities that they compose.
I don't think so. Scientists may well adopt a reductionist philosophy, either critically or casually, when they're thinking more generally about the world. But it's a mistake to think that THAT's what science is based-on. Rather, in practice, science is based on a miscellaneous and ever-growing bunch of methods designed to arrive at objective knowledge of the world. So far those methods have worked best when "focusing on the forces and elements of nature" rather than when examining "artificial compound things such as languages, societies, armies, class struggles, bridges, and rail networks."

I don't see that there's anything in principle about the search for object knowledge that makes impossible to arrive at truths about languages, societies, class struggles and the rest. But arriving at objective truths about such things has proven to be difficult.

Infant empathy and understanding

Although it may seem difficult for adults to understand what an infant is feeling, a new study from Brigham Young University finds that it's so easy a baby could do it.

Psychology professor Ross Flom's study, published in the academic journal Infancy, shows that infants can recognize each other's emotions by five months of age. This study comes on the heels of other significant research by Flom on infants' ability to understand the moods of dogs, monkeys and classical music.

"Newborns can't verbalize to their mom or dad that they are hungry or tired, so the first way they communicate is through affect or emotion," says Flom. "Thus it is not surprising that in early development, infants learn to discriminate changes in affect."
Infants can match emotion in adults at seven months and familiar adults at six months. In order to test infant's perception of their peer's emotions, Flom and his team of researchers tested a baby's ability to match emotional infant vocalizations with a paired infant facial expression.
Original article:
Mariana Vaillant-Molina1, Lorraine E. Bahrick1, Ross Flom. Young Infants Match Facial and Vocal Emotional Expressions of Other Infants. Infancy
Article first published online: 25 MAR 2013, DOI: 10.1111/infa.12017

Abstract: Research has demonstrated that infants recognize emotional expressions of adults in the first half year of life. We extended this research to a new domain, infant perception of the expressions of other infants. In an intermodal matching procedure, 3.5- and 5-month-old infants heard a series of infant vocal expressions (positive and negative affect) along with side-by-side dynamic videos in which one infant conveyed positive facial affect and another infant conveyed negative facial affect. Results demonstrated that 5-month-olds matched the vocal expressions with the affectively congruent facial expressions, whereas 3.5-month-olds showed no evidence of matching. These findings indicate that by 5 months of age, infants detect, discriminate, and match the facial and vocal affective displays of other infants. Further, because the facial and vocal expressions were portrayed by different infants and shared no face–voice synchrony, temporal, or intensity patterning, matching was likely based on detection of a more general affective valence common to the face and voice.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Xanadu on the Lake: Chicago’s Millennium Park

triangulation

Conceived in 1997, Millenium Park was officially opened on 16 July 2004. Occupying 24.5 acres in the northwest corner of Chicago’s Grant Park, this new park is a garden on a roof. It was built over an automobile garage and railway lines and cost a half-billion in dollars and likely as much in egos accommodated and backs scratched.

The overhand throw is 1.8 million years old

Or at least it could be, based on anatomy. The NYTimes reports:
“You’re storing energy in your shoulder,” Dr. Roach said, speaking from Africa, where he was heading to Lake Turkana to look at fossil footprints of human ancestors about a million and a half years old. The storage occurs in the cocking motion, when a thrower brings hand and ball back, preparing to throw. “It works just like a slingshot would. You’re actually stretching the ligaments.”

Several developments in anatomy allowed humans to throw this way, he said, including a waist that allows twisting and a relatively open shoulder, compared with those of other primates like chimpanzees.

Looking at the fossil record, Dr. Roach and colleagues put the moment at which these changes came together in one body at about 1.8 million years ago, when Homo erectus first appeared. “It’s possible that Homo erectus could throw as fast as we do,” Dr. Roach said.
That's roughly when well-formed hand axes show up in the fossil record, though many of them are too large to be thrown. Crudely-formed stone tools are somewhat older (2.8 May).

Dawkins does the memetic hustle

For Saatchi & Saatchi, at Cannes no less. The fun starts at roughly 4:50



YouTube currently (10AM Eastern time on Thur 27 July 2013) registers over 315K views. I suppose that qualifies as having gone viral.

Brooms

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What's a meme? Where I got my conception

In the past few years I have settled into a conception of memes (that is, of the cultural analog to the biological gene) as properties of physical objects, events, and processes. If, for example, we're talking of the spoked wheel, then certain of its discernible physical properties (such as its shape) have memetic function, but not the wheel itself. The wheel itself is simply a physical object, like a stone or a mountain. Similarly, the process of making a spoked wheel has memetic properties, and it is those properties to which apprentices attend as they learn the craft from a master wheelwright.

My immediate source of this concept is my friend, teacher, and colleague, the late David G. Hays. I don't know where Hays himself got the idea. But I know he'd read Dawkins, so perhaps that's where he got it.

We discussed the idea a bit in the 1990s, but only a bit. It didn't loom large in our discussions. It was only after he'd died (in 1995) that I decided to work on the idea, though I forget just what prompted this.

Once I made that decision I started my reading in the one place Hays had written on the idea, a relatively short passage in the final chapter of The Evolution of Technology Through Four Cognitive Ranks (1993), which he'd developed while teaching an online course on the history of technology through The New School. I have reproduced that passage below.

The term "rank" is one we used over the years in talking about the ever-increasing complexity of culture. Roughly speaking, by rank 1 we mean the cultures pre-literate societies. Rank 2 emerges with the advent of literacy while Rank 3 is what first emerged in the West in the Early Modern period (aka the Renaissance). Rank 4 is where we are now. Our basic account can be found in The Evolution of Cognition (1990), though there's a preliminary version in my dissertation, Cognitive Science and Literary Theory (1978). You can find a handful of papers, plus an overview, at Mind-Culture Coevolution: Major Transitions in the Development of Human Culture and Society.

Just WHERE IS reality anyhow? The force of culture

It seems that the current incarnation of Dr. Who has resigned the job and another replacement is needed. Writing in the New Statesmen, Laurie Penny observes:
Because Doctor Who has been a cultural touchstone in Britain for half a century, so the logic goes, we cannot have it fronted by a black man or a woman. It just wouldn’t feel right. Right now, arguing about who the next Doctor should be feels more real than arguing about parliamentary politics, because there’s at least the slim chance that what we think might influence the outcome.

Is fantasy play a Western invention?

From a T. M. Lurhmann op-ed in the NYTimes:
What does it mean that our society places such a premium on fantasy and imagination? “No culture,” observes the child psychologist Suzanne Gaskins, “comes close to the level of resources for play provided by middle-class Euro-American parents.” In many traditional societies, children play by imitating adults. They pretend to cook, marry, plant, fish, hunt.

“Inventive pretend,” in which children pretend the fantastic or impossible (enchanted princesses, dragon hunters) “is rarely — if ever — observed in non-industrialized or traditional cultures,” Gaskins says. That may be because inventive play often requires adult involvement. Observing the lack of fantasy play among the Manus children in New Guinea, Margaret Mead noted that “the great majority of children will not even imagine bears under the bed unless the adult provides the bear.”

Westerners, by contrast, not only tolerate fantasy play but actively encourage it, for adults as well as for children. We are novel readers, movie watchers and game players.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Brightness approaching monochrome

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More Chimpanzee Grief

Pansy dies:
When the scientists at the park realized Pansy’s death was imminent, they turned on video cameras, capturing intimate moments during her last hours as Blossom [a close friend], Rosie [oldest daughter] and Blossom’s son, Chippy, groomed her and comforted her as she got weaker. After she passed, the chimps examined the body, inspecting Pansy’s mouth, pulling her arm and leaning their faces close to hers. Blossom sat by Pansy’s body through the night. And when she finally moved away to sleep in a different part of the enclosure, she did so fitfully, waking and repositioning herself dozens more times than was normal. For five days after Pansy’s death, none of the other chimps would sleep on the platform where she died.
Lippo dies:
[Brian Hare] was at a bonobo orphanage in the Democratic Republic of Congo when Lipopo, a newcomer to the orphanage, died unexpectedly from pneumonia. Although the other bonobos could have moved away from his body and traveled anywhere in their very large, heavily forested enclosure, they chose to stay and groom Lipopo’s corpse. When their caretakers arrived to remove the body, the vigil morphed into a tense standoff.

In the video Hare took, Mimi, the group’s alpha female, stands guard over Lipopo’s body. When the caretakers try to push the corpse out of the enclosure with long poles, Mimi fights them, viciously. She grabs the poles with both hands, wrenching them away from Lipopo. She calls to other bonobos, who help her fend off the humans from two sides. Even when the vet arrives with a tranquilizer gun, Mimi stands her ground, her mouth open wide in a scream that’s inaudible in the silent film. Mimi wasn’t related to Lipopo. In fact, she barely knew him, Hare told me.
From the NYTimes HERE.

Stir-fry memetics

Tyler Cowen has a post at Foreign Policy, The Cookbook Theory of Economics: Why Chinese and Mexican dominate the market. Here's a paragraph Cowen high-lighted on his own blog, Marginal Revolution:
Consider how cooking evolves: It starts in the home and then eventually spreads to restaurants and on to cookbooks, along the way transforming a recipe from oral tradition to commercialized product. In the home, recipes are often transmitted from grandmother to mother, or from father to son, or simply by watching and participating. I've seen this in rural Mexico, for instance, when an older daughter teaches her younger sister how to pat tortillas the right way. When societies get richer, you start to see restaurants, a form of specialization like auto mechanics or tailors (see: Adam Smith on the division of labor). Restaurants require that strangers -- other cooks -- be taught the process. That means simplifying or standardizing ingredients so they're easier to work with and, in many cases, available year-round. This, of course, means writing down the recipe. Once a dish reaches these commercial milestones, cookbooks will follow.
Yes. Why not? It's a good paragraph. I like this passage as well, which precedes it:
I recall a trip a few years ago to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where I was surprised to find that virtually all restaurants were Chinese or Indian. They were excellent, but still I wanted some local food. In a fit of desperation, I paid the maid to make me a Tanzanian dish in the hotel kitchen, a kind of improvised room service, with a large tip attached. I ended up with a sort of porridge that looked quite simple but tasted delicious. As I was enjoying the meal, it occurred to me that writing down the recipe wouldn't do much good, as I wouldn't be able to reproduce it at home. The grain -- perhaps a maize flour or millet -- was unfamiliar, and the rest of the local ingredients were fresher and more delicious than anything I could easily get my hands on at home in Fairfax, Virginia. A recipe like "cook grain; add water and salt" wouldn't get me far, not even with Whole Foods at my disposal.

James' Late Pluralism: Strung Along

Terence Blake has drawn my attention to an interesting post by Angela Roothaan, Strung Along. It's about William James' last book (which I've not read), A Pluralistic Universe:
And of course the book might be easily criticized, since it does not rest on a strong argumentative structure, but rather is an attempt to draw together insights from such widely divergent thinkers as the physicist-turned-psychologist Fechner (1801-1887) and the vitalist philosopher Bergson (1859-1941), in support of what is only the outline of a new ontology. An ontology which aims to surpass the boundaries of objectivism: expecting the Cartesian idea that a self-supporting thinking ego might describe the world as it is (as its object) to be false. One should acknowledge that ‘the Philosopher himself [is] taken up into the universe which he is accounting for.’ This makes any ontology provisional, makes us having to accept pluralism (giving up the effort to surmount conflicting ontologies into a definitive one), and potentially leads to a conception of consciousness as potentially continuous with a wider consciousness. Wider than the individual, or than reason, or than humanity.
And so:
The consequence of all this is captured in one of those apt expressions the artist with words added to philosophical language: that the ‘universe’ (which presents itself as a ‘multiverse’) might not consist of entities springing all from a single source, but that its consistency might be described aptly enough as ‘strung along’.
Such is the abundant unfolding of the world.

Reality is not perceived, it is enacted -- in a universe of great, perhaps unbounded, complexity.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Red cabbage, wet & dry

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The Memetic Changeover: When and Why?

This is going to be quick, I hope, and dirty, I’m sure. What I’m up to is taking the first crude steps toward an argument about why putting memes in the head makes culture unintelligible.

Dawkins’ central insight, and the only reason to think about memes at all, is that, properly understood, properly cultural evolution is a regime where the beneficiary of successful cultural change (see my post, Roles in Cultural Interaction) is some kind of cultural entity rather than the organism that exhibits, uses, creates, that cultural entity. Call this the memetic regime. In gene-culture coevolution, by contrast, it is the organism that benefits from successful cultural change.

That is, in the regime of gene-culture coevolution, cultural inheritance is simply mode of behavioral inheritance that is different from, and more rapid, than ‘ordinary’ gene-mediated behavioral inheritance. All of animal culture is inherited in this regime. And this regime remains active in human life as well, though it is swamped by the memetic regime.

The question I’m asking is when, and why, in human prehistory did the memetic regime emerge? Stone tools emerge in the archeological record roughly 2.5 million years ago. Finely crafted hand axes–if that, indeed, is what they are–show up 1.5 million years ago. The shapes of these hand axes are conserved over 100s of thousands of years. They don’t change.

On the one hand, these artifacts indicate a level of craftsmanship beyond that we see in any animal. But they don’t show evidence of rapid and directed change. Do they exist fully within the regime of gene-cultural co-evolution? The question is not, of course, simply about the tools and axes themselves, but about the entire way of life in which they are embedded.

I don’t, of course, know the answer to that question. But if they are pre-memetic, then when did the memetic regime emerge, and why?

One obvious inflection point would be the emergence of language as we know it, which seems to have happened between 200,000 and 50,000 years ago. If that’s when the change happened, why? What is it about language that facilitated that change?

Mickey Mouse Gets Shot in Vietnam

Back in 1968 Milton Glaser (National Medal of Arts 2009) and Lee Savage create a crude one-minute cartoon, “Mickey Mouse in Vietnam,” which recently showed up on YouTube:



Salon has a few remarks HERE; Glaser is interviewed in BuzzFeed HERE.

Given that this little gem went on the web in late April, I'm wondering why DisneyCo hasn't ordered it taken down. Here's what Glaser said in the BuzzFeed interview:
Disney is very protective of their intellectual property. Did you ever hear from them after you screened the film? 
MG: No… There was some talk about Disney suing us, but I think the consequence of that — everybody realized — would have been negative for Disney and would have no benefit. And obviously no profit was made out of the utilization of the character or the film, so nothing ever happened.
He's talking about the situation back in '68, but things really haven't changed all that much. No one's taking any money out of Disney's corporate coffers through this little short from 45 years ago, but the PR consequences of kicking up a fuss would be just as bad now as they would have been back then. And perhaps worse, given widespread anti-copyright sentiment and the existence of social media.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The college biz, under fire?

Over the past year or so Joseph Nocera, a NYTimes columnist, has been waging war against the NCAA. He believes, reasonably enough, that Big Time college athletics is Big Business and therefore that the athletes should be paid for their services. Today he writes about a potential class-action suit being brought against the NCAA:
On Thursday in San Francisco, Michael Hausfeld, a plaintiff’s attorney from Washington, D.C., stood before a federal judge and argued that the N.C.A.A. violates the nation’s antitrust laws. Hausfeld is the lawyer who has brought the O’Bannon case, so named for the lead plaintiff, Ed O’Bannon, a former U.C.L.A. basketball star who sued the N.C.A.A. for licensing his likeness to the video game maker EA Sports without compensating him. Dozens of other former college athletes have since joined the suit.

If they get certified as a class — and that is what Thursday’s arguments were about — there would be potentially tens of thousands of plaintiffs.
He concludes:
In the next month, the judge will make a decision about whether the lawsuit should go forward. There are no guarantees, of course, but if O’Bannon wins, and players have to be compensated for use of their likeness, it will be the first small step toward giving the players a share, at long last, of the riches their work produces.

It won’t, however, be the last such step. Whether through O’Bannon or some other means, the day is coming when the players will be paid. The only question is when.
What is the legal, social, political relationship between this dynamic and the one on the academic side that's driving college education online, for-profit, and deeper into adjunctification? 

To put the issue crudely, does, for example, a payday for student athletes mean more or less money for adjuncts? 

How does this play into the overall differentiation between business and education in these institutions?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Family Business (The Sopranos)

Originally published in The Valve in April 2008.
I’ve now seen 17 episodes of The Sopranos – the entire first season plus the first four episodes of the second season – and I am getting a feel for the show. But that doesn’t mean I understand it in any critical sense, though I certainly enjoy it and think it very good. Fact is, I’ve now seen enough that I’m wondering: What’s it about?

Yes, I know, it’s about Tony Soprano, his shrink, and his two families. The one family, of course, is his wife and kids and so forth, while the other consists of his business associates in the mob. There is some overlap between the two groups, and that is certainly one of the things this series is about, negotiating one’s life between home and workplace. That is hardly a novel problem; on the contrary, it is ubiquitous. Most adult Americans face it in some way, but not quite this way. Perhaps that is part of its appeal, a defamiliarizing look at a familiar situation.

This particular theme was brought home to me in episode nine, “Boca,” as in Boca Raton, but also, according to the Wikipedia, a pun on bocca, Italian for “mouth,” and, by extension, gossip. Corrado Soprano, Tony’s nominal boss in the mob (and his uncle as well; he’s often called “Uncle Junior”) takes his long-term mistress to Boca Raton, where they enjoy a satisfying romantic interlude in which she compliments Junior on his skill in cunnilingus. I want to set this plotline aside, however, to look at the other one, which involves Ally Vandermeed, a friend of Tony’s daughter, Meadow, and the coach of their high-school soccer team.

Coach Hauser is very good and his team has a chance of going to the playoffs. He’s so good that he’s been recruited to coach at the University of Rhode Island. When this news hits the papers, Tony and two of his friends, who also have daughters on the team, are very upset. They decide to see if they can convince the coach to turn the job down.

One of these friends, Silvio Danto, is Tony’s consigliore in the mob. The other one, Artie Bucco, has known Tony since childhood, but is not involved in the mob. Artie’s a restaurateur, as was his father, but, of course, he knows that Tony’s a gangster. He has no foreknowledge of what Tony and Silvio do to persuade the coach to stick around.

First, they send him a 50-inch wide-screen surround-sound TV, which he angrily refuses, accusing Tony’s guys of extortion. They refuse his refusal and leave the box in his driveway. At this point I began to get upset. It seemed to me that Tony was out-of-line here. Then Tony had another henchman, Chris, steal the coach’s dog only to return it to him. Yeah, I felt, it’s too bad that the coach is leaving, but Tony should not be attempting to make him stick around, not like this.

Nobuyoshi Araki at Mana Contemporary

The other day Greg and I decided to check out Mana Contemporary. We had nothing particular in mind, but we’d read about the place in The New York Times and decided to see for ourselves. One of “the art world’s best-kept secrets” in the industrial wilds of Jersey City? Sounds interesting. After all Greg had spent five years curating a somewhat different seKret Art zOne in a different region of Jersey City’s industrial hinterlands.

So we hopped into his white SUV, headed South on Kennedy, turned West on Newark, and drove right past it–all those old industrials look alike, dontchaknow?–but not by much. We found our way to the magic button, got buzzed in, signed-in on an iPad–the place, after all, IS contemporary–and were delivered to a tour guide, Amanda.

And she took us to the Araki exhibit, which occupies two galleries (three if you count the small galley where the documentary played) on the first floor. She took us other places too, including several galleries showing stately videos of Palestinian women; but let’s stick with Araki-san. He’s more than enough for one blog post.

Araki is a photographer, one of Japan’s best-known and most prolific. Never heard of him. Which is neither here nor there.

The flower close-ups, yes. Lush. Even when partnered with a desiccated salamander. Cloudscapes. Yes. Cityscapes. Yes.

But Araki is about the women. Some entirely naked, some only partially so. There’s the school-girl sailor suits. But also traditional kimonos.

Some black and white. Some in color.

Up close and impersonal (organs of generation)

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Guilty! (Of something), the drone has the evidence

Over at Marginal Revolution Alex Tabarrock has a post based on the premise that so many laws and regulations are in place in the United States that all of us break some of them inadvertently. After a couple of specific examples Tabarrock reminds us:
Remember, under the common law, mens rea, criminal intent, was a standard requirement for criminal prosecution but today that is typically no longer the case especially under federal criminal law .

Faced with the evidence of an non-intentional crime, most prosecutors, of course, would use their discretion and not threaten imprisonment. Evidence and discretion, however, are precisely the point. Today, no one is innocent and thus our freedom is maintained only by the high cost of evidence and the prosecutor’s discretion.
Here's the point:
One of the responses to the revelations about the mass spying on Americans by the NSA and other agencies is “I have nothing to hide. What me worry?” I tweeted in response “If you have nothing to hide, you live a boring life.” More fundamentally, the NSA spying machine has reduced the cost of evidence so that today our freedom–or our independence–is to a large extent at the discretion of those in control of the panopticon.
That is not a comforting thought.

Mapping the Brain: The Human Connectome Project

Navigate the brain in a way that was never before possible; fly through major brain pathways, compare essential circuits, zoom into a region to explore the cells that comprise it, and the functions that depend on it.

The Human Connectome Project aims to provide an unparalleled compilation of neural data, an interface to graphically navigate this data and the opportunity to achieve never before realized conclusions about the living human brain.
A major challenge, of course, is figure out how to make sense of connectivity data once it's been harvested. Here's a relationship viewer and here's a bunch of images.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Will the real Wharhol stand up?

As the ur-postmodernist, Warhol’s entire artistic practice and persona stood, quite intentionally, in opposition to modernist ideas. He was the very antithesis of a Van Gogh, a Picasso, a Pollock. Where they (it was held) re-made the world visually and emotionally in the smithies of their tortured souls (to paraphrase James Joyce), Warhol blithely swiped subject matter from mass media. He presented himself as a kind of empty mirror for the images that were already all around us in advertising or entertainment or packaging. And his persona was famously cool and withdrawn, or even blank: just the opposite of the outsized, impassioned personalities of Picasso or Pollock.
But the The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board treat Warhol and his works with the traditional veneration accorded to the modernists (and their predecessors).
Yet remarkably, the entire discourse and institutional context which was developed in relation to Manet, Kandinsky or de Kooning, and explicitly attacked by Warhol and the postmodernists, is simply reproduced by the foundation, the board, and indeed by virtually all institutions that deal with postmodern art. It’s roughly analogous to scientists trying to account for the latest results in physics using the intellectual equipment of medieval theology.
If art really is over, as Warhol's practice proclaimed, then even "authentic" Warhols–whatever they are, as many of his works were executed entirely by assistants–aren't worth much.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Synch and Society, Two Articles: A Synthesis and Review and a Study of Applause

Here's a review and synthesis of recent work and thinking on human synchrony (from the Dartmouth lab of Thalia Wheatley):
Thalia Wheatley, Olivia Kang, Carolyn Parkinson, and Christine E. Looser. From Mind Perception to Mental Connection: Synchrony as a Mechanism for Social Understanding. Social and Personality Psychology Compass 6/8 (2012): 589–606, 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2012.00450.x

Connecting deeply with another mind is as enigmatic as it is fulfilling. Why people ‘‘click’’ with some people but not others is one of the great unsolved mysteries of science. However, research- ers from psychology and neuroscience are converging on a likely physiological basis for connec- tion – neural synchrony (entrainment). Here, we review research on the necessary precursors for interpersonal synchrony: the ability to detect a mind and resonate with its outputs. Further, We describe potential mechanisms for the development of synchrony between two minds. We then consider recent neuroimaging and behavioral evidence for the adaptive benefits of synchrony, including neural efficiency and the release of a reward signal that promotes future social interaction. In nature, neural synchrony yields behavioral synchrony. Humans use behavioral syn- chrony to promote neural synchrony, and thus, social bonding. This reverse-engineering of social connection is an important innovation likely underlying this distinctively human capacity to create large-scale social coordination and cohesion.
Three comments: 1) It's interesting to see this material framed in terms of The brain's Turing Tests. I take this as an index of how thoroughly the computational conception of mind has come to permeate our thinking. 2) I particularly recommend attention to the section, Neural efficiency: "A hallmark of mental connection is that it feels effortless." This has an affinity for the conception of pleasure I develop in Chapter 4 of Beethoven's Anvil. See also Bernstein's concept of dimensional compression which comes up in this post, Cooperation, Coupling, Music, and Soccer. 3) Attend to various remarks about loss of a sense of self.

In the Middle: Matter is Information: On Gene Patents, cDNA, and Spontaneous Generation


A most interesting meditation on the matter/information conundrum from a viewpoint about which I am not at all sure. But that's just how these things are.

I think it's in the same ball park as my recent post: Culture Information Memes WTF!.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Ponyo for Adults

Reposted from a year and a half ago. Miyazaki is always worth thinking about.
We know, of course, that cartoons aren’t just for kids, right? Many exist in what I’ve come to call “universal kid space”; they’re fully accessible to children, yet are compelling to adults on their own terms, and not just vicariously through children. In thinking about Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo I’ve been thinking about the adult aspect of the film. What’s here for adults?

There is, of course, the visual beauty. The film is a joy to behold and the animation is often astounding, such as the sequence where the sea comes alive as Ponyo runs atop the waves to meet Sosuke:

Ponyo-A-3 running on water

But what about the story? It’s simple enough that a young child could follow it; Miyazaki has said he made it for five year olds (in an interview included as extra on the Disney DVD). There are two things I find puzzling at the heart of the story. One, that Ponyo should so badly want to be human. Why? It doesn’t seem to follow from any particularly compelling psychology. She just wants to be human and that’s that. Two, given that she wants to be human, why should that desire throw the whole world into turmoil? Why couldn’t the effects of that desire be more local?

I think we have to take the psychology as given. That’s just the way things are. As for the cataclysmic effects of Ponyo’s desire, that’s what Miyazaki was reaching for. On the emotional side, let me quote from Mark Mayerson:
Miyazaki's subject here is love, though not romantic love and certainly not sexual love. What the characters in this film are missing is devotional love. Just about every character in this film has been abandoned in one way or another.

The nursing home that Sosuke's mother Lisa works at is next door to a school (or is it a pre-school?). In each case, the old and the young have been isolated from the world of adults. The old women in the home are, I presume, widows, and their children are not taking care of them. The children in school are not being looked after by their parents....

Both Sosuke and Ponyo have two parents, but those parents are not together. Sosuke's father is captain of a ship and over the course of the entire film, he never gets off it. . . . Ponyo's mother is a goddess who is not present in Ponyo's home and who only interacts with Ponyo once during the entire film.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Some Varieties of Light Experience

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Essay-Reviews: Origins of Music, Neuromemetics

I've recently uploaded two essay-reviews to my SSRN page:

Synch, Song, and Society. Human Nature Review, Volume 5, 2005, 66-86.

A number of thinkers, including Charles Darwin, have argued that language and music as we know them were evolutionarily preceded by something that was neither one nor the other, but a bit like both. Steven Mithen is the most prominent current exponent of this idea, which he has set forth at book-length in The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body. In particular, he argues that the neanderthals were virtuosi in this superseded behavior. In this essay-review I summarize the salient point of Mithen's book, which is based on a wide ranger of literature, and add some speculations of my own. In particular I talk about interactive synchrony and shared intentionality and the emergence of group norms and symbolization.

Colorless Green Homunculi. Human Nature Review 2 (2002) 454-462.

Robert Aunger wrote the The Electric Meme: A New Theory of How We Think as a first draft of a neural accounts of memes, units of cultural evolution comparable to the biological gene. It is best viewed as two books. One book is comprised of the first six chapters, which are preparatory in nature, reviewing the current state of memetics, alternative analyses of human cultural evolution, types of replicator (DNA, prions, computer viruses), and the physical nature of information. This book is competent, interesting, and thought provoking. The second book sets forth Aunger’s new theory of neuromemetics and is a failure. Aunger’s ideas are vague, incoherent, and contradictory. Because the long seventh chapter contains Aunger’s central statement, I concentrate on it in this essay-review.

A Father's Day Poem by My Sister Sally

Letters of Our Days


A, E, I, O, U:

These were all the five

So select letters in being

Standby for someday,

The imagined who at noon can see

Indifferently the hollow of

Moonlight and sometimes “Y” . . .

The sun in the only
One center of the galaxy
Once upon a time:

Remember?

Dear Papa,

How are you? I am fine. Having a wonderful time.

Wish you were here.

Love,

Sally

James Turrell, Artist of LIGHT

The New York Times has a fascinating article about this artist.
It is difficult to say much more about the piece without descending into gibberish. This is one of the first things you notice when you spend time around Turrell. Though he is uncommonly eloquent on a host of subjects, from Riemannian geometry to vortex dynamics, he has developed a dense and impenetrable vocabulary to describe his work. Nearly everyone who speaks and writes about Turrell uses the same infernal jargon. It can be grating to endure a cocktail party filled with people talking about the “thingness of light” and the “alpha state” of mind — at least until you’ve seen enough Turrell to realize that, without those terms, it would be nearly impossible to discuss his work. It is simply too far removed from the language of reality, or for that matter, from reality itself.
Turrell's work sounds fascinating. He uses light to creates immersive environments that destroy, diffuse and de-fuses one's ordinary sense of space so that the light itself assumes a numinous presence.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Music and Motion

A couple of months ago I posted  a precis of "Music and movement share a dynamic structure that supports universal expressions of emotion" by Beau Sievers, Larry Polansky, Michael Casey, and Thalia Wheatley (PNAS 2013 110 (1) 70-75). Here's a Bloggingheads.tv conversation with Wheatley in which she discusses that work (and more):



History and Future of Higher Education

HASTAC is organizing a course on this topic. From the course description:
This is a curated collection of blog posts and op ed pieces on "The History and Future of Higher Education," a project initiated by the HASTAC alliance which is coordinating the teaching of a number of diverse courses, workshops, and reading groups, in different locations and online, on the future of higher education in the Spring/Winter term of 2014.  Anyone is invited to offer a course or informal learning program on this topic and include it as part of this project.

Below this introduction, you will find a collection (reposted from hastac.org and other online publications) of posts, resources, forums, syllabi, sample assignments, tools, and other resources and information updates about this co-located, freeflowing, and loosely connected array of courses--many of which will have public, online, open components.  We are hoping for as much public engagement as possible.  We see this as bringing together mounting energies advocating on behalf of reinvigorated funding and new investment in education--with a particular emphasis on the importance of critical thinking, humanities content, peer-contribution, and 21st century literacies.  We are seeking the best new ideas for improving, informing, and reforming education as it exists today.

Right now (June 2013), we have confirmed co-located teaching of courses on some general or specific aspect of the history and/or future of higher education by:
  • Cathy Davidson, Interdisciplinary Studies and English, Duke University, "The History and Future of Higher Education" (draft course description)
  • Katie King, Women's Studies and American Studies, University of Maryland
  • David Palumbo-Liu, Comparative Literature, Stanford, "Histories and Futures of Humanistic Education:  Culture and Crisis, Books and MOOCs" (draft syllabus)
  • Howard Rheingold, independent scholar, author of Net Smart, UC Berkeley
  • Sean Michael Smith, Hybrid Pedagogy 
  • Jesse Stommel, Marylhurst and Hybrid Pedagogy
For more information, current resources, or to offer yourself and your resources, go to the current website. There's lots of stuff already there.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Culture Memes Information WTF!

I’ve been thinking a lot about information recently, mostly as a consequence of reading Dan Dennett on memetics. I’m uncomfortable with his usage, and similar ones, and I can’t quite figure out why. Let me offer two passages, and then some comments by way of thinking out loud.

The first passage is from George Williams, a biologist. It’s in a chapter from a book edited by John Brockman, The Third Culture: Beyond the Scientific Revolution:
Evolutionary biologists have failed to realize that they work with two more or less incommensurable domains: that of information and that of matter. I address this problem in my 1992 book, Natural Selection: Domains, Levels, and Challenges. These two domains will never be brought together in any kind of the sense usually implied by the term "reductionism." You can speak of galaxies and particles of dust in the same terms, because they both have mass and charge and length and width. You can't do that with information and matter. Information doesn't have mass or charge or length in millimeters. Likewise, matter doesn't have bytes. You can't measure so much gold in so many bytes. It doesn't have redundancy, or fidelity, or any of the other descriptors we apply to information. This dearth of shared descriptors makes matter and information two separate domains of existence, which have to be discussed separately, in their own terms.

The gene is a package of information, not an object. The pattern of base pairs in a DNA molecule specifies the gene. But the DNA molecule is the medium, it's not the message. Maintaining this distinction between the medium and the message is absolutely indispensable to clarity of thought about evolution.

Just the fact that fifteen years ago I started using a computer may have had something to do with my ideas here. The constant process of transferring information from one physical medium to another and then being able to recover that same information in the original medium brings home the separability of information and matter. In biology, when you're talking about things like genes and genotypes and gene pools, you're talking about information, not physical objective reality. They're patterns.

I was also influenced by Dawkins' "meme" concept, which refers to cultural information that influences people's behavior. Memes, unlike genes, don't have a single, archival kind of medium. Consider the book Don Quixote: a stack of paper with ink marks on the pages, but you could put it on a CD or a tape and turn it into sound waves for blind people. No matter what medium it's in, it's always the same book, the same information. This is true of everything else in the cultural realm. It can be recorded in many different media, but it's the same meme no matter what medium it's recorded in.
It seems to me that that is more or less how the concept of information is used in many discussions. It’s certainly how Dennett tends to use it. Here’s a typical passage (it’s the fifth and last footnote in From Typo to Thinko: When Evolution Graduated to Semantic Norms):
There is considerable debate among memeticists about whether memes should be defined as brain-structures, or as behaviors, or some other presumably well-anchored concreta, but I think the case is still overwhelming for defining memes abstractly, in terms of information worth copying (however embodied) since it is the information that determines how much design work or R and D doesn’t have to be re-done. That is why a wagon with spoked wheels carries the idea of a wagon with spoked wheels as well as any mind or brain could carry it.
Here I can’t help but think that Dennett’s pulling a fast one. Information has somehow become reified in a way that has the happy effect of relieving Dennett of the task of thinking about the actual mechanisms of cultural evolution. That in turn has the unhappy effect of draining his assertion of meaning. In what way does a wagon with spoked wheels carry any idea whatsoever, much less the idea of itself?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Human-powerd Ferris Wheel in India

Gene/culture co-evolution

Over at Language Log Mark Liberman has a good post on gene/culture co-evolution. The point of departure is an opinion piece that Simon Fisher and Matt Ridley published in Science (ungated HERE). Here's the crucial assertion:
The discovery of any genetic mutation that coincided with the “human revolution” (6) must take care to distinguish cause from effect. Supposedly momentous changes in our genome may sometimes be a consequence of cultural innovation. They may be products of culture-driven gene evolution (7)
Liberman's point is that "this is an entirely traditional and common-sensical view," one for which he provides citations, including Steven Pinker and Paul Bloom, Eric Lenneberg (Biological Foundations of Language, 1967) and Charles Darwin:
But the old and impeccable pedigree of this classical account of gene-culture co-evolution, in the origins of language and elsewhere, has not prevented the spread of "gene for X" bizarreness, or other forms of anti-evolutionary mysticism. So it's nice to see a couple of eminent scientists expressing these ideas, clearly and forcefully, in the pages of a widely-read journal.
There are some useful remarks in the discussion.

Sympathy for others and the old squash and stretch, aka sympathy for the objects

Here we go again. It's complicated, but not really.

The research is about the ability of 10-month old infants to feel empathy for others. That's nice, and not very surprising. What particularly interests me about the research, however, is the way it was conducted. The infants were shown videos involving simple geometric figures, not people. That is, the stimuli were like those used in the famous experiment where Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel showed simple animated figures to Smith undergraduates who them willing interpreted those simple shapes and living creatures in purposeful interaction with one another.

Here's a summary of the current research in Medical Express:

Infants as young as ten months old express sympathy for others in distress in non-verbal ways, according to research published June 12 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Yasuhiro Kanakogi and colleagues from Kyoto University and Toyohashi University of Technology, Japan.

Infants at this age are known to assign goals and intentions to geometric figures; hence the researchers used a series of animated sequences to test infants' responses to aggression. In their experiments, researchers showed infants an aggressive 'social interaction' between a blue ball that attacked and violently crushed a yellow cube and found that the babies preferentially reached for the victim rather than the aggressor. Infants' behavior remained consistent when the roles of the shapes were reversed and when a neutral, non-aggressive shape was introduced in the video, suggesting that their preference for the victim was not out of fear of the aggressive shape.

Based on these observations, the authors conclude, "Ten-month olds not only evaluate the roles of victims and aggressors in interactions but also show rudimentary sympathy toward others in distress based on that evaluation. This simple preference may function as a foundation for full-fledged sympathetic behavior later on."
You'll find the video there. The squash and stretch (a classic animation technique) comes at the very end.

Here's a link to the original article in PLOS One.

Smile, and the whole world anticipates it

Smile and the world smiles with you—but new research suggests that not all smiles are created equal. The research shows that people actually anticipate smiles that are genuine but not smiles that are merely polite. The differing responses may reflect the unique social value of genuine smiles.

"These findings give us the first clear suggestion that the basic processes that guide responses to reward also play a role in guiding social behavior on a moment-to-moment basis during interactions," explains psychological scientist and lead researcher Erin Heerey of Bangor University (UK).
The fact that we anticipate real smiles plays to my hobbyhorse that, during social interaction, we are coupled with one another in the same temporal framework. 

Primary colors RGB

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Gives new meaning to human-aided translation

Inspired by a harrowing episode when Mr. Frankel could not communicate the symptoms of a virulent stomach bug to a pharmacist in Beijing, the service takes just 15 seconds to put mobile users in touch with a human translator fluent in both English and any of 11 other languages. In other words, it combines the speed of Google Translate with the precision of a traditional translation service — at least that was the pitch Mr. Frankel and Mr. Sarda made to the sharks.

Within 72 hours of the segment being shown, 20,000 new customers had downloaded the VerbalizeIt app, according to Mr. Frankel. Daily revenue, he said, more than tripled. The company charges about $1.50 a minute from individual consumers and as much as 27 cents a word from businesses that use the same network of 10,100 freelance translators to translate documents and videos.
A little background: Machine translation–the use of computers to translate from one language to another–was one of the founding problem areas of computer science in the 1950s. The Defense Department of the US Federal Government funded a number of programs that set out to translate Russian texts into English. "Pure" machine translation, with no human help, didn't work too well. Human-aided translation, where a human translator cleaned-up the computer's work, was better.

But VerbalizIt is, obviously, rather different. They use the web to quickly find a human translator to do the whole job.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Rheingold and Alexander on Tech and Higher Ed (MOOCs R Us?)

Bryan Alexander discusses high tech and higher education with Howard Rheingold HERE and HERE. (same video in each case, different framing). Here's what Rheingold says about the conversation:
At the moment, MOOCs are still in the early part of the hype cycle and discourse is dominated by Manichaean fears of robots replacing professors or venture capitalists taking over higher education. (Although the discourse is not without thoughtful pieces about the pedagogy of MOOCs or forecasts that attempt to see beyond the hyperbole). When it comes to speaking about the nuances, the many shades of meaning between the extreme positions, and especially about the role of liberal arts at a time when digital media and learning offer such great promises – and to some, great threats – I knew where to turn. Bryan Alexander, who I previously interviewed about emerging learning technologies for this blog, is the senior fellow at the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education. The ensuing video conversation is longer than usual – around 24 minutes – but if you want to get past the more superficial debates about MOOCs and take a more finely-tuned glimpse at possible futures, you will find it worth your time. This interview will be followed in my next blog post by a conversation with a passionate (and in online learning circles, legendary) practitioner who is bringing the ideas Alexander is laying out for us to life in a residential college and, simultaneously, a global online learning community.

Two flavors of dark

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Napoleon Chagnon and the Yanomamo: Some Lore, Curious but not Quaint

Napoleon Chagnon is one of the most controversial figures in anthropology. You can find a little background on him, and his work among the Yanomamo, in this post by Chris Campbell, which opens thus:
When I first began studying anthropology it was de rigueur to have an opinion about Napoleon Chagnon and his work on the Yanomamo. We couldn’t just read Yanomamo: The Fierce People and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of his theory and approach. We couldn’t just debate the ethnography for what it was or was not. Instead, we were invited to stake out a position that mirrored the tendentious and political debates that swirled around Chagnon. It was, on the whole, a shameful affair that discredited most who were involved. Incredibly, Chagnon still rouses ideological passions among (mostly older) anthropologists.

In the long meantime, those of us who don’t buy into the false dichotomies of cultural-biological, nature-nurture, and science-humanities have assimilated Chagnon’s work and moved far beyond those unproductive debates.
Campbell says a bit more. The object of his post, however, is to introduce a symposium in which Chagnon talks with Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Richard Wrangham, and Daniel Dennett. It's a fascinating discussion. Here are a few excerpts, and a comment or two.

Culture and Cognition

Here's one bit, in response to Steven Pinker, that speaks to one of my hobbyhorses:
... now that you've got me thinking about it, I think there's a general correlation between native peoples in the Amazon, or in South America in general, and the sophistication of their numbering system. And the degree to which they intellectualize and have concepts of, say, the stars in the sky, and they have constellations, or the complexity of their baskets. And I think numbering systems tend to be correlated with complex basketry and complex cosmology. Now, I don't know a good example from my work among the Yanomamö that illustrates that, but …
Makes sense to me. It's not that I see any direct connection between basketry, cosmology, and number systems but rather a looser connection. This is related to the conception of cognitive rank that David Hays and I have outlined.

Monday, June 10, 2013

From Xanadu to the American Dream

Sometime in the late 19th century a British poet named Samuel Taylor Coleridge read a 17th century travel book and came away with the name of Kubla Khan's summer palace, which he used in his poem, "Kubla Khan." Or perhaps he got the name from Milton's Paradise Lost. Who knows? Wherever Coleridge got the name, he turned it into "Xanadu" when he published his poem in 1816 and that's the name we know today.

Orsen Welles read Coleridge's poem and used "Xanadu" as the name of the fabulous Florida mansion of Charles Foster Cane, the protagonist of his 1941 film, Citizen Kane. Later on a computer programmer, Ted Nelson, chose "Xanadu" as the name of his hypertext project. Still later, "Xanadu" was snatched up by Olivia Newton-John as the name of a pop song and a film (which starred Gene Kelly). (I spell this out a bit more in this post, "Xanadu" on the Digital Tip.)

But that's all background.

In the early years of this millenium the Mills Corporation opened Madrid Xanadú, a fabulous shopping and entertainment center that included, among other things, in indoor ski and snowboarding center.

The company planned and started construction on a similar complex in the New Jersey Meadowlands, which is not too far from where I live, Jersey City. That's what this little item is about. That project fell apart when the finances did and construction wasn't completed.

Our Relatives the Chimps and Bonobos

Here's an interesting NPR interview with Franz de Waal in which he talks about chimpanzees and bonobos. It's relatively brief (12 and a half minutes). If you know relatively little about ape behavior, it's well worth your time.

Liberty Swamp

Yes, that IS the Statue of Liberty you see there. But it's not how you're used to seeing it. Obviously. I'm standing in a small wetlands area (aka swamp) in Liberty State Park in Jersey City. It's early in the morning, a bit after dawn.

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Friday, June 7, 2013

Bipartisan cooperation

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High finance for the 99%

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Amid green with purple

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Orange flower from behind

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Silicon Valley and the High Tech Politics

I'm halfway through an interesting article with the following deck (blurb): "CHANGE THE WORLD: Silicon Valley transfers its slogans—and its money—to the realm of politics." It's by George Packer and originally appeared in The New Yorker in late May of this year. Its conceptual starting point is the Valley's more or less naive utopian belief that its business is to change the world and that technology is the way to do that.

Here's some paragraphs from the middle of the article:
In the past fifteen years or so, Andreessen explained, Silicon Valley’s hands-off attitude has changed, as the industry has grown larger and its activities keep colliding with regulations. Technology leaders began to realize that Washington could sometimes be useful to them. “A small number of very high-end Valley people have got involved in politics, but in a way that a lot of us think is relentlessly self-interested,” Andreessen said. The issues that first animated these technology executives were stock options, subsidies, and tax breaks. “They started giving the Valley a bad name in Washington—that the Valley was just another special-interest group.”

In early 2011, Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and other Silicon Valley moguls attended a dinner with President Obama in Wood-side, at the home of John Doerr, a venture capitalist with ties to the Democratic Party. Instead of having a wide-ranging discussion, the tech leaders focussed narrowly on pet issues. John Chambers, of Cisco, kept pushing for a tax holiday on overseas profits that are reinvested in the United States. According to Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs, while Chambers was lobbying Obama, over cod and lentil salad, Zuckerberg turned to Valerie Jarrett, the President’s adviser, and whispered, “We should be talking about what’s important to the country. Why is he just talking about what’s good for him?” When it was Jobs’s turn, he asked for more H-1B visas for foreign students who earn engineering degrees in the U.S.—a longtime Silicon Valley desire. Obama told him that the issue could be addressed only in the context of broader immigration reforms, such as allowing children who had arrived here illegally with their parents to gain legal status.

Zuckerberg came away from the gathering impressed with Obama but sorely disappointed in his own industry. The most dynamic sector of the American economy had no larger agenda.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Gay Disney?

Salon has an interesting article on the lack of gay and lesbian characters in Disney animation. It links to this Autostraddle post from last year: Evil Disney Queens Are Doing It For Themselves (read the comments). I'm wondering what those Autostraddle commenters would see in Fantasia, which lacks humans at all and so is, on that account, wide open.

Animals R Us & We R Them

"...there are more captive tigers living in the state of Texas alone than wild specimens running free anywhere else on the planet."


Social Science Information has a special issue, June 2013; 52 (2), on the shared lives of humans and animals. Here's the full abstract of one of the articles:
In the (bleary) eye of the tiger: An anthropological journey into jungle backyards 
David Jaclin 
Université de Montréal and Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris
David Jaclin, Department of Communication, University of Montreal, CP 6128, succursale Centre-ville, Montreal, QC H3C 3J7, Canada. Email: davidjaclin@gmail.com 
Abstract: North America shelters a growing population of so-called ‘exotic animals’. If the phenomenon is not recent, it now fuels a considerable black market. Jungle backyards compose a non-negligible (yet often neglected) part of some modern ecological landscapes. This article explores problematical situations emerging from these shared humanimal lives. It presents the first results of a multi-species ethnography and examines the prevalence of what I call beastness – an antique commerce amid humans and animals that reveals not only utilitarian purposes, but also relational entanglements. Such a commerce feeds a sizeable economy and exerts major selective pressures (both biological and cultural) on organisms and their environment. For instance, there are more captive tigers living in the state of Texas alone than wild specimens running free anywhere else on the planet. From a strictly statistical point of view, the average tiger is no longer the tiger we imagine. Not wild anymore but neither quite domesticated, some animals – pioneers, in a sense – shuffle traditional taxonomical and ontological conceptions. Through biographical material, I reflect on adaptive responses as well as on zoological potentialities developed by this always-evolving bestiary. Providing serious case studies to further debates dealing with bio–eco–conservation, I discuss the influence of informational and communicational processes crystallized by some of our contemporary crossed becomings.
* * * * *

This general topic is relevant to a number of posts I've done on animation, including many of my Dumbo posts. More specifically:



Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The dimensions of chimpzanzee personality

Reported in Science Daily:
June 3, 2013 — While psychologists have long debated the core personality dimensions that define humanity, primate researchers have been working to uncover the defining personality traits for humankind's closest living relative, the chimpanzee. New research, published in the June 3 issue of American Journal of Primatology provides strong support for the universal existence of five personality dimensions in chimpanzees: reactivity/undependability, dominance, openness, extraversion and agreeableness with a possible sixth factor, methodical, needing further investigation.

Gold in gold

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Miyazaki: Greatest Living Filmmaker?

I want to step back from my descriptive and analytical consideration of specific sequences and motifs in Miyazaki’s films and confront a question that’s been on my mind as I’ve been doing this work. Fred Turner, poet and scholar, put the question in a post, Who is the Best Film Maker in the World Today? His answer: “That, in my humble opinion, is Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki mines all human myths, all genres, even our dreams.”

That’s what I’ve been thinking about. How would you argue that point? Turner’s post is short and provocative. He indicates in general terms his sense of the terms and dimensions of Miyazaki’s achievement. But he doesn’t offer an argument.

And that’s one thing that puzzles me. THE best, I’m thinking, the ONE and ONLY best out of 100s and 1000s of filmmakers? Why not a weaker claim, that he’s a film-maker of the highest order? But still, what would it take to argue that weaker claim? A theory of what art does and why it’s important in human life and culture, surely we need that. And from that we can derive criteria by which to judge art and apply those criteria to Miyazaki.

I doubt that Turner’s done that in arriving at his judgment– and I don’t say that as a criticism. I’d guess that his judgment is an intuitive one. He’s a poet and a scholar and has devoted his life to studying art and to producing it. He puts Miyazaki’s work though his accumulated experience and out it comes, the judgment that Miyazaki’s the best living film-maker.

Still, I want more, I need more. How to get it?

As I thought about the question, even while I reviewed several films – Porco Rosso, Spirited Away, and, most recently, My Neighbor Totoro – I thought about Harold Bloom’s claim that Shakespeare invented our modern sense of the human of personality, and that’s why he’s great. He invented it and subsequent writers elaborated and developed his invention.

Could a similar claim be made for Miyazaki? Of course, we are still very much in Miyazaki’s time, and he in ours. We aren’t in a position to look back on what he did, and one what others did with it. We can only guess at the future.