May 31, 2006
Despite the initial inhibitory effects
1. From Reactive Reports: "Drinking alcoholic beverages with working colleagues after a customary ten-hour day at the office is an important part of business society in Japan, despite the fact that 40 to 45% of the Japanese people possess inactive ALDH2." ALDH2 is an enzyme that eliminates the evil acetaldehyde created in ethanol metabolism, and something many Asians are missing. [via Metafilter]
2. Microsoft has developed new screen text fonts so that we can have "a more enjoyable on-screen reading experience." They don't look too bad, actually, although I'm not impressed with the name Calibri. [via kottke.org]
3. And this discussion of whether preschool should be universal or targeted to needy children might be a good primer for those who are debating the Preschool for All legislation here in Illinois. [via Joanne Jacobs]
Usually I post poems here in their entirety, but this one was just published on Slate so it seems somehow inappropriate to post it again here right away... not sure why. Anyway you'll have to go there to read it.
May 30, 2006
A matter of idealized memory
This article about the surprising state of the classical music industry is certainly good news, but I do wonder whether it might be misleading. For one thing, the stats about the increasing range of music available from CD manufacturers and iTunes are probably true across the board for almost anything you're interested in, whether it's music or something else. Isn't this just another case of the internet's ability to catalyze subculture? (This is not to say there's anything wrong with subculture, but I think most people who care about classical music would chafe at the characterization.)
I'm also concerned about the fact that aging boomers make up the core audience for classical music -- especially troubling when you consider the second sentence in the piece: "Music education has virtually disappeared from public schools." Where will the audience for this music be in 20 years?
May 23, 2006
Then your face will surely show it
This probably says something about me, but something about this article on happiness (via ALDaily) and how we're all so unable to achieve it really disturbs me. Maybe it's the bit where the scientists say that we're really not that unique and that they know what will make us happy, which seems to set the stage for some kind of enforced utopian future -- it all seems very much at odds with the powerful sentiments Malcolm Gladwell expresses here). Or maybe it just makes me sad to see science extending its analytical tendrils into every last human discourse.
(And by the way, I don't particularly think the insights these scientists have are anything new -- although maybe it's my concern about novelty that's keeping me from being happy?)
Two songs about happiness come to mind. The first is one I heard in a preschool classroom this morning (I'm in Florida this week observing some preschool classrooms for work) and of course you've probably sung it: If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands! What's so amazing about that lyric is that it forces you to confront (and at such an early age!) not only the nature of happiness, but also the possibility that knowing whether you're happy or not is a separate issue, and what that might mean for where you're supposed to come down on the whole happiness issue. A friend told me recently that I didn't realize how happy I was, and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what that meant, and whether it could possibly not be paradoxical.
The other song is, of course, by John Lennon: Happiness is a warm gun. Bang, bang! Shoot, shoot!
May 17, 2006
1. flickr had a bit of a redesign yesterday (they're calling it gamma) and while most of the features are great, I think they've made a huge mistake by having pages laid out in three columns. Three is just wrong -- the design, which was wonderfully elegant before, now seems cluttered and busy. I guess the change was about filling the screen now that 17" monitors are widespread, and if so I appreciate their leaving room for a bookmarks sidebar (many sites overlook this in their zeal to claim all that pixel real estate, most notably the evil New York Times) but I'm really going to miss all the clean white space of their old design.
2. And are the Chicago police enforcing the law against talking on your cell phone while driving? It's hard to imagine that they are, given all the time I have been spending on the phone each afternoon during my 45 minute commute (no, I haven't caused any accidents... that I know of). Am I just pushing my luck by blogging about this? Seriously, these kinds of enforcement tactic questions are kind of a classic game theory problem, and from my vantage point I feel like I've found a solution. But information travels slowly, so maybe I'm just underinformed. Another possibility that occurs to me is that the Chicago police might be using a selective enforcement strategy with this law (otherwise known as racial profiling).
May 16, 2006
The usual mumbo jumbo, and a cause
Yesterday I went to a symposium downtown, the inaugural symposium for a new Consortium on Early Childhood Development. The symposium was about all the returns to investing in early education, which have been getting a lot more play lately in the past couple years as states start implementing voluntary universal pre-K programs. Some of the attention has come because James Heckman (U of C prof and Nobel Laureate) has taken up the cause; you can see some of the argument here. To sum up even further: as a public investment, quality pre-K borders on the miraculous, and therefore we should be realigning all of our policy and educational priorities.
I don't know if the consortium is designed to be mainly a research exchange or a mechanism for extending policy influence, but the symposium was one of those back-slapping feel-good affairs where almost nothing of substance was said. The symposium panel was kind of a mismatch of people from different backgrounds (one of them was my former boss, which is partly why I was in attendance) who seemed to be passing each other in the night. Specifically, there seemed to be widespread confusion about 1) what constitutes good practice in pre-K education, 2) how much it will cost, and 3) how to begin effecting change. I can't decide if it's a good thing for a consortium to experience this kind of identity crisis during its inaugural symposium or not, but for me it really drove home the point that people (even professionals) are not used to taking early education as seriously, as, say, high school or college education -- even though current research plainly demonstrates that that's where we should be stacking all our chips. Changing those perceptions is a big job. I'm starting with this post, but I intend to write more about this issue, and I'd like to encourage others to do the same.
May 14, 2006
Letters to an unknown woman
When the years pass, when the years
Pass and the air has dug a moat
Between your soul and mine; when the years pass
And I am only a man who loved, a being who tarried
One instant at your lips,
A poor man weary of walking the gardens,
Where will you be? where
Will you be, oh daughter of my kisses!
-- Nicanor Parra, trans. Denise Levertov (from Poemas y Antipoemas, 1954)
May 11, 2006
Uncontrolled, disproportionate, and imprecise
1. Thanks to Keith Keber, who writes with this updated PDF link to the Groseclose/Milyo paper (from this old post, which has since been corrected) and comments that he "read the paper (never read any of the professional responses, though) and found its methodology questionable and its conclusion foregone."
2. I'm a little slow on the draw with this, Caleb McDaniel's compelling extended argument for a ban on nuclear weapons is great reading, as are the subsequent comments and Caleb's gentlemanly responses.
3. Caleb is also here bemoaning (but also making -- more on that in a sec) the comparisons between Brad Mehldau and Bill Evans, and he's not the only one: Mehldau used the liner notes of an otherwise excellent album to make a preposterously hyper-literate (and I mean that in the worst possible way) declaration that he is not Bill Evans. I've always found the comparisons kind of boring, but Caleb's point of comparison in particular (because he does go on to make the comparison himself) strikes me as odd -- sure, the two are similar because they both reinvent pop tunes in a jazz idiom, but hasn't that been a mainstay of the whole jazz MO right from the beginning? Sure, Brad Mehldau seems a lot like Charlie Parker, because he's following in his footsteps by playing jazz!
4. And I can't help but point out (with pride) that my latest take on the Rockwell Gardens demolition made the front of Gapers Block today (which, in case you haven't noticed, has a very shiny new design). The rest of the pictures are here.
May 10, 2006
Grown in the collar counties
Over at TMC Barrett explains his beef with the Eat Local movement, and I couldn't agree more. If you believe in trade (and for the sake of argument...) then it's hard to see how you can be opposed to trading food across long distances, especially when so many of the folks you're trading with have nothing else to trade. It's all well and good to support local farmers, but a broad campaign against imported food is kind of a big fuck you to the third world, isn't it? I wouldn't be surprised if the movement was masterminded by some slick marketing wiz at ADM, to tell you the truth.
And I'm tempted (but this would be going too far, wouldn't it?) to relate this to the whole American xenophobia is on the rise phenomenon. After all, isn't your hatred of immigrants really about trade policy and the way cheap service labor is ruining job opportunities for all the good Americans who have been waiting patiently in the wings for a job? I know mine is! Come to think of it, those immigrant folk are burning an awful lot of gas on their way up here... shouldn't somebody be keeping an eye out for the public good?
May 9, 2006
Images and other species of words
Obviously I haven't been spending much time here lately; some of that time has gone offline, but a lot of it has gone into digital photography (which you can find at flickr). I remember my comp lit advisor (the same one who did the authoritative new translation of Kafka's The Trial a few years ago) telling me that if he had it to all over again, he'd go into art criticism, because with art it only takes a few moments, or at most a few minutes, to take in a whole picture -- whereas with books, you have to actually go and read them. Maybe this is another way of saying that a picture is worth a thousand words (I'm not sure). Anyway, I've been putting all my energy into photography, like a man obsessed. The latest development is that I was the photographer at a family wedding a couple weeks ago -- a brief description of that experience is here.
(As an aside, I should probably take a second to sing the praises of flickr -- it rolls up all of the best things about the interactivity of the blogging experience into an easy to use package that makes it so much easier to use and more immediate than, say, this MT-powered blog. A year ago I probably wouldn't have been very interested in a site that restricts features to members, but with spam as a complete non-problem and the built in feeds for comments posted elsewhere, I'm sold. Sorry, I'm gushing a little bit here, but I can't praise it enough.)
The major ill-effect of this little photography binge is that I've completely stopped writing, whether it's my public non-fictions or my private fictions. And not writing is bad, not just because it has been my major creative (and sometimes even social) outlet for the past three years, but also because the skills begin to deteriorate, and a lot faster than I'd like to admit... I probably shouldn't intimate that I even feel I've been thinking differently. At any rate, the point of all this I'm resolving to write a little more here, even if it's different -- less political, more personal, etc. No, this blog won't be coming to a quiet end, or at least not just yet.
May 6, 2006
Tomato is so vulgar and lustful
and more depraved than pomegranate or, say, grapefruit,
with their insatiable fiery insides,
and with its own brutal, greedy kiss,
when it is being turned completely inside out,
and it's unclear who's sucking whom.
It takes you over through hypnosis, like a boa,
and you cannot escape it anymore.
--Stella Morotskaya, trans. Vitaly Chernesky (from the cycle Exotic Fruit)
May 2, 2006
The number of blogs listed on the Chicago Blogmap has just passed 400, far short of the number listed on Chicago Bloggers (which of course includes the suburbs as well) but still pretty respectable. I've been slow about getting sites listed lately, just like I've been slow about posting anything here, but hopefully all that will change over the coming weeks.
The map has been in operation since September of 2003; basically it's a knock off of the excellent DC Metro Blogmap, but obviously adapted for Chicago's larger system and with a few cosmetic changes. I've included every single blog that has been submitted without any kind of check for Chicago relevance or family friendly programming, although to all appearances people have regulated that themselves. There's some work I need to do at some point: I haven't done any kind of systematic auditing to make sure that blogs are still functioning, so there are some dead links -- and of course, the CTA has added stations and changed routes since 2003, so I should probably update the graphic. But apart from this basic maintenance hanging over my head, the site has been a breeze to operate.
A day without immigrants
Maybe the most obvious thing to say about the immigration protests yesterday and in recent weeks is that they're starting to resemble the civil rights movement; but I think it's still a pretty bold statement when you think about the scope of that movement and it's place in American history. What we're seeing right now may well have the same magnitude and relevance, and it's a little bit scary to think about how this will all play out -- watching the protesters yesterday and in particular their use of the American flag, I had this deep sense of foreboding about the fearmongering and xenophobia on the other side of the issue...