Archive for October 22nd, 2003

Where have all the young men gone?

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As
the ratings have rolled in for the first three weeks of the new television
season, one question has dominated the conversations inside the industry’s
executive suites: what the heck is going on?

Network executives are baffled by a season unlike any seen before. Returning
hit shows like "Friends" and "E.R." are losing significant
numbers of viewers from previous years. New shows have performed far worse
than almost anyone expected, a result capped off Monday night when the
Fox network started two shows that had received huge promotional pushes
during the baseball playoffs, "The Next Joe Millionaire" and "Skin," and
they posted crushingly disappointing numbers. And men between 18 and 24
are apparently deserting television in droves. So far this year nearly
20 percent fewer men in that advertiser-friendly demographic are watching
television during prime time than during the same period last year.

Video games? On-line porno? Blogging?

from the New York Times

 

The View from the 108

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The
108 bus – Malden Station, Lebanon St. – was a cacophony of idioms this
afternoon, carrying the Dowbrigade and a cohort of working-class
heroes home from the labor wars.  I
boarded the bus at the Malden Center stop – Orange Line – and noticed
Don Julio already aboard.

Don Julio is the uncle of a friend of my wife, a 65 year old Peruvian
baker who, faced with an untenable retirement in an unstable economy
teetering on the edge of political chaos, decided to pay an extended
visit to his niece, a pharmacist working as a cook at a Peruvian restaurant
in East Boston.

Don Julio is a thin, quiet man with a shy smile and eyes which speak
more eloquently than his words. He is currently working three jobs: as
a cook in a neighborhood grill, at the carwash over on Rte. 60, when
the weather is good, and helping his niece in cleaning houses, which
is HER second job.  She has already bought a nice apartment in Trujillo,
Peru, a charming mid-sized city on the Pacific coast of South America,
known for its pre-Colombian ruins, Colonial architecture and eternal
spring-like climate, and where, coincidentally, the Dowbrigade spent
many years toiling at the National University, teaching Languages and
Linguistics.

These are the people Rush Limbaugh and Jay Severin want to throw out
of the country, at the very least.  Both of them are, technically,
here illegally; although they entered the country on legal visas, they
have overstayed them. They pay taxes, do not use social services, and
work harder as a group than anyone else I know.  They know, perhaps
more palpably than the native born, the true value of the incredible
land of opportunity Americans have created.

Back where they come from, the people who have the most, work the least.  Conversely,
those who are dirt poor have to work from dawn to dusk just to stay alive.  Imagine
how mind-blowing and liberating it must be to finally find yourself in
a place where the more you work, the more you earn.  Where you can
actually get ahead of the game, pull yourself up by the bootstraps, and
save enough money to finally stop working for a few years before you
ring it up.

Anyway, I sat there chatting up Don Julio in Spanish as the 108 pulled
into the plexiglas bus shelter in front of the Super Stop and Shop,
where all the ancient retirees who live
at the
octagonal Salem Towers get aboard with their pathetically meager shopping
bags of pasta, oatmeal and formula.

Seeing as conversation with Don Julio is
punctuated with long contemplative pauses, I had the opportunity to
eavesdrop on
some of the other conversations going on around me.

The human ear is a marvelous instrument.  At a cocktail party,
with 50 conversations going on simultaneously all around, a person can
isolate a single pair of voices and filter out all the rest.  Not
even the most sophisticated electronic eavesdropping system can do that
as well as the human ear and brain.

In front of us and across the isle, a pair of burly guys in dirty work
clothes, boots, hooded sweatshirts and ruddy, outdoorsy complexions
were talking
loudly in Italian, discussing the various merits and demerits of their
respective unions. One was in the ironworkers union, the other in some
contractors union.  I could tell what they were talking about because
every once in a while they would, almost unconsciously, switch
over to English for a sentence or two.

Behind us, 3 or 4 rows back, were two beautiful young Afro-Carribean
women, dressed all in flowery fabrics and bright, flowing colors, conversing
in animated French, of which I understood not a word, despite 4 years
of high-school French, including tutoring, which were needed just to
pass the two years required by any decent college.

The one sitting on the aisle was, at the risk of sounding sexist, stacked. I mean, she had a rack-and-a-half. I tried not to stare. Let me hasten to add that as a happily married middle-aged man, my interest was purely aesthetic.

Across from them were two old Asian ladies, huddled heads together like
they were plotting to overthrow the MBTA and take over the bus system.
They were far enough away and talking quietly enough that I couldn’t
make out what flavor of Asian they were speaking.

For someone who works all day with speakers of English as a second language,
and who believes in the value-added theory of multi-lingual abilities,
it was a refreshing linguistic concerto.  It reminded me of
something I had just read about the Tower of Babel.

That particular story has always bothered me more than just about any
of the other Biblical standards. It tells about how God grew jealous
and felt threatened by the towers of Babel fearing
that
the
people
of Babel
(Babylonia)
would
grow so wise, speaking as they did a single language,that they would
someday usurp his power. In an extremely pro-active response, he took
it upon Himself to bust up the party, sow linguistic dissension in the
human
race, and spawn the process which has resulted in over 450 distinct identified
languages today (over half of which are in danger of disappearing in our
lifetimes).

Besides the fact that it presents a vain and insecure God sowing confusion
to preserve his primacy (sorta like the President), the whole concept
that one language is an advantage or solution is, to me, way out of line.
A language encapsulates and mandates a world-view, and I’ve learned anything
over the years its that the world is wide enough for MANY world-views,
which complement rather than contradict each other.

Would the world be better off with a single language? Only if it included
all of the words, sounds, concepts and structures of the 450 existing
languages.  Knowing multiple languages allows a person to approach
and solve problems in a variety of ways, to communicate with a wider
variety of people, and to develop alternate personalities and behavior
patterns for different linguistic environments.

So engrossing were these thoughts I almost missed my stop! Still and
all, American mono-lingualism is and will continue to be a problem in
the globalization process.

 

Champaign Study Shapes Up

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Champaign,
Ill. — Your eyes play tricks. And your brain makes it worse. Both teenagers
and adults misjudge how much they pour into glasses. They will pour more
into short wide glasses than into tall slender glasses, but perceive
the opposite to be true. The delusion of shape even influences experienced
bartenders, though to a lesser degree, a researcher at the University
of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has found.

How shape can alter a person’s notion of size has been widely investigated.
For instance, triangles are generally perceived to be larger than squares,
and horizontal shapes are seen as smaller than vertical objects of identical
volume. The results of his study will be published in the December issue
of the Journal of Consumer Research.

from
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign via EurekaAlert

Rumsfield Rethinks War on Terror

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WASHINGTON
(Reuters) – The Pentagon and White House on Wednesday
defended a memorandum from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to top defense
officials questioning progress in the war on terrorism and warning that
the United States faced "a long, hard slog" in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sharply diverging from more upbeat public comments, Rumsfeld wrote that
it was not possible to transform the Defense Department quickly enough
to effectively fight the anti-terrorism war.

"Are we winning or losing the global war on terrorism? Does the U.S.
need to fashion a broad, integrated plan to stop the next generation of
terrorists?" he asked.

from Reuters

Ed Bloggers Conference in San Francisco

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A
conference in San Francisco next month addresses Blogging in Education.
Looks like an interesting lineup and some good sessions, from a cursory
perusal of the preliminary program.. Of course, the conference has a
blog
, which states, in part:

Not the first, and not the last. Just one of many "gatherings" of
educators using weblogs for teaching and learning. We do claim a tradition
though – that of the Bay Area Writing Project . In this interation, " weblog-using
teachers teaching teachers ."

Maybe they would be interested
in flying the Dowbrigade in to run a few sessions of Blogging
101. Emminent Harvard Blogger Seeks Invite to SF Conference?

visit the EdBloggers Blog

Living Dead Conference – Call for Papers

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photo from Reuters (actually from a hair
show in Manila
)

The American
Philosophical Association
is the main professional
organization for philosophers in the United States. Their Web
Site
features
an informative "Call for Papers" section in which we came across the
following actual
call
:

Abstracts are sought for a collection of philosophical
essays on the theme of the
undead.
Contributors are welcome to submit
abstracts
on any topic of philosophical interest that pertains to the theme of
the undead. We define "the undead" as that class of corporeal
beings who at some point were living creatures, have died, and have come
back
such that they are not presently "at rest." This would include
supernatural beings such as zombies, vampires, mummies, and other reanimated
corpses.

 

The editors are especially interested in receiving submissions
that engage the following perspectives: philosophy of mind; the metaphysics
of death; political and social philosophy; ontology and other topics
in metaphysics; ethics and bioethics; aesthetics; cultural theory and
globalization
studies; race and gender; epistemology; philosophy of religion; phenomenology
and existentialism.

Possible topics might include, but are not limited
to, the following: zombie-based critiques of functionalist theories
of mind; historical
treatments of the undead in philosophy; the films of George Romero,
Danny Boyle, and Joss Whedon; the novels of Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker,
Anne
Rice, Bruce Campbell, and Poppy Z. Brite; critical writing by Julia
Kristeva, Jalal Toufic, and Slavoj Zizek.

What about the work of Wade Davis, my old Ethnobotany classmate at
Harvard in the 70’s who wrote the definitive psuedo-scientific Zombie
book (inspired
perhaps by many nights of zombie consumption at the Hong Kong) "The Serpent
and the Rainbow", later a major motion picture? Last time I saw Wade was
on the Rio Napo in Peru 20 years ago. Are you still out there, Wade?)

Undead conference
details here

Fast Food Evolutionary Dead End

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Calorie-packed
fast food encourages over-eating and weight gain because it is out of
step with human evolution, scientists have said.

"Since the dawn of agriculture, the systems regulating human appetite
have evolved for the low energy diet still being consumed in rural areas
of the developing world where obesity is almost non-existent."

"Our bodies were never designed to cope with the very energy dense
foods consumed in the West and this is contributing to a major rise in
obesity."

from Ananova

Pakis and Saudis in Secret Nuke Deal

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have concluded a secret
agreement on "nuclear cooperation" that will provide the
Saudis with nuclear-weapons technology in exchange for cheap oil,
according to a ranking Pakistani insider.

The disclosure came at the end of a 26-hour state visit to Islamabad
last weekend by Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Saudi Arabia’s de
facto ruler, who flew across the Arabian Sea with an entourage of 200,
including Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal and several Cabinet
ministers.

"It will be vehemently denied by both countries," said
the Pakistani source, whose information has proven reliable for more
than a decade, "but future events will confirm that Pakistan has
agreed to provide [Saudi Arabia] with the wherewithal for a nuclear deterrent."

from the Washington Times