Salon's got a blood-boiling interview with Aaron Kupchik, author of Homeroom Security: School Discipline in an Age of Fear, a close look at four very different US schools. Each school has a different demographic and different location, but the thing they all share is a set of zero-tolerance policies that turn them into Kafka-esque nightmares:
They started in the '90s, and they were spurred by the federal government's Safe and Drug Free Schools Act, which required schools to implement zero tolerance for certain things like weapons. What schools have done across the country in the last 15 years is to expand greatly what falls under zero-tolerance policies. So they extend to not just deadly weapons and drugs but sometimes fighting and prescription drugs and other types of substances. What they mean is that if you're caught violating this broad rule, there's no discussion and no elaboration of why you did this. No investigation. We just punish you with the one-size-fits-all punishment.
We're teaching kids what it means to be a citizen in our country. And what I fear we're doing is teaching them that what it means to be an American is that you accept authority without question and that you have absolutely no rights to question punishment. It's very Big Brother-ish in a way. Kids are being taught that you should expect to be drug tested if you want to participate in an organization, that walking past a police officer every day and being constantly under the gaze of a security camera is normal. And my concern is that these children are going to grow up and be less critical and thoughtful of these sorts of mechanisms. And so the types of political discussions we have now, like for example, whether or not wiretapping is OK, these might not happen in 10 years.
Here's video of the triumphant success of an elaborate kids' Rube Goldberg machine, created at an "informal Rube Goldberg summer camp for kids ages 3-8." I know nothing about this summer-camp, but it seems like one of the great Good Things of our era -- especially judging from the awesome elation of the kids after the successful run!
My latest Locus Magazine column, "Proprietary Interest," talks about the way that our instinctive ownership claims over the stuff we find and post to the Internet do more harm than good. When we claim that public domain images, interesting links, or other net-fodder are "ours," we invite a muddle in which others make even more compelling ownership claims. For example, if the old public-domain Lysol ad you scan is "yours," then why shouldn't it be Lysol's?. This is a world in which we spend all our time arguing about whose interest is most legitimate, instead of sharing, discussing, criticizing and enjoying the world around us.
Any ethical claim to ownership over a scan of a public domain work should be treated with utmost suspicion, not least because of all the people with stronger claims than the scanner! To be consistent with the ethical principle that one should never use another's work without permission (regardless of the law or the public domain), every scanner would have a duty to ask, at the very least, the corporations whose products are advertised in these old chestnuts (the very best of them are for brands that persist to today, since these vividly illustrate the way that our world has changed - for example, see the very frank Lysol douche ad). For if scanning a work confers an ownership interest, then surely paying for the ad's production offers an even more compelling claim!
And the publishers of the magazines and the newspapers - to scan is one thing, but what about the firm that paid to physically print the edition that we make the scan from? And then there are the copywriters and illustrators and their heirs - if scanning an ad confers a proprietary interest, then surely creating the ad should give rise to an even greater claim?
We do acknowledge these claims, at least a little. A good archivist notes the source. A good critic notes the creator. But that is the extent of the claim's legitimacy. If we afford descendants and publishers and printers and commissioners their own little pocket of customary right-of-refusal over their works, we would eliminate the ability to keep these works alive in our culture. For these owed courtesies multiply geometrically - think of the challenge of getting all of Dickens' or Twains' far-flung heirs to grant permission to do anything with their ancestors' works. What a lopsided world it would be if ten seconds' scanner work with the public domain demanded 100 hours' correspondence and permission-begging to be ''polite!''
TipEx (a Commonwealth analogue for Wite-Out and other correction-tape products) has an ingenious and engaging YouTube marketing campaign: a video called "NSFW: A hunter shoots a bear," branches off into a kind of video-text-adventure, where you are invited to type verbs into a box and see what the bear and the hunter do with one another (you can get funny results out of "fuck," of course, and also "gets high with" and "dances" -- I'm sure there's more). It's a kind of next-generation Subservient Chicken, and the (no doubt blisteringly expensive) creative reworking of YouTube's familiar user-interface makes it even more click-trancey than its forebears.
Copyfighting banjo-picker Patrick Costello has a new book of free/open banjo tunes: Songs for Sunday: "In this book you will find a selection of hymns, country gospel and even some blues
songs arranged for frailing banjo. The arrangements presented here blend melody and
rhythm so that you can sing along with the banjo and still be able to knock out a solo
once in a while. The accompanying DVD contains video workshops where I walk you
through each song." (Thanks, Patrick, via Submitterator!)
Michael sez, "The Merry Cemetery is a cemetery in north-east Romania (the Moldovan region). I visited it with my wife and parents-in-law this summer. nstead of a sombre and sad approach to death the Merry Cemetery celebrates life with colourful painted oak 'headstones' engraved with a picture and story of the life of the deceased."
Dr. Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick (Ohio State) and Matthias Hastall, (Zeppelin University, Germany) have published an article in the Journal of Communication with their research showing that old people love to read stories about young people doing stupid things because it makes them feel better about being old. The study was conducted using 178 German adults aged 18 to 30 and 98 between 55 and 60. I have no idea if this is a valid statistical sample, but since it confirms my own feelings about old people, I will trust its results.
All the adults in the study were shown what they were led to believe was a test version of a new online news magazine. They were also given a limited time to look over either a negative and positive version of 10 pre-selected articles.
Each story was also paired with a photograph depicting someone of either the younger or the older age group.
The researchers found that older people were more likely to choose to read negative articles about those younger than themselves. They also tended to show less interest in articles about older people, whether negative or positive.
But younger people preferred to read positive articles about other young people.
I've started a digital media and contemporary arts lab on a remote island in the South Pacific, and I'm setting up a Kickstarter campaign to help defray the costs. In tandem with islandsfirst.org, a United Nations affiliated non-profit that focuses on the needs of South Pacific islands, I'm setting up a situation where cultural exchange between artists from different geographies can take time to do residencies on the island and create projects with local artists and creatives in conjunction with an agenda that focuses on sustainable arts practices.
The Funds - Anything you contribute will cover the construction of an initial 'outpost' on-site, a feasibility assessment and design of the first phase solar electricity systems for one village and three new structures between now and May 2011, when our first invited artists will arrive.
In December, local leadership, DJ Spooky, Engineers Without Borders and the Vanuatu Pacifica Foundation have arranged for R. David Gibbs, a New York-based solar and energy engineer with remote-location experience, to undertake a feasibility study with local renewables engineers, village electricians and tech trainees. The first goal is to replace diesel generators with solar PV and thermal systems that can power villages and initiate the design of the Tanna Center for the Arts' off-the-grid retreat, cultural preservation and eco-education facility.
You've probably noticed we're starting at $10,000 here on Kickstarter but with $20,000 we can complete the solar design phase, engage local craftspeople to build the initial structure(s) and create an 'outpost' that allows us to invite collaborators from around the island and the world to begin realizing this vision. Everybody's help with a little or a lot is welcome, needed and much appreciated!
A couple weeks ago, I posted about a new scientific paper looking at how an increased understanding of psychedelic drugs may lead to new anti-depressants. Over at Science Blogs, neuroscientist Moheb Costandi responds in a fascinating essay on "The Secret History of Psychedelic Psychiatry." From the article:
LSD therapy peaked in the 1950s, during which time it was even used to treat Hollywood film stars, including luminaries such as Cary Grant (at left, dropping acid). By then, two forms of therapy had emerged. Psychedelic ("mind-manifesting") therapy was practised mostly in North America and involved intensive psychotherapy followed by a single megadose of LSD. It was thought that the transcendental experiences induced by such large doses, as well as heightened self-awareness, would enable the patient to reflect on their condition with greater clarity. Psycholytic ("mind-loosening") therapy, on the other hand, was practised mostly in Europe, and involved regular low to moderate doses of the drug in conjunction with psychoanalysis, in order to release long-lost memories and reveal the unconscious mind.
Several hundred merry pranksters of Improv Everywhere descended on Coney Island/Brighton Beach dressed in black tie. Founder Charlie Todd says, "We covered a mile-long stretch of beach with a diverse group of people of all ages (from babies to sixty-somethings) laying out, playing games, and swimming in the ocean, all in formal wear. Agents were instructed to find cheap tuxedos and ball gowns at thrift stores for the occasion." Black Tie Beach
Daniel Reese's Batman and Robin custom-painted sneakers are damned cool -- I'm especially partial to the Robins. There's a large selection of custom kicks at Brassmonki.com, on a wide variety of pop culture themes.
Aram Sinnreich sez, "Truthdig.com just published an excerpt from my new book, Mashed Up: Music, Technology & the Rise of Configurable Culture.
The book is about how the legal, ethical and aesthetic battles over mash-up culture and sample-based music prefigure larger arguments over the shape of society in the networked age. It also argues that some of the answers that DJs have found might point the way towards a new social structure for the 21st century.
This particular excerpt is about the blurring line between 'artist' and 'audience,' and the legal and political implications of the newly gray area in between."
The biggest myth of all is the Romantic notion that artists somehow create their work uniquely and from scratch, that paintings and sculptures and songs emerge fully-formed from their fertile minds like Athena sprang from Zeus. Running a close second is the myth that only a handful of us possess the raw talent - or the genius - to be an artist. According to this myth, the vast majority of us may be able to appreciate art to some degree, but we will never have what it takes to make it. The third myth is that an artist's success (posthumous though it may be) is proof positive of his worthiness, that the marketplace for art and music functions as some kind of aesthetic meritocracy.
Of course, these myths fly in the face of our everyday experience. We know rationally that Picasso's cubism looks a lot like Braque's, and that Michael Jackson sounds a lot like James Brown at 45 RPM. We doodle and sing and dance our way through our days, improvising and embellishing the mundane aspects of our existence with countless unheralded acts of creativity. And we all know that American Idol and its ilk are total B.S. (very entertaining B.S., of course!). Each of us can number among our acquaintance wonderful singers, dancers, painters or writers whose creations rival or outstrip those of their famous counterparts, just as each of us knows at least one beauty who puts the faces on the covers of glossy magazines to shame.
I've admired Aram's work since we taught together at USC. I've read part of a prepub of this book (it's adapted from Aram's PhD thesis) and it's fascinating stuff.
The Library of Congress has just opened up 222 boxes' worth of files and papers on Fredric Wertham, the scaremonger whose book Seduction of the Innocent led to widespread bans, burnings and censorship of American comic books. Wertham wasn't just a nutcase pro-censorship crusader: he was also (paradoxically), a civil rights pioneer who worked for racially integrated education in America (he also appeared in defense of Ethel Rosenberg, later executed for spying for the USSR).
Among the items in the Library's collection of Wertham's papers is a selection of comics he deemed offensive, with notations he wrote inside.
His copy of "Kid Colt, Outlaw" (1967) includes a note that of the 111 pictures, 69 were scenes of violence. An issue of "Justice League of America" (1966) includes markings calling attention to the sounds of violence like "thudd," "whapp" and "poww."
In addition, Wertham's papers include patient drawings and his analysis of those sketches. He writes of a young patient: "This case demonstrates the confusion created by comic books between fantasy and reality ... cruelty in children's play especially directed against girls."
Wertham testified six times under oath on the harmfulness of comic books, including providing testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency. Though the committee's final report did not blame comics for crime, it recommended that the comics industry tone down its content voluntarily, thus resulting in the Comics Code Authority.