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The Progressive Review
THE IDEA MILL

PROGRESSIVE REVIEW ARTICLES

DESPAIR  
Dealing with failure and survival

 HAT TRICK
An existential approach to current crisis.

FREE THOUGHTS
Sam Smith's favorite quotations

REBEL

ON INVENTION

WORDS & CRUELTY

 WHAT'S A HUMANITIES?

 TIME FOR A WAR ABOLITION MOVEMENT

WORDS & MEANING

UNLICENSED ANTHROPOLOGY

POST LITERATE AMERICA

PRESERVING CULTURE & COMMUNITY AS WELL AS WE DO HISTORY

ESSAYS

HIDDEN ISSUES

BRINGING DEVOLUTION TO THE 'HOOD

IDEOLOGY OF SCALE

PRESERVING CULTURE & COMMUNITY AS WELL AS WE DO HISTORY

WHAT LAWYERS & JUDGES WON'T TELL YOU ABOUT JURIES

WHERE'S THE COUNTER CULTURE WHEN WE NEED IT?

WHY BANNING HUMAN NATURE DOESN'T WORK

CARE & FEEDING OF THEORIES

ESSAYS ON A VARIETY OF THINGS

INVENTION

PRACTICING ANTHROPOLOGY WITHOUT A LICENSE

POCKET PARADIGMS: A few words about a lot of stuff

WHAT'S A HUMANITIES?

HOW MUCH DO WE LEARN FROM EVIL?

IN TECHNOCRACY WE TRUST

LETTER TO THOMAS JEFFERSON
MORE IDEAS

SURVIVING POST CONSTITUTIONAL AMERICA

GETTING THROUGH THE BAD TIMES

GLOBAL DUMBING: THE POLITICS OF ENTROPY

HANDLING THE BULLIES

LOSING TIME, LOSING SPACE

THE AUSTISTIC CONSPIRACY

OPPOSING & CREATING

PARIAH ECONOMY AND THE RISE OF SOCIAL BIGOTRY

QUIET STORM: THE COLLAPSE OF OUR CULTURE

RUNNING OUT OF CHANGE

LINKS

AMERICAN IDEALISM
AMERICAN-LIT
AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSN

ARTS & LETTERS DAILY
ALBERT CAMUS

GK CHESTERTON
ERICH FROMM

HENRY THOREAU
THOMAS JEFFERSON ON POLITICS
TOM PAINE

PROJECT GUTTENBERG
TOQUEVILLE
HOWARD ZINN ONLINE

We really don't like creativity

Conspiracy theories are as American as the Declaration of Independence
Washington's Blog - America was founded on a conspiracy theory: that Britain’s King George was conspiring against the colonists by all his actions. The Declaration of Independence recites a series of conspiracies : When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evi..

The waning of the modern ages
Morris Berman, Counterpunch - La   longue durée  â€”the long run—was an expression made popular by the Annales School of French historians led by Fernand Braudel, who coined the phrase in 1958. The basic argument of this school is that the proper concern of historians should be the analysis..

Why the world needs introverts

Little free libraries

TAKE ONE, LEAVE ONE

The real Ayn Rand

Research: Being alone isn't so bad

GOOD THINGS TO DO IN A LOUSY TIME

THE SPIRAL OF SILENCE

COMMUNITY ENDOWMENTS

AMERICA'S INDIVUALISM MYTH

DO KINDER PEOPLE HAVE AN EVOLUTIONARY ADVANTAGE?

Why so many don't want the truth

Bill Moyers, Alternet - As Joe Keohane reported last year in The Boston Globe, political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency "deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information." He was reporting on research at the University of Michigan, which found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in new stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts were not curing misinformation. "Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger."

While "most of us like to believe that our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of facts and ideas and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore, have the ring of soundness and intelligence," the research found that actually "we often base our opinions on our beliefs . . . and rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions."

These studies help to explain why America seems more and more unable to deal with reality. So many people inhabit a closed belief system on whose door they have hung the "Do Not Disturb" sign, that they pick and choose only those facts that will serve as building blocks for walling them off from uncomfortable truths. Any journalist whose reporting threatens that belief system gets sliced and diced by its apologists and polemicists. . . George Orwell had warned six decades ago that the corrosion of language goes hand in hand with the corruption of democracy. If he were around today, he would remind us that "like the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket," this kind of propaganda engenders a "protective stupidity" almost impossible for facts to penetrate.

But you can't give up. If you do, there's no chance any public memory of everyday truths - the tangible, touchable, palpable realities so vital to democracy - will survive. We would be left to the mercy of the agitated amnesiacs who "make" their own reality, as one of them boasted at the time America invaded Iraq, in order to maintain their hold on the public mind and the levers of power. You will remember that in Orwell's novel "1984," Big Brother banishes history to the memory hole, where inconvenient facts simply disappear. Control of the present rests on obliteration of the past. The figure of O'Brien, who is the personification of Big Brother, says to the protagonist, Winston Smith: "We shall squeeze you empty and then we shall fill you with ourselves." And they do. The bureaucrats in the Ministry of Truth destroy the records of the past and publish new versions. These in turn are superseded by yet more revisions. Why? Because people without memory are at the mercy of the powers that be; there is nothing against which to measure what they are told today. History is obliterated.

PASSINGS: HOWARD ZINN

HAVE WE BECOME TOO PROFESSIONAL?

HOW TO JUMP START THE PROGRESSIVE MOVEMENT

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ORWELL & HUXLEY

MEASURING GROSS NATIONAL HAPPINESS

UMBERTO ECO ON THE VIRTUES OF LISTS

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ORWELL & HUXLEY

HAS WASHINGTON GONE MAD?

RECOVERING THE DECENT

A MOMENT WITH JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN

REACTION WITHOUT ACTION

HOW TO REMEMBER EVERYTHING YOU WANT TO REMEMBER

THE END OF SOLITUDE

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LIBERAL AND CONSERVATIVE POPULISM

THE LIFE OF AN ALGORITHMIC MAN

WARNING: DECONSTRUCTION AHEAD

MASSIMNO PIGLIUCCI, SCIENTIFIC BLOGGING In his April 6 column, [Stanley] Fish delights in announcing the publication of a book by Francois Cusset entitled "French Theory: How Foucault, Derrida, Delouze & Co. Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States." . . . Fish starts out by summarizing the contribution of these deconstructionists (or postmodernists, or whatever) authors, telling us of the challenge they posed to the "rationalist tradition" of the Enlightenment and the philosophy of Francis Bacon (who, strictly speaking, was an empiricist, not a rationalist). Stanley tells us that what deconstructionists have been up to is "an interrogation of [the Enlightenment's] key components: an independent, free-standing, knowing subject, the 'I' facing an independent, free-standing world." To put it in another fashion: the human ability to inquire about nature is limited by the fact that we are a part of nature itself, whether we like it or not.

In particular, emphasize both the deconstructionists and Fish, the problem is with language: "The trouble is that everything, even the framing of [scientific] experiments, begins with language, with words; and words have a fatal tendency to substitute themselves for the facts they are supposed merely to report or reflect." Deep insight, but as Fish himself tells his readers, this isn't Foucault talking, it's Bacon himself! Bacon, like any reasonable philosopher of science, was well aware of what he called "idols," certain habits of thought common about human beings that have a tendency to get in the way of scientific inquiry. Indeed, Bacon made a list of such idols (there are four fundamental kinds), and warned his readers to be aware of them and actively work to avoid them.

Foucault and friends simply took a good idea and ran with it to the point of absurdity, famously claiming, among other things, that "there is nothing outside the text" (where "text" for deconstructionists is not just the written word, but pretty much any aspect of human communication and culture). Or take an American counterpart of the French "revolution," philosopher Richard Rorty, who said that "where there are no sentences, there is no truth . . . the world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not." Duh, is the most articulated response that comes immediately to mind. Again, late by some three centuries, as Fish himself reminds the reader: Thomas Hobbes had already said that "true and false are attributes of speech, not of things.". . .

Fish concludes his article by attempting to shield deconstruction from its worst enemy: itself. You see, if the human condition makes it impossible to ever state that something is objectively true and not just a matter of social construction, then what is stopping us from rejecting deconstruction itself simply on the ground that is is just another social construction with no normative value? Fish quotes Cusset himself: "Deconstruction thus contains within itself … an endless metatheoretical regression that can no longer be brought to a stop by any practical decision or effective political engagement." Translating the esoteric mumbo jumbo: deconstruction is worthless intellectual masturbation. But then again, how come its authors, Derrida and Foucault in particular, are often hailed as revolutionary social critics? Social criticism implies that one can tell whether something is right or wrong, that is, it implies normative judgment, which Fish and Cusset tell us simply cannot be done -- by definition -- in the case of deconstruction.

All of this is why I must agree with physicist Alan Sokal . . . when he says that "When one analyzes [post-modernist and deconstruction] writings, one often finds radical-sounding assertions whose meaning is ambiguous and that can be given two alternative readings: one as interesting, radical, and grossly false; the other as boring and trivially true." Amen.

IN PRAISE OF MELANCHOLY

WHERE DO AUTHORITARIANS COME FROM?

GEORGE KENNEY INTERVIEWS Robert ALtemeyer, a psychologist at the University of Manitoba, who has spent decades studying authoritarians: his key insight, that a small, determined, and well organized minority is really and truly impervious to reason.

LEADERS AND FOLLOWERS

[From Robert Altemeyer's free E-book, The Authoritarians]

ROBERT ALTEMEYER - Battalion 101 had eleven officers and nearly 500 men--nearly all of them from Hamburg. Their commander, Major Wilhelm Trapp, was a World War I veteran who had risen in the police service after that war. He was not a member of the S.S., but two of his company commanders were, and the third was a "Nazi by conviction." The rank and file were about 40 years old on the average, too old to be drafted into the Wermacht. They had worked on the docks, driven trucks, and moved things around warehouses for the most part prior to being drafted. Although a quarter of them were members of the Nazi Party, they had grown up before Hitler came to power. They were given basic military training and in June 1942, sent to Poland.

At first the battalion rounded up Jews in various locations and send them off to camps and eventual death. . . But on July 11, 1942 Major Trapp received orders to move his battalion to the town of Jozefow --which was probably a village much like Anatevka in Fiddler on the Roof--and after sending the fit Jewish males off to labor camps, to kill the 1800 Jewish women, children, infirm and elderly who remained.

Trapp was quite distressed by this assignment, and as the order passed down the chain of command within the battalion of policemen, one of the junior officers announced he would not take part in the killings. His platoon was therefore put in charge of moving the Jewish men to the labor camp.

As the day of execution dawned Trapp assembled his battalion, told them of their assignment, and then made an extraordinary offer: any of the older policemen who did not feel up to the task would be excused. One man stepped forward and was immediately berated by his company commander. But Major Trapp cut his officer off and took the soldier under his wing. Seeing this, ten to twelve other men stepped forward. But the rest of the battalion stayed in their ranks, and were soon moved out to perform the executions. Major Trapp excused himself from any direct participation, and the three company commanders organized the massacre.

The policemen blocked off the Jewish section of the village and set to work herding the residents to the town square. The old and infirm were shot in their homes.

Infants and small children were sometimes shot on the spot, but usually were moved with everyone else to the square. One company of the battalion was pulled aside and given a quick lesson in how to shoot someone in the back of the head with a rifle. It then moved to a nearby wooded area and awaited the victims to be brought to them in trucks.

When the trucks were unloaded the executioners were paired off, face to face, with their individual victims. They marched the Jews further into the woods, made them kneel down, and shot them. The killings continued all day without interruption, but the pace was slow so Major Trapp ordered a second company into the woods to speed up the murders. The leader of one of the platoons in this company gave all his men the opportunity to do something else, without penalty, but no one took up his offer.

A number of the policemen however found various ways to avoid becoming executioners. They hid in the village, or gave themselves extra "searching" duties.

Some of the shooters asked to be given other assignments, especially after being given a woman or child to kill, and generally they were excused. Some of the policemen deliberately missed their target from point-blank range, while others just "disappeared" into the woods for the rest of the day. But these were the exceptions.

At least 80 percent of those called upon to murder helpless civilians did so and continued to do so until all the Jews from Jozefow had been killed.

Afterwards Major Trapp instructed his men not to talk among themselves about what they had done. But great resentment and bitterness roiled in the battalion. The physical act of shooting someone had proved quite gruesome, with many of the shooters becoming covered with the blood and brains of their victims. Some of the policemen had killed people they had known earlier in Hamburg or elsewhere. Almost everyone was angry about having to kill children.

How could they do it, especially since many of them never individually had to? For one thing, while the policemen were not usually Nazis, they had little regard for Jews in general, so that made it easier. For another, their company commanders made it clear that, whatever Major Trapp had said and whomever he had protected, they expected their men to do the job assigned to them.

But judicial interrogations of some 125 of the men conducted in the 1960s indicated that, while no one had to participate, and about a dozen men demonstrated this by stepping forward, and others later dropped out in various ways, the great majority stayed in ranks and later killed whoever was brought to them out of loyalty to those ranks, and to maintain their standing in their units. "The act of stepping out that morning in Jazefow meant leaving one's comrades and admitting that one was too weak or cowardly." "Who would have dared," declared one of the policemen, "to lose face before the assembled troops?"

http://www.electricpolitics.com/media/docs/authoritarians.pdf

GUERRILLA GARDENING

BOOK BLURB - These modern-day Johnny Appleseeds perform random acts of gardening, often without permission. Typical targets are vacant lots, railway land, underused public squares, and back alleys. The concept is simple, whimsical, and has the cheeky appeal of being a not-quite-legal call to action. Dig in some soil, plant a few seeds, or mend a sagging fence-one good deed inspiring another, with win-win benefits all around. Author David Tracey is a journalist and environmental designer who operates EcoUrbanist in Vancouver. He is executive director of Tree City Canada, a nonprofit ecological engagement group.

ORDER
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN=0865715831/progressiverevieA/

VICTORY GARDENS

VICTORY GARDENS 2007+ calls for a more active role for cities in shaping agricultural and food policy. It is a concept currently in development with the city of San Francisco that would provide a subsidized home gardening program for individuals and neighborhoods. This program offers tools, training & materials for urban dwellers to participate in a city-wide transformation of underutilized backyards- turning them into productive growing spaces. The project draws from the historical model of the 1940's American Victory Garden program to provide a basis for developing urban agriculture as a viable form of sustainable food practice in the city. . .

The program is a two year pilot project that supports the transition of backyard, front yard, window boxes, rooftops and unused land into food production areas. VG2007+ has the mission to create and support a citywide network of urban farmers by (1) growing, distributing and supporting starter kits for home gardeners, (2) educating through lessons, exhibitions and web sites and (3) starting and maintaining a city seed bank.

The program seeks the power to reinhabit some of the original Victory Garden space in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park and perform the duties of development, maintenance, and operation.

http://www.futurefarmers.com/victorygardens/

RETIREE OFFERS PACKAGE PICKUP SPOT

OMAR FEKEIKI WASHINGTON - In a city of workaholics who leave home early and return late, many neighborhoods have their version of William Outlaw -- or would like to. The 80-year-old retiree accepts packages for 130 Capitol Hill neighbors when they are not home during delivery hours. His practice is so well established that delivery services often head directly to his door without stopping elsewhere on the block. . .

What started a few years ago as a kindly offer after several packages were stolen from neighborhood stoops has turned into a mammoth undertaking. Outlaw has turned his living room into a de facto storehouse of boxes wrapped in brown paper; on any given day, dozens of packages and padded envelopes are stacked high on tabletops and floors.

Some neighbors call Outlaw the unofficial mayor of the street, not only for his grass-roots post office but also for the way he volunteers to clean sidewalks, check on homes while neighbors are vacationing and do other odd chores.

Now, even on routine days, his living room is overrun by more than 50 packages. During the holidays, the room begins to look like Santa's workshop, with packages of every size sent from across the country and wrapped in colorful paper.

"I've had 100 packages in one day," he said. "During Christmas, you can't get into my living room."

THE IDEA MILL: FACTS AS AN ENDANGERED SPECIES

SAM SMITH - One of the characteristics of government at every level is how much harder it has become to get basic facts. Washington, DC, for many years had an annual report called Indices that was jammed with factual information about what was happening in the city. After the federal government put the city into a form of colonial receivership and a purportedly reform administration was named, the book became one of the first things to disappear.

At the other end are the well documented assaults on public information by the Bush administration. While there is much variation in between, it remains true that many aspects of governance are becoming conveniently complicated and obscured so that no one - including the media - really know what's going on.

Here's one example: once you could tell what a city was doing in the housing field by how much public housing there was. Now the number and complexity of subsidies is enormous and no one really knows what is happening. As a result it doesn't get reported.

What if you had a generally accepted standard developed my reporters and public interest groups that defined just what information people deserved to know about housing? It might include

- Number of public housing units

- Number of subsidized housing units identified by name of subsidy, average percent of cost subsidized and number of units

- Number of subsidized housing units provided by non-profit groups identified average percent of cost subsidized, and number of units

- Distribution of subsidized units by ward or other subdivision

- Number of persons on waiting list for subsidized or public housing.

- Average length of wait

- Number of persons in city who can't afford the median rent

- Ten year trend in all of the above.

At first the standards could be put forth by a group like the Society of Professional Journalists or a consortium of journalism schools or public interest groups. It could be initially done at the local, state or national level. It would not be long, I suspect, before you would find candidates for mayor, governor and even president bragging that they observe these standards.

There could also be annual ratings of these governments as to how well they are doing.

One journalist - formerly with Jack Anderson - wrote me:

I think this is an incredible idea. As an old journalist who came up through the ranks covering City Hall, the County Commission, the School Board, the police, etc., etc. I am perpetually stunned by the total lack of information the local newspaper provides these days about where public funds are going. (and even more stunned at the total passivity of the readers)

This kind of "open government" reporting used to be routine, and started to be obfuscated (I believe) in the Reagan years. Now it's gotten so murky that none of the young journalists even know what real reporting actually looks like. . .

I think it's really about returning to what the original standard of openness in a democratic society started out to be and continued to be for two centuries. It's really only in the last few decades that it's fallen by the wayside, in my opinion.

I think that your idea of getting urban journalists together to compile a list of essential facts every city should provide its citizens would be a fabulous reminder to every community of what the relationship between the local government and the community is supposed to be. Such a dialogue would then naturally become an issue in all campaigns.

BRITISH POLL FINDS HISTORY INTERESTS MORE PEOPLE THAN SPORTS

GUARDIAN, UK - Far more people are interested in history than football, according to a poll finding which may be particularly true today. . . The Mori poll showed that 73% were interested in history, compared with 59% in sport in general and 48% in football.

http://arts.guardian.co.uk/news/story/0,,1811361,00.html

GROUP TURNS PARKING SPACE INTO PARK LAND FOR TWO HOURS

LIBERAL EDUCATION IN TROUBLE

PATHOLOGICAL DISBELIEF

["Pathological Disbelief" was the title of a lecture by 1973 Nobel Prize winner Brian D. Josephson, who teaches physics at the University of Cambridge, delivered at the 2004 Lindau meeting of Nobel Laureates. It describes a problem for science but also one for journalism which has over the past few decades moved from ubiquitous skepticism to ubiquitous condemnation of skepticism, most popularly expressed in labeling the skeptic a "conspiracy theorist."

Josephson, incidentally, cites the treatment of cold fusion as an example. Some readers may recall that the Review is one of a tiny number of publications that has treated research into cold fusion as newsworthy - not because this research will necessarily pan out but because the suppression of this research by both science and journalism violated the objective principles of both trades.]

BRIAN D. JOSEPHSON - This talk mirrors "Pathological Science", a lecture given by Chemistry Laureate Irving Langmuir. Langmuir discussed cases where scientists, on the basis of invalid processes, claimed the validity of phenomena that were unreal. My interest is in the counter-pathology involving cases where phenomena that are almost certainly real are rejected by the scientific community, for reasons that are just as invalid as those of the cases described by Langmuir.

Alfred Wegener's continental drift proposal provides a good example, being simply dismissed by most scientists at the time, despite the overwhelming evidence in its favour. In such situations incredulity, expressed strongly by the disbelievers, frequently takes over: no longer is the question that of the truth or falsity of the claims; instead, the agenda centers on denunciation of the claims. . . In this "denunciation mode", the usual scientific care is absent; pseudo-arguments often take the place of scientific ones. . .

Other popular forms of attack are "if X were true we would have to start over again" (as we of course had to do with relativity and quantum theory, and so the argument proves nothing), and then there is the dictum "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence", which has the marvelous feature of allowing the requirements for acceptable proof to be stretched indefinitely as more and more support for a contested claim comes in. Its originator, the late Marcello Truzzi, later decided that his comment was 'a non sequitur, meaningless and question-begging', and had planned to write a debunking of his own creation.

"Cold fusion" appears to be the modern equivalent to continental drift, starting with the controversial claim, made by Pons and Fleischmann in 1989, to have generated in an electrochemical cell heat considerably in excess of anything explicable in conventional terms. This provoked hostile reaction: ignoring the possibility that an aggregate of ions in a condensed matter matrix may behave differently to a collection of freely moving ones, it was asserted that nuclear fusion could not be responsible for the claimed excess heat.

Then came 'failure to replicate' by a number of groups, equated with the non-existence of the phenomenon, ignoring the fact that if different groups get different results there can be two explanations, one that the people who see some effects are bad experimenters, and the other that they were in fact better at creating the precise conditions needed for an effect to be seen.

Usually in such cases time tells which side is right, but here the steadily mounting evidence that there was a real effect was suppressed through the publication policies of the major journals. Consequently, these apparently supportive results are not known to most scientists, who simply take it for granted that the Pons-Fleischmann claims have been disproved.

In an attempt to promote proper discussion of the issue, I tried in 2002 to upload a survey by Storms to the preprint server arxiv.org, the natural place for facilitating such discussion, but the moderators frustrated this intent by deleting the review, declaring it "inappropriate" (chemists, being a more robust species than physicists, were permitted to see it on their own server chemweb.com).

A breath of fresh air has been introduced into the situation now, with the recent decision of the US Department of Energy to review the research; if the reviewers simply look at some of the research going on they will almost inevitably conclude that fusion can take place at ordinary temperatures, with a yield far in excess of the 'almost undetectable level' referred to in Langmuir's lecture.

The overall situation seems profoundly unsatisfactory. The system built up over the years to promote scientific advance has become one that narrow-minded people can use to block any advance that they deem unacceptable. This demands urgent review: otherwise, just as astronomy became fixated on the reasonably accurate, but wrong, Ptolemaic model, science will become fixated in a respectable, but inaccurate, view of reality.

MARTIN SELIGMAN ON THE PSYCHOLOGY OF HAPPINESS

THE EDGE - Clinical psychology, social psychology has, in our lifetimes, been able to relieve an enormous amount of suffering, notes Martin Seligman. "Can psychologists can make people lastingly happier?" he asks.

"We are able to look at the causal skein of mental illness and unravel it, either by longitudinal studies - the same people over time - or experimental studies, which would get rid of third variables...We're able to create treatments - drugs, psychotherapy - and do random assignment placebo control studies to find out which ones really worked and which ones were inert." But, he notes that one result of this success is that 90% of the science in psychology is now based on the disease model, and this has resulted in three costs:

"The first one was moral, that we became victimologists and pathologizers. Our view of human nature was that mental illness fell on you like a ton of bricks, and we forgot about notions like choice, responsibility, preference, will, character, and the like. The second cost was that by working only on mental illness we forgot about making the lives of relatively untroubled people happier, more productive, and more fulfilling. And we completely forgot about genius, which became a dirty word. The third cost was that because we were trying to undo pathology we didn't develop interventions to make people happier; we developed interventions to make people less miserable."

Since 1996, Seligman, the Fox Leadership Professor of Psychology at U Penn, has been president of the American Psychological Association. His aim for the coming years is that "we will be able to make the parallel claim about happiness; that is, in the same way I can claim unblushingly that psychology and psychiatry have decreased the tonnage of suffering in the world, my aim is that psychology and maybe psychiatry will increase the tonnage of happiness in the world."

Central to Seligman's positive psychology is "eudaemonia, the good life, which is what Thomas Jefferson and Aristotle meant by the pursuit of happiness. They did not mean smiling a lot and giggling. Aristotle talks about the pleasures of contemplation and the pleasures of good conversation. Aristotle is not talking about raw feeling, about thrills, about orgasms. Aristotle is talking about what Mike Csikszentmihalyi works on, and that is, when one has a good conversation, when one contemplates well. When one is in eudaemonia, time stops. You feel completely at home. Self-consciousness is blocked. You're one with the music."

"The good life consists of the roots that lead to flow. It consists of first knowing what your signature strengths are and then recrafting your life to use them more - recrafting your work, your romance, your friendships, your leisure, and your parenting to deploy the things you're best at. What you get out of that is not the propensity to giggle a lot; what you get is flow, and the more you deploy your highest strengths the more flow you get in life."

IN DEFENSE OF THE MEDIAEVAL ERA

[This we find interesting because we've been telling folks that we living in a new Middle Ages, only with the mythology being determined by cable television instead of the church. Glad to know it wasn't as bad a time as we thought]

TERRY JONES, OBSERVER - The main reason I wanted to make 'Medieval Lives' was to get my own back on the Renaissance. It's not that the Renaissance has ever done me any harm personally, you understand. It's just that I'm sick of the way people's eyes light up when they start talking about the Renaissance. I'm sick of the way art critics tend to say: 'Aaaah! The Renaissance!' with that deeply self-satisfied air of someone who is at last getting down to the Real Thing. And I'm sick to death of that ridiculous assumption that that before the Renaissance human beings had no sense of individuality. . .

The Renaissance was a backward-looking movement that hailed the distant past - ancient Greece and ancient Rome - as the only source of enlightenment. Petrarch, a Renaissance writer, wanted to put the clock back and to return to writing in Latin. And not just the Latin that was then current. He wanted to return to classical Latin. The Latin that was then current and still being spoken in the churches and monasteries was condemned as deficient. Rather than reviving Latin, the Renaissance killed it stone dead as a spoken language.

Chaucer, Boccaccio and Dante (although writing at the same time as Petrarch) wrote in the vernacular. They also celebrated the vitality, exuberance and individuality of ordinary men and women. They were the modernists and in that way they were truly medieval. Petrarch was the backwards-looking conservative. The proud despiser of the common people. The willing servant of a tyrant such as Bernabo Visconti. Petrarch provides a prototype for the Renaissance and for much of what follows.

In order to sell their package of conservative intellectual authoritarianism, the writers of the Renaissance had to make out that the intervening centuries were a time of darkness and ignorance into which they would now shine the light of ancient knowledge.

The distortions, obfuscations and downright lies which they and admirers of the Renaissance ever since have fastened onto the Middle Ages still infect our historical vision. The very fact that we call that period (whatever it is) 'the Middle Ages' is but one example. The idea that it is a limbo between the bright lights of the classical World and the even brighter lights of the Renaissance is enshrined there in the very title.

But the medieval world wasn't a time of stagnation or ignorance. A lot of what we assume to be medieval ignorance is, in fact, our own ignorance about the medieval world.

ACADEMICS FINALLY DISCOVER
POSTMODERN THEORY DOESN'T WORK

DAVID KIRBY, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR - Postmodern literary theory is now transforming itself so rapidly that Marxist, feminist, deconstructionist, and psychoanalytic critics (and others) are flocking back to the drawing board in droves as they search for new approaches to writing and teaching. Indeed, some academics say that postmodern theory is on the way out altogether and that the heady ideas that once changed the way literature is taught and read will soon be as extinct as the dodo and the buggy whip.

According to some, theory has been losing its grip on academia for years now. "For me, theory reached its apogee in the early 1980's and has since been declining," says Roger Lathbury, professor of American fiction at George Mason University. Today, he says, it's a matter of "the pendulum swinging toward the center.". . .

SAM SMITH, 'SHADOWS OF HOPE', 1994 - Of course, in the postmodern society that Clinton proposes -- one that rises above the false teachings of ideology -- we find ourselves with little to steer us save the opinions of whatever non-ideologue happens to be in power. In this case, we may really only have progressed from the ideology of the many to the ideology of the one or, some might say, from democracy to authoritarianism. Among equals, indifference to shared meaning might produce nothing worse than lengthy argument. But when the postmodernist is President of the United States, the impulse becomes a 500-pound gorilla to be fed, as they say, anything it wants.

ALL POWER CORRUPTS; POWERPOINT CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY

SHANTHI MANIAN, GEORGETOWN VOICE - PowerPoint's latest destination seems to be the classroom. More and more teachers from elementary schools to universities are abandoning blackboards for computer screens, or using a combination of the two. But even as many professors are enthusiastically adding PowerPoint to their toolbox, some wonder whether it belongs there at all. "It's only a little better than teaching children to smoke cigarettes," said analytical design expert Edward Tufte about PowerPoint in the classroom. Tufte says PowerPoint's low-resolution and bullet-point style make the presentation of complex concepts impossible. Lecturers try to compensate for the thin, oversimplified content with animations and tricks, a phenomenon labeled "PowerPointlessness" by Jamie McKenzie, the editor of From Now On: The Education Technology Journal. But Tufte and McKenzie say that bright colors, music, and animations fail to disguise what Tufte calls a "poverty of content."

"A vicious circle results," Tufte said. "Thin content leads to boring presentations. To make them unboring, PowerPoint Phluff [extraneous elements such as animations] is added, damaging the content, making the presentations even more boring." But Tufte and McKenzie's criticisms of PowerPoint are not restricted to its many extraneous features, however. Tufte says the limitations of the software are so severe that it can never be used in a positive way. In his essay The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, he reviews the flaws that inherently doom PowerPoint users to failure.

THE POLITICS OF BIKE RIDING

ELANOR TAYLOR, SIRC - Critical Mass has existed as an "unorganised coincidence" since the early nineties, when a group of cyclists in San Francisco decided to cycle home from work en masse on the last Friday of every month. The initial numbers involved were small — around 45-50 attending the first rides — but the movement (if it can be called this) has blossomed into a world-wide phenomenon, with rides across the globe attracting thousands of cyclists and Critical Mass itself becoming a symbol of successful, peaceful protest. However, the word "protest" is a loaded one, and despite the significant presence of Critical Mass cyclists at events like anti-capitalist May Day protests and marches against the 2003 Iraq war, Critical Mass literature is keen to emphasise the lack of dogmatic ideology behind the rides themselves. As Chris Carlsson, one of the founders of the San Francisco CM, puts it:

"It is inherently anti-corporate even though there are more uncritical supporters of the American Empire and its moneyed interests riding along than there are blazing subversives, which is just another of the many pleasant ironies of Critical Mass."

Indeed, Critical Mass web sites (of which there are many, with no one site acting as a main resource or home page) emphasise the idea of a "Xerocracy" between cyclists, in that anyone can bring printed materials — flyers, pamphlets etc — to distribute at a Critical Mass ride without the content of this material being seen to be entirely representative of Critical Mass itself. This emphasizes further the idea that nothing, beyond riding bikes in large groups, actually represents Critical Mass thinking. There are as many ideologies as there are cyclists on the rides, which makes Critical Mass simple to become a part of and yet difficult to define.

While Critical Mass rides clearly have something to say about the car-dominated state of transport systems, it would be wrong to categorize CM as an "anti-car" movement. Many of those who attend the rides also drive cars on other days, while some of those held up in cars at intersections by CM rides will also be keen cyclists. The essence of CM, if such a thing can be spoken of, goes beyond the idea of simple transport and holds the bicycle up as a symbol of a different world, a contrasting mode of existence to that represented and dominated by the car. To quote Carlsson again:

"When I bicycle around town I see things happening and can stop and explore them in depth with no hassles. I also see my friends and acquaintances and can stop and speak with them directly. This, combined with the absence of mass media pumping into my brain in the isolation of my car, sets up organic links and direct channels of human experience and communication." (Carlsson, "Bicycling Over the Rainbow")

GOOD READS
A. J. LIEBLING & EARL LONG

JONATHAN YARDLEY WASHINGTON POST - Turn to the opening sentences of A.J. Liebling's "The Earl of Louisiana," and three things happen. You are dazzled by the wit and acuity of Liebling's prose, you want to keep on reading for as long as he keeps on writing, and you are struck by how deeply the character of American politics has changed in the four-plus decades since "The Earl of Louisiana" was first published. To wit:

"Southern political personalities, like sweet corn, travel badly. They lose flavor with every hundred yards away from the patch. By the time they reach New York, they are like Golden Bantam that has been trucked up from Texas -- stale and unprofitable. The consumer forgets that the corn tastes different where it grows."

That was 1960, when the first article in Liebling's series about Earl Long, then governor of Louisiana, appeared in the New Yorker. . .

Even Louisiana is sliding into the monotony of the mainstream -- Louisiana, where, as Liebling fondly wrote, "denials . . . are accepted as affirmations, and it is held a breach of the code for a public man to deny anything that isn't so." . . .

To get into the rhythm of things, a few quotations are in order. Here, for example, Earl is asked by a reporter "whether he could manage his legislators." His reply: "You know, the Bible says that before the end of time billy goats, tigers, rabbits and house cats are all going to sleep together. My gang looks like the Biblical proposition is here." Here he discusses his libel suit against Henry Luce's Time-Life empire: "The Luce people been going on too long picking on people too poor to sue them, and now they're going to get it in the neck. Mr. Luce is like a man that owns a shoe store and buys all the shoes to fit himself.". . .

Here, as icing on the cake, is an episode at the gubernatorial dinner table:

"One of the women guests, a Northerner, inadvertently sat on a jacket a political gent had laid aside. It was a silvery Dacron-Acrilan-nylon-airpox miracle weave nubbled in Danish-blue asterisks. She made one whoop and rose vertically, like a helicopter. She had sat on his gun, an article of apparel that in Louisiana is considered as essential as a zipper. Eyebrows rose about as rapidly as she did, and by the time she came down she decided that comment would be considered an affectation."

THE MYTH OF WESTERN MODERNITY VS. EASTERN PRIMITIVENESS

SHARED LIBRARY PROGRAM IN SAN FRANCISCO

POWERPOINT CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY

EDWARD TUFTE, WIRED - Imagine a widely used and expensive prescription drug that promised to make us beautiful but didn't. Instead the drug had frequent, serious side effects: It induced stupidity, turned everyone into bores, wasted time, and degraded the quality and credibility of communication. These side effects would rightly lead to a worldwide product recall.

Yet slideware - computer programs for presentations - is everywhere: in corporate America, in government bureaucracies, even in our schools. Several hundred million copies of Microsoft PowerPoint are churning out trillions of slides each year. Slideware may help speakers outline their talks, but convenience for the speaker can be punishing to both content and audience. The standard PowerPoint presentation elevates format over content, betraying an attitude of commercialism that turns everything into a sales pitch. . .

Particularly disturbing is the adoption of the PowerPoint cognitive style in our schools. Rather than learning to write a report using sentences, children are being taught how to formulate client pitches and infomercials. Elementary school PowerPoint exercises (as seen in teacher guides and in student work posted on the Internet) typically consist of 10 to 20 words and a piece of clip art on each slide in a presentation of three to six slides -a total of perhaps 80 words (15 seconds of silent reading) for a week of work. Students would be better off if the schools simply closed down on those days and everyone went to the Exploratorium or wrote an illustrated essay explaining something.

In a business setting, a PowerPoint slide typically shows 40 words, which is about eight seconds' worth of silent reading material. With so little information per slide, many, many slides are needed. Audiences consequently endure a relentless sequentiality, one damn slide after another.

HISTORY IS MORE THAN AN EXPERIENCE

JOSIE APPLETON, SPIKED ONLINE - If the past is a foreign country, some history students seem to be finding it difficult even leaving their home town. A survey from History Today magazine has discovered that new students find nineteenth century history 'unappetisingly strange' - opting instead to tread the paths of the twentieth century that they covered at A-level. Their focus is on familiar morality tales of 'men with moustaches' - 'twentieth century dictators in general and Hitler in particular'

. . . And the history book itself is going out of fashion. John Gooch from Leeds University says that very few A-level students have read 'even one history book all the way through'. And they can do pretty well without, it seems - Gooch says that one candidate for an academic post at Leeds admitted to having worked solely from duplicated notes as an undergraduate, without opening the pages of a book.

. . . Instead, there is a preference for more bite-sized, experiential media, like TV history programs or websites. Apparently, TV provides a model for what students expect from their university courses, as something involving 'color, action, biography and narrative'. There are complaints that students see history as 'basically a narrative, descriptive subject', and 'expect to be told stories rather than acquire the skills of the historian'.

. . . The UK government's Holocaust Memorial Day attempts to discuss the Holocaust in the light of everyday experiences of bullying and bigotry. The teachers' pack for children suggests a number of different suggested 'reflections', or themes for assemblies - including 'being different', 'being in a foreign country without a family' and 'individual responsibility' The specific context that led to the horror of the Holocaust is ignored. Students are encouraged to talk, not about Europe in the 1930s and 40s, but the way that they relate to each other in the playground. The Holocaust Memorial Day Working Group said that: 'We are all individually responsible to ensure that we are active citizens and do not stand by while others are being victimized or persecuted.' It would be of little surprise if kids saw the Holocaust as something like calling people names (but worse), and Hitler as something like a bad guy on a film (but worse).

. . . At the Imperial War Museum in London, there is a 'blitz experience', a 'trench experience' and a '1940s House exhibition' - all complete with sounds, lights and smells to help recreate the sense of life at those times. The museum offers trips for schoolchildren, where an 'actor interpreter' will show them around the exhibition (4).

. . . For a start, it's impossible to recreate the experience of the past. The main business of the First World War 'trench experience' - killing and the threat of death - is impossible to convey through noise and lights. The noise and lights derive not from history, but from the present manipulations of Imperial War Museum curators.

. . .
If we study artifacts, documents and history books, and ask the right questions of them, we can grasp something of what history was like. In doing this, we bring it within the purview of our present understanding. If we try to see it all in terms of images, stories and colors, then everything seems comfortable and familiar. But in reality, the past then really does become a foreign country.

RICHARD CHANG, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER: Just as the economy has stalled during the past year, Orange County's top museums have seen downturns in income and attendance recently. Attendance has dropped significantly at the Orange County Museum of Art during the past two years. And after years of surplus, the museum is expecting to just break even with a lower budget for fiscal year 2000-01 . . . During fiscal year 1999-2000, OCMA saw its revenue rise to $4.88 million, with a $430,969 surplus, according to audited financial statements. Contributions hit $2.58 million, up from $900,000 the previous year. But revenue shrank to an estimated $3.2 million for fiscal 2000-01, and a notable surplus is not expected. Contributions dropped about $500,000, to $2.1 million. Admissions, too, have taken a downturn: 311,298 visited the museum's Newport Beach and South Coast Plaza facilities in 1998-99; 247,035 attended in 1999-2000; and 202,780 visited in 2000-01.

BR MYERS, ATLANTIC MONTHLY: Today any accessible, fast-moving story written in unaffected prose is deemed to be "genre fiction" - at best an excellent "read" or a "page turner," but never literature with a capital L. An author with a track record of blockbusters may find the publication of a new work treated like a pop-culture event, but most "genre" novels are lucky to get an inch in the back pages of The New York Times Book Review. Everything written in self-conscious, writerly prose, on the other hand, is now considered to be "literary fiction"-not necessarily good literary fiction, mind you, but always worthier of respectful attention than even the best-written thriller or romance. It is these works that receive full-page critiques, often one in the Sunday book-review section and another in the same newspaper during the week. It is these works, and these works only, that make the annual short lists of award committees. The "literary" writer need not be an intellectual one. Jeering at status-conscious consumers, bandying about words like "ontological" and "nominalism," chanting Red River hokum as if it were from a lost book of the Old Testament: this is what passes for profundity in novels these days. Even the most obvious triteness is acceptable, provided it comes with a postmodern wink. What is not tolerated is a strong element of action - unless, of course, the idiom is obtrusive enough to keep suspense to a minimum. Conversely, a natural prose style can be pardoned if a novel's pace is slow enough . . .

KEN KEUFFEL, WALL STREET JOURNAL on The seventh National Black Theatre Festival: As many as 50,000 patrons will take in plays, musicals, readings and seminars all over town. Actors who are just starting out will get to test their mettle on stage, often rubbing elbows with celebrities in the process. New plays will emerge, and old ones will gain valuable national exposure . . . The effects will be felt not just in Winston-Salem, though. The festival, which runs through Saturday, provides a much-needed infusion of energy for the nation's struggling black-theater scene. The number of black-theater companies in the country, professional and amateur, has decreased dramatically over the past 10 years. Victor Leo Walker, a former theater professor, runs the African Grove Institute for the Arts, a service organization for black theaters. He said that there were about 200 companies in the 1970s and '80s; now, there are fewer than 50. Moreover, companies that made their mark by developing the best acting and playwright talent - including Crossroads Theatre Company in New Jersey and the Inner City Cultural Center in Los Angeles - have gone under. Many others are operating in the red. Given that situation, the festival, which is the only one of its kind in the country, offers hope that black theater will continue to survive, no matter how dire the financial situations of many companies become. The event, which is held every other summer, has become a dependable place for actors, directors, playwrights and producers to network and recharge their batteries.

MARJORIE COEYMAN, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: For decades, large publishing houses paid scant attention to the interests of African-American readers. Then "in 1992, everything just changed," says Emma Rodgers, co-owner of Black Images Book Bazaar in Dallas. That year, Terry MacMillan published "Waiting to Exhale," and for a time, she, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker were simultaneously top-selling authors. "The market was always there" for books by and about blacks, says Ms. Rodgers. "But suddenly the mainstream publishers discovered it." They have since been moving rapidly to mine it. Seven publishing imprints dedicated to books by black authors have been created or revived by major publishing houses in the past couple of years. Black novelists like E. Lynn Harris and Lalita Tademy currently enjoy red-hot reputations.

NEIL POSTMAN'S FIVE IDEAS
ON TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE

NEIL POSTMAN: These are my five ideas about technological change. First, that we always pay a price for technology; the greater the technology, the greater the price. Second, that there are always winners and losers, and that the winners always try to persuade the losers that they are really winners. Third, that there is embedded in every great technology an epistemological, political or social prejudice. Sometimes that bias is greatly to our advantage. Sometimes it is not. The printing press annihilated the oral tradition; telegraphy annihilated space; television has humiliated the word; the computer, perhaps, will degrade community life. And so on. Fourth, technological change is not additive; it is ecological, which means, it changes everything and is, therefore, too important to be left entirely in the hands of Bill Gates. And fifth, technology tends to become mythic; that is, perceived as part of the natural order of things, and therefore tends to control more of our lives than is good for us . . . In the past, we experienced technological change in the manner of sleep-walkers. Our unspoken slogan has been "technology über alles," and we have been willing to shape our lives to fit the requirements of technology, not the requirements of culture. This is a form of stupidity, especially in an age of vast technological change. We need to proceed with our eyes wide open so that we may use technology rather than be used by it.

FULL ADDRESS

CULTURE

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: It's no secret that large arts groups receive more donations than small ones, but the fund-raising disparity is widening in the Bay Area. Of nearly 950 arts and cultural groups in the Bay Area, just eight accounted for half the private contributions and government grants reported on tax returns filed in 1999, according to a Chronicle analysis of tax data compiled by the National Center for Charitable Statistics. Furthermore, the Bay Area's 25 biggest groups accounted for 68 percent of the contributions and grants received in the region in 1999, up from 64 percent five years earlier.

ENTROPY BEAT
Newspapers cut back book reviews

TOM LOWE, JACKSON PROGRESSIVE: Several weeks ago we Mississippians voted to keep the Confederate battle flag in the corner of the Mississippi flag. As one who voted for the new flag - and was disappointed with the result - I've done my best to be philosophical in dealing with things I cannot change, and to ponder the significance of the decision . . . The author, after much thought on the subject, has reluctantly concluded that keeping the old flag was an act of honesty, even integrity, on the part of the voters. It is an admission that a deep ambivalence about race still permeates the state and its citizens. The new flag, in retrospect, would not have expressed the soul of this state: a highly individualistic culture with deep roots in conformity; the white matriarchy that skillfully disguises itself as a male-dominated macho regime; the denigration of the African-American that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy countless times in schools, businesses and courts of law; and all obscured by a cooperative denial of reality that occasionally makes the state resemble a mental institution, rather than merely a political subdivision. No, we did not make a mistake in voting for the old flag; it is an apt symbol for where we are and who we are as a people. No longer can we pretend that we are something that we are not. Keep the flag! Embrace it! Let it serve as a reminder of the formidable task ahead of us. To change it would be dishonest, to indulge in false advertising. Perhaps a time will come when we have truly put aside our nasty streak of racism. When that time arrives, maybe we will choose to replace the flag with something more representative of our ideals. On the other hand, when we reach that point, we may no longer care about the symbolism of the Confederate battle flag.

IS THOUGHT ENOUGH?

TOM STOPPARD, TIUMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT: I had used my speech to suggest that a fault line in the history of art had been crossed when it had become unnecessary for an artist to make anything, when the thought, the inspiration itself, had come to constitute the achievement, and I would have been pleased to see this phenomenon get an airing in the column inches which were devoted instead to parading the death of shorthand. I had decided to keep value judgements out of it, and I think I succeeded (I was speaking off the cuff) but the instructive thing about the press coverage and the letters I have received is that merely to describe the phenomenon ("An object can be a work of art just because the artist says it is") is to be taken to be attacking ithen did it stop being true that an artist is somebody who can do something more or less well which the rest of us can only do badly or not at all? If I were a conceptual artist, or a minimalist, I might answer that it was never true, or rather, never the point; the real point was that the artist made us see things we wouldn't otherwise see, and look at things in a new way, and that what I called a fault line was the realization that this could be achieved differently, not by being good at making something, but perhaps by relocating a familiar object in an unfamiliar context, or perhaps by removing the idea of skill from those shrines to skill known as art galleries . . . From the repudiation of the traditional idea of value, sprung on us by Duchamp's urinal 84 years ago, we have come to put a value on repudiation. And yet, there is a problem. In Peacock's novel 'Headlong Hall,' two sparring landscape gardeners, Milestone and Gall, are trying to impress the client:

Milestone: Sir, you will have the goodness to make a distinction between the picturesque and the beautiful.

Mr. Gall: I distinguish the picturesque and the beautiful, and I add to them, in the laying out of grounds, a third and distinct character, which I call unexpectedness.

Milestone: Pray, sir, by what name do you distinguish this character when a person walks round the grounds for the second time? MORE

CARL HONORÉ NATIONAL POST, CANADA: The famously blocked Englishman [Douglas Adams] died at the age of 49, leaving behind a string of broken deadlines, a manuscript that wasn't and a publisher badly out of pocket. In the early 1990s, Pan MacMillan paid Mr. Adams a hefty advance -- rumored to be around $4-million -- for a novel, The Salmon of Doubt. Now, nine years later, they have nothing to show for it. Though an assistant is busy scouring his personal computer for material, friends warn that, during a decade of procrastination, Mr. Adams wrote a grand total of eight pages of publishable text. "It is not fair on Douglas to pretend that he left us with a cache of work which he would be happy with releasing," one friend told the London Sunday Times. "He suffered from writer's block all of his life, and there came a point where he froze entirely." . . . Mr. Adams, who died of a heart attack at his gym in California, was a deadline-dodger par excellence. Despite his worldwide success -- Hitch-Hiker's Guide sold more than 10 million copies -- he always approached the blank page with a heavy heart . . . Earlier in his career, Mr. Adams's minders resorted to desperate measures to force him to put pen to paper. One editor set up her office in his dining room. Others simply put him under house arrest. Just before the deadline for his fourth novel, So Long, and Thanks For All The Fish (1984), his publishers installed Mr. Adams in a suite at the Berkeley Hotel, overlooking London's Hyde Park. They supplied him with smoked salmon sandwiches and a box of caffeine pills, making sure he did not wander too far from his desk. He eventually banged out the whole novel in two weeks. MORE

BBC: Scientists believe they may be closer to understanding why some people like pop music and others like classical. Psychiatric consultant Dr Raj Persaud of Maudsley Hospital in London believes his studies of dementia patients show a link between taste and "hard-nosed intellectual function" - in other words, appreciation of classical music may require more brain power. Persaud has observed that, as brain power diminishes in dementia patients, they sometimes go from liking classical to pop - but not the other way round. "What this may mean is that you require more gray matter to appreciate classical music and that you don't need so much gray matter to appreciate pop music, so as you lose gray matter your taste in music changes accordingly," said Dr Persaud . . . Some scientists believe Mozart can even reduce epileptic attacks MORE

THE WORD POLICE

THE BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL has banned the word "accident" from its pages but not without an outpouring of semantic arguments on both sides by its readers. Some of our favorites:

John McConnell, Editor, The Lancet Infectious Diseases: My first reaction to attempts to replace simple words whose meaning is innate to all native English speakers with circumlocutory contrivances ("prostitute" with "commercial sex worker" springs to mind) is to reach for my dictionary. To quote from Chambers English Dictionary - 7th ed (1989): "n. ac'cident that which happens: an unforeseen or unexpected event: a chance: a mishap: an unessential quality or property: unevenness of surface." If your editors agree with these definitions, I suspect that they will seldom find cases where "use of the term is inappropriate or misleading" because your new stricture on the use of accident invoke the exact instrument of hindsight. For example, if a healthcare worker unintentionally sticks herself or himself with a contaminated needle, they might look back on the incident and think "although I now realize I ignored years of training and acted carelessly, I failed to foresee the event at the time". That event is then clearly an accident by the dictionary definition. If on the other hand, a colleague had seen the healthcare worker handling the needle carelessly, immediately communicated their foresight, and the injury had still taken place, that is not an accident by the dictionary definition because the specific event was foreseen . . . Before trying to do away with accident, I urge you to use the benefit of hindsight. Deliberate attempts to change the use of words have failed almost without exception, whereas constant actual changes in language are an accident of history.

John Hopkins, GP Darlington: It is surprising the BMJ should associate itself with the somewhat Orwellian proposal that a particular word should be banned from use. Davis and Pless cite no evidence to suggest that by preventing "inappropriate" use of the word accident the world will become a safer place. It is arguable however that, in a small way, it will have become less liberal.

Dr. Nicholas Birkett, Associate Professor University of Ottawa: The implication behind the ban is that nothing happens by chance: we can always find a reason to blame for a bad event. This is a political, not a scientific statement. It is also wrong, as shown by your own examples of earthquakes or hurricanes. For a less dramatic example, if I play soccer and twist my ankle trying to kick the ball when no other players are around, I have been injured but it also was an accident. I have no one else to blame. To try and blame the groundskeeper is silly. To say I shouldn't have been playing is even sillier. Your position caters to the view that we should eliminate all risk from our lives. This is not only impossible but also not desirable.

Anna Whelan, Corporate Services Officer Orkney Islands Council: Attempts to substitute politically correct words for those in common parlance can lead to some daft terminology. One local newspaper in South West London persistently refers to pedestrian casualties as having been "in collision" with vehicles, suggesting a rather more equal contest than that experienced by the pedestrian, who would probably say that he or she has been knocked down or run over - if still in a position to comment at all. With hindsight, the pedestrian might agree that it was not a good idea to cross the road without looking, but he or she has probably done the same thing on many previous occasions without mishap. Statistically, there may have been the same probability of meeting a car each time, but humans do not conduct a Bayesian analysis every time they cross the road. After crossing the Cromwell Road twice a day for ten years I felt that a close encounter with a No. 74 bus was becoming a near certainty. Having now moved to Orkney, getting mown down by one would qualify as an achievement rather than an accident. Join the real, less than perfect world!

John Dutton, GP Principal: You are asking your editors to "be vigilant in detecting and rejecting inappropriate use of the 'A' word", but please don't come down too hard on them if they fail and the word slips through onto your pages. We your readers recognize that these things happen even in the best regulated circles. We will realize that it was just an accident.

Tim Marshall, senior lecturer university of Birmingham: 15-20 years ago a book called "Accidents Happen" included on the first page the following arresting sentence: "A submarine has collided with a bicycle, a yachtsman has had his bowsprit cut off by a railway train, and an aircraft has taken off towing a glider with neither craft having anyone on board." There is no hope for anyone not attracted by such extraordinary happenings, though all of them contained elements of thoughtlessness, ignorance, stupidity etc. which could (relatively) easily have been avoided. But how should we characterize the event where a bee landed on someone's snorkel, he breathed in, was stung in the mouth, and died? With hindsight we know that putting a mesh across the top of the snorkel would have stopped this, but hindsight is a wondrous thing not given to most of us in advance. Perhaps an accident could be described as something we haven't seen how to prevent, before it happens, but afterwards any repetition can be attributed to ignorance, carelessness etc.

David C Taylor, Visiting Professor Dept of Neurology Great Ormond St Hospital:
Your article offends because it contributes further to the culture of blame. You fail to notice that accidents are usually predictable retrospectively by detached and uninvolved observers separated from just those chance contingencies that set up that one tragedy that drew attention to the problem. It offends because it seeks to proscribe a word, to censor, in order to achieve an effect. It offends because that is a dangerous and totalitarian policy.
MORE

CLAPPING AT JAZZ CONCERTS

JOHN SHAND, SIDNEY MORNING HERALD: Perhaps the weirdest thing about jazz concerts is the clapping. Back in the smoky past, someone was overcome by enthusiasm for a solo, and at its conclusion applauded vigorously, despite the music still being in full swing. Enthusiasm being as contagious as measles, others emulated the outburst, until the exception became the rule and it was mandatory to clap solos. Now they are clapped regardless of merit. People clap because they think it is the right thing to do, just as audiences at classical concerts don't clap between movements . . . The idea caught hold because a solo was seen as an individual's discrete creation within a piece of music which therefore deserved its own acknowledgment. Bunkum. This denigrates the accompanists, and in much classic and modern jazz, what is applauded as a solo is actually collective improvisation. Singling out one contribution is a mockery of that. The only forgivable reason for clapping solos is being so moved by the music that you cannot contain your appreciation until the end of the piece. But this does not constitute the bulk of applause. Many do it to show they know jazz protocol: that they can pick the right place to do so, thereby aligning themselves with a supposedly hip cognoscenti. What's so wrong with clapping? Most obviously, it drowns out the next few bars of the music - bars which may contain the most exquisite magic of the night, but the clappers (and everyone else) will never know because of the racket being made. Softer instruments such as basses suffer most in this regard. Those who applaud, say, a piano feature on a ballad while the bassist is beginning his or her solo have no idea how the new improvised narrative originated. It is as ludicrous as tearing the first pages out of a thriller and then trying to pick up the story.MORE

THE DANGERS OF BREAD

KONFORMIST: More than 98 percent of convicted felons are bread users. Fully 50% of all children who grow up in bread-consuming households score below average on standardized tests.

In the 18th century, when virtually all bread was baked in the home, the average life expectancy was less than 50 years; infant mortality rates were unacceptably high; many women died in childbirth; and diseases such as typhoid, yellow fever, and influenza ravaged whole nations. Every piece of bread you eat brings you nearer to death. Bread is associated with all the major diseases of the body. For example, nearly all sick people have eaten bread. The effects are obviously cumulative:

a. 99.9% of all people who die from cancer have eaten bread.

b. 100% of all soldiers have eaten bread.

c. 96.9% of all Communist sympathizers have eaten bread.

d. 99.7% of the people involved in air and auto accidents ate bread within 6 months preceding the accident.

e. 93.1% of juvenile delinquents came from homes where bread is served frequently.

Evidence points to the long-term effects of bread eating: Of all the people born in 1839 who later dined on bread, there has been a 100% mortality rate. Bread is made from a substance called "dough." It has been proven that as little as one pound of dough can be used to suffocate a mouse. The average American eats more bread than that in one month! Primitive tribal societies that have no bread exhibit a low incidence of cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease, and osteoporosis. Bread has been proven to be addictive. Subjects deprived of bread and given only water to eat begged for bread after as little as two days. Bread is often a "gateway" food item, leading the user to "harder" items such as butter, jelly, peanut butter, and even cold cuts. Bread has been proven to absorb water. Since the human body is more than 90 percent water, it follows that eating bread could lead to your body being taken over by this absorptive food product, turning you into a soggy, gooey bread-pudding person.

Newborn babies can choke on bread. Bread is baked at temperatures as high as 400 degrees Fahrenheit! That kind of heat can kill an adult in less than one minute. Increased temperatures cause global warming.

Most bread eaters are utterly unable to distinguish between serious significant scientific fact and meaningless statistical political babbling....

ORWELL & HUXLEY

Fifty-two years ago today, George Orwell's "1984" was published. Working on his forthcoming book, "Why Bother?," your editor reread both Orwell's work and "Brave New World," written much earlier by Aldous Huxley and far less cited these days. Struck by how much closer in some ways Huxley's dystopia was to ours, I wrote:

"If your goal is the economic well-being of the inner party rather than the general welfare, a strong case can be made that most people will accept their exclusion with quiet desperation. Thus you can cut their services and deny them aid and they will not revolt. For those few who show signs of trouble, you simply write laws that restrict their employment, take away their driver's license, or ensure them incarceration using whatever ruse, such as drug laws, that works.

"We know who might cause trouble. They are black, latino, and white males with a high school education or less. They are the only sizable socio-economic minority in the country without a movement, without advocacy organizations, without media support. If they act out, if they smoke pot, have the wrong papers or otherwise get into trouble, we simply throw them in jail.

"For less disruptive members of the society, the goal is not that they feel pain but that they not feel restless. Writing before the rise of Hitler, Aldous Huxley in "Brave New World" understood this principle; the people of his world took daily drugs, had plenty of access to sex, and were absorbed in such pre-Nintendo activities as obstacle golf. There were "feelies," movies that allowed you to touch as well as hear and see, diseases had been abolished, and death had been made as pleasant as possible. Some of traits of Huxley's world sound eerily familiar, such as genetic engineering, a stress on identity instead of individuality, psychological conditioning, the planned and controlled pursuit of happiness, the use of drugs as a cultural sedative, mindless consumption and the destruction of the family."

Neil Postman has also remarked on the less noted prescience of Huxley:

"Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think. What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive of culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us."

THE SEVENTIES

GEORGE PACKER, NY TIMES: In "The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society, and Politics," Bruce J. Schulman [argues that] the 1980's began in the 1970's. A similar argument appeared last year in "How We Got Here," by the journalist and current Bush speechwriter David Frum. But as a conservative Frum placed the emphasis on the decline of traditional moral values. What Schulman shows is how that decline went hand in hand with the freewheeling private enterprise that has remade American life in the past two decades . . . The cultural part of the 60's revolution turned out to be continuous with the economic part of the Reagan revolution. What joins them is the apotheosis of the free individual. The very things that began with liberal universalist dreams of common humanity ended up in fragmentation and skepticism. Watergate, for example: at the time it appeared to be a great triumph for the antiestablishment left, a boon to reform Democrats in Congress, proof that the institutions of government worked. But it's now clear, as Schulman argues, that the "the ultimate lesson of Watergate remained 'you can't trust the government,' " and that it therefore "gave a boost to conservatism and conservative Republican politicians." Similarly, the tax revolt, which most Americans would date to 1978 with California's Proposition 13, turns out to have begun in the early 70's with an anticorporate, populist campaign for equity, not mindless cutting. And the brotherhood dreams of the early civil rights movement crumbled into "diversity."

POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY

GREG EASTERBROOK, NEW REPUBLIC: "Life is divided up into the horrible and the miserable," Woody Allen tells Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. "The horrible would be like terminal cases, blind people, cripples - I don't know how they get through life. It's amazing to me. And the miserable is everyone else. So, when you go through life, you should be thankful that you're miserable." That's a fairly apt summary of the last century's consensus regarding the psyche. Psychiatry now recognizes some 14 "major" mental disorders, in addition to countless lesser maladies. Unipolar depression--unremitting blue feelings--has risen tenfold since World War II and now afflicts an estimated 18 million Americans. Increasingly, even children are prescribed psychotropic drugs, while frustrated drivers are described as not merely discourteous but enraged. In the past 100 years, academic journals have published 8,166 articles on "anger," compared with 416 on "forgiveness" . . . And yet, somehow, most people turn out OK. Only a tiny fraction of the populace commit antisocial acts or lose their ability to function in society. Roughly 80 percent of Americans describe themselves as basically satisfied with their lives. Not only have we not all lost our minds, but, considering modern stress, most of our minds seem in surprisingly good condition. This observation is leading to a revolutionary development in the theory of the psyche--positive psychology, which seeks to change the focus of inquiry from what causes psychosis to what causes sanity . . .

AN EXCELLENT BOOK that addressed this issue earlier is "The Resilient Self" by Stephen and Sybil Wolin.

THE NEW BUDDHISM

STEPHEN PROTHERO, SALON: James William Coleman is not a major brand, and his "The New Buddhism: The Western Transformation of an Ancient Tradition" is not destined for the bestseller list. It does shed light, however, on today's oddly bookish Buddhist vogue. Coleman is a sociologist and a Buddhist, so it's not surprising that he supports his sympathy for American Buddhism with a survey. His book focuses on a small minority of American-born converts and sympathizers rather than the immigrants and their children who make up three-quarters of American Buddhists. These "new Buddhists," as he calls them, patronize four types of Buddhist groups: Zen centers, Tibetan Buddhist centers, vipassana ("insight meditation") centers and unaffiliated, nonsectarian centers . . . Coleman identifies some key tendencies among boomer Buddhists, including efforts to make Buddhism more egalitarian, more feminist and more socially conscious. The most audacious of these trends is a drift toward a secularized Buddhism that author Stephen Batchelor calls "Buddhism Without Beliefs" and Coleman dubs "bare-bones Buddhism." This supposedly revolutionary concept is actually rather old, even hackneyed. The idea is this: Strip Buddhism of what Coleman describes as its "traditional religious trappings -- robed priests, elaborate rituals, sacred images of super mundane figures, devotional practices." What remains is a demythologized practice that is both new and (supposedly) improved: no chanting, no incense, no monks and certainly no bowing. This stealth approach leaves Buddhists with little to do except meditate and read books like "The New Buddhism." . . . Recently critics have suggested that the "new Buddhism" is subverting Buddhism itself. In Time magazine's 1997 cover story on "America's Fascination With Buddhism," Robert Thurman (friend of the Dalai Lama, father of Uma and Buddhist studies professor at Columbia -- in that order) derided Batchelor and his ilk as "non-Buddhists" preaching humanism but marketing it as Buddhism.