Archive for July 2011
Very interesting editorial in the NY Times:
Nearly six in 10 public school students in Texas were suspended or expelled at least once between seventh and 12th grade. That was the astounding finding of an analysis tracking nearly one million students in 3,900 Texas schools.
Schools are right to expel students who pose a threat to others. But suspensions for less serious, nonthreatening behavior have become routine in recent decades, with disastrous consequences. Children who are removed from school are at far greater risk of being held back, dropping out or ending up in the juvenile justice system.
The Texas study, conducted by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, raises alarms that should prompt every state to re-examine disciplinary policies.
For starters, schools should be required to deal with minor infractions at school, reserving suspension for serious offenses. Only 3 percent of the disciplinary actions taken in Texas were for serious criminal conduct that requires mandatory suspension or expulsion under state law. The remaining 97 percent were made at the discretion of school officials for misbehavior like fighting, misdemeanor drug or alcohol use, or disruptive classroom behavior.
The breakdown of who was punished is also chilling. African-American students and those with some disabilities were disproportionately likely to be removed from the classroom. A staggering 83 percent of black males had at least one discretionary violation, compared with 74 percent of Hispanic males and 59 percent of white male students. Minority students were more commonly given harsher out-of-school suspensions, rather than in-school suspensions, for their first disciplinary violation. . .
Extremely interesting article by Kathryn Schulz published over a month ago in the NY Times Sunday Book Review. I just found it today:
“Ars longa,” the ancient saying goes, “vita brevis.” Art is long, life short, and the problem is intensifying. As the literary ars lurches exponentially more longa — accommodating the printing press, “Gravity’s Rainbow,” Google Books — our collective TBR pile towers ever more vertiginously overhead. Which raises a question: What are we mortal beings supposed to do with all these books?
Franco Moretti has a solution: don’t read them. Moretti is not a satirist. He’s an Italian literary scholar and the founder of the Stanford Literary Lab, which opened last year, published its maiden pamphlet in January and followed up with another last month. The first pamphlet asks whether computers can recognize literary genres, and the second uses network theory to re-envision plots.
As its name suggests, the Lit Lab tackles literary problems by scientific means: hypothesis-testing, computational modeling, quantitative analysis. Similar efforts are currently proliferating under the broad rubric of “digital humanities,” but Moretti’s approach is among the more radical. He advocates what he terms “distant reading”: understanding literature not by studying particular texts, but by aggregating and analyzing massive amounts of data.
We need distant reading, Moretti argues, because its opposite, close reading, can’t uncover the true scope and nature of literature. Let’s say you pick up a copy of “Jude the Obscure,” become obsessed with Victorian fiction and somehow manage to make your way through all 200-odd books generally considered part of that canon. Moretti would say: So what? As many as 60,000 other novels were published in 19th-century England — to mention nothing of other times and places. You might know your George Eliot from your George Meredith, but you won’t have learned anything meaningful about literature, because your sample size is absurdly small. Since no feasible amount of reading can fix that, what’s called for is a change not in scale but in strategy. To understand literature, Moretti argues, we must stop reading books.
The Lit Lab seeks to put this controversial theory into practice (or, more aptly, this practice into practice, since distant reading is less a theory than a method). . .
Interesting article by Ben Zimmer in the NY Times Sunday Book Review:
We like to think that modern fiction, particularly American fiction, is free from the artificial stylistic pretensions of the past. Richard Bridgman expressed a common view in his 1966 book “The Colloquial Style in America.” “Whereas in the 19th century a very real distinction could be made between the vernacular and standard diction as they were used in prose,” Bridgman wrote, “in the 20th century the vernacular had virtually become standard.” Thanks to such pioneers as Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway, the story goes, ornate classicism was replaced by a straight-talking vox populi.
Now in the 21st century, with sophisticated text-crunching tools at our disposal, it is possible to put Bridgman’s theory to the test. Has a vernacular style become the standard for the typical fiction writer? Or is literary language still a distinct and peculiar beast?
Scholars in the growing field of digital humanities can tackle this question by analyzing enormous numbers of texts at once. When books and other written documents are gathered into an electronic corpus, one “subcorpus” can be compared with another: all the digitized fiction, for instance, can be stacked up against other genres of writing, like news reports, academic papers or blog posts.
One such research enterprise is the Corpus of Contemporary American English, or COCA, which brings together 425 million words of text from the past two decades, with equally large samples drawn from fiction, popular magazines, newspapers, academic texts and transcripts of spoken English. . .
In fact, I generally don’t drink fruit juice of any kind—being diabetic, I prefer to eat a piece of fruit rather than drink the juice. (Exception: 1/2 c pomegranate juice daily, in a glass of iced white tea with lime juice.) But orange juice seems especially nasty. Ben Popken at The Consumerist:
There’s a dirty secret in your glass of orange juice. Even though it says “not from concentrate,” it probably sat in a large vat for up to year with all the oxygen was removed from it. This allows it to be preserved and dispensed all year-round. Taking out all the O2 also gets rid of all the flavor. So the juice makers have to add the flavors back in using preformulated recipes full of chemicals called “flavor packs.” Mmm, delicious, fresh-squeezed ethyl-butyrate!
Author Aliissa Hamilton covers this in her book, “Squeezed: What You Don’t Know About Orange Juice.” Of her findings, she writes on the Civl Eats blog:
Juice companies therefore hire flavor and fragrance companies, the same ones that formulate perfumes for Dior and Calvin Klein, to engineer flavor packs to add back to the juice to make it taste fresh. Flavor packs aren’t listed as an ingredient on the label because technically they are derived from orange essence and oil. Yet those in the industry will tell you that the flavor packs, whether made for reconstituted or pasteurized orange juice, resemble nothing found in nature. The packs added to juice earmarked for the North American market tend to contain high amounts of ethyl butyrate, a chemical in the fragrance of fresh squeezed orange juice that, juice companies have discovered, Americans favor. . .
The US seems to be moving in this direction, with corporations and the wealthy gaining more and more control of the government. In Honduras, the process is well advanced:
Nathan Myhrvold is a genius and a polymath. He made hundreds of millions of dollars as Microsoft’s chief technology officer, he’sdiscovered dinosaur fossils, and he recently co-authored a six-volume cookbook that “reveals science-inspired techniques for preparing food.”
Myhrvold has more than 100 patents to his name, and he’s cast himself as a man determined to give his fellow inventors their due. In 2000, he founded a company called Intellectual Ventures, which he calls “a company that invests in invention.”
But Myhrvold’s company has a different image among many Silicon Valley insiders.
The influential blog Techdirt regularly refers to Intellectual Ventures as a patent troll. IPWatchdog, an intellectual property site, called IV “patent troll public enemy #1.” These blogs write about how Intellectual Ventures has amassed one of the largest patent portfolios in existence and is going around to technology companies demanding money to license these patents.
Patents are a big deal in the software industry right now. Lawsuits are proliferating. Big technology companies are spending billions of dollars to buy up huge patent portfolios in order to defend themselves. Computer programmers say patents are hindering innovation.
But people at companies that have been approached by Intellectual Ventures don’t want to talk publicly.
“There is a lot of fear about Intellectual Ventures,” says Chris Sacca, a venture capitalist who was an early investor in Twitter, among other companies. “You don’t want to make yourself a target.” . . .
I now have time to putter about the kitchen, cooking meals as I eat them. But back when I lived in Iowa and was working, I really enjoyed using the slow cooker to have dinner ready—especially in the winter, when I could enter the house out of the cold and walk into a warmth full of the fragrance of dinner ready. One favorite was beef short ribs…