Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for October 5th, 2010

My Dinner With Andre

with one comment

Rewatching My Dinner With Andre turns out to have been an excellent idea. Just as absorbing as it was in every other viewing.

Packing almost complete. Normal blogging will resume on the 20th, but may break out at any time.

Written by Leisureguy

5 October 2010 at 4:36 pm

Posted in Daily life, Movies & TV

How Handwriting Trains the Brain

leave a comment »

Interesting article by Gwendolyn Bounds in the Wall Street Journal. I use (and advocate) italic handwriting, also known as chancery cursive. You can read my post about it here. Bounds’s article begins:

Ask preschooler Zane Pike to write his name or the alphabet, then watch this 4-year-old’s stubborn side kick in. He spurns practice at school and tosses aside workbooks at home. But Angie Pike, Zane’s mom, persists, believing that handwriting is a building block to learning.

She’s right. Using advanced tools such as magnetic resonance imaging, researchers are finding that writing by hand is more than just a way to communicate. The practice helps with learning letters and shapes, can improve idea composition and expression, and may aid fine motor-skill development.

It’s not just children who benefit. Adults studying new symbols, such as Chinese characters, might enhance recognition by writing the characters by hand, researchers say. Some physicians say handwriting could be a good cognitive exercise for baby boomers working to keep their minds sharp as they age.

Studies suggest there’s real value in learning and maintaining this ancient skill, even as we increasingly communicate electronically via keyboards big and small. Indeed, technology often gets blamed for handwriting’s demise. But in an interesting twist, new software for touch-screen devices, such as the iPad, is starting to reinvigorate the practice.

Most schools still include conventional handwriting instruction in their primary-grade curriculum, but today that amounts to just over an hour a week, according to Zaner-Bloser Inc., one of the nation’s largest handwriting-curriculum publishers. Even at institutions that make it a strong priority, such as the private Brearley School in New York City, “some parents say, ‘I can’t believe you are wasting a minute on this,'” says Linda Boldt, the school’s head of learning skills.

Recent research illustrates how writing by hand engages the brain in learning. During one study at Indiana University published this year, researchers invited children to man a “spaceship,” actually an MRI machine using a specialized scan called “functional” MRI that spots neural activity in the brain. The kids were shown letters before and after receiving different letter-learning instruction. In children who had practiced printing by hand, the neural activity was far more enhanced and “adult-like” than in those who had simply looked at letters.

“It seems there is something really important about manually manipulating and drawing out two-dimensional things we see all the time,” says Karin Harman James, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Indiana University who led the study.

Adults may benefit similarly when . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more at the link, including a video. Check out also Handwriting Repair.

Written by Leisureguy

5 October 2010 at 12:24 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

Grant Wood: Not who you think he was

with 2 comments

Take a look at this review:

Grant Wood: A Life
by R. Tripp Evans

A review by Steven Biel

Grant Wood’s life story, as he told it to the press and as many of his biographers have repeated it, went like this: Born in rural Iowa in 1891, Wood showed artistic precocity from an early age, flirted with bohemianism, turned his back on his benighted region under the sway of H. L. Mencken, traveled to France, grew a hideous beard, produced derivative Impressionist paintings, returned home, shaved off the beard, discovered a “native” subject matter and style (most famously in his 1930 painting American Gothic), and became America’s “artist in overalls.” Well adjusted, hard working, and clean living, the mature Wood was everything the stereotypical artist wasn’t. Most of all, he was masculine — “a sturdy, foursquare son of the Middle West,” as an admiring critic put it. The art, like the artist, was solid, straightforward, and robustly American.

In Grant Wood: A Life, R. Tripp Evans, an art historian at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, reveals how this narrative of “normalcy” hid in plain sight the reality that Wood was a closeted homosexual. Newspapers and magazines routinely remarked on his apparently permanent bachelorhood. In 1940, some of Wood’s colleagues at the University of Iowa tried to have him fired for, among other transgressions, his alleged homosexual relationship with his secretary, the latest in a series of young male protégés and companions. Faced with constant threats of exposure, he sought protection in his regular-guy persona, to the point of ratifying the virulent homophobia of his friend and fellow Midwestern regionalist Thomas Hart Benton, whose 1937 autobiography he praised for its “healthful commentary” on “the parasites and hangers-on of art . . . with their ivory-tower hysterias and frequent homosexuality.”

Evans gives us a moving and persuasive psychoanalytic study that finds in both the life and the work powerful forces of “desire, memory, and dread.” The artist’s father, who died suddenly when Wood was 10, looms large throughout. Stern and intimidating, Maryville Wood compared Grant unfavorably to his two brothers, disapproved of his unmanly artistic inclinations, and left him with “a sense of shame” about “his artwork and its attendant sense of fantasy.” The doting and adored mother, Hattie, completed “the family romance that would shape so much of Wood’s life and work.” Wood lived for most of his adult life with his mother and his younger sister, Nan — his model for the woman in American Gothic — in a small carriage-house studio in Cedar Rapids. Taking care of Hattie served as his excuse for bachelorhood until the prospect of her death prodded him into a disastrous marriage, in 1935, to an older woman, Sara Sherman Maxon.

Pushing aside the public inspirations for and meanings of Wood’s work that have preoccupied critics since the 1930s, Evans explores “the personal factors that complicate everything we may think we know about his paintings,” including American Gothic, which displays “not the artist’s patriotism” or some conception of the national character “but a fractured return to his own past.” From ostensibly unimportant details — the female figure wears the Persephone brooch Wood gave to Hattie; the male figure wears Maryville Wood’s glasses rather than those of the model (the artist’s dentist) — Evans establishes the presence of the family romance in the painting. We immediately recognize that the woman’s gaze is directed away from us, but on closer examination so is the man’s. “In establishing this peculiar standoff between sitter and viewer,” Evans explains, “Wood deftly illustrates his own feelings of invisibility before his father” — feelings that Wood repeatedly articulated in his unfinished and unpublished autobiography, Return From Bohemia. In American Gothic‘s complex invocation of the Persephone myth, Evans finds an artist who was far from reconciled to this return.

Late in the book, after an equally dazzling reading of Parson Weems’ Fable (1939), Wood’s last major painting before his death in 1942, Evans offers a sweeping defense of his method. Having claimed that the small figures in the background suggest “an incestuous union” between mother and son (to complement the “patricidal hatchet job” in the foreground), he addresses readers who might react with “alarm and disbelief” to this interpretation and those that precede it. Such reactions, Evans argues, would indicate not only a lack of sympathy with his approach but a “conscious resistance to the psyche’s raw and anarchic operations.” By treating any objection that an interpretation “goes too far” as a symptom of resistance, Evans precludes even sympathetic readers from reasonably identifying instances of overreaching. Why not leave potential critics to their opinions rather than preemptively psychoanalyze them?

No doubt there will be readers, whatever their motives, who see Grant Wood: A Life as a slander against the self-described “simple Middle Western farmer-painter” and his wholesome paintings. But Evans has done Wood a great service in saving him and his work from the one-dimensionality to which they have largely been consigned. He has rendered the artist and the art in all their ambivalence, disquiet, mischief, deceptiveness, and anguish. This is a deeply respectful and compassionate biography.

— Steven Biel is executive director of the Humanities Center at Harvard and a senior lecturer on history and literature at Harvard University. His most recent book is American Gothic: A Life of America’s Most Famous Painting (2005).

Written by Leisureguy

5 October 2010 at 10:25 am

Posted in Art, Books, Daily life

An economic reality check

leave a comment »

Written by Leisureguy

5 October 2010 at 10:09 am

Posted in Daily life, Video

Caught in a positive feedback loop

leave a comment »

Positive feedback is the worst: it quickly spins out of control which pretty much describes the situation we face in the way we’re fighting terrorists. Greenwald:

The U.S. war in (against) Pakistan continues to escalate, as Pakistanis attacked NATO tankers carrying fuel through their country to soldiers in Afghanistan last night, killing three people, an attack that was in retaliation for vastly increased U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan this month, which were ordered in alleged response to reports of increased Terrorist threats aimed at Europe, which, in turn, were in retaliation for the escalating wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan (as evidenced by the large numbers of individuals of Afghan descent involved in these plots).  Jim White — in a post this morning entitled "Stuck in Feedback Loop: Drone Strikes Provoke Terrorists Who Provoke More Drone Strikes" — documents exactly the process at play here:

The situation in Pakistan appears to have reached a point where a positive feedback loop prompts continued escalation on both sides. The US sees drone attacks as its primary weapon and has stepped up such attacks in the belief that they will create more security for military actions in Afghanistan and disrupt planning of terrorist attacks on the West.  Instead, the attacks appear to enrage the surviving targets, recruit more to their ranks and lead to more attacks.

What a surprise:  bombing Muslims more and more causes more and more Muslims to want to bomb the countries responsible.  That, of course, has long been the perverse "logic" driving the War on Terror.  The very idea that we’re going to reduce Terrorism by more intensively bombing more Muslim countries is one of the most patently absurd, self-contradicting premises that exists.  It’s exactly like announcing that the cure for lung cancer is to quadruple the number of cigarettes one smokes each day.  But that’s been the core premise (at least the stated one) of our foreign policy for the last decade:  we’re going to stop Terrorism by doing more and more of exactly the things that cause it (and see this very good Economist article on the ease with which drones allow a nation’s leaders to pretend to its citizenry that they are not really at war — as we’re doing with Pakistan).

Speaking of counter-productive U.S. actions in Pakistan, this Washington Post article from Friday discusses the possibility that a coup could be engineered in that country to overthrow the current Government and replace it with one that is friendlier to U.S. interests:

U.S. officials pointed to recent signs that Pakistan’s powerful army and opposition parties are positioning themselves to install a new civilian government to replace President Asif Ali Zardari and his prime minister in the coming months. . . . U.S. officials indicated that the administration has begun to contemplate the effects of a change, engineered through Zardari’s resignation as head of his political party, the dissolution of the current coalition government, or a call for new elections under the Pakistani constitution, rather than any overt action by the military. Some suggested that a new, constitutionally-approved government that was more competent and popular, and had strong military backing, might be better positioned to support U.S. policies.

The article does not say that the U.S. is actively involved in those efforts, but it’s very difficult to imagine American military and intelligence officials simply sitting passively by as a coup is underway in a country (like Pakistan) where we are so invested, just keeping their fingers crossed that it results in a new government "better positioned to support U.S. policies."  Whatever else is true, it’s very easy to imagine how such a coup — resulting in a more U.S.-friendly government — will be perceived in that country and around the Muslim world.  That perception is unlikely to help reduce the threat of Terrorism.

For more on the growing U.S. war in (on) Pakistan, watch this quite good Rachel Maddow monologue from Thursday night: . . ,

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 October 2010 at 9:09 am

Prairie Creations = good lather

with 6 comments

I just received my first order from Prairie Creations and so of course want to test all the soaps—but tomorrow I leave at oh-dark-thirty, so this will probably be my last SOTD for a couple of weeks. I decided to try the shave stick, with the idea that if it works, that will be my travel shave soap. And work it did.

I normally use the Rooney Style 2 Finest as my test brush for new soaps and shaving creams: it works extremely well and quite reliably. OTOH, it’s not a brush that many use, so I decided that the Omega 643167 will be my new test brush: it really does work as well, so far as I can tell, and it’s much more affordable.

So, taking the Omega 643167 in hand, I worked up a really fine lather: dense, thick, and ample. The Feather Premium did three flawless passes, and at the end I had enough lather for three more passes. The Barbershop fragrance is very nice.

A splash of Floïd, and I’m into packing.

Written by Leisureguy

5 October 2010 at 7:28 am

Posted in Shaving

%d bloggers like this: