Monday, 2 November 2015

Cuttings: October 2015

[Hindu] Practice: Darshan and Namaste - 'Daily Meditation' by Richard Rohr. "In the Hindu tradition, darshan (or darsana) is to behold the Divine and to allow yourself to be fully seen. Many Hindus visit temples not to see God, but to let God gaze upon them--and then to join God's seeing which is always unconditional acceptance and compassion."

How the magic of cinema unlocked one man’s coma-bound world - article in MindHacks blog. "Lorina Naci has used cinema to show just how sophisticated conscious awareness can be in a ‘minimally conscious’ patient. The trick they used involved an 8 minute edit of 'Bang! You’re dead', a 1961 episode of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents'. In the film, a young boy with a toy gun obsession wanders around aiming and firing at people. Unbeknownst to him, and the adults he aims at, on this day he has found a real gun and it has a live bullet in the chamber.... Naci showed the film to healthy participants. To a separate group she showed a scrambled version involving rearranged one-second segments. This ‘control’ version was important because it contained many of the same features as the original; the same visual patterns, the same objects, the same actions. But it lacked the crucial narrative coherence – the knowledge of the bullet – which generated the suspense.... Next the researchers showed the film to two patients in wakeful comas. In one, ... who had been hospitalised and non-responsive for 16 years, his brain response matched those of the healthy controls who’d seen the film. Like them, activity across the cortex rose and fell with the action of the film, indicating an inner consciousness rich enough to follow the plot."

The latest episode in the ‘Can women have it all?’ soap opera" - review of Anne-Marie Slaughter's Unfinished Business by Helen Lewis in The Guardian. "The book practises what it preaches by having rather a lot to say to anyone with a Y chromosome. Slaughter pinpoints something called 'Halo dad syndrome', where fathers are praised for the slightest achievement, such as remembering to pick the kids up from school. This is patronising, she points out, and reaffirms the existing cultural belief that men are not 'naturally' suited to childcare. In one of the best passages of the book, Slaughter flips such compliments around: 'Imagine that as a woman you’re praised for writing a good report at work, a completely routine action for a man, and praised in a way that makes clear that the person who is complimenting you didn’t actually expect you could do it so well.' ”

Utopias, past and present: why Thomas More remains astonishingly radical - article by Terry Eagleton in The Guardian. "Thomas More's Utopia, a book that will be 500 years old next year, is astonishingly radical stuff. Not many lord chancellors of England have denounced private property, advocated a form of communism and described the current social order as a 'conspiracy of the rich'. Such men, the book announces, are 'greedy, unscrupulous and useless'. ... Alternative universes are really devices for embarrassing the present, as imaginary cultures are used to estrange and unsettle our own. As such, they have been largely the product of the left. The finest of all such works in Britain is the Marxist William Morris’s, one of the very few utopian visions to offer a detailed account of how the political transformation actually came about.... The word 'utopia' means 'nowhere', but it isn’t clear whether this is because the place could exist but happens not to, or whether it is nowhere in much the same sense that a humble Richard Dawkins or a coy Chris Evans is."

Intellectual snobs beware - review of Dominic Sandbrook's The Great British Dream Factory by Matthew Sweet in The Guardian. " 'Whether British culture is the world’s best is an unanswerable and ultimately pointless question,' [Sandbrook] writes, at the beginning of his latest doorstopper. 'But it has a very good claim, pound for pound, to be its most successful.' He has the numbers to prove it: £30m in the bank account of Oxford University after it invested in the software that powered Grand Theft Auto; 400m Harry Potter books, 1bn Beatles albums and 2bn Agatha Christie novels sold. The triumph of Downton Abbey in China, Top Gear in Iran and Doctor Who everywhere. (The Doctor, pleasingly, is never far from Sandbrook’s thoughts.) These are the figures that make us, Sandbrook argues, 'a cultural superpower'. "

‘I was passionate about Austen's anonymity’ - article by Elena Ferrrante in The Guardian. " Elinor’s 'sense' [in Sense and Sensibility] is, in short, the art of living in the world with equilibrium, satisfying her own desires without hurting other women but, rather, offering herself as a support for their fragility.... It seems to me that Austen, by not putting her name on the books she published, did the same thing as Elinor, and in an extremely radical way. She uses neither her own name nor one that she has chosen. Her stories are not reducible to her; rather, they are written from within a tradition that encompasses her and at the same time allows her to express herself. In this sense they are indeed written by a lady, the lady who does not fully coincide with everyday life but peeks out during the often brief time when, in a common room, a space not hers, Austen can write without being disturbed: a lady who disappears whenever something – the disorderly world of the everyday – interrupts her, forcing her to hide the pages. This lady doesn’t have Jane’s anxieties or her reserve. The lady-narrator describes the ferocity of the male world that clusters around income, is afraid of change, lives idly, contends with futility, sees work as degrading. And above all she rests a clear gaze on the condition of women, on the battle between women to win men and money. But she doesn’t have Jane’s natural resentments toward daily life."

In Online Courses, Students Learn More by Doing Than by Watching - article by Ellen Wexler in The Chronicle of Higher Education.  "When students enroll in MOOCs, they almost always watch a series of video lectures. But just watching videos — without also engaging interactively — is an ineffective way to learn, according to a study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University.... All of the students [on an Introduction to Psychology MOOC] were assigned 11 weekly quizzes and a final examination. Those in the MOOC-only course scored an average of 57 percent on the final. Those in the combined course scored an average of 66 percent. And when students in the combined course completed an interactive activity, they learned six times as much as those who only read the material or watched a video. 'When one is watching a lecture or reading material, there’s an illusion of learning,' says Ken Koedinger, a professor of human-computer interaction and psychology at Carnegie Mellon, and an author of a report on the study. 'Lessons communicated in a lecture don’t stick.' "

Catching Violence at the Beginning - 'Daily Meditation' by Richard Rohr. "One of the reasons I founded the Center for Action and Contemplation twenty-eight years ago was to give activists some grounding in spirituality so they could continue working for social change, but from a stance much different than anger, ideology, or willpower pressing against opposing willpower. Many activists I knew loved Gandhi's and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s teachings on nonviolence. But it became clear to me that theirs was often an intellectual appreciation rather than a participation in the much deeper mystery. I saw people on the left playing the victim and creating victims – exactly what Jesus did not do. It was much more subtle than the same game on the right, but it still proceeded from an unkind and self-righteous heart."

Extremely rare Wicked Bible goes on sale - article by Alison Flood in The Guardian. "To commit adultery, or not to commit adultery – for hundreds of readers in the 17th century, the answer depended on which bible they consulted, after an unfortunate error in a certain edition of the text omitted to include a vital “not”. Known as the 'Wicked' Bible, the text, printed in 1631, leaves the word 'not' from the seventh commandment. This means that amid exhortations that 'thou shalt not kill', and 'thou shalt not steale', readers are also informed that 'thou shalt commit adultery'. One thousand copies of the text, which also came to be known as the Adulterous or Sinners’ Bible, were printed, with the printing error only discovered a year later."

From cold war spy to angry old man: the politics of John le Carré - article by Adam Sisman in The Guardian, based on his John le Carré: The Biography. "One reason why The Spy Who Came in from the Cold made such an enormous impact was its seeming authenticity. This, apparently, was the real world of spying: one in which there were no heroes, and the line between right and wrong was at best blurred. The protagonist, Alec Leamas, is not a glamorous figure: he is a tired, middle-aged man on the edge of burnout. ... The moral ambiguities of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold are in marked contrast to the unquestioning certainties of the James Bond books. To readers in the early 1960s, accustomed to the messy compromises of the cold war, they seemed far more truthful. Similarly, le Carré’s squalid settings seemed more realistic than the five-star hotels and high-rolling casinos frequented by Bond."

Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea: a rival to Tolkien and George RR Martin - article by David Mitchell in The Guardian, based on his introduction to A Wizard of Earthsea. "If Earthsea is one of literature’s best-written fantasy worlds, it is also one of the most cerebral. Chief among its concerns are morality, identity and power.... From Beowulf to Tolkien, to countless formulaic fantasy movies at a multiplex near you, the genre generates two-dimensional Manichaean struggles between Good and Evil, in which morality’s shades of grey are reduced to one black and one white. The real world, as most of us know (if not all presidents and prime ministers), is rarely so monochromatic, and neither is Earthsea. Ged’s quest is not to take down a Lord of Darkness but to learn the nature of the shadow that his vanity, anger and hatred set loose – to master it, by learning its nature and its name.... The climax of A Wizard of Earthsea is not the magical shootout that lesser novels would have ended with, but the high-risk enactment of a process Jung called 'individuation', in which the warring parts of the psyche integrate into a wiser, stronger whole. To quote Le Guin ...: 'In serious fantasy, the real battle is moral or internal … To do good, heroes must know or learn that the "axis of evil" is within them.' "

What does ‘radical’ actually mean? Well, it depends who you ask … - article by Steven Poole in The Guardian. " Can we draw any helpful lessons from [the] confusing tangle of uses [of the word 'radical']? It would be good to know when 'radical' means something nice and when it means something nasty. Should I take a radical attitude to obeying laws I find preposterous? Should you advertise yourself as a baker of radical cronuts? In the end, the political valency of 'radical' simply depends on the power relations between groups. Labour is circumspect about calling itself radical because it doesn’t want to frighten the horses. But the Tories can call themselves radical because they are in office for the next five years and can do whatever they like, which apparently includes cutting working tax credits after promising not to during the election campaign. Now that’s a radical approach to governing with the public’s consent."

How to make a wildlife epic - article by Vincent Graff in Radio Times, 31 Oct to 6 Nov 2015, pp. 8-13. "The narrator for this series is David Attenborough, whose famous authoritative, whispery tones are central to its appeal... 'A good narration is sparse,' he says, 'Don't use any unnecessary words, The visual is always more powerful than the words - so you should only add information that is necessary to fully understand the pictures. You shouldn't repeat what the pictures say.' The narrator must resist the temptation to be too clever, he adds. 'Although all sorts of poetic similes may come into your mind, similes are there for the printed word, in order for you to invoke a picture. If you've already got a picture, there's no point in a simile.' ... However, says Attenborough, 'rhythm is important. You have to tailor the words so that they hit the right picture – the right close-up, the right cut, whatever it is. Pauses are rather more important than the words.'"

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