Browser Daily Newsletter 1240

Hic sunt camelopardus: this historical edition of The Browser is presented for archaeological purposes; links and formatting may be broken.

Content Dictates Form

David Byrne | 19th February 2014

Reflections provoked by reading Stephen Sondheim’s Finishing the Hat, "about how and why he wrote lyrics for so many musicals". Sondheim says the songwriter should begin by asking: "(1) what it is that the song tries to say; (2) what sort of character sings the song; and (3) what other contingencies might the song need to address in the context of a specific show". Which is good advice. But other conventions come into play

The Seductive Appeal Of Cultural Stereotypes

Tim Harford | Undercover Economist | 20th February 2014

Critical review of The Triple Package, by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, which claims that the "secret to success" in America is to be raised by Jewish, Chinese, Indian or Nigerian parents. The authors avoid "the grossest racism". But they need be held to a higher standard of evidence. Too much of their argument relies on anecdotes. "We always find stereotyping plausible. That is why it is treacherous"

Political Hatred In Argentina

Jessica Sequeira | Boston Review | 17th February 2014

Gripping interview with Uki Goñi, who covered the Dirty War of the 1970s for the Buenos Aires Herald. "Argentine historians use the French style to write about something. You lock yourself in your apartment with a bottle of wine and lots of coffee and you think about a subject and then you write whatever your opinion is about the subject. But you don’t do any research or get your hands dirty, except maybe with coffee"

The Smart-Pill Oversell

Katherine Sharpe | Nature | 12th February 2014

Pills for attention-deficit disorders — usually methylphenidate or amphetamine — do calm people down and increase the ability to concentrate. These behavioural changes "make the drugs useful". But "a growing body of evidence suggests that the benefits mainly stop there". Medicated children don't perform measurably better in later life. "Much beyond a year the benefits either vanish or shrink to clinically meaningless proportions"

The Parthenon Enigma

Mary Beard | New York Review Of Books | 19th February 2014

Britain bought Lord Elgin's "Sculptured Marbles" grudgingly in 1816. Experts said they were not great art. Some doubted Elgin could have taken them legally from the Parthenon. Parliament paid Elgin half the £75,000 he asked. Opinions of the frieze have since improved; but art historians still debate what story it depicts. Most say a religious festival, the Panathenaia. Others see preparations for a human sacrifice

A Review Of Her

Ray Kurzweil | Accelerating Intelligence | 10th February 2014

The first review to conclude with a list of the author's relevant patents. "I would place some of the elements in Jonze’s depiction at around 2020, give or take a couple of years, such as the diffident and insulting videogame character he interacts with, and the pin-sized cameras that one can place like a freckle on one’s face. Samantha herself I would place at 2029, when the leap to human-level AI would be reasonably believable"

Video of the day:  I Am A Ukrainian

Thought for the day:

"We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming" — Wernher von Braun

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