Archive for the ‘Society’ Category

‘That’s Entertainment’, 1895

Celebrations are underway for the 120th anniversary of  the first movie shown to a paying audience — essentially the first movie theater. The Lumiere Brothers in 1895 exhibited the nascent motion picture in France and founded an industry. It is true that others preceded them in the development of film. For example, a short clip  made in 1888 by Louis Le Prince in England is generally considered the earliest surviving motion picture. But the Lumieres combined existing technologies and the first paying audience to give birth to the flick, as we know it. Legend has it that when an early Lumiere film of an oncoming train was first shown, people jumped out of their seats in terror. Ahh, the magic of cinema. An exhibition in the Grand Palais of Paris is marking the event.

AMPAS yawner n.s.g.

According to many the most recent Oscars were a box-office flop, critically panned for their lackluster performance and low ratings. But there is another dimension:  a growing gap between audiences and the Academy. This New York Times article  raises the spectre of elitism — that ‘mainstream’ Hollywood is being more and more narrowly represented in Academy voting.  As a result, award winners are increasingly not the public’s choice.  Is the deck being stacked against popular, high-grossing films?

Beyond The Pond

What famous (pink-colored) financial newspaper recently included in its weekend edition stories on gastronomic architecture, Sri Lankan real estate, a Greek monument inspiring dramatists in Sydney, the formative years of Vincent Van Gogh, a safari camp in Chad, premium wine rankings and a survey of restaurants in Cape Town?   Why, the Financial Times, of course. It’s not all just about dollars and cents … I have found the weekend edition a great way to keep up with life across “the pond” — and local affairs as well.

The Silver lining to your golden years

Two recent articles in Atlantic and WSJ provide different perspectives on the same topic: Getting older = Getting better. Both articles quote Stanford’s Laura Carstensen, whose research at the Center on Longevity is challenging long-held assumptions about aging and decline.  The Journal article provides evidence that seniors are happier, smarter, and more creative and productive, while the Atlantic article focuses on the midlife crisis. Labor and development economists are discovering a U-shaped pattern of content as we age that spans cultures, economic conditions, and even species: evidence suggests that an ape’s sense of well-being also bottoms out at what is their equivalent to age 45-50. The good news is it does get better and stays better, well into your seventies. The takeaway?  Recognize that the U-curve is to blame — not your life choices — and ride through the mid-life storm to better days ahead.

Holiday reading

The holiday season is at hand — time to hit the slopes. But if there’s no snow to be found after the drought, you might settle in with a good book. Currently on the Library’s Popular Books rack is Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis (HG4628.5.L49 2014) which spins out the story of a small group of Wall Street guys who figure out the U.S. stock market is rigged for the benefit of insiders — and what they do about it.  Says Malcolm Gladwell, “I read Michael Lewis for the same reason I watch Tiger Woods. I’ll never play like that. But it’s good to be reminded every now and again what genius looks like.”  Pessimistic these days?  George Packer’s The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (E839.P28 2013) chronicles the story of the U.S. over the last three decades, portraying a superpower in danger of coming apart at the seams, with its institutions no longer functional and its ordinary citizens left scrambling for survival. Historian David Kennedy writes “Not since John Dos Passos’ celebrated U.S.A. trilogy, which The Unwinding recollects and rivals, has a writer so cunningly plumbed the seething undercurrents of American life.”  Feeling philanthropic?  A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (HV48.K75 2014) is a broad account of people who are making the world a better place and a guide on how to do so for the rest of us, offering success stories from the front lines of social progress. Former President Jimmy Carter notes, “This book is a helpful and inspiring guide for anyone who wonders what difference a single person can make in building a more hopeful world.” And finally, feeling competitive? Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local — and Helped Save an American Town (HD9773.U74 V38 2014) by Beth Macy documents the story of the Bassett Furniture Company of Bassett, Virginia, and how one man fought back against Chinese competition to save his family’s company, people’s jobs and the town itself. Lee Smith (Guests on Earth) says, “Beth Macy brings globalization to a human scale, giving a real voice and a recognizable face to everyone involved, from factory worker to government official to Chinese importer.”

Numbers, numbers

How many Google searches are performed every minute?  2,000,000. That and other interesting statistics from the sublime to the ridiculous were listed in the Jan/Feb 2014 issue of  Information Today magazine. Other tidbits? 34% of college students report downloading course materials from “unauthorized” Web sites, while  $110 is the typical price for a print textbook ($58 for a digital one). The number of open access journals that accepted a ‘spoof paper’ from a journalist working for Science was 157. Warren Buffett has forked out $344 million the past several years to acquire 28 newspapers, while print newspaper advertising revenue declined by $1.8 billion in 2012. 84% of Pinterest users are female, 70% of Google+ users are male. 100 minutes is the average number of minutes per day spent online by people who report spending “leisure time” on the Net.  28% of Facebook’s 128 million daily users access it via mobile devices, while 190 is the average number of ‘friends’ among Facebook users. There are 231.7 million “monthly active” users of Twitter; the number of hard-boiled eggs consumed weekly at Twitter headquarters is 1,440. And finally, in a survey 90% of Americans 16 and older said that closing of their public library would have “an impact on their community”. That is one statistic worth remembering.

What’s the Matter with Alma Mater?

Whither universities?  The Atlantic magazine poses the question with The Future of College, centering on the Minerva Project, brainchild of entrepreneur Ben Nelson. Minerva aims to be nothing less than a radical re-thinking of the nature and structure of higher education. Not your parents’ alma mater, Minerva — named for the Roman goddess of wisdom — abandons ivy-covered halls, tree-lined paths and homecoming football games to be the future face of college education. Will it succeed?  Yea or nay, it is one more voice in the chorus calling for radical change on the campuses of America.


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