When School is a Factory

For 20 years, I have been teaching large arts and humanities general education courses at the University of California, Irvine. These 400-student classes are part of the undergraduate “breadth requirements” common in most colleges and universities, and hence draw enrollments from across the academic disciplines. At UC Irvine, this means that most of the class comprises science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) majors. Aside from an orientation to more practical fields, I’ve noticed a clear shift in student attitudes in recent years –– a heightened preoccupation with grades and rankings, combined with growing anxieties about future earnings. Many of my colleagues see this as well, often disparaging students more concerned with GPA metrics than learning itself, while increasingly behaving more like consumers of educational commodities. I take a more sanguine view.

Bear in mind that many of today’s college students grew up during the Great Recession, when families of all incomes had money worries. With scant knowledge of a world before 9/11, it’s little wonder that polls show millennials expecting lower earnings than their parents, seeing the United States on a downward spiral, and believing the two-party system as fatally flawed.[i] Rising income inequality doesn’t help matters, especially at UC Irvine where 6 in 10 students get financial aid and half are the first in their families earning a college degree.[ii] Because of this, Irvine has been cited by the New York Times as the country’s leading “upward mobility engine” –– making the campus a national model of what public higher education can do.[iii] But it’s still not a cake-walk for degree seekers. As at most public universities in America, the majority of Irvine’s full-time students also work at jobs to make ends meet.[iv]

Higher education translates into higher wages.  According to the U.S. Department of Education, people with four-year degrees earn roughly twice that of high school graduates.[v]  Given these financial pressures, it’s no surprise that college education is seen as a commodity. Almost all of the students I encounter are serious, hardworking, and focused. They want rational outcomes, high grades, and clear metrics.  Most of all, they are driven to succeed –– in a nation where struggle is expected and competition has been called the “state religion.” In the minds of many there is a Darwinian inevitability to contest in life, so much so that it is often seen as a natural instinct. This is manifest in a culture valorizing personal achievement, aggression, and America First –– values reinforced in the ideologies of business, entertainment, celebrity, sports, and militarism. 

But educators have long observed that competition can be dangerous when pushed too far –– for the simple reason that a system producing “winners” always yields a larger pool of “losers.” Alfie Kohn wrote in his book No Contest: The Case Against Competition (Why We Lose our Race to Win) that Americans are caught in a vicious circle in which individual anxieties and structural conditions reinforce each other. Children are conditioned for a world of presumed scarcity, based on the following contradictory ontology: “If I must defeat you in order to get what I want, then what I want must be scarce,” Kohn stated, explaining that when “competition sets itself as the goal, which is to win, scarcity is therefore created out of nothing.”[vi]  

Kohn argues that the real lesson instilled by competition is personal inadequacy. Wins tend to be short-lived moments of self-satisfaction derived from external evaluation, implying that one’s character rises in proportion to number of those beaten. The transitory character of such winning means that any gain is fragile and contingent on the outcome of the next contest, setting off a repeating cycle, until one ultimately fails. The external character of the evaluation also can make young people feel they are not in control of happens to them, as researcher Carole Ames has noted. Ironically, the very sense of autonomy that competition purports to instill is diminished by the anxieties that go along with it.  Feelings of agency can become weakened even among successful students, but it takes a greater toll on those who fail. This tends to produce lower achievement in both groups, along with a plethora of esteem-related problems.[vii]

Internalized competition is but one side of the equation. For the better part of a decade, professors and students alike have bemoaned the growing “corporatization” of universities, as bottom line administrative thinking has encroached on high-minded idealism. Complaints have come from across the U.S. about skyrocketing tuitions, huge lecture courses, and growing numbers of low-wage occasional lecturers. Exacerbated by recessionary belt-tightening, a new philosophy taken over higher education––with numbers and budgets increasingly driving curriculum and research priorities. Humanities departments shrink as business programs grow, partly in response to student career worries. All of this has paralleled a continuing movement toward “accountability” in public education––with K-12 teachers finding themselves obliged to “teach-to-the-test” or risk losing their jobs. Competition for grades in science and math has superseded such “frills” as art education for most of the nation’s kids. 

“When Universities Try to Behave like Business, Education Suffers,” read a recent headline in the Los Angeles Times.[viii] “For most of U.S. history, it was understood that universities, whether public or private, operated under a model distinct from business,” the paper reported. But a shift took place in the 1980s and 1990s, as American culture became enthralled with marketplace values. “Until then, the private sector wasn’t the model for the public sector,” the Times reported, adding, “Now the prestige of the private sectors requires imitation by the private sectors.”  Students seem to be losing out in this new environment. “They’re not only saddled with an increasing share of the direct costs of their education,” the Times stated, “but are offered a narrower curriculum as universities cut back on supposedly unprofitable humanities and social science courses in favor of science, engineering and technology programs expected to attract profitable grants and the prospects of great riches from patentable inventions.”

The effect of corporatization on academic labor has been devastating. In 1975, over 70 percent of instruction was done by full-time professors –– experts in their fields and committed to careers as professors. Today that ratio has reversed –– with 70 percent of teaching delivered by adjunct faculty (non-tenure track) –– with minimal experience, no job security, and often less commitment to the institution itself. Most adjunct instructors work multiple jobs to subsist –– with over 50 percent earning less than $35,000 per year and 80 percent getting no health insurance.[ix] Universities increasingly see adjunct teaching as a less valued enterprise than the highly compensated “research” mission of full-time faculty.  This isn’t just bad news for job-hungry young PhDs and MFAs. A recent study from the University of Southern California has shown that “students who take more classes from contingent faculty have lower graduation rates and are less likely to transfer” from two-year to four-year institutions.[x] Forbes Magazine similarly reported that, “such faculty are less student-centered in their teaching, have less contact with students outside of class, and spend less time preparing for classes.”[xi]

Instructional declines and labor abuses are but a few symptoms of university corporatization. And this problematic trend is hardly a secret. Recently, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) –– the nation’s largest organization of college educators –– published an analysis of the shift from higher education as a “public investment” to the rising “private enterprise” model. “These changes reflect the neoliberal faith that free markets would restore productivity,” the document stated.[xii]  But the AAUP asserts that privatization has had the opposite effect. With rising costs and narrowing academic options, colleges and universities have seen a steady decline in student applications –– even though the overall population of high school graduates has grown. Pressures to avoid debt and to begin earning are some of the reasons, with low-income students attending traditional colleges at 10 percent lower rates than a decade ago.[xiii]

Concerns about corporatized higher education go back a century, evidenced in Thorstein Veblen’s 1917 The Higher Learning in America: A Memorandum on the Conduct of Universities by Business Men. Even then, professors across country worried about eroding educational values and a tightening of bureaucratic management.  Veblen saw universities losing their status as a protected preserves for “the cultivation and care of the community’s highest aspirations and ideals,” operating in the “apprehension of what is right and good,” and “controlled by no consideration of expediency beyond its own work.” With an eerie prescience, Veblen warned of the incursion of a rising business rationality in which “the men of affairs have taken over the direction of the pursuit of knowledge” while effecting a “surveillance of the academic work exercised through control of the budget.” [xiv]  

Corporatization intensified with the creative destruction of the 1970s and 1980s. No less a publication than Time Magazine expressed concern over this in a feature entitled “How Universities Turned into Corporations.” Time described this as a period when “policymakers began to view higher education more as a private good (benefiting individual students) then as a public good (helping the nation prosper by creating better educated citizens).” [xv] Others would join in noting the social consequences of this shift. In his well-known 1977 Learning to Labor: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs, Paul Willis documented how education came to reproduce class stratification rather than equalization. Examining vocational “tracking” in Britain, Learning to Labour drew comparisons between school and the workplace, likening teachers to job supervisors who paid students with grades rather than money. “There is no obvious physical coercion” in such a disciplinary model, but rather what appears to be a “degree of self-direction,” Willis wrote.[xvi] Not that the students were oblivious to any of this, with many opting to push back. One of Learning to Labour’s key insights was its documentation of what later would be termed student “resistance,” often manifest in oppositional attitudes, disengagement, and even intentional failure at school.

For his book School is a Factory, Alan Sekula went into California community colleges, interviewing and photographing students in vocational training programs. Accompanying one set of images, Sekula wrote:

Three welding students pose for a portrait. They hope to graduate into jobs with metal fabrication shops in the area. Their instructors act like bosses, supervising the action from a glassed-in office. This apprenticeship program, like public education on generally, is supported by taxes that fall heavily on working people and only lightly on corporations. Spared the cost of on-the-job training, local industry profits from the arrangement. Social planners also like the idea that vocational courses keep unemployed young people off the streets and dampen discontent.[xvii]

As a former Creative Arts dean at one of California’s leading community colleges, I don’t mind admitting that what Sekula wrote certainly is partly true. But such public two-year schools also serve other purposes. For many low-income students, community colleges offer a viable entry-point into higher education, especially if they intend later transfer to a four-year school –– which four in ten of students indeed do. The problem is with the remaining 60 percent –– often underprepared by prior schooling and not able to afford further study even at state-funded universities –– who see vocational programs or immediate work as their only options. [xviii]  

The educational stakes are only rising in today’s “knowledge economy” –– an expression referencing both the decline in traditional manufacturing jobs and the rising role of expertise in a competitive job market. As with any highly-desired consumer product, laws of supply-and-demand are putting new pressures on knowledge and pushing prices up. A recent report from the Council of State Governments entitled “America’s Knowledge Economy,” urgently warned public officials that “short-term” tendencies to reduce education funding only cripple “long-term” economic growth and prosperity.[xix] The business press is beginning to voice similar concerns. “Education costs have soared over the past few decades leaving many potential students out in the cold,” stated Forbes Magazine. [xx]Citing statics from the College Board, Forbes reported that costs of higher education have risen an average of 5.2 percent every year since 1994 –– or more than double the rate of inflation.  Annual tuition and fees for in-state students at a public university now stands at $39,508, with out-of-state students paying $97,690, By comparison, private universities cost an average of $135,010. Add the costs of housing, books, and supplies and the price tag is even higher.

Student debt has become the new normal –– in keeping with changing attitudes toward credit itself. Generations ago, the idea of being in debt or “falling behind with bills” was seen as a moral or social ill. But things have changed with the rise of consumer credit and the aggressive marketing of companies like Visa and MasterCard. Breaking national records every year for the past two decades, total indebtedness for higher education now stands at $1.31 trillion. Outstanding loans have more than doubled since 2009 according to Bloomberg News, observing that, “No form of household debt has increased by as much since then.”[xxi] And the toll of the loans is terrifying––with one quarter of those owing now in default or at least 90 days late on their required payments. Making matters worse, student loans have been excluded from bankruptcy protection since 1998 –– thus condemning the current generation to a lifelong obligation unknown to their parents. Obama administration financial experts worried about the long term consequences of this, predicting that the loans could soon slow the U.S. economy. Even President Trump has likened the debt to an “anchor” holding down young Americans –– although his administration continues cutting federal programs to help student borrowers. Low-income students suffer the most –– as they enter the workforce with less freedom to choose employment and more pressure to look for the biggest paycheck. 

As schools have gotten costlier, pressures have grown to get the best value. Last year, UCLA broke national records for undergraduate applications, with over 124,000 students seeking admission for a freshman class of 9,200 –– translating to a 7.2 % rate. Similar (but less extreme) patterns are occurring across the country, pushing selectivity at prestigious public universities closer to Ivy league schools like Cornell (12.5% acceptance rate), Dartmouth (10.4%), and Yale (6.9%).[xxii] Students begin shopping for colleges as early as junior high, while struggling to optimize their chances through advanced classes and extracurricular activities. Nearly 50 percent of students see a high school counselor due to stress over this, according the American Psychological Association.[xxiii] “Burn-out before college” is a rising phenomenon. 

Meanwhile, business has boomed for SAT and ACT prep courses –– much to the consternation of testing services.   College Board President David Coleman thinks companies that offer SAT prep services are “predators who prey on the anxieties of parents and children and provide no real educational benefit.”[xxiv] Education experts have long argued that test prep providers exist not only because such high-stakes testing has failed students and colleges. They say the SAT and ACT provide poor measures of real academic achievement ––and actually indicate nothing more clearly than family income. The two largest prep course providers, Kaplan and Princeton Review, charge $699 for a basic course, although some families pay as much as $1,000 per hour for private tutors or free-lance college admission consultants. All of this has further stratified the college admissions process, while piling on costs before students even leave home.

In a relatively recent shift, students unsuccessful in the application process increasingly now choose for-profit colleges or vocational training programs, which, at least in theory, extend democratic access to education with enrollment limited only by one’s willingness to pay. Nationwide chains like Heald College, Devry University, and University of Phoenix promote themselves as guaranteed career pathways, often appealing to students hungry for jobs as office assistants or technical workers. According to U.S. News & World Report, such schools account for 42 percent of postsecondary enrollment growth in the past decade, despite two huge drawbacks: “For-profits are expensive,” costing and average $15,130 per year as opposed to $3,264 at community colleges and $8,893 at four-year public state colleges. “For-profit graduates struggle to find employment,” finding work at 22 percent less than conventional colleges, and they default on loans at higher rates due the combination of greater borrowing and lower employment. [xxv] Also, these commercialized colleges market themselves heavily to vulnerable populations, particularly the economically disadvantaged. Veterans with government education stipends also are targeted frequently. At the height of their popularity in 2010, for-profits gobbled up one quarter of federal financial aid –– for a total of $32-billion.[xxvi]

The predatory practices of for-profits now seem to be backfiring. In recent years, investigations by the federal officials and States Attorneys Generals have revealed unscrupulous business practices by for-profit colleges (particularly those that are run by large, publicly-traded companies), for what the National Association for College Admissions and Counselling calls “deceptive, aggressive and manipulative tactics to enroll as many students as possible, without regard for their potential for success or ability to afford tuition, in an effort to maximize profits.”[xxvii] In 2015, three of the nation’s largest for-profit chains –– Career Education Corporation, Education Management Corporation, and Corinthian Colleges –– announced the shut downs of dozens of campuses, as the University of Phoenix reported a 50 percent drop in enrollments.[xxviii] The following year, for-profit giant ITT Technical closed all of its 137 schools in 39 states following federal charges of fraud related to student recruitment, enrollment, dropout rates, grade inflation, loans, and reported job placement.[xxix]

Put all of this together and it’s easy to see why my UC Irvine students are a little on edge. College degrees are now more expensive, competitive, and keyed to earnings than at any point in American history –– so much so that many young people are buckling under the pressure. Universities seem unable to do very much to help because they themselves are a big part of the problem. Hence, amid an ever-tightening web of “financialized subjectivity,” the current generation finds itself bound by the logic of capital within the very institutions of higher education that might be instilling values of humanistic wisdom and unbounded inquiry. Neoliberal culture promises them freedom and upward mobility, while supplanting other ways of looking at knowledge, work, or life itself. None of this bodes well for the current generation of college age young people, much less the climate of experiment, risk-taking, and “creativity” so vital to innovation and new ideas.

[i] Samantha Smith, “Millennials less confident about nations’ future, but so were their parents, grandparents when young,” Pew Research Center(Feb. 16, 2016) http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/16/millennials-less-confident-about-nations-future-but-so-were-their-parents-grandparents-when-young/ (accessed Apr. 5, 2017).

[ii] “UC Irvine Praised for Student support,” Orange County Register (Mar. 29, 2016) http://www.ocregister.com/articles/students-709861-uci-schools.html (accessed Apr. 5, 2017).

[iii] David Leonard, “California’s Upward Mobility machine,” New York Times (Sep. 16, 2015) https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/17/upshot/californias-university-system-an-upward-mobility-machine.html  (accessed Apr. 5, 2017).

[iv] Stacy Rapcon, “More college students are working while studying,” CNBC.com (Oct. 29, 2015) http://www.cnbc.com/2015/10/29/more-college-students-are-working-while-studying.html (accessed Apr. 5, 2017)

[v] “How Much More of College Graduates Earn than Non-College Graduates?” Study.com (2017) http://study.com/articles/How_Much_More_Do_College_Graduates_Earn_Than_Non-College_Graduates.html (Accessed Apr. 5, 2017).

[vi] Alfie Kohn, No Contest: The Case Against Competition (Why We Lose our Race to Win) (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1986) p. 4.

[vii] Carole Ames, “Children’s Achievement Attributions and Self-Reinforcement: Effects of Self-Concept and Competitive Reward Structure,”Journal of Educational Psychology 70 (1978).

[viii] Michael Hiltzik, “When universities try to behave like business, education suffers,” Los Angeles Times, Jun. 3, 2016) http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-university-business-20160602-snap-story.html (accessed Apr. 14, 2017).

[ix] Dan Edmunds, “Nearly three-quarters of American professors are contingent faculty. That’s a problem for students,” Forbes Magazine (May 28, 2015) https://www.forbes.com/sites/noodleeducation/2015/05/28/more-than-half-of-college-faculty-are-adjuncts-should-you-care/#6efb36f41600 (accessed Apr. 13, 2017).

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] David Schultz, “The Rise and Coming Demise of the Corporate University,” AAUP (Sep. 15, 2016) https://www.aaup.org/article/rise-and-coming-demise-corporate-university#.V89ErWVltlo (accessed Sep. 6, 2016).

[xiii] Alai Wong, “Where are All the High-School Grads Going” The Atlantic (Jan. 11, 2016) http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/01/where-are-all-the-high-school-grads-going/423285/  (accessed Sep. 5, 2016).

[xiv] Thorstein Veblen, The Higher Learning in America: A Memorandum on the Conduct of Universities by Business Men (1917) (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 2015) pp. 75, 88.

[xv] Andrew Rossi, “How American Universities Turned into Corporations,” Time (May 21, 2014) http://time.com/108311/how-american-universities-are-ripping-off-your-education/ (accessed Apr. 18, 2017).

[xvi] Paul Willis, Learning to Labor: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs (New York; Columbia, 1977) p. 1.

[xvii] Alan Sekula, School is a Factory (Halifax: Nova Scotia College of Art & Design, 1983) p. 2013.

[xviii] Grace Chen, “Will Community College Tuition Increases Outpace Inflation Rates?” Community College Review (Aug. 26, 2016) https://www.communitycollegereview.com/blog/will-community-college-tuition-increases-outpace-inflation-rates (accessed Apr. 6, 2017). 

[xix] “America’s Knowledge Economy: A State-by-State Review,” Council of State Governments  (2017) http://www.csg.org/programs/knowledgeeconomy/Elsevier_Report_2015.pdf (accessed Apr. 14, 2017).

[xx] Mike Patton, “The Cost of College: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow,” Forbes Magazine (Nov. 19, 2015) https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikepatton/2015/11/19/the-cost-of-college-yesterday-today-and-tomorrow/#51708786060c (accessed Apr. 9, 2017).

[xxi] Shaien Nasirpour, “President Trump has called student debt an ‘anchor’ weighting down young Americans.” Bloomberg News (Feb. 17, 2017) https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-02-17/student-debt-in-america-has-hit-a-new-record (accessed Apr. 9. 2017).

[xxii] Abby Jackson, “Ivy League admission letters just went out––here are the acceptance rates for the class of 2021,” Business Insider (Apr. 1, 2018) http://www.businessinsider.com/ivy-league-harvard-yale-princeton-acceptance-rates-class-of-2021-2017-3  (accessed Apr. 22, 2018).

[xxiii] Samantha Olsen, “High School Students Are Stressed Out about College: the Reality of Burning Out Before College,
 Medical Daily (Aug. 12, 2015) http://www.medicaldaily.com/high-school-students-are-stressed-out-about-college-admissions-reality-burning-out-347476 (accessed Apr. 22, 2017).

[xxiv] James S. Murphy, “The SAT-Prep Industry Isn’t Going Anywhere,” The Atlantic (Mar. 4, 2014) https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/03/the-sat-prep-industry-isnt-going-anywhere/284430/ (accessed Apr. 9, 2017).

[xxv] Susannah Snider, “3 Must-Know Facts About For-Profit Colleges, Student Debt,” U.S. News & World Report (Oct. 1, 2014) http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/articles/2014/10/01/3-facts-for-students-to-know-about-for-profit-colleges-and-student-debt (accessed Sep. 6, 2016).

[xxvi] Patricia Cohen, “ITT Educational Services Closes Campuses,” New York Times (Sep. 6, 2016) http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/07/business/itt-educational-services-closes-its-campuses.html?_r=0 (accessed Sept. 8, 2016).

[xxvii] “For-Profit Colleges, National Association for College Admissions and Counseling (2015) http://www.nacacnet.org/issues-action/LegislativeNews/Pages/For-Profit-Colleges.aspx (accessed Sep. 5, 2016)

[xxviii] Paul Fain, “Vanishing Profit, and Campuses,” Inside Higher Education (May 7, 2015) https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/05/07/profit-chains-announce-new-wave-closures-and-sell-offs (accessed Sept. 7, 2016).

[xxix] “ITT Educational Services Closes Campuses.”

Anxious Creativity: When Imagination Fails

Just released: Creativity is getting new attention in today’s America –– along the way revealing fault lines in U.S. culture. Surveys show people overwhelming seeing creativity as both a desirable trait and a work enhancement, yet most say they just aren’t creative.

Like beauty and wealth, creativity seems universally desired but insufficiently possessed. Businesses likewise see innovation as essential to productivity and growth, but can’t bring themselves to risk new ideas. Even as one’s “inner artist” is hyped by a booming self-help industry, creative education dwindles in U.S. schools.

 Anxious Creativity: When Imagination Fails examines this conceptual mess, while focusing on how America’s current edginess dampens creativity in everyone. Written in an engaging and accessible style, Anxious Creativity draws on current ideas in the social sciences, economics, and the arts. Discussion centers on the knotty problem of reconciling the expressive potential in all people with the nation’s tendency to reward only a few. Fortunately, there is some good news, as scientists, economists, and creative professionals have begun advocating new ways of sharing and collaboration. Building on these prospects, the book argues that America’s innovation crisis demands a rethinking of individualism, competition, and the ways creativity is rewarded.

Available from all major booksellers. More info at: https://www.routledge.com/Anxious-Creativity-When-Imagination-Fails-1st-Edition/Trend/p/book/9780367275068

Natural Born Killers?

“Confessions of a Drone Warrior,” is one of hundreds of articles on the military’s use of Unmanned Ariel Vehicles (UAV), which began in the early 2000s. In many ways this new form of combat embodies the psychological distancing that typifies killing in the twenty-first century. The story about Airman First Class Brandon Bryant recounts his first day in a Nevada bunker, when the 22-year fired on two presumed Afghani insurgents on the other side of the world. An early recruit in this new kind of warfare, Bryant “hunted top terrorists, but always from afar” –– killing enemies in countless numbers, but not always sure what he was hitting. “Meet the 21stcentury American killing machine,” the story concluded.[i]

Of course, notions of aversion to fighting don’t sit well with either military doctrine or public belief. Behind America’s infatuation with high-tech weapons lie long-cultivated attitudes toward violence itself. In a class I teach on this, students often will express common sense views that fighting is “natural,” deriving from humanity’s animalistic origins, and often the only way of resolving conflicts. One sees this kind of thinking evident in permissive attitudes toward everything from boyish rough-housing to violent sports. The gendered aspects of violence receive less attention than they should, and will be addressed at length in Chapter 9. Suffice to say that aggression often is expected of men and boys, while also reflected in popular culture. Along with political partisanship, these attitudes help explain the deep divisions within the U.S. electorate over gun control and so-called “stand your ground” laws. Since even scholars often disagree over the issue of human violence, it helps to break the question into subcategories –– and to also point out how knowledge has changed over time in the fields of biology, psychology, and cultural analyses of violent behavior.

Continue reading “Natural Born Killers?”

Teaching Robots to Imagine

Can robots be taught to imagine? Google’s DeepMind artificial intelligence group is doing just that –– developing computer versions of what many consider humanity’s quintessential trait. The software world long has pursued sentient consciousness as its holy grail. But until now, it’s only been found in science fiction movies like A.I., Ex Machina, and Transcendence. DeepMind engineers say they have cracked the code by combining two kinds of machine-learning. The first is linear, which is nothing new, with the computer applying a predefined algorithm over-and-over till it finds answers and then remembering them. In the second more radical approach, the computer tries many algorithms to find which work best, and then changes the very way it approaches problems. Combining the purely linear with a more systemic approach, DeepMind’s “Imagination-Augmented Agent” mimics intuitive learning in a way prior software hasn’t. It’s not exactlythe same as human imagination, but it comes closer than ever before to what neuroscientists say the brain does.

While robotic imagination may be improving, human thought isn’t faring as well. Most people feel uncreative and without inspiration, as discussed in earlier chapters. Corporations say innovation is withering as well. Novelist Ursula Le Guin recently observed that, “In America today imagination is generally looked on as something that might be useful when the TV is out of order. Poetry and plays have no relation to practical politics. Novels are for students, housewives, and other people who don’t work.”[i]Beyond the abandonment of a creative genre or two, American society also is undergoing a wholesale commodification of imagination itself. Disney is most famous for this, its “Imagineering” (imagination + engineering) brand one of the most viciously protected anywhere. But hundreds of companies evoke imagination to conjure an aura of specialness ––seen in promotions like Bombay Safire’s “Infused with Imagination,” GE’s “Imagination at Work,” Electrolux’s “Power to Capture Imagination,” Lego’s “Imagine,” Microsoft’s “Imagine Academy,” Nestle’s “Feed your Imagination,” Samsung’s “Imagine,” and Sony’s “Made of Imagination.” Continue reading “Teaching Robots to Imagine”

Elsewhere in America

Elsewhere in America: The Crisis of Belonging in Contemporary Culture by David Trend (Routledge: 2016)

The book uses the term “elsewhere” in describing conditions that exile so many citizens to “some other place” through prejudice, competition, or discordant belief. Even as “diversity” has become the official norm in American society, the country continues to fragment along new lines that pit citizens against their government, each other, and even themselves.  Yet in another way, “elsewhere” evokes an undefined “not yet” ripe with potential. 


The book argues that even in the face of daunting challenges, elsewhere can point to optimism, hope, and common purpose. Through 12 detailed chapters, Elsewhere in America applies critical theory in the humanities and social sciences in examining recurring crises of social inclusion (“belonging”) in the U.S.  After two centuries of struggle and incremental “progress” in securing human dignity, today the U.S. finds itself riven apart by new conflicts over reproductive rights, immigration, health care, religious extremism, sexual orientation, mental illness, and fears of terrorists. Why are U.S. ideals of civility and unity so easily hijacked and confused? Is there a way of explaining this recurring tendency of Americans to turn against each other? Elsewhere in America engages these questions in charting the ever-changing faces of difference (manifest in contested landscapes of sex and race to such areas as disability and mental health), their spectral and intersectional character (as seen in the new discourses on performativity, normativity, and queer theory), and the grounds on which categories are manifest in ideation and movement politics (seen in theories of metapolitics, cosmopolitanism, dismodernism).

For more information: https://www.routledge.com/Elsewhere-in-America-The-Crisis-of-Belonging-in-Contemporary-Culture/Trend/p/book/9781138654440

Crowds at Europe’s museums

From the New York Times: “It is the height of summer, and millions of visitors are flocking to the Louvre — the busiest art museum in the world, with 9.3 million visitors last year — and to other great museums across Europe. Every year the numbers grow as new middle classes emerge, especially in Asia and Eastern Europe. Last summer the British Museum had record attendance, and for 2013 as a whole it had 6.7 million visitors, making it the world’s second-most-visited art museum, according to The Art Newspaper. Attendance at the Uffizi in Florence for the first half of the year is up almost 5 percent over last year

“Seeing masterpieces may be a soul-nourishing cultural rite of passage, but soaring attendance has turned many museums into crowded, sauna-like spaces, forcing institutions to debate how to balance accessibility with art preservation.

“In recent years, museums have started doing more to manage the crowds. Most offer timed tickets. Others are extending their hours. To protect the art, some are putting in new air-conditioning systems. Still, some critics say that they’re not doing enough.

imgres“Last year, the Vatican Museums had a record 5.5 million visitors. This year, thanks to the popularity of Pope Francis, officials expect that to rise to 6 million. The Vatican is installing a new climate-control system in the Sistine Chapel to help spare Michelangelo’s frescoes the humidity generated by the 2,000 people who fill the space at any given time, recently as many as 22,000 a day. The Vatican hopes to have it finished by October.

“In a telephone interview, Antonio Paolucci, the director of the Vatican Museums, said his institution was in a bind: To safeguard the frescoes, attendance should not be allowed to increase, he said, but “the Sistine Chapel has a symbolic, religious value for Catholics and we can’t set a cap.”Museums generally don’t like keeping a lid on attendance. At the Hermitage, which had 3.1 million visitors last year, the only cap on the number of visitors is “the physical limitations of the space itself, or the number of hangers in the coat room during the winter,” said Nina V. Silanteva, the head of the museum’s visitor services department.Ms. Silanteva said the goal was to make the museum accessible to as many people as possible, but she conceded that the crowds pose problems. “Such a colossal number of simultaneous viewers isn’t good for the art, and it can be uncomfortable and overwhelming for those who come to see the art,” she said. “Thankfully nothing bad has happened, and God has saved us from any mishaps.”

Continue reading “Crowds at Europe’s museums”

Christian schools allowed to discriminate

When word spread this month that George Fox University had received an exemption to Title IX, allowing it to discriminate against a transgender student by denying him the housing he requested, many advocates for transgender students were stunned. Federal regulations under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 do in fact require the Education Department to exempt colleges from rules that violate their religious beliefs. During the debate, George Fox officials noted that they were objecting to a housing request only, and that they haven’t kicked the student out of the university.

But now the Education Department has confirmed that it has since awarded two more exemptions to Title IX to Christian colleges that want to discriminate against transgender students. These colleges assert (and the Education Department agreed) that they should be exempt from more of Title IX than just housing equity. These colleges have policies to punish transgender students for being transgender students, apparently up to expulsion — and they can now do so legally. The two institutions are Spring Arbor University, in Michigan, and Simpson University, in California.

Spring Arbor is affiliated with the Free Methodist Church and its traditions. It requested exemption from Title IX with regard to issues of admissions, behavioral rules, housing, access to restrooms, athletic participation and more.

The university’s student handbook says: “Spring Arbor University reserves the right to terminate or deny enrollment of those whose influence upon our community should prove to be in our judgment intractably contrary to the best interests of our students, and commitments to our university and to our Lord. Therefore, Spring Arbor University will not support persistent or conspicuous examples of cross-dressing or other expressions or actions that are deliberately discordant with birth gender, and will deal with such matters within the appropriate pastoral and conduct processes of the university.”

Continue reading “Christian schools allowed to discriminate”

Untraceable money

From today’s Wired Magazine: Amir Taaki and his collaborators recently unveiled a prototype for a decentralized online marketplace, known as DarkMarket, that’s designed to be impervious to shutdown by the feds.images-1

The programming provocation they released a few hours ago is called Dark Wallet, a piece of software designed to allow untraceable, anonymous online payments using the cryptocurrency bitcoin. Taaki and Wilson see in bitcoin’s stateless transactions the potential for a new economy that fulfills the crypto-anarchist dream of truly uncontrollable money. They envision a digital payment network that circumvents every authority’s attempts to tax it, seize it, censor it, track it, or imprison those who would use it to trade in contraband like weapons, drugs, and even abhorrent services like murder-for-hire and child pornography.

And yet for all that, Dark Wallet isn’t necessarily illegal. Taaki and Wilson, who spent two years in law school before dropping out to pursue his anarchist dreams, argue their creation is just a piece of code and thus protected by free speech laws. Then again, Wilson also has described it publicly as “money-laundering software.” The evening before, he received an unhappy email from his lawyer friend, cautioning him about expressing criminal intent in an interview with me that was published two days earlier. Wilson’s half of the ensuing phone conversation went like this: “How can we cower now? We’re the people who do things and tell them to put up or shut up … [pause] … I guess you’d rather I go back to running guns? … [pause] … OK, I’ll talk to you later.”

Hence the unplanned road trip. The drive through the empty Texas landscape gives me a chance to ask the looming question: How will the world change if Taaki and Wilson succeed in their quest to make money truly anonymous? “There’s going to be a bit of a shake-up,” says Taaki, who speaks with a British accent that borders on cockney. “No one knows how it’s going to turn out.”

He pauses. “The assassination markets are going to be a bit shit.” Untraceable murder-for-hire, in other words, could be an unfortunate side effect of their financial innovation.

Then he seems to regain his resolve. “I believe in the hacker ethic. Empower the small guy, privacy and anonymity, mistrust authority, promote decentralized alternatives, freedom of information,” he says. “These are good principles. The individual against power.”

Warming to his subject, Taaki raises his voice as if he’s speaking to a crowd larger than the three of us here in the car. “But it’s important to be clear that it may not be good on balance, either,” he says. “The world is not perfect. Good and evil rise together.”

Wilson cuts in from the driver’s seat, shifting into agitprop mode. “It’s time for a good old-fashioned pendulum swing,” he says. “Where the people fear the government there’s tyranny. Where the government fears the people there’s liberty. They’re afraid, therefore it’s good.”

But Taaki seems willing to contemplate a more uncertain outcome of the anarchy he and Wilson seek to create.

“It will be different, more diverse,” he muses, as if imagining this new reality for the first time. “We’ll step out into a new world, and we can explore it in any direction we choose.”

The 21st century has already seen its first experiment in crypto-anarchy: the billion-dollar, anonymous online drug marketplace known as Silk Road. In October 2013, the FBI seized the well-hidden server that hosted the site on the anonymity network Tor. The agency also arrested its alleged founder, 29-year-old Ross Ulbricht, calling his work a vast narcotics and money-laundering conspiracy.

Cody Wilson would call it a mere proof of concept.

In a packed bar on East London’s Brick Lane two months after the Silk Road crackdown, Wilson stood onstage—inexplicably wearing a single leather glove—and scolded the audience of the London Bitcoin Expo: “Ross Ulbricht is alleged to be the founder and operator of Silk Road, the glittering jewel of all things libertarian, black market, and wonderful. And it’s a severe indictment of the modern libertarian conscience that he can’t get any support at all.” (At the time, just $3,800 dollars had been donated to the fund-raising site created by Ulbricht’s family, FreeRoss.org, well short of their $50,000 goal. That lukewarm response likely had much to do with prosecutors’ claims that Ulbricht had paid hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bitcoins to contacts he believed were hit men who would kill his enemies, including a blackmailer and a potential informant.)

More at: http://www.wired.com/2014/07/inside-dark-wallet/

Continue reading “Untraceable money”

Gay parents = happier kids

Children raised by same-sex couples have better health and well-being in comparison to their peers, according to a groundbreaking new study which isbeing billed as the largest of its kind.

Conducted by Australia’s University of Melbourne, the new research aimed to “describe the physical, mental and social well-being” of children with gay and lesbian parents, and “the impact that stigma has on them.” On average, children raised by same-sex couples scored six percent higher than the general population when it came to general health and family cohesion.

Meanwhile, in other categories — such as behavior, mental health and self-esteem — those children reportedly scored the same as those raised by heterosexual parents.

“It appears that same-sex parent families get along well and this has a positive impact on health,” Dr. Simon Crouch from the Jack Brockhoff Child Health and Wellbeing Program, Centre for Health Equity at the University of Melbourne, told CNBC of the results.

Crouch believes that an emphasis on skills, as opposed to traditional gender roles, accounted for the survey’s results.

“So what this means is that people take on roles that are suited to their skill sets rather than falling into those gender stereotypes,” he is quoted as saying. “Whatthis leads to is a more harmonious family unit and therefore feeding on to better health and wellbeing.”

You can read more about the new research here.

The study comprised input from 500 children and 315 parents who are in same-sex relationships, and seemed mostly in line with previous research. Earlier this year, a Williams Institute report found that children of lesbians reported having higher self-esteem and lower conduct problems than those of heterosexual couples.

A 2012 study, “Adolescents with Lesbian Mothers Describe Their Own Lives,” found that teens with two moms maintained solid high school GPAs while having strong family bonds with their mothers, according to CBS Las Vegas.




Continue reading “Gay parents = happier kids”

Phone surveillance ruled illegal

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals said no this week to tracking your movements using data from your cell phone without a warrant when it declared that this information is constitutionally protected.images-1

As Wired reports, “The case, United States v. Davis , is important not only because it provides substantive and procedural protections against abuse of an increasingly common and highly invasive surveillance method. It also provides support for somethingChristopher Sprigman and I have said before — that the government’s other “metadata” collection programs are unconstitutional.

“The Davis decision, in effect, suggests that the U.S. government’s collection of all kinds of business records and transactional data — commonly called “metadata” — for law enforcement and national security purposes may also be unconstitutional.

Your phone sends signals to the nearest cell towers so that the communications network system knows where to route a call should one come in. Many providers collect and store the location of towers a customer connects to at the beginning and end of the call for billing purposes. FBI agents in Davis obtained these records without a search warrant and used them to place the defendant, Quartavious Davis, near the scene of a number of robberies.

Continue reading “Phone surveillance ruled illegal”

Wikipedia activism

Most of the feminist activism I do—whether it’s writing or teaching or protesting—requires a long view. A really long view. Sometimes I feel as if my feminist colleagues and I are saying and doing the same things over and over again, with little to no results to show for any of our work. And when I see yet another sexist commercial such as DirecTV’s newest that features woman-as-marionette, I want to throw in the towel.

But not on a recent Saturday afternoon that I spent at an Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon. The results there were concrete and immediate. In less than two hours, I created Wikipedia pages for three feminist artists who should have had pages already but who, like so many women, had been overlooked.

It’s no secret that women have been rendered invisible in history, sports, laws, medical care, politics, corporate boardrooms, museums, religion and the military. One of my professors in graduate school, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, used to say that part of what makes patriarchy so powerful is its erasure of feminist history. Without knowing our history, she’d say, without knowing about the work of the women who came before us, we’re left reinventing the wheel.

The Internet is now where histories are stored and accessed, and it’s where subsequent generations will go when they want to know what’s real, what matters.

But guess what percentage of Wikipedia contributors are women? 13 percent.

Yes, you read that right. Continue reading “Wikipedia activism”

What is merit, anyway?

As college presidents went to the White House Thursday to talk about new efforts to attract more low-income students to higher education,admissions leaders gathered here and talked about how they define merit.

InsideHigherEd asks, “Who is admitted? Who gets aid? When spots and the aid budget are limited, who gets priority status?


“Speakers turned to definitions (from dictionaries, Latin and Greek) and to philosophy, and generally agreed that merit in higher education must mean more than having the highest grades and test scores. But beyond that, things get complicated. Recruiting a more socioeconomically diverse class is a great thing, everyone seemed to agree at the annual conference of the Center for Enrollment Research Policy and Practice of the University of Southern California.

“But is that still the case if your rankings slip and your SAT average drops a smidge? Nancy Cantor, who spoke here, was described as heroic by many for doing that at Syracuse University. But Cantor has left Syracuse and her successor seems much more interested in rankings than she was. And for institutions that compete for students, decisions that might be applauded here as ethical can be quite difficult. A case study was presented by Jenny Rickard, vice president for enrollment at the University of Puget Sound. She described how Puget Sound, between the 1970s and today, evolved from a local commuter college to a national liberal arts college, attracting increasingly competitive students.

Continue reading “What is merit, anyway?”

Guns: one year after Sandy Hook

images-3How quickly a year passes.

One year ago,  Americans were jolted by yet another episode of gun-crazed carnage, at yet another school, this one in Newtown, Conn. Across the nation, grieving onlookers vowed that this would be the time that the United States passed comprehensive gun control laws. But as In These Times reports, “since then, another 194 children have been killed by guns, according to a study by Mother Jones—ten times more than were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary. In September the Washington Navy Yard massacre resulted in another dozen murders, and just today, as if on cue, another horrific school murder by a shotgun-wielding youngster occurred in Centennial, Colo.

“Despite the frightening frequency of such episodes in our gun-weary nation, the outcry has not led to any successful legislative action at the federal level. While President Barack Obama has issued a well-meaning but ineffective call for a “common sense” balance between gun control and gun rights, federal legislation is going nowhere in a highly partisan, paralyzed, do-nothing Congress. In April, a majority of 54 senators voted in favor of a bill to broaden background checks to all online and gun show sales, but in the filibuster-gone-wild Senate, where 60 out of 100 votes are needed to end discussion and allow a vote, that wasn’t enough.

“At the state level though, there have been a few signs of legislative spark. In, Colorado, after being traumatized by previous mass shootings, most famously at a school in Columbine and a movie theater in Aurora, Democrats in Colorado passed some of the nation’s toughest gun control legislation this year. Shortly afterward, though, gun rights supporters responded by recalling the two state senators who had championed the bills. Continue reading “Guns: one year after Sandy Hook”

Say cheeze

The thought-provoking installation “SELFMADE” (2013), currently on display at The Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin, reveals the importance of microbes in our environment. Microbiologist Christina Agapakis (US) & scent artist Sissel Tolaas (NO) teamed up to create artisanal cheese made from lactobacillus swabbed from the skin of human beings. Lactobacillus is the bacteria responsible for curdling and preserving milk and giving cheese its characteristic smell and texture. Agapakis maintains that the cheese in the exhibit is not intended for human consumption but for investigating the unique microbial environment that humans participate in daily.

Through the installation Agapakis calls into question the prevailing paradigm of good/bad bacteria and offers a more complex view of the world of microbes, both biologically and culturally. She emphasizes the paradox of the modern paradigm: “We not only live in a biological world surrounded by rich communities of microorganisms, but in a cultural world that emphasises (sic) total antisepsis.”i Noting the inconsistency between modern human habits of consumption and bacterial intolerance in the environment, she asks: “Can knowledge and tolerance of bacterial cultures in our food improve tolerance of the bacteria on our bodies?”ii

Agapakis’ use of traditional cheesemaking methods underscores the connection between microbial culture and human culture. In her Pop!Tech lecture, she explains the biological and artistic process of her installation and of creating, by accident, the famed Sardinian “maggot cheese” casu marzu. The cheese can only be consumed when its larvae are, in fact, living. While some might recoil at the idea of consuming “rotten” cheese replete with squirming insects, Agapakis argues through her example of “encountering prejudice toward the macrobiological” for an increased awareness of cheese and its relationship to culture. Cheese, she notes, is about three things: “culture,” “biological context,” and “care” or “the way that we interact with and take care of the environment around us.”iii

Her exhibit poignantly illustrates cheese as a living object. Cheese, by its very nature, can never be an aseptic environment. Each cheese is filled with living organisms that interact with and mirror its culture both physically and sociologically.


More at; http://thecheesetraveler.com/tag/science-gallery/

Walter White at the end of time

I have no secret knowledge of how Vince Gilligan and Breaking Bad‘s writers plotted how to finish Walter White’s story, writes James Poniewozik in Time today, resisting the urge to celebrate the show’s Emmy win.  “I have to wonder if the scenario we saw tonight was considered, at one point, as the end. images-2Walt isolated, thousands of miles from home, dying alone, knowing that everything has gone wrong, knowing that his child hates him, knowing that his plan to enrich his family has failed–and powerless to do anything but, wait, and know, and think on what he has done.

“It feels in a sense as if these past few weeks have tried on several alternative endings for the story of Walter White. His surrender to Hank in the desert, as I said then, was one way it could have gone down. His disappearance into the horizon, last seen in the rear-view mirror of Vacuum Guy’s minivan, was another. (Hell, the end of last season’s run–Walt retired, successful, free and in the bosom of his family was, before Hank found Leaves of Grass as bathroom reading, the end for a very dark, cynical version of Breaking Bad.)

“The Shield’s outstanding finale left its antihero/villain, Vic Mackey, alive and chained to a desk, presumably to ponder his crimes forever. Walt’s exile in “Granite State” might be considered the Shield alternative for Breaking Bad–letting Walt “escape,” but in such as way as to be tortured by his deeds for the rest of his short life. So his world ends, as another New Hampshire resident posited, not in fire but in ice.

“There’s something purgatorial about Walt’s New Hampshire; we’ve spent so much time in the red-and-brown sun-baked vistas of New Mexico that emerging from the propane tank into New Hampshire feels like entering another world. As Vacuum Cleaner Guy–played, in an in-retrospect obvious bit of genius casting, by Robert Forster–says, it’s the kind of place where Walt could rest and get some much-needed thinking done. “If you look around,” he says, “it’s kind of beautiful.” Continue reading “Walter White at the end of time”

Gender and car shopping

Women are more likely to prioritize safety and affordability in shopping for cars, while men appear to seek out cars based on exterior styling and “rugged” reputations. From the ground-zero of car culture, the LA Times reports:imgres-1

 “Like comparing apples to oranges, men and women have different factors of importance when choosing a vehicle, influencing their brand research based on qualities that matter the most to them,” said market intelligence manager Diana Duque-Miranda. She noted older men typically gravitated toward “heritage” brands they grew up with – Lincoln, for example, and Buick.

“Search data showed 76% of women in the study sought out safety features in their next new car purchase, compared with 61%. That surprised Arthur Henry, another Kelly Blue Book manager. “When I think of solid cars, I also think of safety,” a priority analysts found more often in women’s searches. The survey data showed men tended to gravitate toward models considered “rugged,” Henry said. Twenty-eight percent of men were more likely to shop for such vehicles, compared with 19% of women, he said. Duque-Miranda noted women were more likely to seek out features once considered luxury – such as leather seats, USB ports and parking sensors – that are now becoming standard in lower-priced vehicles.

“Fuel efficiency also ranked high among 67% of women, compared with 48% of men. So how did brands fare in the battle of the sexes? Lincoln, Audi, Jaguar, Scion and Cadillac topped the list of 10 makes most likely to be sought out by men. Women were more likely to browse options from Volvo, Infiniti, Fiat, Acura and Nissan.

More at: http://www.latimes.com/business/autos/la-fi-hy-gender-differences-car-shopping-20130730,0,7235355.story

Men & eating disorders

People of all gender identifications, ages, races and sexualities suffer from eating disorders and struggle with body image issues, but the majority of eating disorder research is conducted on young, white women.images

Huffington Post Gay Voices reports “In the past decade or so, there has been increasing importance placed on understanding the impact these issues have on men. Here are six things you should know:

“1. Male eating disorders are on the rise — or more men are becoming brave enough to seek help. A January 2013 study estimated that 10 to 15 percent of anorexia and bulimia sufferers are male. Data from Britain’s NHS has shown a 66 percent increase in hospital admissions for male eating disorders over the last decade. It’s unclear whether this signals a vast increase in men struggling with disordered eating, greater awareness of how and where to get help, or both.

“2. Men are affected by images of celebrities’ “perfect” bodies, too. “The Mask You Live In,” a new documentary from Jennifer Siebel Newsom, explores the pressure society puts on young boys to look and act “like a man.” Muscular, toned male bodies in the media are perhaps just as harmful as slim, pale female bodies.

“3. Disordered eating in men may be linked to experiences of sexual harassment. A study released in May 2013 found that, among college-age participants, men who had experienced a high level of sexual harassment were more likely to purge or take laxatives than women who had gone through similar experiences. Continue reading “Men & eating disorders”

Oh no! Changing Siri’s voice?

Some of have gotten quite fond of Siri. You know what we mean.  Her wit and sensitivity. The ways she remembers things about you others forget. That certain sound of her voice. Now Apple has decided to to change her.


“Today Apple unveiled a new look for Siri that came with new voice options, actions, and some hot integration, including in-car options and music streaming, reports C/NET.

“The voice command technology has new voices, female and male — also available in French and German. Siri’s display includes a new look that shows a sound wave at the bottom while its detecting a user’s voice and full-screen results.

“Users can instruct Siri to complete functions like “turn off my Bluetooth,” or “increase my brightness,” according to software VP Eddy Cue. The digital assistant also has a slew of new integrations. These included Twitter, Wikipedia, and Bing search results, as well ascar integration with maps, music playback, and iMessage. But the highlight of Cue’s presentation was Apple’s long-awaited music streaming service, iTunes Radio.

“Apple highlighted Siri as part of its iOS 7 showcase, iOS’s biggest refresh yet.”


More at: http://news.cnet.com/8301-13579_3-57588315-37/apples-siri-gets-new-voices-display-and-actions/

The dog keeps you healthy

The nation’s largest cardiovascular health organization has a new message for Americans: Owning a dog may protect you from heart disease.images

The unusual message was contained in a scientific statement published on Thursday by the American Heart Association, which convened a panel of experts to review years of data on the cardiovascular benefits of owning a pet, reports the New York times: “The group concluded that owning a dog, in particular, was “probably associated” with a reduced risk of heart disease.

“People who own dogs certainly have more reason to get outside and take walks, and studies show that most owners form such close bonds with their pets that being in their presence blunts the owners’ reactions to stress and lowers their heart rate, said Dr. Glenn N. Levine, the head of the committee that wrote the statement.

“But most of the evidence is observational, which makes it impossible to rule out the prospect that people who are healthier and more active in the first place are simply more likely to bring a dog or cat into their home. Continue reading “The dog keeps you healthy”

Encyclopedia of the male gaze

Wikipedia stands accused of sexism and being the “encyclopaedic embodiment of the male gaze” after it was revealed the website is moving female authors from its ‘American novelists’ category into a sub-section called ‘American women novelists.’ As today’s The Post (UK) reports

“Successful novelists such as Donna Tartt, Harper Lee and Amy Tan have all been relegated to the sub-category by Wikipedia editors and the process is ongoing. American novelist Amanda Filipacchi says female writers whose surnames begin with A or B have been “most affected” so far. The explanation given by Wikipedia at the top of the page is that the American novelists category is “too long” and authors have to be put into sub-categories wherever possible, Filipacchi notes in the New York Times.images-1

“For Filipacchi the relegation of women authors to a sub-category is a pernicious process as people “get ideas” about which authors to “hire, or honour, or read” from Wikipedia lists. “They might simply use that list without thinking twice about it. It’s probably small, easily fixable things like this that make it harder and slower for women to gain equality in the literary world”, she writes. Continue reading “Encyclopedia of the male gaze”