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The Daily Me

“When we go online, each of us is our own editor, our own gatekeeper. We select the kind of news and opinions that we care most about.

Nicholas Negroponte of M.I.T. has called this emerging news product The Daily Me. And if that’s the trend, God save us from ourselves.

That’s because there’s pretty good evidence that we generally don’t truly want good information — but rather information that confirms our prejudices. We may believe intellectually in the clash of opinions, but in practice we like to embed ourselves in the reassuring womb of an echo chamber.” — Nicholas Kristoff via NYTimes op-ed.

Although Kristoff has seemingly only just discovered the ‘echo chamber’ effect, it has been a longstanding preoccupation of thoughtful observers of internet sociology. As newspapers morph into lesser online versions of themselves with less pretense to completeness and objectivity, however, is the situation about to get much worse?

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Philosophy’s great experiment

“A dynamic new school of thought is emerging that wants to kick down the walls of recent philosophy and place experimentation back at its centre. It has a name to delight an advertising executive: x-phi. It has blogs and books devoted to it, and boasts an expanding body of researchers in elite universities. It even has an icon: an armchair in flames. If philosophy ever can be, x-phi is trendy. But, increasingly, it is also attracting hostility.” via Prospect.

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What is narcissistic personality disorder, and why does everyone seem to have it?

This is the cultural moment of the narcissist. In a New Yorker cartoon, Roz Chast suggests a line of narcissist greeting cards (“Wow! Your Birthday’s Really Close to Mine!”). John Edwards outed himself as one when forced to confess an adulterous affair. (Given his comical vanity, the deceitful way he used his marriage for his advancement, and his self-elevation as an embodiment of the common man while living in a house the size of an arena, it sounds like a pretty good diagnosis.) New York Times critic Alessandra Stanley wrote of journalists who Twitter, “it’s beginning to look more like yet another gateway drug to full-blown media narcissism.” And what other malady could explain the simultaneous phenomena of Blago and the Octomom?” — Emily Yoffe via Slate.

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Why Not Boo?

Toneelbeeld Lucia di Lammermoor van Bagnara ui...

“It goes without saying that the frequency of standing ovations devalues their significance. As Gilbert and Sullivan put it in “The Gondoliers,” When everyone is somebodee/Then no one’s anybody! Just as important, it also points to a lack of true engagement on the part of the spectators. At a preview performance of “Blithe Spirit” last week, I sat next to a man who laughed loudly and mechanically at every line in the play. Whenever an actor said something really funny, he raised his hands above his head and clapped. It was as though I were sitting next to a living laugh track — except that the man’s tic-like reaction to the show was anything but alive.

Booing, on the other hand, sends a different message, one that isn’t necessarily all bad. Francesca Zambello‘s deliberately provocative Met production of “Lucia di Lammermoor” was booed when it opened in 1992. “It isn’t fun to be booed,” Ms. Zambello later told me, “but sometimes it’s also a badge of success.” Why? Because the people who booed Ms. Zambello’s “Lucia” and Ms. Zimmerman’s “Sonnambula,” unlike the ones who spring to their feet at the end of a third-rate musical, were making it clear that they’d paid attention to what they saw and heard. No, they didn’t care for it, but at least they were involved with it, and such involvement can be the first step toward a deeper, more thoughtful response. “As soon as I detest something,” the music critic Hans Keller once said, “I ask myself why I like it.” Keller’s words may seem paradoxical, but in fact they’re wise. While anger may turn out to be love in disguise, indifference is rarely anything more than indifference.” — Terry Teachout via WSJ

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Could box office bonanza dry up?

Daily Variety's logo

“…[Studio] output has hit a serious speed bump, thanks to a number of factors: The economic crash and retreat of private equity money, a protracted writers walkout, a production slowdown over fear of an actors strike and the dismantling of studio specialty labels.” via Variety.

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Does Death Sell?

Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674): Still-Life...

A recent study by University of Wisconsin and University of Virginia consumer researchers… examined how individuals relate to objects they have purchased when they think about death. The result, strikingly, is that thinking about one’s demise motivates people to form a strong connection to their material possessions, specifically to the brands that they have purchased. In the face of the great unknown, people develop, “strong brand identity,” a melding of their personalities and their possessions.” via Obit Magazine.

This school of research originated with Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death (1974), which argued that the entirety of human culture is an attempt to manage our terror at the prospect of our mortality.

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No Speech, Please…We’re British

Ashkar - Hét antwoord op Fitna

Britain’s politicians care so much about constitutional protections for human rights that they have two sets of them–the centuries-old traditions laid out by parliament and precedent and the newfangled European Convention on Human Rights, written into British law in 1998. Neither of these stopped Britain from becoming the first European Union country to bar an elected European legislator from its territory for his political opinions on February 12.

The Dutch MP Geert Wilders heads the Freedom party, which holds 9 of the 150 seats in the Second Chamber in The Hague. He has been preoccupied with militant Islam at least since November 2004, when the filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered by a Muslim fanatic in Amsterdam, and Wilders’s own name turned up on a jihadist hit list. In March 2008, Wilders released Fitna, a 15-minute film, on the Internet. It details contemporary Islamist outrages and locates their inspiration not in any perversion of Islam but in specific suras of the Koran itself, which Wilders likens to Mein Kampf and urges authorities to ban.” via The Weekly Standard.

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Why do people cook?

“…[W]ith Homo sapiens, what makes the species unique in Dr Wrangham’s opinion is that its food is so often cooked.

Cooking is a human universal. No society is without it. No one other than a few faddists tries to survive on raw food alone. And the consumption of a cooked meal in the evening, usually in the company of family and friends, is normal in every known society. Moreover, without cooking, the human brain (which consumes 20-25% of the body’s energy) could not keep running. Dr Wrangham thus believes that cooking and humanity are coeval.

In fact, as he outlined to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), in Chicago, he thinks that cooking and other forms of preparing food are humanity’s “killer app”: the evolutionary change that underpins all of the other—and subsequent—changes that have made people such unusual animals.” via The Economist.

One more in the myriad attempted definitions of being human that go, “Man is the only animal who…” Here is a Google search on the meme of human uniqueness.

Related:
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The Roar of the Crowd

football player || larger than life || covers ...

Marx was wrong: The opiate of the masses isn’t religion, but spectator sports. What else explains the astounding fact that millions of seemingly intelligent human beings feel that the athletic exertions of total strangers are somehow consequential for themselves? The real question we should be asking during the madness surrounding this month’s collegiate basketball championship season is not who will win, but why anyone cares.” via TThe Chronicle of Higher Education.

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Wikileaks needs your support

Wikileaks is currently overloaded by readers. This is a regular difficulty that can only be resolved by deploying additional resources. If you support our mission, then show it in the way that is most needed. On average, each donation catalyzes the publication of around 150 mainstream press articles, exposing human rights abuses and corrupt government around the world.Wikileaks is overloaded. We need your support for more servers.”

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Japan’s ‘suicide forest’

Map of Japan with Tokyo highlighted

“[He]bought a one-way ticket to the forest, west of Tokyo, Japan. When he got there, he slashed his wrists, though the cut wasn’t enough to kill him quickly.

He started to wander, he said. He collapsed after days and lay in the bushes, nearly dead from dehydration, starvation and frostbite. He would lose his toes on his right foot from the frostbite. But he didn’t lose his life, because a hiker stumbled upon his nearly dead body and raised the alarm.

[His] story is just one of hundreds logged at Aokigahara Forest every year, a place known throughout Japan as the “suicide forest.” The area is home to the highest number of suicides in the entire country.” via CNN.

[thanks to Boing Boing]

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A Perfect Crime?

Diamond Heist

Twins suspected in a spectacular multimillion-euro jewel heist in Berlin have been released. Despite DNA evidence from the crime scene, their genetic indistinguishability thwarted the requirement of German law that a suspect be linked exclusively. The twins, both of whom have criminal records and who may have committed the crime together, have steadfastly refused to comment, except to send a message that they were “proud of the German constitutional state and gave it their thanks.” via Der Spiegel [thanks to kottke].

One of the perils of modern crimefighting’s reliance on genetic evidence?