Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward







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Recent Posts


Lawrence Ferlinghetti changed American culture forever

Fred Kaplan writes: Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who died on Monday at the age of 101, was one of the key figures in 20th-century American culture. He was as responsible as any single other person for the rise of the Beats, the end of obscenity laws, and, not least, the transformation of San Francisco from a backwater province to a vibrant artistic center. He did all this through the creation and flourishing

Reading, that strange and uniquely human thing

Lydia Wilson writes: The Chinese artist Xu Bing has long experimented to stunning effect with the limits of the written form. Last year I visited the Centre del Carme in Valencia, Spain, to see a retrospective of his work. One installation, Book from the Sky, featured scrolls of paper looping down from the ceiling and lying along the floor of a large room, printed Chinese characters emerging into view as

A ‘great cultural depression’ looms for legions of unemployed performers

The New York Times reports: In the top echelons of classical music, the violinist Jennifer Koh is by any measure a star. With a dazzling technique, she has ridden a career that any aspiring Juilliard grad would dream about — appearing with leading orchestras, recording new works, and performing on some of the world’s most prestigious stages. Now, nine months into a contagion that has halted most public gatherings and

Music: There is no movement without rhythm


It’s time to abandon the intellectual narcissism of cold war Western liberalism

Pankaj Mishra writes: The late Tony Judt, born in 1948, once spoke of the “pretty crappy” generation he belonged to, which “grew up in the 1960s in Western Europe or in America, in a world of no hard choices, neither economic nor political.” In Judt’s view, too many of his intellectual peers moved from radical postures into the “all-consuming business of material accumulation and personal security” in the 1970s and

Cahokian culture spread across eastern North America 1,000 years ago in an early example of diaspora

Cahokia’s mound-building culture flourished a millennium ago near modern-day St. Louis. JByard/iStock via Getty Images Plus By Jayur Mehta, Florida State University An expansive city flourished almost a thousand years ago in the bottomlands of the Mississippi River across the water from where St. Louis, Missouri stands today. It was one of the greatest pre-Columbian cities constructed north of the Aztec city of Tenochititlan, at present-day Mexico City. The people

The junk we collect

Michael Friedrich writes: No one person is responsible for the proliferation of cheap things in America. Frank W. Woolworth didn’t invent the five-and-dime store, despite the credit he gets. But he certainly perfected the sale of crap. As the story goes, Woolworth was a young clerk at a New York dry goods store when he heard of a novel sales method: offer cheap handkerchiefs below cost on a five-cent counter

Art, adornment and sophisticated hunting technologies flourished not only in prehistoric Europe but across the globe

Gaia Vince writes: In 1868, workmen near the hamlet of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil in southwestern France opened up a rock shelter and found animal bones, flints and, most intriguingly, human skulls. Work on the road was paused while a geologist, Louis Lartet, was called to excavate the site. What he discovered would transform our understanding of the origins of humanity. Lartet unearthed the partial skeletons of four adults and an infant

During Floyd protests, media industry reckons with long history of collaboration with law enforcement

Actors Dennis Franz and Jimmy Smits on the set of ‘NYPD Blue.’ Mitchell Gerber/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images By Carol A. Stabile, University of Oregon In a recent interview, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison was asked why it’s so difficult to prosecute cases against police officers. “Just think about all the cop shows you may have watched in your life,” he replied. “We’re just inundated with this cultural message that these

How much does our language determine behavior?

David Shariatmadari writes: It’s easier to prove or disprove a hypothesis in a well-defined area of experience that can be readily compared across languages. That’s why a lot of scholars interested in Benjamin Lee Whorf’s ideas focused their research on color. Because color is a physical property, determined by the wavelengths of light that are reflected or absorbed by an object, you might assume that all languages have just as

How Margaret Mead became a hate figure for conservatives

Sam Dresser writes: The explosively curious and acerbic Margaret Mead was born in 1901 and brought up by a tough academic family in Pennsylvania. After a childhood dotted with melancholy, her purpose in life – anthropology – emerged in her undergraduate years at Barnard College in New York City. As a graduate student at Columbia University in the 1920s, she fell under the sway of Franz Boas. The moustachioed polymath

Psychology still skews Western and affluent. Can it be fixed?

By Michael Schulson, January 20, 2020 When Cristine Legare gives talks to groups of psychology researchers, she likes to take a quick poll of the room. How many of them, she asks, consider themselves to be “Western ethnopsychologists?” The question does not go over well. “They’re like, ‘What?’” Legare, a developmental psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, said. “It doesn’t resonate at all.” That confusion is precisely Legare’s

Explaining illness with belief in evil

Live Science reports: Where did the spiritual concept of evil originate? One possible explanation might be people’s attempts to understand and cope with infectious diseases. Linking diseases and their symptoms to mysterious evil forces is a practice that emerged in traditional belief systems prior to the mid-19th century, when germ theory was introduced, scientists wrote in a new study. Germ theory revealed that microscopic pathogens, rather than malevolent spirits, were

We live in a one track world but anyone can become a polymath

Robert Twigger writes: I travelled with Bedouin in the Western Desert of Egypt. When we got a puncture, they used tape and an old inner tube to suck air from three tyres to inflate a fourth. It was the cook who suggested the idea; maybe he was used to making food designed for a few go further. Far from expressing shame at having no pump, they told me that carrying

How cultural anthropologists redefined humanity

Louis Menand writes: Not that long ago, Margaret Mead was one of the most widely known intellectuals in America. Her first book, “Coming of Age in Samoa,” published in 1928, when she was twenty-six, was a best-seller, and for the next fifty years she was a progressive voice in national debates about everything from sex and gender to nuclear policy, the environment, and the legalization of marijuana. (She was in

The ‘warspeak’ permeating everyday language puts us all in the trenches

It’s a linguistic battlefield out there. Complot/ By Robert Myers, Alfred University In a manifesto posted online shortly before he went on to massacre 22 people at an El Paso Walmart, Patrick Crusius cited the “invasion” of Texas by Hispanics. In doing so, he echoed President Trump’s rhetoric of an illegal immigrant “invasion.” Think about what this word choice communicates: It signals an enemy that must be beaten back, repelled