Weekly Review: October 9th to October 15th

by Matthew Koslowski on October 16, 2009
in Weekly Reviews

Running a blog is a job in and of itself. Since starting this blog, my respect for journalists has grown because I have learned how much time it takes to craft a single post.

My essays are pure opinion pieces. I read a book, a poem, an essay, or a news article. Then I think about what I’ve read and then look at my world and see if its relevant, judge if I think others might enjoy reading about my interaction with that work.

And it takes me between two and four hours to write these essays.

Yet I’m hooked. I love writing here because I feel more alive because I am again engaging the world in ways that I haven’t since college. Each essays calls upon me to look at my world and analyze it and reflect upon it.

This is another great gift of literature.

And, yes, I call even bad newspaper essays literature.

These Things Caught My Eye

Finger, Painting

Known by many names this portrait of a woman in profile may be a Leonardo da Vinci. (Photocredit: Wikimedia Commons)

A painting previously thought to be a 19th-century German work may be an unknown Leonardo da Vinci work.

Da Vinci was said to use his hands and fingers to spread paint on his works. The experts who have examined the work found what seems to be a fingerprint and palm print on the work. Using sophisticated imaging techniques, they have isolated the supposed fingerprint.

It matches known fingerprints of Leonardo da Vinci in 8 points, a respectable match. According to art collector Peter Silverman, the man who first bought the painting for $19,000, a match of 11 points is enough to convict someone.

I have my doubts about this painting. Although I’ve not made an exhaustive study of Leonardo’s catalogue, the supposed work is not in the style that made him famous. A quick Google search turned up only one drawing of a woman in profile. His other portraits of women tend to be show the women in three-dimensions instead of two. Consider Lady with an Ermine and Mona Lisa.

Fun fact about this style of painting. In the Italian nobility, this style of painting was passed from household to household as a sort of primitive dating service. Eligible males would be shown the painting and, if they were interested, would arrange to meet the woman pictured.

Do You Want Factory-Farmed Children?

It would be, I think, a good deal more accurate to call it an art, for it grows not only out of factual knowledge, but out of cultural tradition; it is learned not only by precept but by example, by apprenticeship; and it requires not merely a competent knowledge of its facts and processes, but also a complex set of attitudes, a certain culturally evolved stance, in the face of the unexpected and the unknown. That is to say, it requires style in the highest and richest sense of that term.
–From “Discipline and Hope” by Wendell Berry

Where do you think the above quote came from? A book about education? This is an blog about education, after all, isn’t it? The quote comes from a book on essays about agriculture and culture.

From the beginning of that quotation, I deleted an important sentence: “The fact is that farming is not a laboratory science, but a science of practice.” What Berry writes is applicable to a wide range of fields. Teaching, counseling, and selling all first come to mind.

I found this quote at a blog I’ve discovered in the past week Science Teacher by Michael Doyle. He uses that quote in arguing that just as we have lost something by handing over our farms to large corporations — so-called “factory farms” — we risk losing something in handing our education over to what may become “factory schools.”

His philosophy of teaching messes well with my own as well as the philosophies of Jonathan Kozol and Mike Rose. He reminds us of the purpose of education, writing “Historically, public education’s priority has been to create a functioning citizenry; the current trend is to produce careerists. The two have critical, but subtle, distinctions. A citizenry that cannot grasp subtle but critical distinctions will ultimately fail as a republic.”

I look forward to exploring more of what he has to say.

When the High Jump Becomes a Pole Vault

I appreciate the editorial cartoons that I’ve seen from Signe Wilkinson. After some investigation, I learned that reprinting her comics here may be an infringement of copyright and will post links to her comics from now on.

Mommy, am I Responsible Yet?

A lot of our rules on when people are responsible enough to assume tasks are arbitrary: 16 for most to get a driver’s license; 18 to vote, enter into contracts and join the military; 21 to drink alcohol; and 25 to rent a car from most car rental places. Many of these rules came about in a hodgepodge manner.

I know in Massachusetts in general and Boston in particular, with our large student populations, there have been some concerns about the drinking age. The drinking age is 21 because the Federal Government mandates that the drinking age in order for states to receive federal monies for highways. Some groups such as the Amethyst Initiative argue that the high drinking age just promotes binge drinking. Others quote statistics that show once the drinking age was increased incidence of fatal car accidents fell.

Can we judge responsibility for these tasks in an age-based manner? I don’t know that we can, but I don’t know how we could do it any differently. License people to drink alcohol? That would have people up in arms and would not solve any problems. We can get into circular arguments about American versus European attitudes towards responsibility and drinking.

According to neuroscience and cognitive science, the prefrontal cortex — that part of the brain that regulates decision making and self-control — continues to develop until around the age of 30. Should we prohibit the entering into contracts prior 30? Should we prohibit marriage until 30 so that executive function can fully grow and mature? Abuse of drugs including alcohol can inhibit the full maturation of the brain, how do we consider that?

Judging Motives to Evaluate Blame

I love TED Lectures.

I have watched a handful of them and most of them have been fascinating and engaging. The title of this one, however, is inaccurate. The webpage file name is more accurate (”rebecca_saxe_how_brains_make_moral_judgments.html”).

There seems to be a specialized area in the human brain dedicated to the interpretation of people’s motives and assessment of moral responsibility. When we listen to stories of actions, we consider if what the person was thinking and intending when assigning blame.

Rebecca Saxe designed an experiment. She told a story of a woman called Grace who was making coffee for her friend and sweetened it with a white powder. There were three versions of the story:

  • In one version of the story, the box was labeled poison, Grace believed it was poison but put it in her friend’s coffee anyway;
  • in the second version, the box was labeled poison, Grace believed it was sugar but it turned out to be poison;
  • and the final version the box was labeled sugar but turned out to be poison.

Rebecca and her team measured brain activity in this region and saw that the amount of activity corresponded with how much blame the test subjects though Grace deserved in each case.

But what if they used magnetic interference to affect the functioning of that part of the brain? They did that. Watch the presentation to find out if it made a difference.


4 Responses to “Weekly Review: October 9th to October 15th”
  1. Lee Marcotte says:

    This brings to mind an article I read recently while sitting in a doctor’s office. I forgot my own book and was browsing through magazines. In Women’s Day I read “I do housework not homework.” It relates to a stay at home mom who feels that when teachers try to engage parents in their children’s schoolwork it takes away from the child’s development of responsibilty and development of independence.

  2. Polprav says:

    Hello from Russia!
    Can I quote a post in your blog with the link to you?

    Matthew Koslowski Reply:

    Hello from the United States. As long as you link me or give me credit in some way, I would be quite flattered if you linked to me. I’m glad that you like my work. Thank you. I’ll spend some time reading your blog this weekend.