Weekly Review: October 16th to October 22nd

Each week, whenever I’m reading The Boston Globe, The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal — almost exclusively online these days — I try to take note of interesting articles to share here.

And each week, I find there is both too much and too little to share.

I feel like my ability to filter which stories will be interesting and which won’t be is not getting any better as the weeks progress. I hope, though, that you are enjoying the pieces that I do choose to share.

And, further, I hope that if you find anything interesting that I missed you’ll share it with me in the comments below.

These Things Caught My Eye

The Sparrow Takes Flight

October 22nd, 2009 through November 8th, 2009

A girl returns home after ten years. As she reintegrates into the school, her telekinetic powers appear. Why did she leave? And what does it mean to the community that she has returned?

I saw the opening performance of this play. The staging was excellent. In one scene, when a woman is hanging from the rafters, to show the difference, the actors who were on the ground laid down on the stage.

Pictures played a large role. When the town is gossiping, the actors would gather holding pictures of houses and talk and dance while holding the photographs.

Dance also played a big role in the performance. Emily, the girl with the telekinetic powers, takes flight one night and the actress does a lovely ballet-like dance to express Emily’s joy at being in the air.

If you’re in Massachusetts, do yourself a favor and go see The Sparrow.

Happy 50th Birthday, Guggenheim!

Apparently the 50th Anniversary celebrations started in May of this year. I just saw it on Digg on Wednesday night.

As a Bostonian, I have very specific dislike of New York. Well more specifically, a very specific dislike of a very specific baseball team. I have never been to the Guggenheim. This is perhaps something I should soon remedy.

Especially with a retrospective of Wassily Kandinsky’s work. Kandinsky wrote an amazing book, Concerning the Spiritual in Art that I read in college. I’ve been meaning to reread it and with this exhibition, I’m not sure I will find a better time.

The retrospective is setup along the spiraling ramp that most people are familiar with when they think of the Guggenheim. The paintings were hung in chronological order through the various periods of Kandinsky’s life.

The review by Sebastian Smee makes an interesting point that I would like to see. At one point, Kandinsky’s spiritual style seems to die. Around the time he joined the Bauhaus, the spiritual paintings that sought to paint symphonies and feelings, turn into angular graphic design projects. And you see that change as you walk up the ramp.

What happened to him to provoke that change?

The Danger of a Single Story

I had never heard of Chimamanda Adichie until Wednesday night. I was on TED exploring and her talk was featured on the front page. And I’m glad that it was. I was so moved by it that I embedded it right into this post.

This past summer I met Sandi, a poet, at a writers’ conference. When I first asked her where she was from, she was a little dodgy in answering the question. She explained that if she tells people she was born in Africa they bring all this baggage and all these expectations. By being dodgy about where she was from, she freed me from having those expectations.

Though, I do try to enter situations with as little in the way as possible of preconceived notions. Each of us develops heuristics, mental bridges that allow us to travel quickly without having to go deep into the valley of the unknown, that allow us to assess a situation quickly. We are able to say to ourselves, “OK. I know this, I am familiar with this. Let’s go.”

But in some situations ignorance is power. When using heuristics, we can fall victim to the fallacy of familiarity. One thing that I have found incredibly liberating in my own life is having the strength to say to someone, “You know what, I don’t know the answer. But I am sure I can find it out.” I would rather admit my ignorance than demonstrate it.

Is This the Bar to Raise in Public Education?

Tuesday night and Wednesday morning I was thinking about my blog and expanding it to be more useful. I am thinking of adding of Resources Page that will include links to interesting sites and I thought immediately of Project Dropout a joint production of WGBH, Boston’s PBS station, and WBUR, Boston’s NPR station.

Project Dropout was an interesting investigation of the dropout problem in Massachusetts. They spoke not only with administrators and policy wonks, but found actual dropouts and discussed the choices they had made.

Anyone considering dropping out should listen to and read through Project Dropout. Give weight to the reports.

On my drive into work on Wednesday, I heard a segment on WBUR by Monica Brady-Myerov, one of the principal reporters from Project Dropout. She was reporting on a new proposed law that would raise the dropout age in Massachusetts from 16 to 18.

I am not sure how effective this law will be unless a structure is built around it. And I am glad that I am not the only one who is thinking along these lines.

My gut instinct tells me keeping students in school until age 18 is the right way to go if we can address underlying reasons that cause them to drop out and create programs that address their need. – State Representative Martha M. Walz (D-Boston), quoted in “Law urged to make teens stay in school” by James Vaznis, The Boston Globe

I would like to thank Representative Walz. Without addressing the underlying reasons that causing students to dropout, the problem will persist even if the dropout age is raised. If kids do continue to be physically present in the classroom, they could already have dropped out mentally and intellectually, the education equivalent to the living suicides Herman Hesse talks about in Steppenwolf.

The full proposal, which I would like to read if I can a link to it somewhere, recommends that caseworkers be brought into the school to discuss options with children considering dropping out and re-engagement centers to address the concerns of people who have already dropped out.

What I don’t hear is people clamoring for more teachers and smaller class sizes. If a teacher has to address 40 students per class and has five classes per day, that is 200 students each day that filter through the door. If we are going to have to hire people at all for this proposal, no offense to the caseworkers, but I would rather see that money go to hire more teachers.

Snow on Rilke

Although the review was published on my birthday, I did not see this review until this past week.

If I have not said this before, I am amazed at the arts and lifestyle coverage I have discovered in The Wall Street Journal. If I have written it before, my incredulity has only grown.

I am a passionate devotee of the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke.

While I can tell you, for example, that I discovered Elena Ferrante by walking past a row of her books in Barnes&Noble one day and found the cover of The Days of Abandonment intriguing or that I discovered Andre Gide because I was assigned to read The Immoralist in my Modern and Postmodern Philosophy course, I cannot tell you how I came to first discover Rainer Maria Rilke.

If I dig back in my memory, I have faint memories of reading that August Rodin had a poet for a secretary, that August Rodin’s emphasis on Things came to poetry through Rilke. Perhaps I have more to thank my art history professor for than I first realized. Though it is equally possible that I remember those references because I was already reading Rilke when I read those biographical details.

Most of the Rilke I have read has been translated by Stephen Mitchell, but I have read translations from Edward Snow. I have never sat down and compared the two translators.

This book is going to be another survey of his work, poems chosen from his different works but not a translation of his complete works. Which disappoints me: I want to read every poem that Rilke published. “Farrar, Straus and Giroux is publishing what it hopes will become the definitive English-language edition of Rilke’s poetry,” writes Weigel in her review. Her statement here is too broad in light of the limited scope of the collection. How can any survey hope to be the definitive edition?

Certainly I could accept that Snow is aiming for the definitive introduction.

The day after reading this review, I wandered, accidentally, through the poetry section of my local Barnes&Noble. And sitting on the shelf there were four books that called out to me. One I have forgotten already; one was Snow’s new Rilke; one was a collection of lectures that Robert Frost gave; and the last was The Shadow of Sirius a new collection from another favorite poet W.S. Merwin.

More things for me to spend my hard earned money on, gentle readers. There never seems to be an end to new books I wish to read. I cannot even speak to the physicality of the book because I know if I had picked it up I would have been unable to have put it down.

The Speed of Thought: Forming Words

Of the two links, I heard the first segment, “In Milliseconds, Brain Zips from Thought to Speech” on the radio on the 18th. But the second link, which I almost find more interesting, I found as a related link at the bottom of the first article on NPR.org.

One area of neuroscience I find particularly interesting is the study of neuroplasticity. The brain continues throughout our lives to change and evolve, to grow new neurons and rewire itself. That is what enables us to continue learning throughout our lifetimes.

This is an exciting time for neuroscience. We are still figuring out what areas of the brain due what. Even as recently as ten or fifteen years ago the idea of neuroplasticity was dismissed, saying that we were born with a finite set of neurons and that was all we ever had.

Beyond just building connections and deepening connections, we can also increase our raw ability to think. We can speed up our brains processing power and we can do it throughout our lives. One researcher, Dr. Richard Haier “says thinking is like running or weightlifting. It helps to have certain genes. But anyone can get stronger or faster by working out.”

Maybe there is something to playing Brain Age after all.

Et Tu, Brute?

Caveat lector! Another fun article I found through Digg. Ten common Latin phrases. How many do you know, or think you know, before reading the little blurb under each?

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