While we're on the subject of expertise, a study finds that blindfolded violinists preferred new violins to the supposedly ineffable old Italian fiddles:
Many researchers have sought explanations for the purported tonal superiority of Old Italian violins by investigating varnish and wood properties, plate tuning systems, and the spectral balance of the radiated sound. Nevertheless, the fundamental premise of tonal superiority has been investigated scientifically only once very recently, and results showed a general preference for new violins and that players were unable to reliably distinguish new violins from old.... In this study, 10 renowned soloists each blind-tested six Old Italian violins (including five by Stradivari) and six new during two 75-min sessions—the first in a rehearsal room, the second in a 300-seat concert hall. When asked to choose a violin to replace their own for a hypothetical concert tour, 6 of the 10 soloists chose a new instrument. A single new violin was easily the most-preferred of the 12. On average, soloists rated their favorite new violins more highly than their favorite old for playability, articulation, and projection, and at least equal to old in terms of timbre. Soloists failed to distinguish new from old at better than chance levels. These results confirm and extend those of the earlier study and present a striking challenge to near-canonical beliefs about Old Italian violins.
Add this to the mountain of evidence that professional wine tasters can be influenced by all sorts of extraneous factors:
Colour affects our perceptions too. In 2001 Frédérick Brochet of the University of Bordeaux asked 54 wine experts to test two glasses of wine– one red, one white. Using the typical language of tasters, the panel described the red as "jammy' and commented on its crushed red fruit.
The critics failed to spot that both wines were from the same bottle. The only difference was that one had been coloured red with a flavourless dye.
As Kevin Drum puts it succinctly, if you're an expert but can't do your thing blindfolded, STFU.
[The video is a legendary 1988 episode of the German TV show 'Wetten, dass...' (Bet that I can...) in which Titanic (g) magazine editor Bernd Fritz claimed to be able to detect the color of markers (g) by tasting them.]
This week, Pew Research Center published the results of a survey conducted among 40,080 people in 40 countries between 2011 and 2013. The survey asked a simple question: is belief in God essential to morality?
...In 22 of the 40 countries surveyed, the majority says it is necessary to believe in God in order to be a moral person. “This position is highly prevalent, if not universal, in Africa and the Middle East,” says the report. No surprise there, but Asian and Latin countries such as Indonesia (99%), Malaysia (89%), the Philippines (99%), El Salvador (93%), and Brazil (86%) all fell in the highest percentile of respondents believing belief in a god (small G) is central to having good values.
Interestingly, clear majorities in all highly developed countries do not think belief in god to be necessary for morality, with one exception only: the U.S.A.
Only 15 percent of the French population answered in the affirmative. Spain: 19%. Australia: 23%. Britain: 20%. Italy: 27%. Canada: 31%. Germany 33%. Israel: 37%.
So what of the U.S.? A comparatively eye-popping 53 percent of Americans essentially believe atheists and agnostics are living in sin. Despite the fact that a research analyst at the Federal Bureau of Prisons determined that atheists are thoroughly under-represented in the places where rapists, thieves and murders invariably end up: prisons. While atheists make upward of 15 percent of the U.S. population, they only make up 0.2 percent of the prison population.
The result for Germany's a bit surprising -- just a reminder that despite green energy, a gay foreign minister, and swinger-club sex-and-suckling-pig parties (g - as a friend of mine once said, 'the ultimate integration test for foreigners'), large parts of Germany are still quite conservative. Also, these results are yet another reason no lazy reporter should ever mention 'Catholic Spain/Italy' again.
The atheist result is pretty interesting, although I'm sure it's mostly an artifact of the fact that atheists are richer and more educated than the general population, and are therefore less likely to end up in prison for various reasons. But still, if the New Atheists need a rallying cry, why not 'There are no Atheists in Prison Cells?' NAs, you can have this one for a reasonable licensing fee.
One of the many things people don't seem to understand about Pussy Riot, the Russian 'punk band', is that they can't play instruments and were never a band. The members are part of something extremely Eastern European -- a surrealist-dadaist protest group named Voina which stages bizarre pranks intended not just to parody state power, but to cause observers to question the nature of reality itself, so to speak. Kind of like Meret Oppenheim's fur-covered teacup:
What western reporters don't get, being the literal-minded types they are, is that the members of Voina/Pussy Riot are pranksters, not activists. All of their actions are illegal and absurd, and only some of them have any political meaning at all. This is the point Pussy Riot keeps making in this interview, to the confusion of the drab, plodding journalists in the audience. To imagine them as earnest left-wing 'punk band' members makes about as much sense as thinking of Laibach's industrial-metal 'Let it Be' album from 1998, which desecrates every single song on the Beatles original, is a loving homage:
Laibach, not coincidentally, come from Slovenia, are conceptual artists, take their name from the German word for the capital of Slovenia (highly controversial, since the Germans brutally occupied the city of Ljubljana during World War II), and have engaged in actions such as going shopping in Dortmund, Germany in full SS regalia (if memory serves).
To demonstrate how committed the Voina collective is, let us take a Pussy Riot 'member', Nadezhda Tolokonnikova:
Did you happen to know that there is a video of her, taken with her full knowledge and consent, naked, with her knickers around her knees, having sex doggy-style, in public, while 9 months pregnant? Take it away, Wikipedia:
In February 2008, (Voina) were involved in the "Fuck for the heir Puppy Bear!" performance in which couples were filmed engaging in sexual acts in the Timiryazev State Biology Museum in Moscow. The performance was apparently intended as a kind of satire of then President Dmitry Medvedev's call for increased reproduction. She was in the late stages of pregnancy at the time.
And yes, for those of you who are so inclined (you know who you are), there's a video of this performance here. I won't embed it since this is at least nominally a family-friendly blog. She gave birth 4 days after the video was made.
So, Pussy Riot isn't a 'punk band', they're something much stranger and more interesting -- and much more Eastern European.
In the beginning was a rhythmless Irish ballad. Leadbelly liked the melody but added some punchy rhythm and chords. Pete Seeger adds words and records the first version with the Weavers:
Along comes Nana Mouskouri, who records a German version of the song in 1967.
No, I don't know why there's an (apparently eyeless) dog in that video. Just be glad GEMA hasn't blocked it.
And then in 2005 or so, the criminally underrated Nottingham techno duo Bent use the queer warbling of Moskouri as the basis for K.i.s.s.e.s.
So there you have it. An Irish melody, reworked by a black American blues singer, lyrics added by a leftist white folk-singer, translated loosely into German by a Greek, and then processed into an ethereal techno track by Englishmen.
Readers of this blog will know of my furtive affection for abandoned totalitarian ideologies. And truly, there's hardly a better place on earth than Germany for people like me. Today's fiery plunge down the memory hole takes us to the book A Pathfinder of Socialist Library Science: For Erich Schroeter's 70th Birthday, published in 1964 as a special issue of the Central Journal for Library Science of the former German Democratic Republic. Above, we see Herr Schroeter.
A few moments in a book-stall in Berlin or Leipzig confronts you with an eerie truth: socialism was no mere "political" theory -- yea, verily it seeped into the very capillaries of East German social life. My library boasts a history of blacks in America, a sex manual, and a biography of Beethoven -- all written proudly and unmistakably from the perspective of class struggle (Beethoven's chamber works are praised for their "dialectic" character). If I had had room in my luggage, I would also have brought home socialist exercise videos, economics textbooks, campfire-song collections, and design manuals.
Which brings us to libraries. Can they help build socialism? The answer, according to this handsome Festschrift, is a resounding "Jawohl, Genosse!" Contributors who stress the central ideological role of libraries include Margarete Silberberg ("On New Men and New Book Collections"), Bodo Reblin ("The Antifascist-Democratic Concept of a Library in the Periodical 'The People's Librarian'"); Christina Steinert ("Use of Space in the Central Library of the VEB Industrial Works in Karl Marx City") and Katharina Bamberger's ("The Library in the Lovely Socialist Village"). More mundane contributions include Lisgreth Schwarz's "On the Importance of the Central Publication of Annotated Preprinted Forms for General Public Libraries" or Johannes Lohmann's remorselessly informative "Ten Years of Library Statistics."
As befits a Festschrift, the opening chapters detail Erich Schroeter's early life. Born in Breslau in 1894, his father soon moved the family to Berlin. They were working-class: his father threw packages in a freight company, and his mother took in sewing to make ends meet. While he went to school, Schroeter worked as a typist for a notary, and as an errand-boy in a typewriter factory. He completed an apprenticeship as an engineer. When he was twenty, his career was interrupted by the "first imperialist world war," during which he was severely injured. When he returned to his job, he began to interest himself more and more for labor issues, and to fill the gaps in his education by visiting the library in Neukoelln -- then, as now, a social burning point. The library director, Dr. Helene Nathan, took an interest in him. Nathan eventually arranged a position for Leipzig as a formal apprentice in library science.
Schroeter returned to Berlin in 1929, after passing the "Examination for Employment in Popular Libraries," and took up an official position at the Neukoelln library, just as the Great Depression reached Germany. "Thousands of unemployed people thronged the streets," he recalls, and many of them resorted to the library to kill all those useless hours. Schroeter describes his efforts to reach out politically to the unemployed:
In the Neukoelln city library, the checkout counter...was split into two areas: one for the proletariat, and one for the bourgeoisie. I myself was always at the checkout counter to advise the the proletarian group. As soon as I detected in young people or adults an special interest in political literature or other special subjects, I spoke to them, and let them know of the information evenings I was holding in the nearby branch library.... This direct work with individual readers provided me with enormous satisfaction, and -- since we quite consciously emphasized very progressive literature, and also political literature -- this also provided valuable experience in political work with the masses. (p. 13)