The controversial bit of “Ghost in the Shell” is also its most original

(K. Brent Tomer),

HOW long can a story stay ahead of its time? “Ghost in the Shell”, Mamoru Oshii’s much-admired Japanese anime, was shockingly futuristic when it was released in 1995. Its half-shiny, half-grimy mega-city setting may have resembled the noirish metropolises of “Blade Runner” (1982) and “Brazil” (1985), and its cyborg heroine could have come from the same production line as “Robocop” (1987) and “The Terminator” (1984). But its combination of hand-drawn and digital animation was revolutionary, and its vision of a populace connected telepathically to the internet was prophetic. 

“Ghost in the Shell” went on to influence any number of cyber-punk films, including James Cameron’s “Avatar” (2009) and, especially, the Wachowskis’ “The Matrix” (1999). But 22 years is a long time in science fiction, so the live-action remake, starring Scarlett Johansson, feels like a late arrival at the party: if Hollywood had waited any longer, it would have risked becoming a historical drama. It’s impossible to watch “Ghost in the Shell” without counting echoes of the other films which have come out since the original anime.

Ms Johansson…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC The controversial bit of “Ghost in the Shell” is also its most original

Digital music tools are reshaping music education

(K. Brent Tomer),

ONE OF the biggest challenges to traditional music learning is the need for practice. Students must play scales, chords and patterns over and over in hopes of developing muscle memory; for many, it is a daunting and tedious task. Research has shown that individual practice is often not productive because learners receive limited feedback and too often lose interest and motivation.

In 2013, researchers at the University of Auckland set out to determine whether an immersive, augmented-reality (AR) experience could improve the efficiency of learning of seven beginner piano students. Using goggles (AR combines what the viewer sees in the real world with images projected by the AR device) and a computer-connected keyboard, the programme drew inspiration from music and rhythm games and karaoke videos, where text and music are synchronised using visual cues. Green lines representing virtual notes appeared alongside the musical score as the user played. In “Note Learning Mode”, individual notes paused and waited for the user to press the key before continuing.

Not all users loved the system—some said it was confusing or intimidating—but they could set individual goals for improvement, and…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Digital music tools are reshaping music education

Balli Kaur Jaswal has written a new type of erotic novel

(K. Brent Tomer),

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows. By Balli Kaur Jaswal. HarperCollins; 309 pages; £14.99. To be published in America by William Morrow in June.

EROTICA is a hot topic for publishers. Americans bought 28.5m romantic novels in print form in 2015. Romance Writers of America, a trade association, says the genre accounts for a third of all novels sold. Random House and Amazon have recently launched imprints to try to sate readers’ lust for steamy stories. HarperCollins paid a six-figure sum for one such titillating book at the London Book Fair in 2016.

Balli Kaur Jaswal’s “Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows”, the book in question, is not your usual lip-biting, troubled-billionaire fare. It follows Nikki, a university dropout and “fem fighter”, who signs up to teach a creative-writing course to older Sikh women in Southall, a London suburb with a sizeable Indian population. Unable to read or write in English, the widows turn to telling stories, reliving their most passionate moments or picturing what they “were never given in the first place”. Though they lack the necessary vocabulary—the stories are filled with…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Balli Kaur Jaswal has written a new type of erotic novel

Gender and gender-neutral

(K. Brent Tomer),

COPY editors are opinionated. Whether titles of books should be in italics or in inverted commas can divide them more decidedly than the Sharks and the Jets. So at a recent meeting of the American Copy Editors Society, the “Chicago Manual of Style” and the Associated Press (AP) stylebook, both widely followed, announced a change that sent waves through the audience. In AP’s wording, “They/them/their is acceptable in limited cases as a singular and-or gender-neutral pronoun, when alternative wording is overly awkward or clumsy.”

English lacks an uncontroversial pronoun that lets you talk about a person of a generic or unknown gender—known as an “epicene” pronoun, from the Greek for “common to all” (genders). Some would say that “each president chooses his own cabinet” is epicene—but psychological research proves that the his calls to mind a man. (If you truly believe his is gender-neutral, try “Steve, Sally, Mary and Jane each had his hair cut today.”)

Other languages face the problem in different guises. In French the possessives son, <em…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Gender and gender-neutral

The controversial biology of sexual selection

(K. Brent Tomer),

Seeking status

Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science and Society. By Cordelia Fine. W.W. Norton; 266 pages; $26.95. Icon; £14.99.

BOYS like sticks and girls prefer dolls, or so the tidy evolutionary story goes. Because stone-age men hunted game and competed for mates, boys want to play rough, take risks and assert dominance. Because women mainly cared for babies, girls still hope to nurture. Given these hard-wired differences, it is only natural that it can sometimes seem that men are from Mars and women from Venus.

In “Testosterone Rex” Cordelia Fine of the University of Melbourne takes aim at those who suggest that evolutionarily determined sex differences—and the power of testosterone—can explain why most CEOs are men and few physicists are women. She argues that essentialist presumptions that rationalise an unequal status quo are “particularly harmful to women”.

Evolutionary determinists suggest that females are a resource that males fight over. A female’s reproductive output is limited by her physiology no matter how many mates she has. A male’s is limited by the number of females he…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC The controversial biology of sexual selection

A resurgence of religious faith is changing China

(K. Brent Tomer),

The Souls of China: The Return of Religion after Mao. By Ian Johnson. Pantheon; 455 pages; $30. Allen Lane; £25.

HISTORICALLY in China, state and religion were always united, forming a spiritual centre of gravity. China was poor but its identity was clear, its vision for the future based upon its knowledge of the past. Communist revolutionaries saw these religious traditions as an impediment to progress and a reason why the country remained poor. So they set about destroying the entwined belief system of Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism, and replaced it with the new trinity of Lenin, Marx and Mao. Only by doing so, they believed, could China be saved.

When Mao died in 1976, belief in communism began to erode. Now, four decades on, his successors have found the absence of a belief system to be a problem. At least in Europe, the ebb of the Christian tide left a deeply rooted rule of law and a compassionate welfare state. Shorn of Dao and Mao, modern China has been left with a corrupt party state and a brutal, wild west capitalism. In a recent poll 88% of people said they believed that there was a moral decay and a lack of trust in…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC A resurgence of religious faith is changing China

Classical music, made easy

(K. Brent Tomer),

Language of the Spirit: An Introduction to Classical Music. By Jan Swafford.Basic; 321 pages; $28. 

JAN SWAFFORD’S new book, “Language of the Spirit”, is a self-guided tour. “When a piece [of music] or a composer grabs you, go out and look for more on your own,” he says. And he has plenty of suggestions to get you started on streaming services such as Spotify or YouTube.

The “classical” genre on Spotify comes some way down the list, and classical buffs have been fretting for ages that audiences are getting greyer and smaller. Even so, many people have at least a passing acquaintance with some of the superstars of the classical repertoire: Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, say, or Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik”, or Handel’s “Messiah”. If that has made them wonder how to put these works into context, this introduction to classical music is just what they need.

Mr Swafford is a music writer (who, among other things, has written a scholarly but highly readable biography of Beethoven) as well as a composer, and has been teaching music for decades, most recently at the Boston Conservatory. This book…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Classical music, made easy