Sunday, February 28, 2010

Archeological Discovery in Turkey Forces Rethinking of Human History


History in the Remaking
A temple complex in Turkey that predates even the pyramids is rewriting the story of human evolution.

By Patrick Symmes | NEWSWEEK

Published Feb 19, 2010

From the magazine issue dated Mar 1, 2010

They call it potbelly hill, after the soft, round contour of this final lookout in southeastern Turkey. To the north are forested mountains. East of the hill lies the biblical plain of Harran, and to the south is the Syrian border, visible 20 miles away, pointing toward the ancient lands of Mesopotamia and the Fertile Crescent, the region that gave rise to human civilization. And under our feet, according to archeologist Klaus Schmidt, are the stones that mark the spot—the exact spot—where humans began that ascent.

Standing on the hill at dawn, overseeing a team of 40 Kurdish diggers, the German-born archeologist waves a hand over his discovery here, a revolution in the story of human origins. Schmidt has uncovered a vast and beautiful temple complex, a structure so ancient that it may be the very first thing human beings ever built. The site isn't just old, it redefines old: the temple was built 11,500 years ago—a staggering 7,000 years before the Great Pyramid, and more than 6,000 years before Stonehenge first took shape. The ruins are so early that they predate villages, pottery, domesticated animals, and even agriculture—the first embers of civilization. In fact, Schmidt thinks the temple itself, built after the end of the last Ice Age by hunter-gatherers, became that ember—the spark that launched mankind toward farming, urban life, and all that followed.

Göbekli Tepe—the name in Turkish for "potbelly hill"—lays art and religion squarely at the start of that journey. After a dozen years of patient work, Schmidt has uncovered what he thinks is definitive proof that a huge ceremonial site flourished here, a "Rome of the Ice Age," as he puts it, where hunter-gatherers met to build a complex religious community. Across the hill, he has found carved and polished circles of stone, with terrazzo flooring and double benches. All the circles feature massive T-shaped pillars that evoke the monoliths of Easter Island.

Though not as large as Stonehenge—the biggest circle is 30 yards across, the tallest pillars 17 feet high—the ruins are astonishing in number. Last year Schmidt found his third and fourth examples of the temples. Ground-penetrating radar indicates that another 15 to 20 such monumental ruins lie under the surface. Schmidt's German-Turkish team has also uncovered some 50 of the huge pillars, including two found in his most recent dig season that are not just the biggest yet, but, according to carbon dating, are the oldest monumental artworks in the world.

The new discoveries are finally beginning to reshape the slow-moving consensus of archeology. Göbekli Tepe is "unbelievably big and amazing, at a ridiculously early date," according to Ian Hodder, director of Stanford's archeology program. Enthusing over the "huge great stones and fantastic, highly refined art" at Göbekli, Hodder—who has spent decades on rival Neolithic sites—says: "Many people think that it changes everything…It overturns the whole apple cart. All our theories were wrong."

Schmidt's thesis is simple and bold: it was the urge to worship that brought mankind together in the very first urban conglomerations. The need to build and maintain this temple, he says, drove the builders to seek stable food sources, like grains and animals that could be domesticated, and then to settle down to guard their new way of life. The temple begat the city.

This theory reverses a standard chronology of human origins, in which primitive man went through a "Neolithic revolution" 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. In the old model, shepherds and farmers appeared first, and then created pottery, villages, cities, specialized labor, kings, writing, art, and—somewhere on the way to the airplane—organized religion. As far back as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, thinkers have argued that the social compact of cities came first, and only then the "high" religions with their great temples, a paradigm still taught in American high schools.

Religion now appears so early in civilized life—earlier than civilized life, if Schmidt is correct—that some think it may be less a product of culture than a cause of it, less a revelation than a genetic inheritance. The archeologist Jacques Cauvin once posited that "the beginning of the gods was the beginning of agriculture," and Göbekli may prove his case.

Read the entire article HERE.

Mashup Hall of Fame Part 1

Posting the Avatar/Pocahontas mashup reminded me of a couple of great mashups, so I thought I would throw them out there even though they are old. The first one is not safe for work due to the song lyrics, but it is clever on so many levels. I forwarded this to Andrew Sullivan as he was posting things about the Kirk/Spock "bromance" of the original Star Trek, and he posted it as this mashup takes it to a higher level. It is a play on the Star Trek episode where Spock begins to lose control of his emotions because he is entering a mating cycle. The enterprise tries to return to the planet Vulcan in time for Spock to take part of the ritual before he loses his mind and all control. The fan who created this threw in a couple of seconds of porn and remixed it to Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" with video effects and it is brilliant.

This more professional trailer mashup was also great, combining Ten Things I Hate About You with The Ten Commandments:

Avatar/Pocahontas Mashup Trailer

I finally got around to seeing Avatar in 3-D Imax, which was pretty damned impressive. Though the plotline was well worn and the Pocahontas and Dances With Wolves parallels have been noted, it was a very tightly paced, gorgeous, and otherwise imaginative. As luck would have it, we finally got around to showing the kids Pocahontas a couple of months ago (we had been putting it off because we feared the worst in terms of Disney deformation, but it wasn't nearly as bad as we thought it would be). So this mashup is well timed for me, and well done:

CFV 426 - Avatar/Pocahontas Mashup FINAL VERSION from Randy Szuch on Vimeo.

Triumph of the Cyborg Composer (David Cope's Computer)

From Miller-McCune [original has Quicktime files and images]

Triumph of the Cyborg Composer

David Cope’s software creates beautiful, original music. Why are people so angry about that?

By: Ryan Blitstein
0:00 / 0:00DownloadRight-click and save as to download.
| February 22, 2010 | 05:00 AM (PDT)

The office looks like the aftermath of a surrealistic earthquake, as if David Cope’s brain has spewed out decades of memories all over the carpet, the door, the walls, even the ceiling. Books and papers, music scores and magazines are all strewn about in ragged piles. A semi-functional Apple Power Mac 7500 (discontinued April 1, 1996) sits in the corner, its lemon-lime monitor buzzing. Drawings filled with concepts for a never-constructed musical-radio-space telescope dominate half of one wall. Russian dolls and an exercise bike, not to mention random pieces from homemade board games, peek out from the intellectual rubble. Above, something like 200 sets of wind chimes from around the world hang, ringing oddly congruent melodies.

And in the center, the old University of California, Santa Cruz, emeritus professor reclines in his desk chair, black socks pulled up over his pants cuffs, a thin mustache and thick beard lending him the look of an Amish grandfather. It was here, half a dozen years ago, that Cope put Emmy to sleep. She was just a software program, a jumble of code he’d originally dubbed Experiments in Musical Intelligence (EMI, hence “Emmy”). Still — though Cope struggles not to anthropomorphize her — he speaks of Emmy wistfully, as if she were a deceased child.

Emmy was once the world’s most advanced artificially intelligent composer, and because he’d managed to breathe a sort of life into her, he became a modern-day musical Dr. Frankenstein. She produced thousands of scores in the style of classical heavyweights, scores so impressive that classical music scholars failed to identify them as computer-created. Cope attracted praise from musicians and computer scientists, but his creation raised troubling questions: If a machine could write a Mozart sonata every bit as good as the originals, then what was so special about Mozart? And was there really any soul behind the great works, or were Beethoven and his ilk just clever mathematical manipulators of notes?

Cope’s answers — not much, and yes — made some people very angry. He was so often criticized for these views that colleagues nicknamed him “The Tin Man,” after the Wizard of Oz character without a heart. For a time, such condemnation fueled his creativity, but eventually, after years of hemming and hawing, Cope dragged Emmy into the trash folder.

This month, he is scheduled to unveil the results of a successor effort that’s already generating the controversy and high expectations that Emmy once drew. Dubbed “Emily Howell,” the daughter program aims to do what many said Emmy couldn’t: create original, modern music. Its compositions are innovative, unique and — according to some in the small community of listeners who’ve heard them performed live — superb.

With Emily Howell, Cope is, once again, challenging the assumptions of artists and philosophers, exposing revered composers as unknowing plagiarists and opening the door to a world of creative machines good enough to compete with human artists. But even Cope still wonders whether his decades of innovative, thought-provoking research have brought him any closer to his ultimate goal: composing an immortal, life-changing piece of music.

Read the full article and listen to sound files HERE.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Calling Out Sting for his Performance in Uzbekistan

Sting in the pay of tyrannical Uzbekistan regime

Sting accepted more than £1m to play for the Uzbek dictator's daughter, reports Marina Hyde

Sting with Gulnara Karimova at a fashion show in Uzbekistan. Photograph: Getty

From the Lost in showbiz blog of the Guardian.

Once again we must ponder the question "how much money is enough?", inspired by reports that Sting accepted between £1m and £2m to perform for the glory of the brutal despotic regime in Uzbekistan.

The services of Sting - whose personal fortune is estimated well north of £150m - were engaged by Gulnara Karimova, the daughter and anointed heir of dictator Islam Karimov. To explore Islam Karimov's human rights record in full would take too long: suffice to say he is condemned approximately every 10 minutes by organisations from the UN to Amnesty, accused of such delights as boiling his enemies, slaughtering his poverty-stricken people when they protest, and conscripting armies of children for slave labour. Oh, and the Aral Sea on which his country sits - once the world's fourth biggest lake - has lost 80% of its volume, partly as a result of Karimov siphoning it off to intensively irrigate his remote desert cotton fields.

Whether he is a perfect fit for self-styled eco-warrior and humanitarian Sting is a matter for you to decide: what is beyond dispute is that in October, the former Police frontman agreed to travel to Tashkent and effectively headline Gulnara Karimova's alleged arts festival.

Unfortunately, people have now found out about the jaunt, and so many of them have misunderstood the reasoning behind it as financially motivated that Sting has been forced to issue a statement.

"I played in Uzbekistan a few months ago," he begins. "The concert was organized by the president's daughter and I believe sponsored by Unicef."

You can believe it all you like, Sting, but it's absolute cobblers - Lost in Showbiz has checked it out with Unicef, who tactfully describe themselves as "quite surprised" by your claim.

"I supported wholeheartedly the cultural boycott of South Africa under the apartheid regime," Sting continues, in response to those who wonder why he did not refuse the invitation, "because it was a special case and specifically targeted the younger demographic of the ruling white middle class."

Chop-logic, sir! But go on.

"I am well aware of the Uzbek president's appalling reputation in the field of human rights as well as the environment. I made the decision to play there in spite of that. I have come to believe that cultural boycotts are not only pointless gestures, they are counter-productive, where proscribed states are further robbed of the open commerce of ideas and art and as a result become even more closed, paranoid and insular."

Mm. Even if you accept Sting's live performances as "ideas and art", you can't really help but question this notion of "open commerce", considering the tickets for his concert cost more than 45 times the average monthly salary in Uzbekistan. 45 times! As for his distaste for the regime, the picture above shows Sting being repulsed by it all at a fashion show during the "cultural" week, which also seems to have served as a vehicle for promoting Gulnara Karimova's jewellery range for stratospherically expensive Swiss firm Chopard. She's the one sitting right next to him.

"I seriously doubt whether the President of Uzbekistan cares in the slightest whether artists like myself come to play in his country," concludes Sting. "He is hermetically sealed in his own medieval, tyrannical mindset."

You will note that Sting conspicuously declines to deflect the heat by stating that he donated all or indeed any of his monstrous fee to charity. And I could go on - but at this point it feels right to hand over to former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray.

"This really is transparent bollocks," observes Murray on his blog. "He did not take a guitar and jam around the parks of Tashkent. He got paid over a million pounds to play an event specifically designed to glorify a barbarous regime. Is the man completely mad?

"Why does he think it was worth over a million quid to the regime to hear him warble a few notes?

"I agree with him that cultural isolation does not help. I am often asked about the morality of going to Uzbekistan, and I always answer - go, mix with ordinary people, tell them about other ways of life, avoid state owned establishments and official tours. What Sting did was the opposite. To invoke Unicef as a cover, sat next to a woman who has made hundreds of millions from state forced child labour in the cotton fields, is pretty sick."

Well quite. And yet, to misquote his worship, I seriously doubt whether Sting cares in the slightest whether shmucks like Craig and us question his probity. He is hermetically sealed in his own self-righteous mindset.

Still, him accepting a wedge from despots, Trudie making films for Tesco - it must be said that the House of Sumner has moved into a most intriguing era of late, and we shall redouble the focus on its activities.

Shopping Shame as NCAA Tournement Bracket

hat tip to The Daily Dish

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Buena Vista: Cuban band or brand?

Of course, it's both: quality nostalgia guaranteed. During a recent trip to Cuba I walked through Old Havana and heard the song "Chan Chan" three times in a during a walk, one version fading from a cafe while another one, at a different point in the song, swelled up in volume.

Buena Vista: Cuban band or brand?

By Michael Voss
BBC News, Havana

Sunday night in Old Havana and dozens of tourists pack into a club on a corner of the colonial Plaza Vieja to hear the sounds of the Buena Vista Social Club.

Leading the night's entertainment is 67-year-old "sonero" Felix Baloy and his big band. Looking dapper in his white suit and white fedora hat, he produces a pulsating evening of traditional rhythms and songs.

Felix Baloy sang on several of the early Buena Vista albums and can now use the name on his billboards. The original band has turned into a brand.

"Buena Vista Social Club has transformed into several bands, including mine," he said.

"I play traditional Cuban music and will continue doing so until the day I die."

'Sound of Cuba'

For many around the world, Buena Vista is the sound that defines Cuban music.

“ Members of the band may change because some have passed away, but the spirit lives on ”
Omara Portuondo Original Buena Vista singer

You can hear songs like Chan Chan played on almost every street corner in the tourist centre of Old Havana.

Yet in Cuba, these are considered "golden oldies". At home, Buena Vista must compete with everything from salsa to reggaeton and the folk ballads of revolutionary idols like Silvio Rodriguez.

"This is such a musical country with so many different rhythms; young people have gone their own way," Mr Baloy says.

"You still hear it here, but for the rest of the world, Buena Vista remains the sound of Cuba."

The original Buena Vista Social Club was a loose collective of ageing musicians brought together by the American guitarist Ry Cooder in 1997, in a bid to re-discover the music of Cuba's pre-revolutionary past.

Since then many of those who shot to stardom in the award-winning film have died, including pianist Ruben Gonzalez and the singer Ibrahim Ferrer.

New generation

It is Ibrahim Ferrer's former band which has taken over the official mantle and today tours the world with a mix of old and new faces, under the name Orquestra Buena Vista Social Club.

Apart from an occasional concert in the beachfront hotel resort of Varadero, the band almost never performs at home.

'Trade mark'

Buena Vista has turned into a project rather than a band.

"It's been converted into a trade mark. A lot of the well-known figures who were in Buena Vista have developed their own bands; that's where the spirit of Buena Vista lies," said Mr Valdes.

Today, this 63-year-old drummer still lives in the same modest Havana apartment in which he grew up.

On the walls of his tiny living room are framed gold disks, along with a fading black-and-white photograph of his father - a clarinettist in an early Cuban big band.

There is also a glamorous colour photo of his daughter, Idania, who has taken over as the lead female singer touring the world with the Orquestra Buena Vista Social Club. She was just 20 when she joined it.

"It was a little unnerving at first, especially stepping in for such a famous name," she admits.

Cuban diva

Omara Portuondo is one of the only original Buena Vista superstars who remains hugely popular at home.

The 79-year-old diva is regularly invited to perform at major cultural and political events.

At a recent Alba summit of left-wing Latin American leaders, the closing ceremony saw Omara singing her way across the platform; Venezuela's Hugo Chavez blew her kisses, Cuba's President Raul Castro reached out and kissed her hand.

She was also the first Cuban musician to be granted a visa to perform in the United States after President Barack Obama ended restrictions on cultural exchanges.

Her most recent album won a Latin Grammy, which she was able to collect in person at the award ceremony in Las Vegas.

Her repertoire has expanded beyond the classic Buena Vista sounds but the band and the music, she believes, will always live on.

"This type of music will always be with us. It's still the Buena Vista sound; members of the band may change because some have passed away but the spirit lives on."

Read the complete story HERE.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Slate defends Lindsey Vonn's bikini photo shoot vis-a-vis the preferred olympic beauties (figure skaters)

Interesting article in SLATE comparing Olympic ski champion Lindsey Vonn's bikini photo shoot for Sports Illustrated to the usual female athlete darlings of the olympics: figure skaters. This was written before Vonn's breathtaking victory in the downhill, as was this good background story in the NYT.

five-ring circus
Bunny Slope
Think Lindsey Vonn's bikini photos are exploitative? At least she's not an ice princess in a short skirt.
By Hanna Rosin
Posted Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010, at 12:24 PM ET

It's safe to say that Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn, who's scheduled to make her Vancouver debut on Wednesday, has upped her male viewership with her extensive spread in Sports Illustrated's latest swimsuit issue. [Update, Feb. 17: In her first race of the Winter Games, Vonn took the gold medal in the women's downhill.] In the 45 photos posted on, Vonn offers up the fantasy of Vail mistress by vamping her way through all the bikini clichés: bikini in the snow, bikini in bed, bikini next to big whirring machine, bikini (whoops!) slipping down, bikini in the sauna, legs slightly spread, etc. It's appalling, really, that the poster girl for the U.S. Olympics team, a woman whose promise is compared to Michael Phelps', should behave for all the world like a Playboy bunny. Or at least it's appalling until we consider the alternative for a female Winter Olympian: a role as a pixie whose notion of sexy involves sparkly outfits and blue eye shadow.

For the last few Winter Games the figure skaters have served as the darlings of American Olympics coverage. In the last decade, much of the publicity has gone to Michelle Kwan, who attended her first Olympics at the vulnerable age of 13. During the mid-1990s, Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan sucked up all the attention with their on the rink, off the rink hysterical dramas. Watching pairs skating these last few nights has reminded me of what the figure skating narrative is all about: tender young fawns gliding to maudlin music, getting thrown around, and landing on frail ankles. The vibe is more Virgin Suicides than professional sports and is thus, from the teach-your-daughters point of view, problematic.

This year, for various reasons, the United States does not have a figure skating star who has captured the media's heart. The Japanese and South Koreans dominate the competition, with the Chinese and Russians not far behind. Instead, the American media have settled for Vonn, a 25-year-old hearty blonde whose legs—in the nonbikini photo shoots—look like they could easily shove a truck down a hill. Vonn, too, has shown some vulnerability in her pre-Olympics media opportunities. She went on the Today show last week to confess she had a "deep muscle bruise" that made it difficult even to put on her ski boot. But this was not the bury-your-head-in-your-partner's-chest-and–manage-a-brave-smile operatic vulnerability that the skaters are so good at. Instead, it was the kind of honest emotionalism you might hear from professional football players if they were free to talk about their injuries. The end result was just to increase the legend of Vonn as a tough broad who will ski through any amount of pain. (She has since said she is OK to compete.)

No doubt, female figure skaters train with just as much grit and determination as skiers. But the Olympics—particularly the Olympics as covered by network television—allows for a limited number of tropes, and the one assigned to skiers (female gladiator) is far preferable to the one assigned to skaters (tragic nymph). Feminist academics have long agonized over what little girls learn by idolizing figure skaters, as Ellyn Kestnbaum explains in Culture on Ice: Figure Skating and Cultural Meaning. The sport, they argue, rates femininity over talent, so Harding lost to Kerrigan, and then Kerrigan succumbed to the daintier Oksana Baiul. They are weepy heroines, trapped in a fairy tale—ice princesses spinning for gold. They dress like music box ballerinas, in outfits that suggest both prude and tart. Skating rules forbid bare midriffs and require "skirts and pants covering the hips and posterior." Skaters have played with this rule by interpreting "pants" as nude tights and by wearing skirts that cover the posterior when the skater is standing still but fly up when they jump.


There have been other Olympians in the Lindsey Vonn mold. Picabo Street, a friend of Vonn's, won a gold medal in the 1998 Winter Olympics. Speed skater Bonnie Blair is tied with Apolo Ohno as the American with the most medals in the Winter Olympics. Hannah Kearney, who won the gold in moguls this week, seemed deeply appealing, showing up for her post-race interview swinging her sneakers. But their fame does not tend to stick. The skaters hog all the glory, performing in shows, appearing in commercials into a ripe old age. Dorothy Hamill is still a household name and was just hired by Vaseline to shill their new face cream. Bonnie Blair, despite her record, is mostly unknown. Street is retired and raising her children.


One of the reasons skaters have enduring appeal is that they get to show their bodies. The camera lingers on their theatrical expressions, their arched backs, their perfect calves. We watch them as they wait to receive their scores, smiling and weeping on camera for minutes on end. Skiers, meanwhile, charge down the mountain so fast you can barely see them. They're also covered up from head to toe, with even their expressions hidden behind goggles. Unless NBC makes her the subject of a soft-focus feature, you might not get to see a skier's face until she's standing at the podium receiving her medal. For those still offended by Vonn's photo shoot, think of it this way: By posing in a bikini, she has just evened the playing field.

Read the whole story (plus discussion and lots of links) HERE.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Joseph Kwame Degbor (1953-2010)

I am saddened to pass on information from John Gabriel, Executive Director for the Center for World Music, that the talented Ghanaian performer/educator Joseph Kwame Degbor passed away in Accra, Ghana on Monday, February 22, following a sudden two-week illness. 

Joseph Kwame Degbor was born on November 11, 1953 in the village Botoku in the Kpando District of the Volta Region of Ghana, West Africa. His father, Paul Kwame Degbor, was a village chief. As a large collection of drums existed in his father's palace, Kwame grew up surrounded by drums and quickly demonstrated a prodigious ability for drumming. By six years of age he began competing with elderly drummers on the talking drums, Borborbor, Zigi, Agbadza, Asafo, and Adowa. In middle school Kwame became the leader of the school's Cultural Troupe, and at the Training College, he emerged as a talented dancer and singer. After training as a teacher, he focused more on dance and created a dance group in Agate village, where the Arts Council of Ghana was impressed with his abilities and appointed him as a representative for the Hohoe and Kpando Districts in 1982. Kwame also became an integral part of the Centre for National Culture beginning in 1982. In 1999 he graduated from the University of Ghana, Legon with a major in Theatre Arts (Dance). After completing his degree, Kwame returned to the Centre for National Culture in Ho and continued training various traditional performance groups in the region. At the Centre for National Culture, Kwame was put in charge of Performing Arts, becoming Director of Programme, Artistic Director of the Centre's Folkloric Company, and Acting Deputy Director for the Centre. Respected for his vast knowledge of folk performing arts, Kwame traveled outside the Volta Region to teach and evaluate dances in other parts of the country.

Between 1992 and 2005 he assisted with the San Diego State University Summer Workshops in Ghana. In 2004 he was invited to San Diego by the Center for World Music to be an Artist-Teacher in Residence. He served as a lecturer at San Diego State University and University of California, San Diego, and as an artist-teacher he taught and performed at California State University, San Marcos and at numerous junior colleges and public schools. He also acted as Artistic Director of San Diego-based drum and dance troupe Ho-Asogli, and as a drummer, storyteller, and especially as a phenomenally graceful dancer, introduced thousands of San Diegans to the beauty of West African Arts. Kwame was preparing to travel to San Diego when he became ill. Kwame is survived by two wives, four sons, and two daughters.

The Center for World Music will organize a memorial service for Kwame in San Diego; information will be forthcoming when available.

See also this newer post with link to an interview with Kwame.

* This post was updated to correct the number of children Kwame had.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Research confirms brain link for words, music


Research confirms brain link for words, music
Intensive musical therapy may help improve speech in stroke patients
By Randolph E. Schmid
The Associated Press
updated 8:40 p.m. PT, Sat., Feb. 20, 2010

SAN DIEGO - Words and music, such natural partners that it seems obvious they go together. Now science is confirming that those abilities are linked in the brain, a finding that might even lead to better stroke treatments.

Studies have found overlap in the brain's processing of language and instrumental music, and new research suggests that intensive musical therapy may help improve speech in stroke patients, researchers said Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In addition, researchers said, music education can help children with developmental dyslexia or autism more accurately use speech.

People who have suffered a severe stroke on the left side of the brain and cannot speak can sometimes learn to communicate through singing, Gottfried Schlaug, associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School told the meeting.

"Music making is a multisensory experience, activating links to several parts of the brain," Schlaug said.

Schlaug showed a video of one patient who could only make meaningless sounds learning to say "I am thirsty," by singing the words, and another was able to sing "happy birthday."


Nina Kraus, director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University, reported that new studies show that musical training enhances the brain's ability to do other things.

For example, she said, the trained brain gets better at detecting patterns in sounds, so that musicians are better at picking out the voice of a friend in a noisy restaurant.

"Musical experience improves abilities important in daily life," she said. "Playing an instrument may help youngsters better process speech in noisy classrooms and more accurately interpret the nuances of language that are conveyed by subtle changes in the human voice," Kraus said.

When people first learn to talk and when they talk to babies they often use musical patterns in their speech, she noted.

"People's hearing systems are fine-tuned by the experiences they've had with sound throughout their lives. Music training is not only beneficial for processing music stimuli. We've found that years of music training may also improve how sounds are processed for language and emotion," Kraus said in prepared remarks.


Read the full story HERE.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

On Crete, New Evidence of Very Ancient Mariners


February 16, 2010
On Crete, New Evidence of Very Ancient Mariners

Early humans, possibly even prehuman ancestors, appear to have been going to sea much longer than anyone had ever suspected.

That is the startling implication of discoveries made the last two summers on the Greek island of Crete. Stone tools found there, archaeologists say, are at least 130,000 years old, which is considered strong evidence for the earliest known seafaring in the Mediterranean and cause for rethinking the maritime capabilities of prehuman cultures.

Crete has been an island for more than five million years, meaning that the toolmakers must have arrived by boat. So this seems to push the history of Mediterranean voyaging back more than 100,000 years, specialists in Stone Age archaeology say. Previous artifact discoveries had shown people reaching Cyprus, a few other Greek islands and possibly Sardinia no earlier than 10,000 to 12,000 years ago.

The oldest established early marine travel anywhere was the sea-crossing migration of anatomically modern Homo sapiens to Australia, beginning about 60,000 years ago. There is also a suggestive trickle of evidence, notably the skeletons and artifacts on the Indonesian island of Flores, of more ancient hominids making their way by water to new habitats.

Even more intriguing, the archaeologists who found the tools on Crete noted that the style of the hand axes suggested that they could be up to 700,000 years old. That may be a stretch, they conceded, but the tools resemble artifacts from the stone technology known as Acheulean, which originated with prehuman populations in Africa.

Read the full story (plus images) HERE.

Carnival 2010 photos posts 39 dazzling photos from Carnival celebrations in Europe and the Americas (h/t The Daily Dish).

And MSNBC has another bunch of photos.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Defaced Currency

"Ninja dollar"

Suggested by a commenter, here is a link to a page containing 30 examples of artistically defaced monetary currency hosted by Money Mumbo Jumbo. I posted an earlier link of defaced currency in October here; there are a few overlaps with this post, but not many.

Jesus Walks on Water in La jolla

True story, though unfortunately it was witnessed by my wife and not me. She took the kids to the beach, and they were splashing around in the shallow surf at La Jolla Shores, which is somewhat protected and therefore generally has smaller waves than the rest of the beaches in San Diego. Because the surf is gentle, it is also popular as an entry location for scuba divers, kayakers, and occasionally paddle surfers, who don't surf the waves but paddle in open sea while standing atop a surfboard. Well, my kids and a friend are playing in knee-deep surf, and a bunch of other young kids are also around nearby when suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a bearded man appears to be standing on the water, just past the breakers. They probably couldn't see his feet due to their short height and the surf, but to some of them he appeared to be just standing there, standing on top of the water, slowly, magically gliding northward. One of the kids in the big group next to my kids pointed at the man and screamed, "Jesus! Look! It's Jesus!" And then, according to my wife, the whole group of his friend began jumping up and down screaming, "Jesus! Jesus!" It must have been quite a scene!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Pink's Epic 2010 Grammy Awards Performance

video below

I'm over a week late on this, but I've been busy. Before I forget, I just wanted to comment briefly on Pink's performance of her song "Glitter In the Air" at last week's Grammy Awards show. It's early in the decade, but Pink's performance, from her current Funhouse tour, was breathtaking. There are sometimes some really epic revelatory performances that artists pull off on big broadcasts, and this one goes on the list. The staging was really incredible. VH-1 has recently broadcast the tour from Australia, so you might be able to catch more of her amazing staging.

The Onion Nails NASA geeks

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Friday, February 05, 2010

Ukranian Kseniya Simonova's Sand Drawings

A well deserved viral video for Ukranian Kseniya Simonova's amazing and dramatic sand drawing art:

Tuesday, February 02, 2010