Metallica and Philosophy

by Harry on July 21, 2005

I only just found this call for papers for a volume on Metallica and Philosophy. It says:

Possible themes and topics might include, but are not limited to, the following: Search for Meaning—“Frantic” and “Through the Never”; Nuclear Fear and Politics—“Fight Fire with Fire” and “Blackened”; Capital Punishment—“Ride the Lightning”; Politics, Economics, and Ethics—“…And Justice for All” and “Some Kind of Monster”; The Problem of Evil—“Creeping Death”; Alcoholica: Free Will and Addiction—“Master of Puppets” and “Fixxer”; Appearance and Reality—“Enter Sandman” and “Escape”; Foucault and Metallica on Madness and Insanity—“Sanitarium” and “The Frayed Ends of Sanity”; Truth—“Eye of the Beholder”; Hypocrisy and Inauthenticity—“Leper Messiah” and “Holier Than Thou”; Hume and Augustine on Moral Motivations and Inordinate Desire—“Sad But True,” “The Unnamed Feeling,” and “Master of Puppets”; Emotion: Love and Anger—“The Struggle Within” and “St. Anger”; Heidegger’s Being-toward-death—“Fade to Black” and “The Four Horsemen”; War—“Disposable Heroes” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls”; Sorrow, Redemption, and Forgiveness—“No Remorse,” “Harvester of Sorrow,” and “The Unforgiven”; Violence—“Seek & Destroy” and “All Within My Hands”; Masculinity and Warrior Virtues—“Metal Militia,” “Don’t Tread on Me,” and “Shoot Me Again”; Existentialism—“Wherever I May Roam,” “Nothing Else Matters,” and “My World”; Selling-Out, Commercialism and Marxism: Why did Metallica start making videos?; Napster and Intellectual Property; Group Identity and Personal Identity: Are the group members the same persons they were 20 years ago? Is it the same group it was 20 years ago, given the changes the members have undergone and given the changes in bass players?

I thoroughly approve of the Pop Culture and Philosophy series, but would have to rule myself out of this one. NWBHM and Philosophy, maybe. Thin Lizzy and Philosophy, almost certainly. Loudon Wainwright III and Philosophy, no question… oh, sorry, that was popular culture and Philosophy. Maybe Rufus, then.

Unfortunately the deadline for abstracts was July 1st, but I would bet you anything that the editors would still consider an abstract from an eminent philosopher like Brian.

A Princess of Roumania

by Henry Farrell on July 21, 2005

I’ve just finished reading Paul Park’s “A Princess of Roumania”: (warning: mild spoilers ahead). The book deserves to become a modern classic; it’s as good and as serious as the first two books of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials.” I’ve been an admirer of Park’s novels for a long time. His previous books are wonderful, but there’s a clear progression from the gorgeous, baroque, but slightly undisciplined prose of his first book, _Soldiers of Paradise_ and its somewhat inferior sequels, through _Celestis_ to _Three Marys_ which is written in language as plain and lovely as a stone. “A Princess of Roumania” is better again – strange images rendered more striking by the very matter-of-factness with which they are described. His first novel for young adults, it takes a standard plot – a girl and her companions catapulted into a strange new world of magic and enchantment – and does unexpected things with it. John Holbo has just written a “post”: on the Valve about novels in which the characters come to realize that they are inhabiting a fictional world, in which “the laws of the universe are the laws of genre.” Much of the power of _A Princess_ comes from its _refusal_ of the cosiness that this all too often implies.

bq. “We’re not going home,” she said. The flatness, the sureness in her own voice surprised her. And it wasn’t true – she’d read a lot of books like this, where the girl wakes up and she’s a beautiful princess in another world. But she always goes back again. She always goes home. “We’re not going home,” she heard herself repeat.

I’ve a theory, which I suspect is hardly original to me, that the magic in really good children’s fantasy draws its resonance from a child’s perception of what it must be like to be grown up. When you’re a child or a pre-adolescent, the adult world seems an attractive and terrifying place. Adults have power, but are driven by forces and desires that a child can only dimly understand; wild magic. Thus, for example, when Susan rides with the daughters of the moon and the Wild Hunt in Alan Garner’s _The Moon of Gomrath_, she’s glimpsing for a moment what it will be like to be a woman. In contrast, the magic in mediocre children’s fantasy is all too often domesticated, rationalized, and stripped of its real force. _A Princess of Roumania_ seems to me to be an oblique rejoinder to the kind of children’s fantasy in which magic is under control, in which the child goes home. There’s no returning for Miranda Popescu; her entire world (our world) turns out to be an elaborate fiction, a shelter from reality that quite literally disappears in a puff of smoke. She and her friends are propelled, only half grown-up into the world of adulthood, of complex responsibilities and obligations. A world where magic exists, but isn’t really understood, where adults lay complicated plans, but don’t know what they’re doing most of the time. In most fantasy, the hero or heroine is fulfilling a plot, a prophecy, a pre-ordained destiny – at the pivotal moment in _A Princess_, Miranda refuses the path that has been laid out for her, and the power of adults to decide what to do with her life, instead deciding herself. All this, and the Baroness Nicola Ceausescu, perhaps the most wonderfully described, and _sympathetic_ villainess that I’ve ever seen in a YA book. I can’t say more than to reiterate that the book is a delight.

People’s Web-savvy (or lack thereof)

by Eszter Hargittai on July 21, 2005

Do you know what RSS means? If you do then you are more savvy than the majority of American Internet users.

The latest memo from the Pew Internet and American Life Project examines an important topic: people’s awareness of Internet terms. In a survey administered to Internet users across the U.S. the researchers found that only 9% of users have a good idea of what the term “RSS feeds” means while 26% claimed never to have heard of it. “Podcasting” is the other term with least recognition as 23% had never heard of it and only 13% claim to know what it is. Of concern from a privacy/security perspective is that only 29% have a good idea of what “phishing” means, 52% for “Adware”, 68% for “Internet cookies” and 78% for “Spyware”.

Not surprisingly, familiarity with the terms is related to age, but even among the youngest, most connected group (18-29 year olds) only 12% claim to understand “RSS feeds” and “podcasting” (as compared to 5% of those 65 and above).

Regular readers of CT may recall that all of this is close to my interests as an important aspect of my work is looking at people’s Internet skills. My paper examining proxy measures of actual skill is coming out this Fall. (I’ve mentioned it here before.) In it I show that the types of knowledge items on which the Pew researchers just collected data are better predictors of people’s actual skill than traditional proxies such as amount of Internet experience or even self-perceived skill (a very common proxy in the literature).

Why does all this matter? First, I think it is helpful to remember what people may or may not know when one is enthusiastically trying to recommend things to them (as I tend to do) or why some people’s machines get overrun with malware (and why some may find it easier to just buy a new computer instead of trying to get the current infected one fixed). Second, as the Web matures (in both good ways – more sophisticated services – and bad ways – more unwanted disruptions) the divide among users will likely increase. This is what I have referred to as the “second-level digital divide“, differences among those already connected (as opposed to the plain old-fashioned “digital divide” that points out the differences between users and non-users).

In addition to being related to age, Internet know-how also tends to be related to education. The Pew report does not break this down for us, but I have found this in previous work (both in my dissertation and in a paper with my graduate student Amanda Hinnant) exploring similar data. (I can point to a conference abstract, but the paper is currently under review so I am not posting a full version.) The point here is that those in already privileged positions (e.g. higher levels of education) tend to be more savvy about the Web and may well benefit from its uses more than those in less privileged positions. This means that instead of leveling the playing field, Internet use may contribute to social inequality.

The Pew memo comes out just as I am putting some finishing touches on a similar survey (although much longer than what they probably had here). Due to budget constraints I will not be administering it on a nationally representative random sample, but still believe the findings should be of interest. There is much more research to be done about what it is that people do and do not understand with respect to their Internet uses.

[Link noticed on digg.]