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Recommendations for 03/03/2012

Text-heavy selection this time around. I guess it has been that kind of week (whatever that means).
Article: “Fail Worse” by Ned Beaumann
The author of my favorite book of last year discusses the appropriation of the phrase “fail better,” from Samuel Beckett, by the self-help/self-affirmation/tips-and-tricks-to-make-anything-easy/don’t-worry-you’re-awesome industry, which of course has taken the phrase out of context, stripping away not so much the substance but the FEELING:  “Watching a liturgy from such a gloomy and merciless author getting repurposed to cheer up mid-level executives is like watching a neighbour clear out their gutters with a stick they found in the garden, not realizing the stick is in fact a human shinbone.”
Article: “College at Risk” by Andrew Delbanco
A smart and important defense of liberal arts education, as well as an analysis of why it is increasingly endangered. The tendency to treat education as a market exchange, in which students trade money for information/credentials– a tendency which can only get worse as college gets more and more expensive– pushes both students and schools away from the liberal arts model, on the one hand, and loses the benefits of that model– specifically, its recognition that the most important benefit of education is not knowledge, but the ability to make use of what one knows effectively. (I have written about this here, making some similar points).
Article: “Those Fabulous Confabs” by Benjamin Wallace
Totally fascinating piece about the TED conference, its few predecessors, and the MANY similar conferences and fora it has inspired. Noting that this kind of big-idea, interdisciplinary, “free thinking” event has become a massive global trend, Wallace asks, but does not really answer the question: “What happens when the idea of ideas worth spreading gets spread thin? What happens when the concept of innovation itself becomes stale?”
That is indeed something to think about, but more interesting here, at least for me, is the history of TED itself.
Infographics: The 2011 VIDA Count
VIDA, and organization founded to monitor the status of writing by women and to try to improve that status, looks at the number of articles and book reviews– as well as books reviewed– written by women in a number of the big news and literary periodicals. The findings are not encouraging– though of course, as my friend Zach Gebhardt pointed out to me, this doesn’t tell us anything about the relative prominence of any given piece (i.e, if there are fewer articles over all by women, but they always get the cover story, that is a different situation). Among other things. 
Song: “The Beat and the Pulse (M. Shawn Crahan [Clown from Slipknot] Motion Remix)” by Austra
A member of Slipknot remixes Austra, and it’s…kind of great. What is going on?

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