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On Campuses, Free Music Aplenty and Letters from Lawyers
College students debate illegal file-sharing, while industry takes action
Washington -- Greg Schrank had just returned from spring break when a dark cloud appeared on the horizon. It took the form of a 200-page complaint from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) accusing the Boston University freshman of downloading music illegally over the Internet -- one of thousands of such letters that lawyers for the music industry have sent college students since launching a crackdown against piracy five years ago.
Obama Answers Science Questions Posed to Presidential Candidates
Science Debate 2008 asks about climate change, space program, research
Washington -- If elected president of the United States in November, Barack Obama says he will double basic science research budgets over 10 years, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 and reach out to international partners and the private sector to extend NASA’s range of Earth and space programs.
Obama recently responded to 14 questions posed to him and Republican presidential candidate John McCain by the grassroots group Science Debate 2008, which says it hopes to make key science issues a larger part of the election.
The questions -- on energy policy, national security, economics in a science-driven global economy, climate change, education, health care, ocean health, biosecurity, clean water, space, stem cell research, scientific integrity, genetics and research -- were developed from 3,400 questions submitted by more than 38,000 signers of the Science Debate 2008 initiative. Its supporters are calling for a televised debate by the presidential candidates on science issues.
The United States is one of the most diverse nations in the world. Its dynamic population of about 300 million boasts more than 30 million foreign-born individuals who speak numerous languages and dialects. Some one million new immigrants arrive each year, many from Asia and Latin America.
Literature in the United States today is likewise dazzlingly diverse, exciting, and evolving. New voices have arisen from many quarters, challenging old ideas and adapting literary traditions to suit changing conditions of the national life. Social and economic advances have enabled previously underrepresented groups to express themselves more fully, while technological innovations have created a fast-moving public forum. Reading clubs proliferate, and book fairs, literary festivals, and "poetry slams" (events where youthful poets compete in performing their poetry) attract enthusiastic audiences. Selection of a new work for a book club can launch an unknown writer into the limelight overnight.
On a typical Sunday the list of best-selling books in the New York Times Book Review testifies to the extraordinary diversity of the current American literary scene. In January, 2006, for example, the list of paperback best-sellers included "genre" fiction – steamy romances by Nora Roberts, a new thriller by John Grisham, murder mysteries – alongside nonfiction science books by the anthropologist Jared Diamond, popular sociology by The New Yorker magazine writer Malcolm Gladwell, and accounts of drug rehabilitation and crime. In the last category was a reprint of Truman Capote's groundbreaking In Cold Blood, a 1965 "nonfiction novel" that blurs the distinction between high literature and journalism and had recently been made into a film.
Books by non-American authors and books on international themes were also prominent on the list. Afghan-American Khaled Hosseini's searing novel, The Kite Runner, tells of childhood friends in Kabul separated by the rule of the Taliban, while Azar Nafisi's memoir, Reading Lolita in Teheran, poignantly recalls teaching great works of Western literature to young women in Iran. A third novel, Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha (made into a movie), recounts a Japanese woman's life during World War II.
In addition, the best-seller list reveals the popularity of religious themes. According to Publishers Weekly, 2001 was the first year that Christian-themed books topped the sales lists in both fiction and nonfiction. Among the hardcover best-sellers of that exemplary Sunday in 2006, we find Dan Brown's novel The DaVinci Code and Anne Rice's tale Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.
Beyond the Times' best-seller list, chain bookstores offer separate sections for major religions including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and sometimes Hinduism.
In the Women's Literature section of bookstores one finds works by a "Third Wave" of feminists, a movement that usually refers to young women in their 20s and 30s who have grown up in an era of widely accepted social equality in the United States. Third Wave feminists feel sufficiently empowered to emphasize the individuality of choices women make. Often associated in the popular mind with a return to tradition and child-rearing, lipstick, and "feminine" styles, these young women have reclaimed the word "girl" – some decline to call themselves feminist. What is often called "chick lit" is a flourishing offshoot. Bridget Jones's Diary by the British writer Helen Fielding and Candace Bushnell's Sex and the City featuring urban single women with romance in mind have spawned a popular genre among young women.
Nonfiction writers also examine the phenomenon of post-feminism. The Mommy Myth (2004) by Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels analyzes the role of the media in the "mommy wars," while Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards' lively ManifestA: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future (2000) discusses women's activism in the age of the Internet. Caitlin Flanagan, a magazine writer who calls herself an "anti-feminist," explores conflicts between domestic life and professional life for women. Her 2004 essay in The Atlantic, "How Serfdom Saved the Women's Movement," an account of how professional women depend on immigrant women of a lower class for their childcare, triggered an enormous debate.
It is clear that American literature at the turn of the 21st century has become democratic and heterogeneous. Regionalism has flowered, and international, or "global," writers refract U.S. culture through foreign perspectives. Multiethnic writing continues to mine rich veins, and as each ethnic literature matures, it creates its own traditions. Creative nonfiction and memoir have flourished. The short story genre has gained luster, and the "short" short story has taken root. A new generation of playwrights continues the American tradition of exploring current social issues on stage. There is not space here in this brief survey to do justice to the glittering diversity of American literature today. Instead, one must consider general developments and representative figures.
"Postmodernism" suggests fragmentation: collage, hybridity, and the use of various voices, scenes, and identities. Postmodern authors question external structures, whether political, philosophical, or artistic. They tend to distrust the master-narratives of modernist thought, which they see as politically suspect. Instead, they mine popular culture genres, especially science fiction, spy, and detective stories, becoming, in effect, archaeologists of pop culture.
Don DeLillo's White Noise, structured in 40 sections like video clips, highlights the dilemmas of representation: "Were people this dumb before television?" one character wonders. David Foster Wallace's gargantuan (1,000 pages, 900 footnotes) Infinite Jest mixes up wheelchair-bound terrorists, drug addicts, and futuristic descriptions of a country like the United States. In Galatea 2.2, Richard Powers interweaves sophisticated technology with private lives.
Influenced by Thomas Pynchon, postmodern authors fabricate complex plots that demand imaginative leaps. Often they flatten historical depth into one dimension; William Vollmann's novels slide between vastly different times and places as easily as a computer mouse moves between texts.
Creative Nonfiction: Memoir and Autobiography
Many writers hunger for open, less canonical genres as vehicles for their postmodern visions. The rise of global, multiethnic, and women's literature – works in which writers reflect on experiences shaped by culture, color, and gender – has endowed autobiography and memoir with special allure. While the boundaries of the terms are debated, a memoir is typically shorter or more limited in scope, while an autobiography makes some attempt at a comprehensive overview of the writer's life.
Postmodern fragmentation has rendered problematic for many writers the idea of a finished self that can be articulated successfully in one sweep. Many turn to the memoir in their struggles to ground an authentic self. What constitutes authenticity, and to what extent the writer is allowed to embroider upon his or her memories of experience in works of nonfiction, are hotly contested subjects of writers' conferences.
Writers themselves have contributed penetrating observations on such questions in books about writing, such as The Writing Life (1989) by Annie Dillard. Noteworthy memoirs include The Stolen Light (1989) by Ved Mehta. Born in India, Mehta was blinded at the age of three. His account of flying alone as a young blind person to study in the United States is unforgettable. Irish American Frank McCourt's mesmerizing Angela's Ashes (1996) recalls his childhood of poverty, family alcoholism, and intolerance in Ireland with a surprising warmth and humor. Paul Auster's Hand to Mouth (1997) tells of poverty that blocked his writing and poisoned his soul.
South African Reading Projects Target AIDS Awareness, Science
United States sets up health kiosk to provide information to residents
Mamelodi, South Africa — In this dusty, crowded township of about 400,000 people, the South African government is driving forward a policy that is key to the country’s survival of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and to its long-term economic growth: reading.
The U.S. government supports this policy by financing and programming two reading projects in Mamelodi: the Mae Jemison Science Reading Room on the Mamelodi campus of Pretoria University, and the U.S. Health Kiosk at the Stanza Bopape branch of the Thane Community Library in another section of the township.
After flybys in 2008 and 2009, orbiter will circle planet for a year in 2011
Washington -- The planet closest to the sun has an active magnetic field, plains formed by volcanoes and evidence of water ice in the protected shadows of some of its craters, according to scientists who have analyzed data from the most recent flyby of Mercury.
The brief January 2008 visit by NASA’s Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging (Messenger) spacecraft was the first since 1975, when NASA’s Mariner 10 completed three flybys of the planet to measure its environment, atmosphere and surface.
Flyby Prepares NASA Vessel To Orbit Mercury in 2011
Spacecraft returns images of cliffs, impact craters, spider-like feature
Washington -- NASA’s Messenger spacecraft flew past Mercury January 14 on the first of three passes that will prepare the instrumented craft to orbit the closest planet to the sun for one year beginning March 18, 2011.
After a journey of more than 3.2 billion kilometers, Messenger’s cameras and other sophisticated instruments collected more than 1,200 images, close-up measurements and other observations. Instruments also provided a topographic profile of craters and other geological features on Mercury’s night side.
The images showed that Mercury has huge cliffs with structures snaking hundreds of kilometers across the planet's face. The cliffs preserve a record of patterns of fault activity from early in the planet's history.
As Messenger’s science payload of seven instruments gathered data from the planet, “We were continually surprised,” principal investigator Sean Solomon of the Carnegie Institution of Washington said during a January 30 NASA briefing. “It was not what we expected, it was not the moon, it’s a very dynamic place that’s changing very rapidly. Features we saw with the Messenger camera haven’t been seen on any other planet".
The spacecraft also returned images of a feature scientists call "the spider" that lies in the middle of the Caloris Basin -- one of the solar system’s largest impact craters measuring about 1,545 kilometers from rim to rim -- and consists of more than 100 narrow, flat-floored troughs radiating from a complex central region.