Friday News: Cuba, China, story and bees
Publishers Petition White House to End Cuba Book Embargo – With 40 signatories thus far, publishers, trade organizations, and agents have signed a petition to lift sanctions that constitute a trade embargo on US published books. Since Congress is not expected to completely end the sanctions before Obama leaves office, focus is on the President to do what he can to “loosen” the regulations, and the petition anticipates Obama’s next trip to Cuba on March 20th:.
Those who have signed include the world’s largest consumer book publisher, Penguin Random House, which is majority owned by Bertelsmann SE; Lagardère SCA’s Hachette Book Group; CBS Corp.’s Simon & Schuster; Open Road Integrated Media Inc.; the Authors Guild; the American Booksellers Association; and literary agent Jane Dystel. . . .
While amendments have been adopted that exempt the importation of information and information materials from the Cuba regulations, [Mark] Coker said the regulations are convoluted and confusing.
That is why publishers believe they can’t sell books into Cuba and why Cuban counterparts believe they can’t do business with U.S. publishers, said Mr. Coker. – Wall Street Journal
Great firewall of China reinforced as foreign media banned from publishing online – A good commentary on China’s new law that appears intended to both advantage mainland Chinese businesses, shape cultural values, and police communication that does not conform with government policy. The law covers everything from video games and books to films and news services, and represents a collaboration between China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. The law went into effect on March 10th, and while not entirely new, the likely effects of its comprehensive coverage remain unclear:
The new law will, however, allow foreign media institutions to cooperate on individual projects with firms that are wholly-owned and based in mainland China, as long as they obtain prior permission from authorities.
This kind of collaboration has been going on for some time. The nature documentary series Wild China, for example, co-produced in 2008 by the BBC Natural History Unit and China Central Television, was approved by the government. These kind of collaborations have been well received by Chinese audiences, and the BBC now is co-operating with the Chinese film company SGM Pictures to produce the documentary Earth: One Amazing Day, for release in cinemas in 2017.
There is little new about the thrust of the law and it is the product of increasing Chinese observation and regulation of the internet that began in 2002. A 2005 regulation named Opinions on Canvassing Foreign Investment into the Cultural Sector banned foreign investors from establishing and managing news agencies and providing online publishing services in China.
So the new rule will have little impact on the way foreign media currently operate, although it’s still unclear how it will impact other foreign tech companies producing online content. And of course, online content by foreign media will still be available to Chinese netizens who use a virtual private network or other tricks to get around the censors. – The Conversation
The story trap – A very interesting piece about the ubiquitous construction of narrative (and specifically, of storytelling) on many different patterns, including instrumental music, economic forces and scientific data. Why do we tend to narrativize points of data or musical notes? Is it an illusory exercise that attempts to make sense of something random, are our brains simply wired to see stories everywhere? Philip Ball argues that it is precisely those phenomena and compositions that are the most conducive to storytelling that “catch on” most easily, precisely because they seem naturally amenable to such framing.
As ancient myths attest, the question ‘What is a story?’ was already complicated long before postmodernism. Nevertheless, there are a few general characteristics. Narrative traditionally concerns itself with historically coherent events, even if they are not told in strictly chronological order: there are causative reasons why one thing leads to another, and characters respond in ways we recognise. A story also tends to have an arc of tension: relatively low at the start and the end, higher at some point in between. It is, in the clichéd yet apt phrase, an emotional journey, and it is navigated with a sense of purpose.Making stories around geometrical shapes is one thing, but we do it with instrumental music, too. . . .
Music theorists recognise that the various major and minor chords of Western tonal music are related to one another. Some are closer and some are further away, in the simple sense that the respective scales share more or fewer notes in common. C major is close to G major, and many nursery rhymes simply skip to and fro between them, but it’s also close to its so-called relative minor, A minor. We can venture further: through G major to D major, say, or via C minor to E flat major. These chord ‘progressions’ sound relatively smooth and logical in a way that a sudden big jump in harmonic space – say from C major to G flat major – doesn’t. A harmonically complex musical piece might wander far afield in this space while all along observing only small movements from one chordal centre to another nearby. By the end, we feel that we have truly ‘gone somewhere’.
And in a sense we have. One of the most striking discoveries in the field of musical neuroscience is that we have a mental map of harmonic space literally imprinted on our brain. Using magnetic resonance imaging to watch which parts of the brain become active during music listening, Petr Janata and colleagues at the University of California, Davis found in 2002 that an area of the prefrontal cortex – a part of the brain that’s a junction for pitch, emotion and memory processing – holds a spatial map of harmonic space in which different groups of neurons are assigned to each chord. Their test subjects were musically trained, but it seems likely that these harmonic relationships will be intuited more strongly with increasing musical exposure. They aren’t hardwired: as if called up from some hard drive in the long-term memory, the map seems to be elicited each time we hear music. But it explains why music seems like a narrative, full of surprises and recollections, that takes us there and back again. – Aeon
Slo-Mo Footage of a Bumble Bee Dislodging Pollen – Apropos of nothing (except the dangerous diminishing of the bee populations), this is just a really cool video. – Smithsonian