Reading fiction creates better society

"200 subjects read a five-page fictional short story written specifically for the experiment, designed to elicit compassionate feelings for the characters and model pro-social behavior. The subjects then participated in exercises to measure the impact of the reading.

Based on the results of the post-reading exercises, Johnson concluded that the more immersed the readers were in the story, the more empathy they felt for the characters. In addition, he found that the heightened empathy led to an enhanced ability to perceive subtle emotional expressions such as fear or happiness. Individuals who experienced higher levels of empathy were also nearly twice as likely to engage in pro-social, or helpful, behavior as individuals experiencing low levels of empathy.

"An interesting component is that it really seemed to be a lot about the imagery and visualizing the face of the main character and the events they experienced," said Johnson. "Those who experienced more inherent imagery were more likely to develop empathy for the characters and be more helpful."

More: http://news.blogs.wlu.edu/2012/02/21/washington-and-lee-professor-finds-that-reading-fiction-leads-to-empathy-helpful-behavior/

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The Bridge of Spies

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="The bridge od spies"]image[/caption]

On June 12, 1985, Marian Zacharski, a Polish spy, was exchanged for 25 American agents.

"Polish-born, Marian Zacharski adopted the guise of a legitimate businessman in the United States in the late 1970s. The reportedly handsome and resourceful agent befriended William Holden Bell, an engineer at Hughes Aircraft. Over the course of three years, Zacharski persuaded Bell to pass along plans for secret radar systems and some of the technology behind early stealth aircraft. Zacharski’s tactics in recruiting Bell were so impressive that they are still studied by the FBI decades later."

More spy exchanges: http://www.history.com/news/2012/02/10/prisoner-exchanges-across-the-bridge-of-spies-from-powers-to-shcharansky/

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Reading novels makes you a better person

"Jane Smiley, in Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, claims for novels an important role as an engine for change. She writes: “When I have read a long novel, when I have entered systematically into a sensibility that is alien to mine, when I have become interested in another person because he is interesting, not because he is privileged or great, there is a possibility that at the end that I will be a degree less self-centered …”

When we read, we also encounter our own reactions and prejudices, and our hopes and fears, and perhaps find ourselves a little changed for the better."

More: http://katesidley.bookslive.co.za/blog/2012/02/13/read-yourself-fabulous/

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The absurd world of espionage

"From propaganda catapults to exploding seashells, why do "intelligence" services come up with so many bad, and often absurd, ideas?

Well, maybe they aren't coming up with all that many stupid ideas: maybe they come up with exactly as many stupid ideas as, say, the U.S. House of Representatives, but we pay more attention to the CIA's nonsense because we're more surprised by it. After all, these people, at least, are supposed to have some idea of what they're doing.

But reading through some of these stories, you start to wonder if there might be another explanation. The CIA's looniest notions, after all, bear remarkable resemblance to the loony ideas that seem to constantly pour out of totalitarian dictatorships, including current ones such as that of North Korea. Maybe it's the very fact of brainstorming behind closed doors -- six guys in a room trying to figure out a way to do whatever currently seems impossible -- that encourages it. Desperation plus not having anyone to laugh at you (whether because of secrecy or, in the case of North Korea, because you've got the entire country in a headlock) must be a pretty potent combination."

More: http://m.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/02/spy-agencies-have-had-some-very-dumb-ideas-new-documents-reveal/253238/

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Confidence and ego key ingredients in publishing

What do writers have in common? Big egos. In order to create convincingly a writer must have confidence, but to publish one needs an ego. Yours truly does not lack in this respect:

"I write nothing down. I do not make notes. You will find nothing in my house that would indicate where my ideas come from. Drawing from personal experiences I am a firm believer in the old maxim, well expressed by Maxim Gorky, that that which we cannot remember is simply not worth remembering, little else writing down.

Where do the ideas come from? Again, this goes back to our experiences, to that which moves us, and which we need to come to terms with, to why do writers write at all? Beyond the simple need to satisfy our ego, many of us write not because we know the answer to what moves us, but because we seek the answer to the unanswerable, or where the answer is suppressed. Espionage is all about the illusion. Everything we think we know about it is either wrong, or planted by the services involved in it. I write with the aim to straighten that, which is purposely obscured. It is my guiding thought."

More about author Jack King: http://www.gmcknight.com/blog/2012/02/19/Jack-SpyWriter-King.aspx

Writers and their egos: http://spywriter.wordpress.com/2010/03/11/ego-a-writers-engine-2/

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Re-reading books a healthy habit

"A recent study has shown many people benefit from rereading familiar stories as the encounter “reignites” their emotions and increases their knowledge.

In broad terms the research found that people were generally keen to return to a well-thumbed book or to listen again to a favourite piece of music so they could gain a “richer and deeper insight” of the experience and increase their understanding.

The study concluded: “Consumers gain richer and deeper insights into the reconsumption object itself but also an enhanced awareness of their own growth in understanding and appreciation through the lens of the reconsumption object. 

“Given the immense benefits for growth and self-reflexivity, re-consuming actually appears to offer many mental health benefits.” 

"Vladimir Nabokov maintained that you couldn’t say you had really read a novel till you have re-read it. On the first reading you may be gripped by the story, and so you read fast, eager to find out where it is leading you. In reading like this, you miss a lot. You have no time to “cherish the details” – a favourite phrase of Nabokov’s. You will fail to understand subtleties and nuances. You will skip hurriedly over beauties. It is unlikely that you will appreciate the structure.

The books to which one does return are either classics – sometimes classics one feels guilty about – or books which are like old friends, and therefore suitable for comfort reading. Familiarity with them breeds affection. One knows they will soothe and never disturb. You feel no obligation to read from beginning to end – though you may of course do so. You can dip in and out, and skip, and read the passages you love best. Sadly, however, the day may come when you know a particular book too well, and you can come to the end of it, just as you may find that you may reach the end of a friendship."



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Find real-life love lessons in literature

"Can classic literature shed any light on twenty-first century love? 

What influence does reading about love in literature have on ‘real life’? Does it simply create expectations of unachievable ideals, or does is present us with useful insight? Does it hinder our emotional development or help it? Are we better lovers for delving into Lady Chatterley’s Lover, or reciting Shakespeare to one another?

Ultimately literature encourages us to question this idea of ‘love’ presented in Valentine’s cards, suggesting that it’s okay to be different. It tells us that love happens in the most unexpected ways. Shakespeare said it first: ‘reason and love keep little company nowadays’, and ‘the course of true love never did run smooth’. . Love is not logical, it isn’t biological (you can disregard this week’s Science feature), it’s improbable and unpredictable. But that’s why it’s so exciting. Love is messy and that’s what makes it so great.  In life and in literature."

More: http://www.varsity.co.uk/culture/4403

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Literature vs Social Networking. And the winner is...

"There can be no doubt that books are losing ground to other pastimes, especially electronic ones.

Educators see this as a problem because as social media becomes popular, young people are missing out on the many benefits of reading, including increased vocabulary, improved cognitive skills and improved concentration.

Good literature communicates with its readers on a personal level and gives them insights into the world around them in a way that news reports and twitter updates simply can’t. se of the time than we could get from reading about the major events in a history book. We connect with the story and the characters and in doing so, we come to understand that period in history. 

And that’s not the only thing we understand. We develop sympathy for some of the characters. We make value judgements about the actions of other ones. We make a mental picture of the events in the novel. We engage our intellects and our imaginations when we read. Books broaden our horizons and inspire us. Furthermore, the impact lasts much longer than the shelf life of the average Internet sensation."

More: http://www.barbadosadvocate.com/newsitem.asp?more=editorial&NewsID=22718

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A Better World is Possible... without individualism

I was in the dog park, on the beach, completely engrossed in The Brothers Karamazov, when a poodle came up, with a man attached at the other end of the leash.

"Dostoyevsky?" Poo-poohed the poodle (or perhaps it was the man?), its tail in the book.

I looked up, all dazed, my head, my whole being lost in the story.

The poodle went on, "It's all people sitting and talking."

At last it got to me (I have a dog, I speak their language.) So I replied, "But did you hear what they have to say?"

The poodle, "I wouldn't give him a time of day."

I read out loud:

“And when,” I cried out to him bitterly, “when will that come to pass? and will it ever come to pass? Is not it simply a dream of ours?”

“What then, you don’t believe it,” he said. “You preach it and don’t believe it yourself. Believe me, this dream, as you call it, will come to pass without doubt; it will come, but not now, for every process has its law. It’s a spiritual, psychological process. To transform the world, to recreate it afresh, men must turn into another path psychologically. Until you have become really, in actual fact, a brother to every one, brotherhood will not come to pass. No sort of scientific teaching, no kind of common interest, will ever teach men to share property and privileges with equal consideration for all. Every one will think his share too small and they will be always envying, complaining and attacking one another.  You ask when it will come to pass; it will come to pass, but first we have to go through the period of isolation.”

“What do you mean by isolation?” I asked him.

“Why, the isolation that prevails everywhere, above all in our age—it has not fully developed, it has not reached its limit yet. For every one strives to keep his individuality as apart as possible, wishes to secure the greatest possible fullness of life for himself; but meantime all his efforts result not in attaining fullness of life but self-destruction, for instead of self-realization he ends by arriving at complete solitude. All mankind in our age have split up into units, they all keep apart, each in his own groove; each one holds aloof, hides himself and hides what he has, from the rest, and he ends by being repelled by others and repelling them.  He heaps up riches by himself and thinks, ‘How strong I am now and how secure,’ and in his madness he does not understand that the more he heaps up, the more he sinks into self-destructive impotence. For he is accustomed to rely upon himself alone and to cut himself off from the whole; he has trained himself not to believe in the help of others, in men and in humanity, and only trembles for fear he should lose his money and the privileges that he has won for himself. Everywhere in these days men have, in their mockery, ceased to understand that the true security is to be found in social solidarity rather than in isolated individual effort.  But this terrible individualism must inevitably have an end, and all will suddenly understand how unnaturally they are separated from one another.  It will be the spirit of the time, and people will marvel that they have sat so long in darkness without seeing the light.  But, until then, we must keep the banner flying. Sometimes even if he has to do it alone, and his conduct seems to be crazy, a man must set an example, and so draw men’s souls out of their solitude, and spur them to some act of brotherly love, that the great idea may not die.”

The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.


Does it matter if printed books disappear?

"Books, printed on paper and sold in bookstores, have been our best friends for many centuries. They have educated billions of people worldwide, they have strengthened resistance, and have made people dream about better political and economic systems. There would have been no revolution without them, no intellectual development, and no deep understanding of the world."

Bookstores are disappearing along with printed books. Does it affect us at all? How?

"It’s as if the people in the US and Europe have been fully surrendered to the markets, and as if the people have no other choice but to sit and wait while the corporate giants decide how they should be given their information.

I really don’t want to live in such a world and I don’t, but that’s not the point. What matters is that the West is eventually going to export its business concepts all over the world, as it always does. If the bookstores close down in London, Paris and New York, the chances are that the new ‘trend’ will be pushed down the throats of the people in Kuala Lumpur, Johannesburg, Buenos Aires and elsewhere. And readers will have little choice in what they hold. And that matters to me.

What appears to be truly at stake here is definitely much more than the pathetic bottom lines of some corporate brethren. The chase for profits could deeply, irreversibly and negatively affect one of the most important and noble of human activities: the entire culture of reading and of learning. How could such principal decisions be left to a bunch of businessmen in their corporate institutions?

Public parks and sidewalks are also ‘unprofitable’. Of course in some countries, such as Indonesia, where Jakarta and other cities have implemented a virtually absolute western market-regime, such ‘unnecessary’ entities have almost completely disappeared. But is this what we want: the world without parks and forests, without sidewalks and public places, without books? Have we totally surrendered ourselves to corporate terror?

You see – if we allow business to take over everything, there would be soon nothing worth living for. We would be reduced to being pre-programmed robotic consumers, locked in efficient, air-conditioned and ultimately sterile malls, watching never-ending soap operas on television, eating and drinking pre-digested factory produced meals made from floor scraps, reading computer generated ‘novels’ and comic strips, watching movies with computer-generated plots. We would never be without our music storing, camera toting ‘smart phones’, headphones permanently jammed in our ears, listening to the same copyright protected, mass-produced synthesized voices and rhythms!

Yet such a society, attempting to change the global system to its ends, is self-defeating in that it is failing to understand, to deplore and to prevent atrocities it is committing, atrocities which are reducing the number of potential consumers."

Source: http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/02/07/in-defense-of-paper-books/

Writers and Propaganda

"Richard Lance Keeble in "Hacks and Spooks" writes about the close ties between British and American intelligence agencies and the mass media. The media has always closely cooperated with intelligence agencies in both countries, sharing the same political outlook and goals. The CIA, M15 and M16 have used the mass media to plant stories.

For instance, from 1948-77 M16 operated the information Research Department Office (IRD) where it ran dozens of Fleet Street journalists and news agencies across the globe. The IRD, set up by the Labor government in 1948, spread " white" (true), "grey" (partially true) and "black" (false) propaganda about the former socialist countries of central Europe as well as "planting smears, lies, false rumors and forged official reports about the Soviet threat in the media"

The CIA ran its own propaganda unit modeled on the IRD during the 1960s called the Forum World Features to feed false information to the public. The Senate's Church Committee and the House of Representative's Pike Committee revealed in the 1970s that the CIA had invested large resources in propaganda operations. For instance, the CIA had a secret agreement with the New York Times to employ at least 10 agents as reporters or clerks in foreign bureaus. Feminist writer Gloria Steinem was revealed to be an agent. "The Pike Committee found that 29 per cent of the CIA's covert operations was directed at 'media and propaganda,' meaning that in 1978 the agency had spent in this area as much as the combined budgets of the world's biggest news agencies (AP, Reuters and UPI) put together" SOURCE

The media serving the power should not be a surprise. The, so called, "news" industry, has always been a target of intelligence agencies, and for obvious reasons: we are the screen generation, consuming everything directed at us. That the media is a willing participant in these propaganda wars might be surprising to some, particularly to the hopeless FOX audience. But it is not only the TV that messes with our perception of the world. Print, including books, are a part of the battlefield. With the slow demise of paper books, that tangible expression of our thought, some worry that the digital books are too prone to manipulation, to changes at will, the 1984-come-true. Hence the growing number voices calling for the preservation of the printed word.

Would you like to know how the power reaches you on every level, from conscious, to unconscious? Read Propaganada.



Writers as performance artists

In today's world, where online presence and public appearances are often stipulated in publishing contracts, writers are, basically, performance artists. Does it impact their writing, and should it?

"Through the last century, the relationship between readers and writers was largely impersonal. The reader related in the first instance to a book, not to its writer; and writers, for their part, did not confront their audience directly in the manner of musicians, singers, actors and so on. This was ... one of the reasons why writers were able to take greater risks in hurling defiance at society at large.

The situation has changed dramatically in recent years. The internet ... has made it possible to subject writers to great pressure ... If this process continues unchecked, its impact on the freedom of thought and expression may be greater than any explicit policy of repression."

"literature is coming to be embedded within a wider culture of public spectacles and performances. This process, which got underway almost imperceptibly, has now achieved a momentum where it seems to be overtaking, and indeed overwhelming, writing itself as the primary end of a life in letters.

A frequently heard argument in favour of book festivals is that they provide a venue for writers to meet the reading public. Although appealing, this argument is based on a flawed premise in that it assumes that attendance is equivalent to approbation. Books, by their very nature often give offence and create outrage, and this is bound to be especially so in circumstances where there are deep anxieties about how certain groups are perceived and represented.

Performances are secondary and inessential to a writer’s work. Our books, which are our principal vehicles of expression, can reach people through impersonal mechanisms.

Public spectacles are a sideshow."

More: http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/ColumnsOthers/Writings-not-writers/Article1-807658.aspx

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Writers as political instruments

"In order to introduce our literature to the world, we should first set our ideology, since nothing can change world beliefs as literature does.

Unfortunately most writers do not take effort in studying our contemporary history... All superior novels of the world are ideology-oriented.

Revolutionary literature [is] the subgenre of political literature and ... in the west, the effect of fiction on political and intellectual movements is measured and we see that before American invasion to Iraq, a number of novels had been written on the possibility of the event. They actually train their political writers and put them through valid and even ultra-confidential information.

In order to create revolution literature, we should first train researching writers who probe into the historical ground, causes and effects of revolution."


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Literature will save your brain

Worried that your mind deteriorates as you age? Forget Sudoku. Literature will save your brain:

"A study ... scientifically demonstrates the suggestive powers of rhetorical figures of speech in stimulating cerebral activity...

research has demonstrated the success of the rhetorical level of literary figures of speech. The explanation for the effectiveness of these is their ability to attract the attention of the listener(s). “The front part of the brain is activated and more resources in the cerebral process for this expression are employed”, pointing to the result of the experiments having to do “with the activity that requires processing the abstraction of rhetorical figures of speech such as the oxymoron, which aim to communicate things that do not exist”.

And thus the more difficult the text, the harder your brain works, the better it is for you:

"Research results show that the less natural the expression the more resources are required for it to be processed in the left front side of the brain”.

More: http://www.basqueresearch.com/berria_irakurri.asp?Berri_Kod=3746&hizk=I

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