Archive for January, 2013

A local columnists club

January 29, 2013 Leave a comment

A few days ago I posted this on Twitter:

Couldn’t a paper give the best letter-to-the-editor writers monthly columns, trading wide readership for good free local content?@tjbland

I included Terry Bland’s address there at the end because he’s the web editor of the South Bend Tribune, and I enjoyed conversations he held with readers a few years ago about the redesign of the paper’s website. Today he writes back on Twitter:

@KenSmith A good idea and something we’ve talked about. Would need to explore it more. Any specific ideas?

It’s nice to be invited, thanks, Terry. I will brainstorm here: Read more…

A brief introduction to Elise and Otto Hampel

January 24, 2013 Leave a comment

Elise and Otto were working class people living in Hitler’s Berlin, in wartime. Elise’s brother died in the German army invading France. They could find no justification for his death for such a cause, and they became political but had no skills, no allies, no hope of political action in Berlin. They decided to leave postcards of protest around the city, and did so for perhaps two years. Many pictures of their cards survive, including a few in the back of Fallada’s novel, in the appendix. The Gestapo seemed to think there was a large organization at work. They were caught more or less by chance. Read more…

The logic of linking

January 20, 2013 Leave a comment

This is the not-original-with-me understanding of linking that I share with the web writers in my class. Read more…

A great jar-field: Twitter

January 15, 2013 1 comment

People complain about social media in one breathe and confess they haven’t used it in the next. Here’s Tina Fey doing that particular two-step in a video shared by a blogger who confesses to having once danced that prejudicial dance himself. At the end of his posting, Jonathan Chait delivers a good comment about the real nature of the beast–in this case, Twitter:

Like Fey, I started with a distrust/misunderstanding of Twitter, but quickly found it to be a super-efficient system for filtering out the crap I don’t want to wade through on the Internet and delivering the stuff I want to read, written or recommended by my favorite writers, to me. I also like to use it to trade quips. I’ve quickly grown addicted to it. I’ve seen enough writers go through the process — hate Twitter, get reluctantly dragooned on to it, discover you can’t live without it — that I attribute basically all hatred of Twitter to a lack of familiarity.

In other words, people filter the massive output of all the world’s typists and share the best of it through links and annotations on Twitter. It’s like a science fiction movie with thousands of brains in jars calculating something that will bring on the new utopia–or dystopia, sure, why not? Twitter is a great jar-field of floating brains sorting the world’s texts for use by the ones who still walk about. [Via @atrembath.]

The psychology of the paradigm shift

January 3, 2013 Leave a comment

Dutch ecologist Frans Vera describes the experience of proposing a new vision for wilderness in Oostvaardersplassen, a region of land reclaimed from the North Sea and eventually turned over to grazing herds as a nature preserve. Reporter Elizabeth Kolbert presents his comment about the challenging process of changing someone’s opinion:

“Mostly there’s no trouble as long as you are within the borders of an accepted paradigm,” Vera told me. “But be aware when you start to discuss the paradigm. Then it starts to be only twenty-five per cent discussion of facts and seventy-five per cent psychology. The thing that I heard most often was, ‘Who do you think you are?'” (52)

The old idea is woven pretty deeply into the psychology of the public, it appears–and so it is no wonder that change often comes only after many encounters with a new idea, as well as under circumstances that encourage taking a fresh look. In the civil rights movement, relatively passive Americans were energized by televised pictures of Southern violence, for example; in Kolbert’s article, some progress is made as people see a chance for a very familiar monetary reward for creating nature preserves of a new kind. Other gratifications and motivations are wrapped around the core logic of change.

(“Recall of the Wild, The New Yorker, 12/24-31/2012)

Democracy, inevitable and otherwise

January 2, 2013 Leave a comment

In On Democracy, an orderly primer on the history and elements of democratic practice, Robert A. Dahl helps challenge the fatalism or perhaps complacency implied by the large percentage of passive citizens in many western democracies. For one thing, the basic history is alarming:

Looking back on the rise and decline of democracy, it is clear that we cannot count on historical forces to ensure that democracy will always advance or even survive.

But armed with more knowledge, citizens might do better than pay admiring lip-service to their country’s vulnerable and imperfect institutions:

With adequate understanding of what democracy requires, and the will to meet its requirements, we can act to preserve, and what is more, to advance democratic ideas and practices.

But how? I will keep reading the book and see where these early quotations eventually lead.

Crowdsourcing the Beck songbook

January 1, 2013 Leave a comment

In an NPR interview with Jacki Lydon, songwriter Beck explores the changes when he released not a new album but a collection of new sheet music. The songs live a different sort of life, less isolated within the private realm of the composer or expert, with more input from those usually thought of as the audience:

BECK: You know, when you write a song and you put out a record, it’s kind of, you know, sending a message in a bottle. It’s kind of a lonely activity. You don’t really get a lot of feedback. This is a way of sending that song out. You just get literally thousands of bottles sent back to you. So it’s interesting that way to me. It’s a completely different way of, you know, relating to one of your songs.

The former audience accepts the invitation to participate on their own terms:

BECK: You know, I think when I was putting the arrangements together, I mean, I was really trying to make the songs stylistically as transparent as possible so somebody could do a kind of Beatles version of that or, you know, they could do something more folky or blues, like that. You know, hopefully, the songs can be taken in different directions and, you know, people will take liberties with them.

And the songs become richer as they are recreated, adding value even for the original artist, the expert:

BECK: Well, I think that era’s songwriters, I mean, – they constructed their songs. They were architects of a certain kind of song that was meant for many people to play, you know? And that was something that I think I learned in this project. You know, like that last song you played me, there was a – there were a few things melodically that aren’t in the original song that I thought were better than what was in the song, you know? And I think that as I hear these versions back to me, and I think I’ll probably learn a lot about my songwriting or kind of open me up to possibilities that I hadn’t really thought of.

(Weekend Edition, All Things Considered, 12/29/12)

Playing at adulthood with big words

January 1, 2013 Leave a comment

Comedian Julie Klausner, in her “How Was Your Week?” podcast, suggested in passing that there are some things–some words–that are of use nowhere but in college.

In one episode she says “prurient,” then pauses for a confession. “I never learned to pronounce that word, because you shouldn’t,” Ms. Klausner said, preparing for the pivot. “You should only write it in a term paper, then graduate and stop spending your parents’ money.” (Jason Zinoman, “A Comedian’s Podcast,” NY Times, 1/1/13)

It makes a miniature portrait of the college student playing at adulthood with toys that are of no use in the rest of life, and implies a general failure of academics to make their special language connect with the world.