Category Archives: Media & Society

This category scoops up topics like booksmusic and movies, politics and sciencephilosophy and language, and the world of work and productivity.

Marginal

An interesting read about the little notes we add to our interesting reads.

At the marginsNational Review
That what I’m describing is a tension inherent in the marginalia business will be obvious to anyone who’s ever read with pen in hand. Writing in a book today, I record some portion of my thinking for tomorrow. Though I trust that it will be readable, I can’t pretend that it will all make sense. Among my favorite margin notes, for instance, is the lone exclamation point, with which I frequently signal both agreement and furious dissent. Will those who come behind me know one from the other? Will I? Perhaps not. But we’ll know what moved me.

Two things strike me about this. Firstly, are our Kindle notes too impersonal and clinical, compared to those left by our fading pencils and scratchy pens? And secondly, is this entire blog—my collection of notes about things I’ve read—just one huge margin?

A concert, nonetheless

The Sinfonia of Leeds, the orchestra my wife ordinarily plays in, were supposed to be playing a concert this weekend. That didn’t happen, obviously, but they invited us to enjoy their programme anyway.

Their Facebook page directed us to live recordings of other orchestras performing the pieces they were going to play, and we watched along from the comfort of our sofa, starting at 7:30pm and with ice cream at the interval, as is only proper.

We had a wonderful evening (you can’t really go wrong with a Sibelius symphony), so much so that we’ve promised ourselves to create another YouTube concert evening next weekend. And it’s my turn to pick the programme.

Happy remote Mother’s Day

Boris Johnson urges people to think twice before Mother’s Day visitsMetro Video
Asked about whether people should visit their mothers on Mother’s Day this Sunday, UK prime minister Boris Johnson urges people to ‘think very carefully and follow the medical advice’.

The correct medical advice.

The UK is scrambling to correct its coronavirus strategyMIT Technology Review
A new report issued by a group of experts advising the UK government offers a blistering assessment of the country’s previous “herd immunity” approach to coronavirus, suggesting that as many as 250,000 people could die as a result—and that it would do little to stop health-care facilities from being overwhelmed.

Or, to put it another way.

The British government is massively fucking up its coronavirus responseThe Outline
They only just realized their first plan to simply let people die had some issues.

We need to do the right thing, and keep doing it until next year’s Mother’s Day, at least.

We’re not going back to normalMIT Technology Review
Social distancing is here to stay for much more than a few weeks. It will upend our way of life, in some ways forever.

Getting through it

Photos: Life in the coronavirus eraThe Atlantic
In an all-out effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, health and government officials worldwide have mandated travel restrictions, closed schools and businesses, and set limits on public gatherings. People have also been urged to practice social distancing in public spaces, and to isolate themselves at home as much as possible. This rapid and widespread shift in rules and behavior has left much of the world looking very different than it did a few months ago, with emptied streets, schools, workplaces, and restaurants, and almost everyone staying home.

Rather than the expected shots of empty streets, stadiums and train stations, I find more moving the photos of how this is impacting on individuals, of all ages.

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Lori Spencer visits her mom, Judie Shape, 81, who Spencer said had tested positive for the coronavirus, at Life Care Center of Kirkland, the Seattle-area nursing home at the epicenter of one of the biggest coronavirus outbreaks in the United States, in Kirkland, Washington, on March 11, 2020.

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Caidence Miller, a fourth grader at Cottage Lake Elementary, tries to figure out assignment instructions without working speakers on his laptop as he and his grandmother, Chrissy Brackett, navigate the online-learning system the Northshore School District will use for two weeks because of coronavirus concerns, at Brackett’s home in Woodinville, Washington, on March 11, 2020.

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A woman makes a video call with her smartphone inside her home after the Italian government clamped down on public events, closed bars, restaurants, and schools, imposed travel restrictions, and advised citizens to stay at home in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus on March 15, 2020, in Turin, Italy.

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A man wearing a mask looks up at a couple looking out of a house window on the 15th day of quarantine in San Fiorano, one of the small towns in northern Italy that has been on lockdown since February, in this picture taken by schoolteacher Marzio Toniolo on March 6, 2020.

Featured image: A student attends an online class at home as students’ return to school has been delayed in Fuyang, Anhui province, China, on March 2, 2020.

Sadly, I think there’ll be plenty of time for more of these photos.

Scientists warn we may need to live with social distancing for a year or moreVox
As Kucharski, a top expert on this situation, sees it, “this virus is going to be circulating, potentially for a year or two, so we need to be thinking on those time scales. There are no good options here. Every scenario you can think of playing out has some really hefty downsides. … At the moment, it seems the only way to sustainably reduce transmission are really severe unsustainable measures.”

Could be worse

As we come to terms with the latest numbers and updates about everyone’s favourite virus, we can be thankful, at least, that we don’t have this to worry about:

Wasp-76b: The exotic inferno planet where it ‘rains iron’BBC News
Wasp-76b, as it’s known, orbits so close in to its host star, its dayside temperatures exceed 2,400C – hot enough to vaporise metals. The planet’s nightside, on the other hand, is 1,000 degrees cooler, allowing those metals to condense and rain out. It’s a bizarre environment, according to Dr David Ehrenreich from the University of Geneva. “Imagine instead of a drizzle of water droplets, you have iron droplets splashing down,” he told BBC News.

ESO telescope observes exoplanet where it rains ironESO
This strange phenomenon happens because the ‘iron rain’ planet only ever shows one face, its day side, to its parent star, its cooler night side remaining in perpetual darkness. Like the Moon on its orbit around the Earth, WASP-76b is ‘tidally locked’: it takes as long to rotate around its axis as it does to go around the star.

Greater problems are ahead, however.

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Behold our dazzling night sky when the Milky Way collides with Andromeda in 4 billion yearsKottke
Using data from the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers at NASA have predicted that our own Milky Way galaxy and the nearby Andromeda galaxy (M31) will collide about 4 billion years from now. As part of the announcement from 2012, they produced a video of what the collision would look like and a series of illustrations of what our sky will look like during the collision process.

Meanwhile.

BetelgeuseQuartz
What’s going on with Betelgeuse? There are two possibilities: Betelgeuse will brighten again and continue its pattern, or it will explode.

Plenty to fill the time

Having to stay at home, with a lot of time on your hands?

The 33 best movies over 3 hours longVulture
Some of these long movies inflate the familiar three-act structure to epic proportions, while others use their expanded lengths to stretch out and wander into unexpected places. We wouldn’t necessarily suggest marathoning these films back-to-back, but watching them one at a time is an experience worth clearing your schedule for.

Pandemics: An essential reading listVulture
Just as the film Contagion has found a second life with news of the coronavirus outbreak, so too are novels about epidemics popping up on reading lists around the country. With stakes so high, it’s easy to see why novelists find outbreaks of disease so compelling. Here are 20 great fictional takes, ranging from the historical to the futuristic.

The 40 best horror movies on ShudderVulture
If you’re new to the service and wondering where to start, don’t fret: We’ve dug into Shudder’s increasingly impressive catalogue to find the best films worth your time, from classics like Halloween to newer entries like Mandy. Watch them all.

Or perhaps something more culturally uplifting.

On coronavirus lockdown? The top online museum and art tours to enjoy from homeThe Art Newspaper
As coronavirus (Covid-19) continues to spread and disrupt the daily lives of people across the globe, forcing many to self-quarantine, we are compiling the best online offerings from artists, museums and galleries. Whether you are staying at home or your local museums and galleries have closed, here are some of the best digital initiatives to satisfy your creative cravings.

No audiences, but concerts streamed to the world. This is a moment in classical music historyClassic FM
Last night, Bach Collegium Japan performed Bach’s St. John Passion at the Cologne Philharmonic. The performance was full of passion and the highest artistry. At the end of the final chorale, orchestra, choir, soloists and conductor turned and bowed, but very poignantly, there was no sound or ovation to be heard.

That’s because in the Spring of 2020, the world’s musicians are not playing to audiences, they are not showcasing their craft for the applause, or even rapt silence. They are simply playing to share music with a world that needs to hear it.

Met to launch “Nightly Met Opera Streams,” a free series of encore Live in HD presentations streamed on the company website during the coronavirus closureMetropolitan Opera
“We’d like to provide some grand opera solace to opera lovers in these extraordinarily difficult times,” said Met General Manager Peter Gelb. “Every night, we’ll be offering a different complete operatic gem from our collection of HD presentations from the past 14 years.”

I wish wish wish they’d show this one.

How an opera gets madeYouTube

A vaccine for the infodemic?

The pandemic continues its roll around the globe.

Apple reopens all 42 China stores after virus closuresBloomberg
Since shutting the stores, Apple gradually reopened them and 38 of the 42 stores were operating as of last week. The final four will open their doors on Friday local time, according to Apple’s website.

Amazon asks all employees to work from home, if they canTechCrunch
Amazon employs some 798,000 employees. While some Amazon office workers will be able to work from home, the vast majority of its workforce have jobs that require them to be on site. The company is reliant on tens of thousands of delivery drivers and employees who work at the more than 100 order fulfillment centers.

This morning’s Next Draft newsletter had a raft of scary headlines on the subject. Here are just two. They’re behind paywalls so I can’t go any further, but it’s not a pretty way to start the day.

‘Italy has abandoned us’: People are being trapped at home with their loved ones’ bodies amid coronavirus lockdownThe Washington Post

Coronavirus burial pits so vast they’re visible from spaceThe Washington Post

It’s tempting to switch off from it all, but that would be a mistake—we need to know what’s going on, but not all news reports are created equal.

Coronavirus: why we should keep our eyes and ears open as well as our hands cleanThe Conversation
Instead of the top-down information flow of years past, governments and other figures of authority today find themselves having to react to situations created by non-professional media outlets in a bottom-up fashion. The issue with non-professional reporting versus the traditional media is that the motivations of the content creators are not always obvious: biases are unclear and quality control is largely absent.

With dire consequences.

[C]ookies and social media algorithms help to intensify the echo chamber of fear by showing online readers more of what they’ve already clicked on. The online world suddenly becomes entirely coloured by COVID-19 coverage, and the sheer amount of reporting overshadows the fact that people have a very low chance of catching the virus and if they do, they have a very high chance of a complete recovery.

Yet many people are living in fear for their lives. Entire industries, including tourism, transportation and education are suffering huge losses, companies are going bankrupt, and people are losing their jobs. Fear is being perpetuated by the wearing of masks in public, despite health authorities pleading with people not to do so.

Racism is rearing its ugly head as people begin to judge others’ likely degree of contagion by their appearance. Supermarkets are being stripped of toilet paper, pharmacies of antibacterial liquid. In many places, panic has set in.

So pack it in—you’re probably not using enough of that stuff anyway—and don’t believe everything you read.

Amazon flooded with self-published coronavirus booksThe Guardian
The retailing giant has already been removing “tens of thousands” of listings from “bad actors” attempting to artificially raise prices on items such as face masks and hand sanitiser. Now it is fighting a losing battle against the writers rushing out self-published books to profit from coronavirus fears. Generally shorter than 100 pages, dozens have been published in the last few weeks, promising worried readers ways to prevent or avoid the virus.

We need to stick to the official advice, however weird it looks.

Coronavirus fears have led to a golden age of hand-washing PSAsNPR
The rapid spread of the new coronavirus has health officials scrambling to educate the public on good hygiene and best practices. And the need to communicate those messages has resurrected a classic art form: the public service announcement, or PSA. Because the coronavirus is a global concern, video PSAs are emerging from all corners of the globe, all at once.

Let’s end with a golden oldie.

Coughs, sneezes, and jet-propelled germs: Two public service films by Richard Massingham (1945)The Public Domain Review
The first film featured here, Coughs and Sneezes from 1945, begins with a comic montage of practical jokes. “You may have met a few people who like doing this sort of thing,” the narrator says, as we watch a series of people be bonked on the head, tripped, or knocked head over heels; “they’re a nuisance, I agree — but pretty harmless.” The scene then turns to another kind of nuisance, which isn’t harmless at all: a man who sneezes without covering his mouth. This danger to society is promptly hauled into a room for instruction in proper use of his handkerchief and, in a follow-up film, Don’t Spread Germs (Jet-Propelled Germs) from 1948, further instructed in how to properly clean his handkerchief — in a bowl of disinfectant separate from the family wash.

Cooking through adversity

Amid the news of Italy’s massive quarantine, here’s comicbook artist Krish Raghav’s poignant look at an aspect of China’s.

Quarantine Cooking: Finding Relief from Coronavirus Anxiety in the KitchenThe New Yorker
The question “What and how do you cook under quarantine” is being answered from millions of isolated dorm rooms, apartments, and houses across the country, and a new cuisine, with its own rules, norms, and tastes, is emerging. Call it quarantine cooking.

The post-nineties generation that uses sites like Xiachufang is not one that usually cooks. Their lives are defined by an arduous work culture and precarious careers. They rely on cheap and convenient food-delivery apps for most meals, making only occasional trips to the kitchen. Yet eating with friends and family is central to their idea of a “good life”. When restrictions in response to the COVID-19 outbreak take that away, quarantine cooking is the response, rebuilding that lost social connection with what’s at hand and what’s possible. […]

Sharing its preparation online is as important as the food itself. They are transmissions sent from isolation, like radio diaries from a stranded spacecraft. It’s about re-creating the conviviality of sharing a meal. It’s a response to boredom and a salve for the constant anxiety of following updates on the outbreak. […]

The act of looking for a recipe and reading others’ quarantine diaries has become like a trip to the supermarket. We tend to think of the Chinese internet as just a battleground—activists and censors locked in an endless conflict. But, to many, it is also homey and comforting, parts of it as familiar as a cozy kitchen.

The link seems broken currently, but here’s another, and here’s a screenshot that Joanne McNeil shared in her recent newsletter, when she noticed that Krish had mentioned her work in relation to this.

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Meanwhile.

How Facebook turned into a coronavirus conspiracy hellholeWired UK
The posts, which are filling innocuous Facebook groups normally dedicated to political discussions and flight deals, are a strange evolution of conspiracy theories that have been knocking around the internet for years. One much-mooted theory, for example, is that the coronavirus has been caused by radiation from 5G masts. […] These posts incorporate political conspiracies – for instance, one post on the “We Support Jeremy Corbyn Facebook” group, states that “people have bugs like this all the time, the media are basically covering up the economic global crash which is coming and also the Brexit shit show.”

Might a conspiracy theory be behind all this bizarre panic-buying of toilet paper?

‘It isn’t Mad Max’: women charged after fight over toilet paper in SydneyThe Guardian
A video of the incident was shared on social media and showed a small group of women pushing, yelling and fighting over a shopping cart filled with toilet paper. “We just ask that people don’t panic like this when they go out shopping,” the New South Wales police acting inspector Andrew New said. “There is no need for it. It isn’t the Thunderdome, it isn’t Mad Max, we don’t need to do that.

What is going on?

Coronavirus: why people are panic buying loo roll and how to stop itThe Conversation
In research I conducted with marketing professors Charlene Chen and Leonard Lee, we found that consumers compensate for a perceived loss of control by buying products designed to fill a basic need, solve a problem or accomplish a task. This is what we’re seeing as people rush to buy rice, cleaning products and paper goods in illogically large proportions.

Well here’s one possible solution.

Coronavirus: Australian newspaper prints extra pages to help out in toilet paper shortageThe Guardian
On Thursday the NT News, the Darwin-based newspaper with a national reputation for its headlines and antics, printed a special eight-page insert that can be cut into toilet paper. Its editor, Matt Williams, told Guardian Australia the paper was selling well and was “certainly not a crappy edition”. “We are a newspaper known around the world who understands the needs of our readers,” he said. “Territorians … are in great need of toilet paper right now so we had to deliver what they needed.”

Oops, they did it again

So it seems they’re going to pick the wrong one again.

Hillary Clinton: “Incredible” Elizabeth Warren lost because she’s a womanVanity Fair
“I think we made some progress, but there still was a lot of the unconscious bias and the gendered language that has been used around the women candidates,” Clinton said. “I think it affected all of the women that ran.”

Elizabeth Warren and her supporters now have tremendous power to shape the rest of the primaryTime
Warren is personally beloved by her team, and as the news sunk in, staffers described a “sense of sadness,” “crying,” and an overwhelming feeling that that the best candidate for President had been let down. One staffer describes it this way: “You’ve got a 78-year old heart attack survivor and a 77-year old who’s clearly sundowning. And hey, you’ve got someone who might be broadly acceptable to both factions, but.. what? She’s a woman? Oops, never mind.”

I was surprised to read, however, that Warren’s in her 70s too. I thought part of her appeal, apart from being the most competent, was that she was of a more normal age for such a job—that is, below retirement age, whatever that is nowadays.

But what is normal? I was curious to find out the ages of other such people. It makes for interesting reading.

  • Bernie Sanders is 78
  • Joe Biden is 77
  • Donald Trump is 73
  • Bill Clinton is 73
  • Hillary Clinton is 72
  • Elizabeth Warren is 70
  • Gordon Brown is 69
  • Vladimir Putin is 67
  • Tony Blair is 66
  • Angela Merkel is 65
  • Theresa May is 63
  • Barack Obama is 58
  • Boris Johnson is 55
  • Justin Trudeau is 48
  • Emmanuel Macron is 42
  • Leo Varadkar is 41
  • Jacinda Arden is 39

The language of Utopia can be yours for just $81,000

I’m not sure if Duolingo will be turning this into a new language course any time soon.

For Sale: Sir Thomas More’s Utopian alphabetAtlas Obscura
The characters in the Utopian language walk the line between Greek and geometric runes. There is no casing, just large circles, squares, triangles and lines, with various accents attached. It would be gobbledygook if not for its accompanying Latin translation, which speaks to the creation of Utopia and its singularity as a philosophical—and aspirational—place.

As I was reading that, I was getting Thomas More mixed up with Thomas Cromwell, something that has happened to the Wolf Hall actors playing those roles, too. But anyway.

Thomas More is the villain of Wolf Hall. But is he getting a raw deal?The Guardian
The other piece of influential writing that has helped emphasise More’s superior character is his own book, Utopia. A philosophical argument couched in the tale of a traveller who returns from an unknown land, it has furnished English literature with many enduring ideas – not least that of a Utopia itself; a perfect, unattainable society. Published in Latin in 1516, Utopia still intrigues and amuses readers despite having been around for half a millennium. In More’s imagined Utopia, property, goods and food are all shared among the households in each city and there is a heavy emphasis on agriculture, although some weight is given to academic learning as well. When it comes to government: “Anyone who campaigns for public office becomes disqualified for holding any office at all,” he suggests.

That last line reminds me of that Groucho quote about not wanting to belong to a club that would have him as a member.

But perhaps $81,000 is a little steep for just one book. Maybe you’re just after something to fill your shelves.

Books sold by the linear footBoing Boing
So it turns out there’s an entire industry of books hand-picked and organized to look good, sold in bulk according to a variety of visual or conceptual themes. Color gradients is a hot trend in the world of books sold by the linear foot.

Just a few stores I found: Books by the FootZubal BooksThe Book BundlerDecades of Vintage and Booth & Williams all specialize in books sold for their aesthetic appeal rather than their contents.

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Never mind the quality, feel the width.

It’s the simple things really

Bloom: A touching animated short film about depression and what it takes to recover the light of beingBrain Pickings
During a recent dark season of the spirit, a dear friend buoyed me with the most wonderful, hope-giving, rehumanizing story: Some years earlier, when a colleague of hers — another physicist — was going through such a season of his own, she gave him an amaryllis bulb in a small pot; the effect it had on him was unexpected and profound, as the effect of uncalculated kindnesses always is — profound and far-reaching, the way a pebble of kindness ripples out widening circles of radiance.

BloomVimeo

Fending off the Jackpot

I’m about halfway through William Gibson’s latest novel, Agency, and was very happy to read somewhere that it’s part two of a trilogy. Here’s hoping we’ll all be around to enjoy the third…

William Gibson on the apocalypse: “it’s been happening for at least 100 years”New Statesman
His characters call it “the Jackpot”. “It’s multi-causal, and it’s of extremely long duration,” he explains. Over many decades, climate change, pollution, drug-resistant diseases and other factors – “I’ve never really had the heart to make up a full list, else I’ll depress myself” – deplete the human race by 80 per cent. The Jackpot is the mundane cataclysm of modernity itself. It is hundreds of millions of people driving to the supermarket in their SUVs, flying six times a year, and eating medicated animals for dinner. “If the Jackpot is going to happen,” Gibson says, “it’s already happening. It’s been happening for at least 100 years.”

As well as bringing to life an all-too-plausible future, he has a keen grasp on the present. (All science fiction is really about the present, I guess. As he has said earlier, “The future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed.”)

Putin is the pre-eminent figure in the klept that Gibson sees emerging in the real world. He describes Russia’s reported attempts to influence the 2016 US election as “the most cost-efficient black op in human history. It was a long shot, but it did work, and every day since then they must have had a good laugh, and gotten ready to enjoy yet another day of watching this endlessly exploding grenade at the heart of American government. I doubt they’ve tried to control him very much. It isn’t necessary.”

This story caught my eye. Another artist inspired by a frustrating political situation to produce something positive.

Artist Whitney Bedford is drawing a portrait of Elizabeth Warren every day until she is elected presidentThe Art Newspaper
“It’s really the only currency I have,” says Bedford, fresh from a powerful paintings show at Susanne Vielmetter’s gallery that explored ideas of landscape and toxic land use. “I felt that if I did something I’m known for in public, it could be an incentive for other people to act.” She calls her project “Elizabeth Warren Wins”.

“There’s never been a candidate I’ve been so excited about. And I’ve never done something so fangirl in my life,” she adds. “I don’t get the whole Bernie tsunami because he sounds angry to me. I like how measured and intelligent she is, and I’m on board with pretty much all of her positions.”

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Fake bake news!

A video from The Kid Should See This that I’ll definitely be making sure my kids see. They love all these ‘hacks’, but they aren’t all what they seem. #gross

Debunking fake ‘kitchen hacks’ that have billions of viewsThe Kid Should See This
Popular kitchen hack videos rack up millions and billions of views on YouTube and Facebook. They’re surprising! They’re fun to watch! And they look pretty easy to do. But beware: Not all of these ideas, tips, and tricks actually work.

The fake ‘kitchen hacks’ with billions of views – BBCYouTube

The beginnings of linguistic inclusion?

Bong Joon Ho’s latest film Parasite has been doing quite well recently, subtitles notwithstanding.

Trump inexplicably complains about ‘Parasite’ Oscar winsThe Wrap
“By the way, how bad were the Academy Awards? And the winner is a movie from South Korea,” said Trump. “What the hell was that all about? We got enough problems with South Korea with trade. On top of it, they give him the best movie of the year? Was it good? I don’t know. Can we get ‘Gone With the Wind’ back please? ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ So many great movies, the winner is from South Korea. I thought it was best foreign film, right? Best foreign movie. No! Did this ever happen before?”

I loved this take on it from Language Log, a wonderfully anachronistic-looking blog from the University of Pennsylvania.

“Overcoming the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles”: The Oscars and multilingualismLanguage Log
It is well known that multilingualism is the norm rather than the exception around the world … so monolingualism in countries like the USA is at least as unnatural as subtitles on a movie, if not more so.

In his speeches and interviews, director Bong Joon Ho consistently code-switches between English and Korean (e.g. here). This is another novelty. Code-switching is not commonly seen on American TV. I loved his half-apologetic, half-cheeky laugh when he said in perfect English: “I am a foreign language filmmaker so I need a translator here. Please understand.” The interpreter herself has been in the spotlight as well.

Watch out men, it’s a Leap Day!

Vintage Leap Day postcardsPostcrossing
2020 is a Leap Year, so how about a look at some old postcards illustrating one of the best-known Leap Day traditions? If you’ve never heard of this, the tradition is that on Leap Day (and only on Leap Day!) women can propose to men.

And there were some serious consequences for those that refused. Huffington Post has more on this and other marriage superstitions and traditions, and check out this Flickr group for more Leap Day postcards.

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The banality of evil

You remember that post I shared in June 2014 about the CIA’s Twitter account, right? It seems it’s not improved in the intervening six years.

The CIA’s Twitter account is a war crimeThe Outline
Social media obscures the realities of the entity using it, instead allowing it to represent itself as the more-abstracted notion of “a brand.” The public opinion of an occupation that requires one to partake in “forced sodomy for prisoners who refused food” gets confusing when that same entitity is posting pictures of adorable deer, joking that they’re just as stealthy as its employees. This isn’t just its social media team: the CIA hires a litany of employees, “operations officers, to analysts, to librarians and public affairs,” whose roles’ banality upholds the whole operation. Maybe the CIA intentionally runs this account knowing we’d be all, “WTF, CIA?”. Worse, maybe it’s really such a “normal” workplace that most individuals who work there are just as far removed from its conduct as you or I, which leads them to believe this kind of thing is completely fine.

I wonder if they refer to their style guide when drafting those tweets.

Writing tips from the CIA’s ruthless style manualQuartz
As revealed in the manual, the CIA is a prescriptivist scold, a believer in the serial comma, and a champion of “crisp and pungent” language “devoid of jargon.” It takes a firm stand against false titles used attributively and urges intelligence writers to lowercase the w in Vietnam war (“undeclared”).

Perhaps they just need another coffee.

At CIA Starbucks, even the baristas are covertWashington Post
The new supervisor thought his idea was innocent enough. He wanted the baristas to write the names of customers on their cups to speed up lines and ease confusion, just like other Starbucks do around the world. But these aren’t just any customers. They are regulars at the CIA Starbucks.

Talking rubbish

Whilst I could be described as being a ‘knowledge worker’, I work in a place as far from Silicon Valley as it’s possible to be. There is no table-football or Lego in my office. We don’t have hot desks or use Slack. And there’s no expectation that we swap the 9-to-5 with 996, that is 9am to 9pm, six days a week. Less 24/7, more 7-and-a-half/5. Others aren’t so lucky, however.

Silicon Valley ruined work cultureWired
Lyons believes these new-agey corporate practices, along with perks like free snacks or beer on tap, are simply a misdirection from something rotten at the core. He blames worker unhappiness not just on Silicon Valley’s work culture but also on its business model—one he calls “shareholder capitalism.” The modern tech company is obsessed with growth and profit, at the expense of its employees and to the benefit of its investors. Some lucky employees might have stock options, but most don’t, and even then it’s a small percentage of the money flowing back to investors. The perks, then, function like trick mirrors, “a way to distract employees and keep them from noticing that their pockets are being picked.”

I’m imagining Uncanny Valley, Anna Wiener’s new book on Silicon Valley and start-up culture, to be a Microserfs for millennials. It probably isn’t.

Seduced by Start-up Land: A new memoir about millennial ambition in Silicon Valley – The Cut
Uncanny Valley is a memoir about Wiener’s journey through start-up culture during its most bullish and self-aggrandizing era, and how her idealism gives way to disappointment and horror as society starts to suffer the consequences of tech’s unchecked fetish for growth.

Examining endemic ills of tech bros in ‘Uncanny Valley’The Boston Globe
The most valuable question Wiener asks is why we are allowing that to happen — why we have such blind faith in these “ambitious, aggressive, arrogant young men from America’s soft suburbs,” why we’re so seduced by their confidence that we assume their priorities should be our own, why we defer to them when we ought to be saying no.

As well as via some very suspect management practices, that culture is expressed by the choice of language being used.

Garbage language: Why do corporations speak the way they do?Vulture
Wiener writes especially well — with both fluency and astonishment — about the verbal habits of her peers: “People used a sort of nonlanguage, which was neither beautiful nor especially efficient: a mash-up of business-speak with athletic and wartime metaphors, inflated with self-importance. Calls to action; front lines and trenches; blitzscaling. Companies didn’t fail, they died.” She describes a man who wheels around her office on a scooter barking into a wireless headset about growth hacking, proactive technology, parallelization, and the first-mover advantage. “It was garbage language,” Wiener writes, “but customers loved him.” […]

I like Anna Wiener’s term for this kind of talk: garbage language. It’s more descriptive than corporatespeak or buzzwords or jargon. Corporatespeak is dated; buzzword is autological, since it is arguably an example of what it describes; and jargon conflates stupid usages with specialist languages that are actually purposeful, like those of law or science or medicine. Wiener’s garbage language works because garbage is what we produce mindlessly in the course of our days and because it smells horrible and looks ugly and we don’t think about it except when we’re saying that it’s bad, as I am right now.

She’s not the only one to spot this, of course.

Corporate buzzwords are how workers pretend to be adultsThe Atlantic
From a more cynical perspective, buzzwords are useful when office workers need to dress up their otherwise pointless tasks with fancier phrases—you know, for the optics. Coal miners and doctors and tennis instructors have specific jargon they use to get their points across, but “all-purpose business language is the language you use when you aren’t really doing anything.”

Perhaps, instead of using garbage language, we could flick through the pages of Eunoia, a diction of words that don’t translate.

Eunoia: The internet’s dictionary of untranslatable wordsBlog of the Long Now
Eunoia is itself an untranslatable word meaning a “well-mind” or “beautiful thinking.” The user can search Eunoia’s database by “language, tag, or the word itself. There are over 500 words in the database, across 50+ languages and 50+ tags.”

The language with the highest untranslatable words was German; from the well-known Schadenfreude, which means to be happy at someone else’s misfortune, to the complicated Jein, meaning both yes and no.

That last one, jein, reminded me of this new construction that I’m still looking for an excuse to use.

But/andRobin Sloan
I find that in my own writing, my own sequencing of ideas, what I most often want is “and,” except that “and” is so linear: it can’t capture a turn or a twist. The layers of “but/and” do it almost perfectly, and, as a bonus, its clumsiness basically admits, “I am no great rhetorician; this is not a mathematical proof; I’m just trying my best,” which, to me, is a great benefit. […]

“And” is the continuation, fine as far as is goes; “but” is the negation, even if you pretend it’s not; “but/and” is the turn, the twist, the resonance, the perfect fifth.