Need something to read?

In this age of 24-hour, panic-driven, conflict-addictive news content designed just to be clicked on, glanced at and forgotten, here’s an archive of journalism worth spending some time with.

The Stacks Reader
The Stacks Reader is an online collection of classic journalism and writing about the arts that would otherwise be lost to history. Motivated less by nostalgia than by preservation, The Stacks Reader is a living archive of memorable storytelling—a museum for stories. We celebrate writers, highlight memorable publications, honor notable personalities, and produce interviews with writers and editors and illustrators in the hope of offering compelling insight into how journalism worked, particularly in the second half of the 20th Century.

For those of you with a little more time on your hands, perhaps you want to settle down with a good book.

Internet Archive’s ‘national emergency library’ has over a million books to read right nowCNET
The Internet Archive will suspend its waiting lists for digital copies of books, as part of its National Emergency Library. “Users will be able to borrow books from the National Emergency Library without joining a waitlist, ensuring that students will have access to assigned readings and library materials that the Internet Archive has digitized,” the organization said in a blog post last week.

The decision comes as schools around the country are shut down in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and as it’s become more difficult to get goods of all kinds. The post noted that many people can’t physically go to their local libraries these days.

More open eBooks: routinizing open access eBook workflowsThe Signal
We are excited to share that anyone anywhere can now access a growing online collection of contemporary open access eBooks from the Library of Congress website. For example, you can now directly access books such as Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks, and Youjeong Oh’s Pop City: Korean Popular Culture and the Selling of Place from the Library of Congress website. All of these books have been made broadly available online in keeping with the intent of their creators and publishers, which chose to publish these works under open access licenses.

Or if you fancy something older and more visual, check out this remarkable archive from the Cambridge Digital Library.

There’s so much in here, I’m having trouble deciding what to highlight.

Newton PapersCambridge Digital Library
Cambridge University Library is pleased to present the first items in its Foundations of Science collection: a selection from the Papers of Sir Isaac Newton. The Library holds the most important and substantial collection of Newton’s scientific and mathematical manuscripts and over the next few months we intend to make most of our Newton papers available on this site.

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Sassoon JournalsCambridge Digital Library
The notebooks kept by the soldier-poet Siegfried Sassoon (1886–1967) during his service in the British Army in the First World War are among the most remarkable documents of their kind, and provide an extraordinary insight into his participation in one of the defining conflicts of European history.

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It’s not all scans of historic documents, however.

Department of Engineering Photography competitionCambridge Digital Library
The annual Department of Engineering photo competition highlights the variety and beauty of engineering. For many people, engineering conjures up images of bridges, tunnels and buildings. But the annual University of Cambridge engineering photo competition shows that not only is engineering an incredibly diverse field, it’s a beautiful one too.

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Christian Hoecker – Carbon Nanotube WebCambridge Digital Library
This fibrous material is made of self-assembled carbon nanotubes. The diameter of each nanotube is more than a thousand times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.

A few lines about where I live

First, some contour lines that let you turn the world into a Joy Division album cover.

Peak map
This website allows you to pick any region of the world and print its high points in artistic, joyful manner.

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And these lines show that all roads don’t always lead to Rome.

City roads
This website renders every single road within a city.

Here’s Leeds, Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom. My Leeds.

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This is Leeds, Jefferson County, Alabama, United States of America. Not my Leeds.

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Lines of a different kind now. Centre the map on any location for a few lines of poetry.

OpenStreetMap Haiku

Some are quite poignant, like this poem centred on a nearby children’s hospital.

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Others would make interesting advertising campaigns.

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It’s a fascinating way of humanising geography. And quite addictive, too.

OpenStreetMap Haiku: Using OSM and Overpass for generative poetrySatellite Studio
Here’s what’s happening: we automated making haikus about places. Looking at every aspect of the surroundings of a point, we can generate a poem about any place in the world. The result is sometimes fun, often weird, most of the time pretty terrible. Also probably horrifying for haiku purists (sorry). Go ahead and give it a try.

Engaging poetry

A strange little tale from Benjamin Aleshire, poet for hire.

Big Data vs. Big Dada: Writing poetry on demand at a New Orleans tech convention
“I’d like my poem to be about, ‘How to help people’—it’s for my boss,” a cheery young woman tells me, an hour before we close up shop on the final day of the conference. This assignment moves me profoundly—after a thousand poems about anniversaries and dense explications of maverick approaches to data analysis, someone seems sincerely interested in the human condition—an embodiment of the benevolent side of the tech industry. Despite my rage at companies like Facebook for their complicity in the election of a psychopathic demagogue, among many other sins—Silicon Valley aspires to a fervent streak of altruism that falls squarely into the tradition of idealism going back to the 1800s.

The subject for her poem is a question philosophers have wrestled with for centuries, leading to Marx’s indictment of capitalism as a virus which will ultimately eat itself, unless it’s eradicated by a system which doesn’t require exponential profit at the expense of workers and the environment. I don’t say any of this, because not even Marxists enjoy the mansplaining of Marx—instead, I say, “That’s so beautiful, it makes me think of the roots of idealism.”

“I was thinking more along the lines of customer engagement. Like, ‘How can we help our customer engage more with our product and our content?’” she informs me. Oy.

Needless to say, it doesn’t end well.

So, farewell then, Clive

Sad to hear about the loss of Clive James (and Jonathan Miller and Gary Rhodes) earlier. A man of many talents.

TV reviewers the world over owe debt to Clive JamesIrish times
live James, who died this week, was a man of many impressive parts, poet, essayist, literary critic, broadcaster, songwriter and blogger among them. But for me, it was the TV reviews he wrote for the Observer newspaper from 1972 to 1982 that left the most vivid and lasting impression. That’s partly because James essentially invented the newspaper TV review as a particular sort of place where writers could flex their muscles and show off in a way that might have been frowned on elsewhere. But it was mostly because he was so damned brilliant at the job that everyone who followed remains in his shadow.

Clive James’ best quips – from Beyoncé takedown to Arnold Schwarzenegger ‘condom full of walnuts’ jibeMirror
On novelist Barbara Cartland: “Twin miracles of mascara, her eyes looked like the corpses of two small crows that had crashed into a chalk cliff.”

“Windows is Shutting Down” – Caltech
Clive James is an illustrious expatriate Australian poet and author living in London. The title (and opening phrase) of his poem will be familiar to everyone reading these words. I’ve read them often enough myself, but it has taken James’s wit to point out how they should have grated painfully on my grammatical ear. It is a marvellously chosen example to illustrate his claim about declining grammatical standards, since digital technology has been such a powerful force for generating mangled syntax.

It’s through his TV work that I know him best, and his shows in the 80s and 90s were compulsory viewing.

Clive James on Television – ITV, 14th August 1988YouTube

The Clive James Show (Carlton) – 26th May 1996YouTube

And yes, that last one does include a demonstration of the musical talents of one Margarita Pracatan.

This report is ███████████

So what are we to make of the Mueller Report on Trump’s dealings with Russia? Here’s The Economist’s take on it.

What to make of the Mueller report: Robert Mueller’s magnum opus
The first 170 pages concern Russia. … Paul Manafort, Mr Trump’s campaign chair, who was deep in debt to a Russian oligarch, shared internal polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, one of his Kiev-based employees with apparent links to both that oligarch and Russian intelligence. Even Rick Gates, Mr Manafort’s right-hand man, believed Mr Kilimnik was a “spy”. That did not stop Mr Manafort from meeting Mr Kilimnik. George Papadopoulos, a junior foreign-policy advisor who pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators, tried to let the campaign know early on that the Russians had compromising material on Mrs Clinton (nobody thought to tell the FBI). Donald Trump junior arranged a meeting with a Russian lawyer who promised “dirt” on Mrs Clinton. And of course Mr Trump himself was pursuing a Trump Tower Moscow project until just five months before the election, while simultaneously pushing for better relations with Moscow. None of this may have been illegal, but had voters known about it they might have made a different choice. …

The report’s second part deals with obstruction of justice. … The striking thing about this section, when read in full, is how self-wounding Mr Trump’s behaviour has been. Had he simply kept quiet, and let Mr Mueller complete his investigation into his campaign’s links into Russia, the obstruction investigation never would have happened. Instead, he interfered clumsily on many occasions, allowing the special counsel to amass a damning record of the president’s truculence, dishonesty and contempt for federal investigators.

The report itself is quite an important, historical document, though.

Mueller Mania is in full swing, and people are paying a pretty penny for the free report
The Mueller Report is available for free on the Justice Department’s site (here). But that didn’t stop publishers from printing it for profit.

Simon & Schuster’s Scribner published a version “presented with related materials by The Washington Post” — available for $10.22 as a paperback or $7.99 on the Kindle — that topped Amazon’s best-seller rankings. Publisher Skyhorse’s version, featuring an intro by a Harvard law professor, claimed the #2 spot (at $9.20 in paperback); publisher Melville House’s straight-up version (just $7.27) took the #3 spot. …

People aren’t buying books, they’re buying mementos
The fact that people bought enough copies of a free report to mint not 1 but 3 separate best-sellers may seem unlikely, or even downright dumb.

But it’s not the first time a government document has gone big: The Starr Report (about President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky) and the Pentagon Papers both became popular best-sellers after printing in 1998 and 2011, respectively.

Perceptive publishers know that people don’t buy these books for the info they contain, but the emotions they evoke: A physical Mueller Report meta-memorializes months of dramatic, scandalous, and conversation-starting news cycles in a single, boring book.

You would have thought we had had enough by now.

Remember when Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, shot himself in the foot with some sloppy document formatting? Mueller’s report wasn’t much better, initially — it was just a collection of scanned images.

The official PDF of the Mueller report has been updated in a subtle but important way
The decision immediately elicited groans from people trying to search the report for juicy details. A giant file of images has no text to search. It was also condemned by a group involved in setting technical specifications for the portable document format: “This deliberate and unnecessary act made the document substantially harder for anyone and everyone to use, forever,” wrote Duff Johnson, executive director of the PDF Association, in a delightful review of the file’s nerdiest details.

News organizations and Mueller fanatics quickly addressed this problem by running the PDF through a process known as optical character recognition (OCR) to add searchable text to the document. So, to review: The Mueller report was written on a computer, then printed out on paper, scanned back into digital images, and finally regenerated into text using software.

Of course, not everything in the report has been made available to us. As this image from FlowingData shows, a significant amount of redaction has taken place.

Redacted
The redacted version (pdf) of the Mueller report was released today. Here’s the thumbnailed view for a sense of the redactions.

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And as this Quartz Obsession post explains, redaction is big business.

Redaction
95 million: Documents classified by the United States in 2012

2 million: Employees the National Archives estimates it would take, given a year and a half, to review one year’s worth of current classified output of one US intelligence agency

14,462: Peak size of the US government’s World War II-era Office of Censorship, whose duties included redacting letters

But let’s end this on a more creative note.

The Trump-era boom in erasure poetry
Published less than a month after Trump’s first executive order banned citizens from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen from entering the country for 90 days, “Form N-400 Erasures” is an example of erasure poetry, a poetic form that has spiked in popularity since Trump’s elections galvanized a culture of resistance online. Also known as blackout or redaction poetry, this is a type of poetry created from the substrate material of an existing text. Obscure many of the words, these poems command, and you will find the sentences that have been there all along.

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While erasure can mimic the violence of the state, it can also expose the human cost of suppression, and symbolically restore a voice to the silenced.

Erasing the language of Trump, on the other hand, provides the particular satisfaction of watching Trump say exactly what he means, stripped of bombast. That perverse pleasure drives “When You Win It’s Winning,” Ariel Yelen’s erasures of four of his speech transcripts. Here, Trump is hyperbolic and boastful as ever, but in erasing certain words, Yelen has him articulate the implications of his rhetoric. “I / want / a new America / an / America / so / reckless / s / o / disastrous / s / o / chao / t / ic /,” he says. “I / am / what is wrong with this country.”

Walls of beige

Remember that post about the real life Amazon bookstore with its books all facing out? Well, here’s another strange set of shelves.

In defense of keeping books spine-in
I’ve gathered that this is a controversial declaration, and that I risk inciting upset, even outrage. When, earlier this year, various publications reported on a growing trend of books shelved spine-in, many writers I know—who, by and large, are fairly big-hearted, tolerant people, respectful of differences, wary of orthodoxies—collectively lost their shit. Disgraceful, they said, appalling. No one who authentically loves books does this.

The author R.O. Kwon goes on to explain where her love of her “walls of paged-through, dog-eared beige” came from, and outlines some of the unexpected benefits of such an arrangement. It reminded me of this jokey bookshop photo that was doing the rounds some years back.

But let’s leave the last word on how we arrange our books to the poet Brian Bilston.

For want of a comma, $5 million was lost

See? I told you these kinds of things were important.

Oxford comma dispute is settled as Maine drivers get $5 million
Ending a case that electrified punctuation pedants, grammar goons and comma connoisseurs, Oakhurst Dairy settled an overtime dispute with its drivers that hinged entirely on the lack of an Oxford comma in state law.

The dairy company in Portland, Me., agreed to pay $5 million to the drivers, according to court documents filed on Thursday.

The relatively small-scale dispute gained international notoriety last year when the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that the missing comma created enough uncertainty to side with the drivers, granting those who love the Oxford comma a chance to run a victory lap across the internet.

And now read this poem on the importance of the Oxford comma, from Brian Bilston.

With friends like these

Poet Wallace Stevens, much admired – kind of.

The detached poet
Of course, none of this prevented him from publishing some of the most linguistically inventive poetry in American history, and it’s a testament to his talents that he’ll be remembered as one of the 20th century’s greatest poets, despite not being a particularly intellectual or even reflective one.

Damning with faint praise, especially the part where the article lists all the events and changes that have happened during his lifetime, that have all passed him by.