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In the News 29.09.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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In the News 29.09.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
In the News 29.09.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
In the News 29.09.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

This Island Is Not For Sale: How Eigg Fought Back

“It’s the difference between black-and-white TV and colour,” said Brian Greene. “That’s what it was like after the revolution.” Greene was giving me a lift in his dilapidated Peugeot along Eigg’s only road, waving at every passerby. It was the kind of explosive Highland summer day when butterflies jinked out of the steaming greenery and every foxglove, fuchsia and yellow flag iris seemed to have simultaneously burst into flower.

Small islands are like celebrities: they loom far larger than their actual size, they are pored over by visitor-fans and they become public possessions, laden with reputations and attributes they may or may not embody. The Hebridean island of Eigg is second to St Kilda as the most famous of the smaller British isles. While St Kilda is renowned for its extinction as a place of human settlement, Eigg is celebrated for its rebirth. After overthrowing its eccentric, authoritarian owner two decades ago, this 31 sq km (12 sq mile) patch of moor and mountain was reborn as what is sometimes mockingly called the People’s Republic of Eigg. This triumph of David versus Goliath has forged an apparently inspirational, sustainable community of 100 people. On first glance, it appears at once industriously creative and attractively lackadaisical: colourful houses, gardens filled with strawberry patches, hammocks made from old fishing nets and swings from old pink buoys.

Read the rest of this article at: The Guardian

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The Curses: Part I

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In discussing twentieth century American popular music and its most essential genre, the blues, there have been two main channels for getting into the history, or, as we like to say, the roots, of that tradition. The first and more familiar involves the so-called “pre-war blues”—confusingly called so, if you stop to think, since the music referred to by that name was recorded between 1921 and about 1937; the term ought to be, “between-wars,” or entre deux guerres. Regardless, people who love old music know what you mean when you say it. A dim blue light comes on over crackly shellac. “Pre-war”: that’s the twenties and thirties, the Okeh and Paramount labels, southern blues queens and obscure rural guitar geniuses. The real business. The plutonium.

The second and less familiar way of grappling with the music’s roots, and the one to which this story belongs in a sideways fashion, has to do with what gets called the Early Blues or, in a few instances, proto-blues. These terms are more elastic, chronologically, and can expand at the user’s discretion to fill the whole span of time between the end of the Civil War and the start of World War I, but they most often and most properly relate to the quarter century or so between, say, the late 1880s and 1915 or ’16, the years of formation, when the cultural elements that combined to form the music we call blues were active in the American test tube. This is an age not of “race records” but of Edison cylinders and sheet-music hits. It’s Tin Pan Alley and vaudeville, minstrel shows and medicine shows. Music happens by lamplight under canvas tents and in late-Victorian parlors, in brothels and churches. It comes from player pianos in taverns. If we hear a blues queen singing on the phonograph, she will be not Mamie or Bessie or Ma, but Nora Bayes, aka Dora Goldberg, a Jewish girl from Illinois, doing “Homesickness Blues” “This darky was some homesick, believe us!” reads the Victor Records catalogue. Or else she is Marion Harris, a white teenager from Indiana, from a miniscule place on the Ohio River called Pigeon Township (though she told people she came from the other side of the river, in Kentucky—it sounded better). She got famous, went to England, and married an English guy, but their house in London was obliterated by a German bomb in 1944, so she came back to America, only to die alone in a fire in her hotel room in New York City (cigarette, bed). All white girls. No African American singer was able to record a vocal blues for several more years, not until Mamie Smith did “Crazy Blues” in 1920 (and Mamie only got that job because Sophie Tucker—Jewish and from Connecticut—fell ill). A year or two later Smith’s contemporary, the black singer Sara Martin, a real Kentuckian (Louisville), found herself billed as “the black Sophie Tucker.” At times there’s a through-the-looking-glass quality to it all. Much that we think of as solid is liquid. Blacks and whites are both performing in blackface. Authenticity and appropriation play hide-and-seek.

Read the rest of this article at: The Sewanee Review

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Spoiling For a Fight

On 10 February 1355, St Scholastica Day, two students at the University of Oxford got into a dispute with the landlord of the tavern at which they had been drinking. The quality of the wine, they felt, was not up to snuff. The landlord disagreed. In response, the students threw a quart pot of wine in his face and proceeded to beat him senseless. The mayor of Oxford asked the chancellor of the university to arrest the students, but 200 other ‘scholars’ turned out in their defence. Three days of rioting followed, with the townsfolk, from the mayor downwards, calling in local villagers to help defeat the students. Around 63 were killed, as were 30 locals. Many more were injured, and massive damage was done to university property. This really was town versus gown.

Oxford in the 14th century was a pretty dangerous place, even without this type of incident. A study of coroners’ rolls from the 1340s suggests a homicide rate of 120 per 100,000 of the population – compared with around 1 per 100,000 of the population today for England, Wales and Scotland, meaning you were 100 times more likely to be murdered in medieval Oxford than you are in modern Britain. And homicide in 14th-century Oxford, for both perpetrators and victims, was an overwhelmingly male affair, whereas now a third of all homicide victims are women. Some of the victims were simply unlucky: in a case of mistaken identity from 1319, Luke de Horton, probably a townsman, was cut down in the course of a student feud when he left his house to urinate in the street. More commonly, homicides arose from arguments between young adult men, whether townsfolk, students or members of Oxford’s transient population. The truism that, if you want to avoid violence, don’t go to bars where young men drink had already been established in 14th-century Oxford. But in most other respects, this medieval city presents us with a violence which was unlike, and running at a much higher level than, the current experience in Britain.

Read the rest of this article at: aeon

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The History of Sears Predicts Nearly Everything Amazon Is Doing

Amazon comes to conquer brick-and-mortar retail, not to bury it. In the last two years, the company has opened 11 physical bookstores. This summer, it bought Whole Foods and its 400 grocery locations. And last week, the company announced a partnership with Kohl’s to allow returns at the physical retailer’s stores.

Why is Amazon looking more and more like an old-fashioned retailer? The company’s do-it-all corporate strategy adheres to a familiar playbook—that of Sears, Roebuck & Company. Sears might seem like a zombie today, but it’s easy to forget how transformative the company was exactly 100 years ago, when it, too, was capitalizing on a mail-to-consumer business to establish a physical retail presence.

To understand Amazon—its evolution, its strategy, and perhaps its future—look to Sears.

* * *

Mail was an internet before the internet. After the Civil War, several new communications and transportations systems—the telegraph, rail, and parcel delivery—made it possible to shop at home and have items delivered to your door. Americans browsed catalogues on their couches for jewelry, food, and books. Merchants sent the parcels by rail.

From its founding in the late 19th century to its world-famous catalog, the history of Sears, Roebuck & Company is well known. Less storied is its magnificently successful transition from a mailing company to a brick-and-mortar giant. Like Amazon among its online-shopping rivals, Sears was not the country’s first mail-order retailer, but it became the largest of its kind. Like Amazon, it started with a single product category—watches, rather than books. But, like Amazon, the company grew to include a range of products, including guns, gramophones, cars, and even groceries.

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

Can Tech Startups Do Journalism?

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In June 2015, a new, hyperspecific website named Van Winkle’s went live. It was billed as an online destination for “all aspects of sleep and various nocturnal adventures” by its editorial director, Elizabeth Spiers, formerly an editor at Gawker and the Observer. In its first week, the site’s pieces included a listicle about dream sequence clichés and a 2,800-word feature on the rise of benzodiazepine prescriptions. Its editor-in-chief, Jeff Koyen, heralded it as “the first editorial venture of its kind.” What he meant by that had as much to do with its niche subject matter as it did its funding source: Van Winkle’s was not a traditionally independent journalistic venture, but the latest product of mattress startup Casper.

“We have a long-term vision for Casper to become the dedicated brand for all things sleep, and part of owning that category is owning the best content related to it,” Casper CEO Philip Krim told The Wall Street Journal at the time, speaking pure startup. He later added: “The mandate is to create awesome content and that’s it.”

It would make sense that Krim — who had raised $15 million in funding for his company — saw inherent value in encouraging the online conversation about sleep, a topic that’s far more interesting than mattresses. The implicit idea behind Van Winkle’s was inception: People who read about sleep would then care about sleep, and eventually feel inspired to spend more money on sleep-related products. Casper drew up a budget for an editorial team that included consulting from Spiers, a small operation headed up by Koyen, a full-time staff writer, and freelance work. When it debuted, Van Winkle’s went one step further to distance itself from the influences of Big Sleep, drawing a line between Casper’s business goals and Van Winkle’s content.

“I set up clear rules,” Koyen, who previously worked for Digiday, told me. “This was the only way I was going to take the job. We never covered mattresses, good or bad. We just blacklisted it. That went the same for anything coming down their product line.”

In its efforts to stake out some editorial integrity, Van Winkle’s wedged itself into a space between journalism and sponsored content, which the American Press Institute defines as material that “takes the same form and qualities of a publisher’s original content” and “serves useful or entertaining information as a way of favorably influencing the perception of the sponsor brand.” In practice, both Spiers and Koyen say that Van Winkle’s story assignments, fact checking, and editing functioned without interference from Casper’s business side. The site once ran a 6,000-plus-word investigation into ties between sleep deprivation and PTSD in the military. The only way a reader who stumbled on the site could be led to Casper.com was if she scrolled down the page and clicked a subtle line of text that says “Published by Casper,” along with the company site’s URL. It was real — if selective — journalism, even if it was funded by a brand, Spiers said.

Read the rest of this article at: The Ringer

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M. // Top images: @marieinmay; @sincerelyjules; @brightonkeller

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