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News 11.11.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 11.11.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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News 11.11.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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News 11.11.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
@pamelaloutfi

Leominster, in the West Midlands area of England, is an ancient market town where the past and the present are jumbled together like coins in a change purse. Shops housed in half-timbered sixteenth-century Tudor buildings face the main square, offering cream teas and antiques. The town’s most lurid attraction is a well-preserved ducking stool, a mode of punishment in which an offender was strapped to a seat and dunked into a pond or a river while neighbors jeered; the device, last employed in 1809, is now on incongruous display inside the Priory Church, which dates to the thirteenth century. Christianity has even older roots in Leominster: a monastery was established around 660 by a recent convert, the Saxon leader Merewalh, who is thought to have been a son of Penda, the King of Mercia. For much of the early Middle Ages, Mercia was the most powerful of the four main Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, the others being Wessex, East Anglia, and Northumberland. In the tenth century, these realms were unified to become the Kingdom of England. Although the region surrounding Leominster (pronounced “Lemster”) is no longer officially known as Mercia, this legacy is preserved in the name of the local constabulary: the West Mercia Police.

On June 2, 2015, two metal-detector hobbyists aware of the area’s heritage, George Powell and Layton Davies, drove ninety minutes north of their homes, in South Wales, to the hamlet of Eye, about four miles outside Leominster. The farmland there is picturesque: narrow, hedgerow-lined lanes wend among pastures dotted with spreading trees and undulating crop fields. Anyone fascinated by the layered accretions of British history—or eager to learn what might be buried within those layers—would find it an attractive spot. English place-names, most of which date back to Anglo-Saxon times, are often repositories of meaning: the name Eye, for example, derives from Old English, and translates as “dry ground in a marsh.” Just outside the hamlet was a rise in the landscape, identified on maps by the tantalizing appellation of King’s Hall Hill.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

News 11.11.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 11.11.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

On October 23, eleven days before the presidential election, Manohla Dargis, one of the movie critics at the New York Times, popped in to the #newsroom-feedback channel on the company’s Slack to pose an existential query. “Friendly question,” Dargis wrote to more than 2,000 of her colleagues. “What is this channel now?”

The #newsroom-feedback channel had been created in June, after the Times published an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas arguing for the deployment of the military to quell unrest stemming from nationwide protests in response to the police killing of George Floyd. The column was quickly lambasted: for factual errors, an inflammatory headline — “Send in the Troops” — and a feeling that the Times should not be in the business of publishing arguments for the use of American troops to crack down on American citizens. In response, dozens of the paper’s employees took to Twitter, writing in unison, “Running this puts Black @nytimes staffers in danger.”

This was a break from Timesian tradition, which prohibited employees from expressing their anger at the paper to the broader world. So the staff turned to Slack, taking aim first at the column (“It’s very Bolsonaro of Op-Ed to run this”); then at the op-ed section’s editor, James Bennet (“We’re tiptoeing around the elephant in the room, trying not to notice the stink of the huge pile of crap it’s just dumped. Should JB be replaced?”); and, eventually, at the Times itself. Employees of color felt unheard — “We love this institution, even though sometimes it feels like it doesn’t love us back” — while tech reporters worried the Times’ defense of the column, in the name of an open consideration of a wide range of opinion, was making the paper look like the companies its reporting was taking to task: “It is frustrating to hear some of the same excuses (we’re just a platform for ideas!) that our journalists and columnists have criticized tech CEOs for making.”

Read the rest of this article at: New York Magazine

During the pandemic, like everyone else, I made promises to myself and tried to take up healthier habits. I started knitting, drawing, and journaling again. I traded in my reality TV addiction for Ken Burns documentaries. And, while others were learning to bake bread or garden, I decided to stop being an Ethical Consumer. One day, I needed new pajamas. Gap was selling two pairs for $40, so I bought them. I needed home office supplies, so I ordered them off Amazon. And I went back to using plastic single-use cups at my local coffee shop.

Ethical Consumers are people who believe that we are slowly and inexorably driving business and society to be more responsible one purchase at a time. For decades, I’ve bought into this belief system, right down to eating vegetarian, buying organic food, eschewing corporate fashion, and writing books about conscious consumption. I live in a Brooklyn neighborhood engineered for Ethical Consumers, dotted with non-toxic nail salons, Fair Trade baby clothes stores, and organic wine shops. Being an Ethical Consumer is a part of my everyday reality, my work, and my identity—or at least it was.

Read the rest of this article at: Atmos

News 11.11.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 11.11.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

What is the human being? Traditionally, it was thought that human nature was something fixed, given either by nature or by God, once and for all. Humans occupy a unique place in creation by virtue of a specific combination of faculties that they alone possess, and this is what makes us who we are. This view comes from the schools of ancient philosophy such as Platonism, Aristotelianism and Stoicism, as well as the Christian tradition. More recently, it has been argued that there is actually no such thing as human nature but merely a complex set of behaviours and attitudes that can be interpreted in different ways. For this view, all talk of a fixed human nature is merely a naive and convenient way of discussing the human experience, but doesn’t ultimately correspond to any external reality. This view can be found in the traditions of existentialism, deconstruction and different schools of modern philosophy of mind.

There is, however, a third approach that occupies a place between these two. This view, which might be called historicism, claims that there is a meaningful conception of human nature, but that it changes over time as human society develops. This approach is most commonly associated with the German philosopher G W F Hegel (1770-1831). He rejects the claim of the first view, that of the essentialists, since he doesn’t think that human nature is something given or created once and for all. But he also rejects the second view since he doesn’t believe that the notion of human nature is just an outdated fiction we’ve inherited from the tradition. Instead, Hegel claims that it’s meaningful and useful to talk about the reality of some kind of human nature, and that this can be understood by an analysis of human development in history. Unfortunately, Hegel wrote in a rather inaccessible fashion, which has led many people to dismiss his views as incomprehensible or confused. His theory of philosophical anthropology, which is closely connected to his theory of historical development, has thus remained the domain of specialists. It shouldn’t.

With his astonishing wealth of knowledge about history and culture, Hegel analyses the ways in which what we today call subjectivity and individuality first arose and developed through time. He holds that, at the beginning of human history, people didn’t conceive of themselves as individuals in the same way that we do today. There was no conception of a unique and special inward sphere that we value so much in our modern self-image. Instead, the ancients conceived of themselves primarily as belonging to a larger group: the family, the tribe, the state, etc. This meant that questions of individual freedom or self-determination didn’t arise in the way that we’re used to understanding them.

Read the rest of this article at: aeon

News 11.11.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

When Jennifer Egan’s novel “A Visit from the Goon Squad” won the Pulitzer Prize, in 2011, much fuss was made over its penultimate chapter, which presents the diary of a twelve-year-old girl in the form of a seventy-six-page PowerPoint presentation. Despite the nearly universal acclaim that the novel had received, critics had trouble deciding whether the PowerPoint was a dazzling, avant-garde innovation or, as one reviewer described it, “a wacky literary gimmick,” a cheap trick that diminished the over-all value of the novel. In an interview with Egan, the novelist Heidi Julavits confessed to dreading the chapter before she read it, and then experiencing a happy relief once she had. “I live in fear of the gimmicky story that fails to rise above its gimmick,” she said. “But within a few pages I totally forgot about the PowerPoint presentation, that’s how ungimmicky your gimmick was.”

The word “gimmick” is believed to come from “gimac,” an anagram of “magic.” The word was likely first used by magicians, gamblers, and swindlers in the nineteen-twenties to refer to the props they wielded to attract, and to misdirect, attention—and sometimes, according to “The Wise-Crack Dictionary,” from 1926, to turn “a fair game crooked.” From such duplicitous beginnings, the idea of gimmickry soon spread. In Vladimir Nabokov’s novel “Invitation to a Beheading,” from 1935, a mother distracts her imprisoned son from counting the hours to his execution by describing the “marvelous gimmicks” of her childhood. The most shocking, she explains, was a trick mirror. When “shapeless, mottled, pockmarked, knobby things” were placed in front of the mirror, it would reflect perfectly sensible forms: flowers, fields, ships, people. When confronted with a human face or hand, the mirror would reflect a jumble of broken images. As the son listens to his mother describe her gimmick, he sees her eyes spark with terror and pity, “as if something real, unquestionable (in this world, where everything was subject to question), had passed through, as if a corner of this horrible life had curled up, and there was a glimpse of the lining.” Behind the mirror lurks something monstrous—an idea of art as device, an object whose representational powers can distort and devalue just as easily as they can estrange and enchant.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

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