Thursday, 1 June 2017

Cuttings: April 2017

I’m a bit brown. But in America I’m white. Not for much longer - article by Arwa Mahdawi in The Guardian. "Why are people from the Middle East counted as white by the US government but considered definitely-not-white by many Americans? How can you count somebody as white one year and then decide they’re not white the next year? Indeed it raises the question, what actually is 'whiteness' and who qualifies as white?... When the Irish first came to the US in large numbers nobody was holding parades in their honour; rather they were vilified in the same way that Mexicans and Muslims in the US are vilified today. In How the Irish Became White (1995), Noel Ignatiev writes that 'While the white skin made the Irish eligible for membership in the white race, it did not guarantee their admission; they had to earn it.' Ignatiev, along with others, argues that the Irish earned their admission by embracing racism against African-Americans; reinforcing their whiteness by emphasising other people’s blackness.... It’s not just the Irish who have worked their way into whiteness over the years. Italian-Americans have been similarly whitewashed. And in How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says About Race in America (1998), Karen Brodkin argues that Jewish intellectuals helped to 'whiten' US Jews during the 1950s and 1960s. Jews, she says, are now considered white – but perhaps not for ever. Whiteness doesn’t just expand to let people in, it can also contract and spit people out. In an essay last year, Brodkin wonders whether Trump will 'unwhiten' Jews."

Dystopian dreams: how feminist science fiction predicted the future - article by Naomi Alderman in The Guardian. "What interests me, and what links these stories [about the upbringing of Ursula Le Guin, Margaret Atwood, and Alice Sheldon (James Tiptree Jr)]... is the sense of young people having been exposed early on to the idea that there are other ways of living... That however you’ve grown up, it would always be possible to do things differently.... My latest novel, The Power, has been described as a dystopian thriller. In it, almost all the women in the world suddenly develop the power to electrocute people at will (they can electrocute women as well as men; also animals and inanimate objects – I based it on what electric eels do). And they use their power, slowly but surely, just as men do in our world today. Some of them are kind and some cruel. Some rape and some just have a jolly good time in bed with willing participants. Nothing happens to men in the novel – I explain carefully to interviewers – that is not happening to a woman in our world today. So is it dystopian? Well. Only if you’re a man.... Le Guin has a beautiful long short story that I’d encourage anyone to read. It’s called 'The Matter of Seggri' and it draws – as so much of her work does – on her deep sympathy with the position of the anthropologist, there to observe and understand, not judge and solve.... What I love about this story is how clear-eyed it is that all societies – at least all thus far constructed – leave something out. At a certain point in the story, one woman grieves over the curious behaviour of a [brothel] boy who had fallen in love with her and wanted to be free to live only with her. 'She thought, "My life is wrong." But she did not know how to make it right.' It’s a heartbreaking moment. So often when one’s life seems wrong, it’s the world that is wrong. But we do not know how to make it right."

The Road to Somewhere by David Goodhart: a liberal’s rightwing turn on immigration - review by Johnathan Freedland in The Guardian. "[Goodhart] argues that the key faultline in Britain and elsewhere now separates those who come from Somewhere – rooted in a specific place or community, usually a small town or in the countryside, socially conservative, often less educated – and those who could come from Anywhere: footloose, often urban, socially liberal and university educated.... Goodhart deserves credit for confronting ... early and front on [the issue of cultural, not only economic, discontent voiced by his 'Somewheres']. But that does not mean either his diagnosis or his prescriptions are right. First, in his sympathy for Somewheres he caricatures Anywheres. Too easily does his category ... collapse into an upmarket version of the hated 'metropolitan liberal elite'.... A visit to even the much derided, ultra-remain districts of, say, north London would show areas that are still genuine communities.... Anywheres come from somewhere too. Second, Goodhart insists that the views of Somewheres have been overlooked for decades, over-ruled by the Anywheres who control the commanding heights of political and cultural power, from the civil service to the universities to the BBC.... He claims Somewhere views are marginalised in our collective life, yet the Mail, Sun, Express, Telegraph and the rest air little else. It is the liberal internationalism of Anywheres that is drowned out. Where Goodhart goes wrong above all is on Britain’s ethnic and religious minorities.... The very qualities Goodhart most admires among the Somewheres – including neighbourliness, trust and a sense of shared destiny – are to be found in Britain’s minorities. They have not caused the social fragmentation he laments: globalisation, automation and a thousand other shifts bear more blame than they do. If anything, and especially in the cities, they point to a remedy for those Anywheres Goodhart believes have become unmoored. Minorities might be more of a model than a threat, more to be emulated than to be feared."

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman: nice dramatic narratives, but where’s the nihilism? - review by Ursula K. Le Guin in The Guardian. "Gaiman plays down the extreme strangeness of some of the material and defuses its bleakness by a degree of self-satire. There is a good deal of humour in the stories, the kind most children like – seeing a braggart take a pratfall, watching the cunning little fellow outwit the big dumb bully. Gaiman handles this splendidly. Yet I wonder if he tries too hard to tame something intractably feral, to domesticate a troll.... The Norse myths were narrative expressions of a religion deeply strange to us. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are divine comedies: there may be punishment for the wicked, but the promise of salvation holds. What we have from the Norse is a fragment of a divine tragedy. Vague promises of a better world after the Fimbulwinter and the final apocalypse are unconvincing; that’s not where this story goes. It goes inexorably from nothingness into night. You just can’t make pals of these brutal giants and self-destructive gods. They are tragic to the bone."

In our Google era, indexers are the unsung heroes of the publishing world - article by Sam Leith in The Guardian. "One of the things that’s commonly imagined is that indexing is, in the age of Google, something that can be outsourced to a computer algorithm. Dead wrong. A concordance – essentially, an alphabetical list of all the words in a book with page references – can be done by a computer. But an index, to be useful, needs to be done by a human. In a book about the Middle East, say, an entry that said: 'Syria 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 10, 23, 25, 26, 27 … ' would be no use at all.... Bad indexes are legion. Absent indexes almost more so. One of my correspondents recently bewailed the index of a major and bestselling recent book.'“Entry for France – around 40 undifferentiated locators,' she complained. 'Entry for Europe, over 90 page refs.' She concluded: 'Looks like a concordance created by searching the PDF files.' "

Nadeem Aslam: My writing day - article in The Guardian. "Next to my writing desk is a blank sheet of A4 paper on to which I jot down things I need to look up – some to do with the book I am writing, others completely unrelated. Only when the sheet is full – on both sides – do I log on: it can take up to 10 days to fill the sheet. Then I go through the items one by one. A particular scene from a half-forgotten movie; the contemporary reviews of a classic novel … I stay logged on for as long as it takes to look everything up. Afterwards I pin a new sheet next to the desk."

School of hard knocks: the dark underside to boarding school books - article by Alex Renton in The Guardian, based on his book Stiff Upper Lip: Secrets, Crimes and the Schooling of a Ruling Class. "Savage discipline, along with sexual confusion and formalised bullying, are so common in the schooldays memoirs of the British elite in the 19th and 20th centuries that you have to conclude that parents wanted and paid for their children to experience these things. To most of the class that used them, the private schools were factories that would reliably produce men and women who would run Britain, its politics, business and culture. Boarding school was a proven good investment. So thousands of men and women who had suffered awfully, by their own admission, sent their children off for just the same."

Beyond Videos: 4 Ways Instructional Designers Can Craft Immersive Educational Media - article by Amy Ahearn on EdSurge. "I’ve found that videos turn out best if I help the expert do four things: relate, narrate, demonstrate, and debate. These four actions represent a synthesis of the research on instructional media. 'Relate' videos get the student to feel connected to the instructor. They seek to establish instructor presence. They also prompt students to reflect on their own prior experiences with the topic and reasons for taking the course. 'Narrate' videos share stories, anecdotes, or case studies that illustrate a concept or put the learning in context. They tap into the power of narrative to make learning sticky. 'Demonstrate' videos illustrate how to do something in a step-by-step way. They pull back the curtain on invisible phenomena or procedures. They visually demonstrate how students will complete assignments and apply learning in the real world. 'Debate' videos are perhaps the most important if you want students to actually change the way they think. These videos explicitly surface and address the misconceptions that students have about a domain and showcase competing points of view."

How the media warp science: the case of the sensationalised satnav - article by Dean Burnett in The Guardian Brain-flapping column. "Earlier this week I saw how a science news story occurred, from experiment to media coverage.... A UCL study titled ' Hippocampal and prefrontal processing of network topology to simulate the future' was published in Nature Communications.... The results suggest that ... the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex form a navigational system that allows us to work out how to get around a city, by remembering what’s where, where we’ve been, and where to go. An interesting study, with interesting and reasonable conclusions.... But it doesn’t end there. In these days of 'publish or perish' and obsessions with 'impact ', it’s not enough to produce a good study, people have to read it as well.... In this instance, the UCL media relations office sent out an undeniably thorough and well-written press release, but with the title 'Satnavs "switch off" parts of the brain'.... What was ... fascinating, as someone who had the full details of both the study and how it was pitched, was how the different papers reported it. They all had exactly the same info and material, but presented it in revealingly different ways."

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