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News 12.12.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 12.12.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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News 12.12.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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News 12.12.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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Children Of Ted

When John Jacobi stepped to the altar of his Pentecostal church and the gift of tongues seized him, his mother heard prophecies — just a child and already blessed, she said. Someday, surely, her angelic blond boy would bring a light to the world, and maybe she wasn’t wrong. His quest began early. When he was 5, the Alabama child-welfare workers decided that his mother’s boyfriend — a drug dealer named Rock who had a red carpet leading to his trailer and plaster lions standing guard at the door — wasn’t providing a suitable environment for John and his sisters and little brother. Before they knew it, they were living with their father, an Army officer stationed in Fayetteville, North Carolina. But two years later, when he was posted to Iraq, the social workers shipped the kids back to Alabama, where they stayed until their mother hanged herself from a tree in the yard. John was 14. In the tumultuous years that followed, he lost his faith, wrote mournful poems, took an interest in news reports about a lively new protest movement called Occupy Wall Street, and ran away from the home of the latest relative who’d taken him in — just for a night, but that was enough. As soon as he graduated from high school, he quit his job at McDonald’s, bought some camping gear, and set out in search of a better world.

Read the rest of this article at: New York Magazine

News 12.12.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

The Sharp Game

News 12.12.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

I was down on my knees before the chess set. Not out of deference, though I did feel a bit of that. I knelt because Irving Finkel, a board game expert and a curator at the British Museum, which displayed these chess pieces among its extensive collection, suggested that patrons view it that way. “When you look at them, kneel down or crouch in such a way that you can look through the glass straight into their faces and look them in the eye. You will see human beings across the passage of time. They have a remarkable quality. They speak to you.”

These were the Lewis Chessmen, and they composed perhaps the most important chess set in the world. They’re a centerpiece of the British Museum. Even as I knelt on the floor, staring into the eyes of a berserker warrior (most likely a rook) biting his shield, a crowd formed around me to gawk at the carved-walrus-tusk-and-whale-tooth game pieces, displayed on a chess board in a glass box in the middle of a large room. The pieces were an important piece of history, made in the middle of the 12th century, and they offered a glimpse into that time period. But was that all there was to the Lewis Chessmen? The British Museum housed many artifacts much older than these, and items that had a much more direct link to the history of the game. These chessmen hadn’t been owned by royalty or played with by famed explorers or conquerors. They had no writing on them, no messages to translate from our medieval ancestors. So why the fascination? Why did these chess pieces stand out in a museum filled with swords and jewels and ancient texts? Is it the pieces that are important, or is it the game itself that matters to us?

Chess doesn’t begin with these pieces. The game has captivated and enchanted people for much of history, starting probably in the fifth or sixth century A.D. (long before the Lewis Chessmen were made), either in India or China, and making its way around the world by way of Muslim conquest. Through many epochs, languages and cultures have changed, wars have been won and lost, revolutions have upended civilizations, and through it all, chess has persisted. Even in individual historical moments, chess has offered a bridge across cultural and political divides. It is a nearly universal form, a lingua franca in wood and ivory.

But for much of that history and still to this day, chess has been on the margins of American culture. Unlike some countries that have made chess a part of every child’s education, or supported chess players the way we support artists or athletes, or even used international chess competitions as a source of national pride, Americans treat chess as a mild curiosity. Outside of the bright and shining moment when Bobby Fischer won the World Chess Championship in 1972, chess has hardly mattered to Americans. And even Fischer decided chess didn’t matter much to him, either. He never defended his title after winning it, and walked away from the game soon after, disappearing from public life. The chess faithful among us have waited patiently for the flame he ignited in the United States to rekindle itself ever since.

Read the rest of this article at: The Ringer

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Animal House

Four years ago, I made what I hoped was an inspired leap. Since grad school, I’d worked as a journalist, food critic and editor, mostly at this magazine. Then Vision Critical, a tech start-up, came calling, and I saw a way to apply my skills to a growing industry. I’d recently turned 40 and was finally getting around to planning a family—if I was going to change careers, it was now or never. Vision Critical is what’s known in the tech world as a B2B company—a business selling to other businesses (as opposed to a B2C, which sells to consumers). Its software helps market researchers at Fortune 500 companies easily collect and analyze feedback from thousands of their customers, replacing older and slower research methods such as mailed surveys and in-person interviews. Vision Critical counted ESPN, Toyota, Hyundai, DeWalt, Adobe and LinkedIn as clients. In Canada, it had Maple Leaf Foods and Canadian Tire. But outside of those offices, it wasn’t a well-known company.

It had become trendy for tech companies to hire media refugees like me to serve as “brand storytellers” instead of spending millions on conventional advertising. Vision Critical had invented a position for me on the marketing team—senior director, content. I knew next to nothing about promoting software to market researchers, yet I would be overseeing an in-house propaganda machine of writers, videographers, graphic designers and social media managers. My salary would be double that of the average magazine editor. I signed the contract.

Read the rest of this article at: Toronto Life

News 12.12.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Cold Discovery

News 12.12.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Books increasingly don’t have covers: The rapid rise of tablets and e-readers has led to more books being read on screens, which de-emphasize the cover as both a visual identifier and a physical delimiter. A cover once represented a book’s tangible individuality, its discreteness. Now, on screens, covers persist as vestigial rectangular images, superfluously ornamenting search results or PDFs. Does that shift in emphasis mean readers engage more directly with texts themselves, rather than judging books by their covers as the cliché warns? Fifty Shades of Grey and self-help books boomed in popularity on post-cover devices. Are we finally free to read what we really want, safe in the knowledge that no one can judge us?

Self-consciousness about what we’re reading isn’t the only thing likely to vanish with book covers. Beyond letting readers publicly signal their identities, covers are part of a whole regime of organizing information and space that is now in danger of disappearing. While the design of libraries and bookstores prioritizes the coherent visual display of book covers and spines so that people can navigate collections and find the singular physical objects the covers signify, the endlessly rewritable surface of the screen dispenses with that arrangement. Screens foreground the digital platform itself as singular, and thereby assimilate any particular text into the theoretically unlimited succession of information they can display. The distinct identity that a particular cover conveys has been traded for a standardizing consistency that unifies everything displayed on a screen as data flowing in a broader stream.

Read the rest of this article at: Real Life Magazine

Who Decides What Words Mean

News 12.12.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Decades before the rise of social media, polarisation plagued discussions about language. By and large, it still does. Everyone who cares about the topic is officially required to take one of two stances. Either you smugly preen about the mistakes you find abhorrent – this makes you a so-called prescriptivist – or you show off your knowledge of language change, and poke holes in the prescriptivists’ facts – this makes you a descriptivist. Group membership is mandatory, and the two are mutually exclusive.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. I have two roles at my workplace: I am an editor and a language columnist. These two jobs more or less require me to be both a prescriptivist and a descriptivist. When people file me copy that has mistakes of grammar or mechanics, I fix them (as well as applying The Economist’s house style). But when it comes time to write my column, I study the weird mess of real language; rather than being a scold about this or that mistake, I try to teach myself (and so the reader) something new. Is this a split personality, or can the two be reconciled into a coherent philosophy? I believe they can.

Language changes all the time. Some changes really are chaotic, and disruptive. Take decimate, a prescriptivist shibboleth. It comes from the old Roman practice of punishing a mutinous legion by killing every 10th soldier (hence that deci­- root). Now we don’t often need a word for destroying exactly a 10th of something – this is the ‘etymological fallacy’, the idea that a word must mean exactly what its component roots indicate. But it is useful to have a word that means to destroy a sizeable proportion of something. Yet many people have extended the meaning of decimate until now it means something approaching ‘to wipe out utterly’.

Descriptivists – that is, virtually all academic linguists – will point out that semantic creep is how languages work. It’s just something words do: look up virtually any nontechnical word in the great historical Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which lists a word’s senses in historical order. You’ll see things such as the extension of decimate happening again and again and again. Words won’t sit still. The prescriptivist position, offered one linguist, is like taking a snapshot of the surface of the ocean and insisting that’s how ocean surfaces must look.

Be that as it may, retort prescriptivists, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying. Decimate doesn’t have a good synonym in its traditional meaning (to destroy a portion of), and it has lots of company in its new meaning: destroy, annihilate, devastate and so on. If decimate eventually settles on this latter meaning, we lose a unique word and gain nothing. People who use it the old way and people who use it the new way can also confuse each other.

Read the rest of this article at: Aeon

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M.

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