Two illuminating interventions on churnalism and plagiarism (not quite the same thing of course) worth highlighting. First is from Chris Atkins, who produced Starsuckers in 2009 and who has continued to hoax gullible hacks. The second is from Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia and, as it turns out a fan of neologisms. This piece includes Plagipedia and clicktivism. But it’s about the web’s ability to correct its own mistakes.
One of my sons gave me for Christmas Tony Judt’s last book, The Memory Chalet. His choice wasn’t a hard one: I’ve wittered on for years about Judt’s perceptive and eloquent writing. But even being a paid-up Judt fan didn’t quite prepare me for this small, posthumous book’s perfectly-formed qualities.
All Judt’s skills are on display as they were fondly listed by his friends and colleagues when he died in August last year. You are reminded of his wide, lightly-worn learning, his grasp of cause and effect in European culture and history, his preparedness to unpick lazy conventional wisdom and his skill at clinching an argument with a skillfully selected and vividly described example. All these qualities and more are discussed more fully in this review by Michael O’Donnell in the Washington Monthly.
But there’s something different about this book, most of which was published episodically by the New York Review of Books in the months when Judt knew he was dying and as his body gradually shut down. The something different is the prose.
Judt was always a good writer; in The Memory Chalet he rises to a new level altogether. He was composing from memory during wakeful, immobile nights and memory is a ruthless editor, pruning the inessential. The writing fuses the personal and the political in a way that is truly rare. It reveals Judt as a talented reporter: he had an eye and a memory for killer detail.
Do you ever reach the end of the week gasping to read something counter-intuitive, counter to the trend or just mischevously subversive? I do. Writing stuff which takes you places that you don’t expect to go is one of journalism’s contributions to making better sense of the world and stuff.
Here are the pieces I read this week and which made me sit up.
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But sometimes short is beautiful, not to mention punchy and eloquent. Mario Vargas Llosa wins the Nobel Prize for Literature. His old enemy and Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez simply tweets “cuentas iguales” – or, “we’re even”.
Very cool. If you want to know why this is the perfect commentary on the news of the prize, this wonderful piece from the Guardian books blog by Stuart Jeffries will fill in the story (hat-tip: Ollie Brock).
As more than 400 MA students arrive at City University London today to study journalism, what better way to mark the day than this exchange between a journalism student in Long Island and (apparently) Steve Jobs of Apple, reported here by Charles Arthur of The Guardian.
There’s a theory abroad that the internet and its capacity to circulate and store anything and everything makes big companies more responsive to consumers because if they ignore someone or screw up, more people will know. The House of Apple does not subscribe to this belief, it would seem.
Yet more weekend reading on a unexpected subject. There’s a glorious and entirely civilised duel running on ft.com between columnist and blogger Gideon Rachman and his colleague the Undercover Economist, Tim Harford. They are arguing the relative merits of economists and historians.
Rachman begins by demolishing economists here. Harford replies here, with a brief rejoinder from Rachman. They stray into physicists and architects and Harford includes a lovely little anecdote about a stadium that fell down just after hosting an architects’ convention.
The context of this illuminating exchange of course is the anxious examination of their own role that economists began after the financial crash two years ago. Having done a history degree, my sympathies lean towards Rachman. Harford would make a stronger argument if he conceded that he was defending economists with intellectual humility and who display a sense of the limits of their craft. That’s a sub-group of economists in general.
There’s been the odd dampening remark here and there about Twitter in this blog along the lines that tweeting (this blog does not follow New York Times style rules) may not be the answer to every single one of the world’s problems. And 140 characters is a bit tight for some communications.
But for sheer bubblingly eloquent enthusiasm, try this essay by one of America’s top movie critics, Roger Ebert, which is a love letter to a web platform. He kindly helps us with his favourites, introducing some compellingly vivid Indian bloggers competing to develop a literary form last tried in Japan with the haiku. He illustrates very well what a powerful tool Twitter is for simply swopping information with links which make the 140-character limitation less important.
I’m in Cairo and my breakfastime reading is either the Daily News or the Egyptian Gazette. The Daily News front page today carries the following headline, which passes the most basic test for a headline in making you want to read the story:
King Tut’s dad’s toe returned to Egypt
The toe, belonging to King Akhenaton, was stolen in 1907 and clearly much delicate cultural diplomacy has been conducted to return it from Switzerland to the rest of the skeleton. Stolen toes of Pharaohs are serious stuff here. The story intones, without the slightest irony: “The toe’s movements since 1907 were not disclosed.” Some secrets are too big for people to handle.