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The Case for Profanity in Print

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“Our society’s comfort level with offensive language and content has drastically shifted over the past few decades, but the stance of our news media has barely changed at all. Even when certain words are necessary to the understanding of a story, the media frequently resort to euphemisms or coy acrobatics that make stories read as if they were time capsules written decades ago, forcing us all into wink-wink-nudge-nudge territory. Even in this essay, I am unable to be clear about many of my examples.” –  Jesse Sheidlower

Read Jesse Sheidlower’s ope-ed, The Case for Profanity in Print, in The New York Times. Sheidlower is a lexicographer, the president of the American Dialect Society and the author of “The F-Word.”

The War on Reason

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Scientists and philosophers argue that human beings are little more than puppets of their biochemistry. Writing in The Atlantic,  professor of psychology and cognitive science at Yale University, Paul Bloom, explains why they’re wrong.

Paul Bloom
Paul Bloom

“Another attack on rationality comes from social psychology. Hundreds of studies now show that factors we’re unaware of influence how we think and act. College students who fill out a questionnaire about their political opinions when standing next to a dispenser of hand sanitizer become, at least for a moment, more politically conservative than those standing next to an empty wall. Shoppers walking past a bakery are more likely than other shoppers to make change for a stranger. Subjects favor job applicants whose résumés are presented to them on heavy clipboards. Supposedly egalitarian white people who are under time pressure are more likely to misidentify a tool as a gun after being shown a photo of a black male face.

In a contemporary, and often unacknowledged, rebooting of Freud, many psychologists have concluded from such findings that unconscious associations and attitudes hold powerful sway over our lives—and that conscious choice is largely superfluous. “It is not clear,” the Baylor College neuroscientist David Eagleman writes, “how much the conscious you—as opposed to the genetic and neural you—gets to do any deciding at all.” The New York University psychologist Jonathan Haidt suggests we should reject the notion that we are in control of our decisions and instead think of the conscious self as a lawyer who, when called upon to defend the actions of a client, mainly provides after-the-fact justifications for decisions that have already been made.”

Read the full article by Bloom in The Atlantic.

Find Paul Bloom on Twitter.

More from Paul Bloom:

The Case Against Empathy in The New Yorker.

Paul Bloom talking at TED about the origins of pleasure.

Paul Bloom speaking about The Psychology of Everything at The Big Think.

Hatchet Job of the Year goes to AA Gill for Morrissey broadside

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The Guardian in the UK reports on how Sunday Times critic, A. A. Gill, was  honoured for the ‘expert caning’ of rock star, Morrissey’s recent autobiography

140212-morrissey-autobiography“A cacophony of jangling, misheard and misused words … a sea of Stygian self-justification and stilted self-conscious prose … ” AA Gill‘s caustic review of Morrissey‘s Autobiography has been named the Hatchet Job of the Year. Gill was revealed as winner of the prize, set up by The Omnivore websiteand going to the writer “of the angriest, funniest, most trenchant book review” of the past year.”

“Morrissey’s Autobiography was published by Penguin, under its Classics imprint – a decision with which Gill takes great issue in his review, calling it the singer’s “most Pooterishly embarrassing piece of intellectual social climbing”. Gill concludes that putting the book, “a potential firelighter of vanity, self-pity and logorrhoeic dullness”, in Penguin Classics “doesn’t diminish Aristotle or Homer or Tolstoy; it just roundly mocks Morrissey, and this is a humiliation constructed by the self-regard of its victim”.

His review, which can be read in full on the Omnivore’s website, also lays into Morrissey’s take on his early life – “laughably overwrought and overwritten, a litany of retrospective hurt and score-settling that reads like a cross between Madonna and Catherine Cookson” – before dismissing the memoir as a book which should never have been written.”

Read the full story in The Guardian.

“One-of-a-kind, unique Stories While You Wait. Sliding Scale – Donate What You Can!”

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“I moved to New York City, and I needed to make money. I wasn’t having luck getting a job. It’s a common tale,” writes C.D. Hermelin, a 26-year-old writer living in Brooklyn in the US.

Hermelin’s solution to keeping the wolf from the door was kinda unusual. He grabbed the typewriter he bought at a yard sale for 10 dollars, took it to a park, and started to write for cash.

“I’d write stories for people, on the spot—I wouldn’t set a price. People could pay me whatever they wanted. I knew that I had the gift of writing creatively, very quickly, and my anachronistic typewriter (and explanatory sign) would be enough to catch the eye of passersby. Someone might want something specific; they might just want a story straight from my imagination. I was prepared for either situation.” Needless to say as writers, we think Hermelin’s a rock star.

Read the story about an inventive writer who became a hated hipster meme, and survived to tell the tale.

On Twitter Hermelin is @cdhermelin.

All work, all play: the art of videogame writing

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“At the heart of game storytelling is the concept of “player agency”. Here, “agency” refers to the ability of a player to make changes within the game environment, or even more importantly, the illusion of being able to do this.

If the game presents a convincing enough illusion of freedom then the player suspends his or her disbelief in the artificiality of the game’s world and the limitations in their choice of pathway.

As a medium of interaction, videogames present the player with different possibilities and ask them to enact stories based on designed structures.

This may take a linear form, as in the clearly defined pathways of the action-adventure The Last of Us (2011), to the relatively non-linear in the sense of freedom experienced playing game Skyrim (2011).”

Read the full story at New Statesman.

Always wanted to write like Hemingway? Here’s how.

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ImageHere’s an app for everyone who dreams of writing clearly and boldly like Ernest Miller Hemingway. Called the HemingwayApp, the algorithm created by brothers Adam and Ben Long hunts through writing to find ‘unHemingway-like’ writing and highlights it for a rewrite. Sentences that are too long are accented, while words that could be simplified are earmarked for substitution. Hemingway hated adverbs – his writing was sparse yet authoritative – so words that modify verbs, like wonderful and quickly, are also highlighted for the chop.

“After spending our days writing, we realized a common mistake: sentences easily grow to the point that they became difficult to understand,” the Longs told Ian Crouch of The New Yorker. “The worst part is we didn’t realize we were doing it. Our text was more clear and persuasive when we kept it simple.”

Read The New Yorker’s interview with the Long Bros, in Ian Crouch’s story: Hemingway Takes The Hemingway Test.

Try out the HemingwayApp.

The Gap by Ira Glass

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Ira_Glass_CMU_2006For the writers and story tellers and photographers and illustrators and producers and film makers and artists who struggle and doubt themselves. As we all do:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”  – Ira Glass. 

Watch The Gap by Ira Glass re-imagined visually by Daniel Sax.