Jun 162018
 

In a marvellous Tukwila, Washington used bookstore the other week I picked up a copy of Yvor Winters’ Uncollected Essays and Reviews for $2.99. I am glad I did because it sure was worth it. I would have been happy to have paid five.

Winters was a Stanford University English Professor and a literary critic and moralist. Long after he passed away, in the 1980s graduate students like myself could leaf through his bound and yellowing PhD dissertation in the Briggs Room library (I was the librarian) in Building 50 next to Memorial Church on the quad. We all read Winters, particularly his book In Defense of Reason, if only to disparage his conviction that a poem should be a rational statement of an abiding human truth. We were more amenable to his discussions of prosody, but could not help but find him often wanting there as well.

As a reader of American poets of the early 20th century, Yvor Winters’ views went from testy to lacerating and back again. I enjoyed his limpid prose. And I certainly enjoyed some of his take-downs of silly poems and poets.

Most interesting to me were his discussions of William Carlos Williams, who was the subject of my first scholarly publication. His ambivalence was all-out, as if he had fallen in love with a drug dealer. This is from an essay called “Poetry of Feeling” found in the Uncollected Essays:

The romantic principles which have governed Dr. Williams’ work have limited his scope. … The combination of purity and of richly human feeling to be found in his language at times reminds one of Thomas Hardy or of Robert Bridges, and of beauty and of execution he is their equal, though in so different a mode; but his understanding is narrow than theirs, and his best poems are less great. On the other hand, when poems are so nearly unexceptionable in their execution, one regards the question of scope regretfully: Robert Herrick is less great than Shakespeare, but he is probably as fine, and, God willing, should last as long. If I may venture … a prediction, it is this: that Williams will prove as nearly indestructible as Herrick; that the end of the present century will see him securely established, along with Wallace Stevens, as one of the two best poets of his generation.

Winters wrote a “postscript” to this piece 25 years later, not long before he died:

My general remarks may stand, but by this time, I would restrict my choice of successful poems much more narrowly. … To say that Williams was anti-intellectual would be almost an exaggeration: he did not know what the intellect was. He was a foolish and ignorant man, but at moments a fine stylist.

“But at moments.”

I find this postscript terribly poignant: What had happened to Professor Winters that permitted scorn to upend his aesthetic attentiveness and delight for work he had loved truly, if never with the wholeness of ease?

“No love deserves the death it has.” – Jack Spicer

May 302018
 

Jay Rosen’s NYU School of Journalism’s News Literacy Project is an amazing service to all of us. The links and their analyses give us environmental scans and some helpful dives.

As advertising revenue continues to decline, newsrooms are aggressively developing different or additional revenue streams, from reader-supported initiatives to philanthropic donations. They want to capitalize on a spike in digital subscriptions by cultivating other creative ways to turn more consumers into paying customers. News organizations are also harnessing the power of mobile devices and capturing audiences on smartphones and smart speakers. New tools promise to engage users more deeply and to build trust in a time of “fake news” by measuring the real-world impacts of journalism. While foundations fund significant reporting projects, nonprofit outlets are learning to avoid an overreliance on charity, and newsrooms have discovered the benefits of aligning various revenue streams with their missions. In the pursuit of standout products, more journalists express an openness to exploring emerging technologies. Among the innovations to watch are augmented reality, automated fact-checking, and blockchain-based funding models.

May 282018
 

Karwai Pun’s posters on ‘designing for accessibility’ are very insightful and helpful.

Writes Pun:

We’ve shared these posters across [the UK] government for feedback and they can be found on GitHub.

We are constantly improving and adding to them so please let us know what you think. Understanding accessibility through design means we can build better services for everyone, whatever their access need[s].

Update: We’ve been asked whether these posters can be reproduced or translated into other languages. In keeping with the the GDS ethos of making things open, we’ve used a Creative Commons license which allows everyone to share, use and build upon the posters provided they are used non-commercially and keep the appropriate attributions (Home Office, Home Office Digital and the Creative Commons logo). It would be great if people can share photos of them being used on Twitter and can commit translations of the posters to our GitHub repository so they’re available for everyone.

May 162018
 

My dear friend Tierney Wisniewski, this website’s cofounder and coeditor, has started up a new blog devoted to her scholarly work and how she gets it done. I love her inaugural piece, “Good Scholarly Habits.” Tierney writes with great clarity and openness. It is a wonderful gift to have in her field (and in any field). Tierney describes a back-and-forth she had with scholar Raul Pacheco-Vega regarding … time, basically, how much time is spent on reading, how much on writing, how much on thinking.

I had always struggled with getting myself to do things, and even to know what it was that I wanted to do. What I learned from my theoretical framework (self-determination theory) was that you can’t make yourself do anything. Oh sure, you can for a short while, but it always falls apart. You’ll find a way to cheat the system, as I did when I hid a book inside my textbooks to drag out my homework. You’ll skip the parts of the process that are crucial but that no one will reward you for. And you will never be happily productive.

That’s why reading productivity books never made me more productive; I was targeting the wrong part of the process. I first had to find a meaningful-to-me reason to be productive, and then I would willingly experiment and adopt whatever habits and methods seemed right for me. And I had to continually reinforce my own reasons over the “pressure trap,” which is (I realize now) why GTD [Getting Things Done] incorporates a frequent review of visions and goals.

Why are we really doing this? Surely it isn’t to get straight A’s, get into a grad program, or get tenure. Surely it’s because, deep down, we love this work and we want to keep doing it. We should start by making sure we keep the work lovable.

One thing that seems to help is the idea of prep work as streamlining, and this is what Raul was getting at with his admonition to read lots and write only as much as you have to.

May 092018
 

The New York Times obituary of famed film editor Anne V. Coates is very charming.

Ms. Coates vowed to find a way to make a career in cinema. She would need to overcome not only her family’s resistance but also the fact that the industry had few jobs open to women.

“Things like hairdressing didn’t really interest me,” she told The Hollywood Reporter in 2016. “I found the most interesting job a woman could do, other than acting, was editing.”

Her [film producer] uncle relented enough to find her a job with the religious-film arm of his company, which made devotional pictures for churches.

“He thought, ‘That’ll cool her down,’ ” Ms. Coates recalled. “Didn’t work.”

After her apprenticeship there, where she ran the projector and made the tea, she caught on as cutting-room assistant at Pinewood Studios, the facility her uncle had established outside London. Early films to which she contributed included “The Red Shoes” (1948), directed by Mr. Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

At Pinewood, Ms. Coates’s boss was a white-haired editor who left each afternoon at 4 to tend his garden. “He would say, ‘You finish it,’ ” she recalled, and that was how she truly learned her craft.

By then Ms. Coates knew she had found her calling: Editing was one of the few branches of the industry relatively hospitable to women.

“Women are mostly mothers and directors are mostly children, so the two go very well together,” she said in a 2005 interview.

Apr 182018
 

Clarissa has a couple of words:

In a way, the censorship in US academia is worse than the Soviet kind. The Soviet censors were mostly dumb, uneducated people, and it wasn’t all that hard to pull wool over their eyes and make them think you are saying the opposite of what you were. Writer Vera Ketlinskaya, for instance, created a very realistic and poignant depiction of the horrors experienced by young people in Stalin’s industrialization projects. It was investigative reporting of the highest caliber. And she got Stalin’s Award in literature for it because she was smart about how she framed the story.

We don’t have any dumb bureaucrats censoring our work. We censor each other during the peer-review process. This means that the people keeping you in tune with the party line are very smart. If you hide your ideas so well that even they can’t find them, then nobody else will find them either.

Apr 052018
 

The Atlantic has fired Kevin Williamson.

Odd, though, that the publisher cited workplace-environment concerns as the impetus rather than the “especially violent belief” itself:

The top editor emphasized that Williamson’s firing was not a result of his being anti-abortion—a common position for deeply religious Americans of all political stripes—but because of what his especially violent belief could mean for workplace relationships with female colleagues who may or may not have had an abortion.

Mar 312018
 

Very few times in my life have I not believed my eyes. And the news on these occasions was never good.

This morning I had such an experience, reading a column in the New York Times by Bret Stephens, who was defending the indefensible hire of writer Kevin Williamson by the Atlantic Monthly. In 2014 Williamson tweeted that women in America who have had abortions and the doctors who performed them should be hanged. William has never retracted that statement; indeed, he has endorsed it repeatedly.

On this topic, Stephens wrote:

Shouldn’t great prose and independent judgment count for something? Not according to your critics. We live in the age of guilt by pull-quote, abetted by a combination of lazy journalism, gullible readership, missing context, and technologies that make our every ill-considered utterance instantly accessible and utterly indelible. I jumped at your abortion comment, but for heaven’s sake, it was a tweet. When you write a whole book on the need to execute the tens of millions of American women who’ve had abortions, then I’ll worry.

“Then I’ll worry.”

I have been reading the Times for about fifty years. When I was young, after church my family would drive to the local drugstore to pick up the Sunday New York Times. My Mom had a copy reserved for her there. Once we got home, we dove into it. I made sure that I did not rush to pick up sections my Mom wanted first: Arts and Leisure and the Sunday Book Review; also let alone was the Week in Review section, which my Dad grabbed right away. The entire paper came my way eventually, though, and I spent hours reading it, practically cover to cover if I had time. Very happy memories.

Anybody who has seen my library – indeed, who has been (un)lucky enough to get into a debate with me – knows that I spend a lot of time reading material that galls, bugs, or even angers me. This is necessary mental and intellectual hygiene. And it is how I hug the world.

Not to have unsubscribed from the Times this morning, though, would have made me … an accomplice.

Mar 202018
 

As a Stanford University graduate I am a bit sickened to have read this:

“Mindfulness begins with leadership,”  said Dr. Leah Weiss, who teaches compassionate leadership at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. told CMO.com. “The best way to introduce mindfulness and/or meditation into a company or organization is to train leaders in mindfulness and compassion. When leadership sets the bar or example, employees will follow suit.”

Each of Dr. Leah Weiss’s three sentences here uses a variation of the word “leader.”  But there is no *leader* in “mindfulness.” There can’t be. It is an individual practice.