Is that a Fish in Your Ear? notes on the 2011 book by David Bellos on translation

Translation isn’t about specific word choice. It’s about meaning.

But, then, there are many different kinds of translation. The very old act of translation both creates and defends language in an interconnected world. Earlier this summer, I finished a 2011 book by translator David Bellos called “Is that a Fish in Your Ear: Translation and the Meaning of Everything.” [PDF] Find a review here of it. This is a different approach to understanding language, which has been an interest of mine for years.

You should read the book. For my own purposes, I’ve captured my notes below.

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Ludwig Wittgenstein

Words and sentences don’t make much sense when they aren’t entangled with each other. They all can carry wildly different meanings depending on the context and the speaker’s intent. This is a “language game.”

This is one of the many contributions that garnered intellectual celebrity for Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), an Austrian logician and philosopher. He is a philosophy student’s favorite philosopher, but A. C. Grayling argued in his 2001 aptly named “Wittgenstein : a very short introduction” that his academic celebrity may be unwarranted.

Grayling says Wittgenstein is primarily adored by “aphorism hunters.” I read Grayling’s short book because I wanted to ease my way into Wittgenstein as part of a philosophical exploration I had earlier this year. Pandemic, am I right?

The book was a helpful text, and I still appreciated playing with Wittgenstein’s evolution, from his iconic 1921 Tractatus and his Philosophical Investigations, which was published posthumously and seemed to contradict many of his arguments from his first book.

Find my notes below

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Homo Deus: notes on Yuval Noah Harrari 2017 book

Advancements in artificial intelligence could bring about a world in which humans are secondary to self-learning algorithms.

That’s one of the big themes in the 2017 book Homo Deus, a followup by historian and popular intellectual Yuval Noah Harrari on his 2014 book Sapiens. Even more than his first, Homo Deus has been criticized for its wide-sweeping generalizations and his science generalizations. Harrari is one of the chief architects of a kind of techno-pessism so I still find his approach helpful to follow.

He’s a great storyteller, and beyond any debunked science, he engages with concepts I found interesting. I’m sharing notes here for myself. The book is worth reading if only to grasp a view on the treacherous waters some fear are coming due to technical advancements.

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What is newsroom objectivity?

(This is an expansion of this thread)

When is a news organization being fair to a range of good-faith perspectives, and when is that newsroom retreating from a moral responsibility? When is a reporter taking a partisan stance and when is it a stance for justice?

With the rise of the social web in the last 20 years, this reevaluation of journalistic principle has been frequently described through the lens of newsroom objectivity. It reached a fever pitch in 2020, resulting in an important dialogue on objectivity and “moral clarity” in newsrooms.

This concept was the topic of a session in November 2020 during the virtual 12th annual Klein News Innovation Camp unconference I help organize. I’ve revisited the conversation, and I want to share what I took away.

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Notes from Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Talking to Strangers’

The social human species evolved to default to truth when encountering each other. That works well more than it doesn’t but in complex society it results in many unintended consequences.

That’s the heart of Talking with Strangers, the 2019 book by journalist-public intellectual Malcolm Gladwell. That year, I saw Gladwell speak about his research informing the book. Though I got a copy of the book then, I only just got around to reading it.

Like many others, I enjoy Gladwell and admire the journey he’s taken as journalist, extending into longform narrative nonfiction to push forward our understanding of the world. Below I share a few short notes for myself in the future.

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Newsroom objectivity and “moral clarity” are not in opposition

(This is adapted from a Twitter thread)

No, newsrooms don’t need to throw out “objectivity’ as a principle. Yes “moral clarity” should mean something for news organizations.

This thread comes from my own experiences, plus this helpful conversation I had during Klein News Innovation Camp with Alexis Johnson, Tom Rosenstiel and Wes Lowery.

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White authors writing non-white characters

American fiction writing is over-indexed for straight white male voices, considering our rapidly diversifying country. A consequence of this has been painful examples of white authors doing a crummy job conveying the voice and experience of non-white characters.

This has been no better demonstrated than in Young Adult fiction. The deserved backlash has gone to a logical extreme: should white authors write non-white characters at all?

If you believe like me that there, indeed, will continue to be white authors and that we do not want all stories told by white authors to be exclusively populated by white characters, then the more productive question is how can white authors effectively and ethically write non-white characters?

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How to live into your 90s

This isn’t like much of what I share here, but, then, this year isn’t like any we’ve experienced. From pandemic to other major personal life changes, I’ve been exercising less. It’s a challenge I’ve had before.

I’ve been thinking about that, as I’ve tried to maintain other habits. It’s something we all might ask: how can I live a longer, healthier life?

Five years after the initial round of findings from a longitudinal study called 90+, I saw an update on a new, detailed review on what we know about living longer and healthier. I thought I’d share a few of the simple takeaways, if only for my own uses.

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Notes on ‘The Invention of News’ by Andrew Pettegree

The journey to get to professionally-verified information includes social, economic and political coursework. To share this journey, historian Andrew Pettegree focused in his 2014 book The Invention of the News heavily on the European development.

It is dense and comprehensive, at least in the continental sense. It’s been on my list for a year or so, and I finally dug into it, with pages of notes. Find reviews of the book in the Times and Guardian, and consider buying the book yourself. The book’s focus is between the years of 1400 to 1800, and it’s clearly written by a historian, rather than a contemporary media studies approach—I prefer this more dispassionate and distant view of the origins of an industry.

Knowing that printing had earlier roots in China, the book is decidedly Eurocentric. Still I would strongly recommend it to anyone as interested as I am in the foundation of media, news and journalism. Pettegree’s stance is that the industry of professionalizing information-gathering was a European concept, which is his focus. This was one of several books on early journalism foundations I’ve read in the last year.

Find my notes below.

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Journalism Thinking: a lightning talk at Ignite Philly

Geographically-focused acts of journalism are powerful. Professionals are increasingly rare because the business model that supported most of them has been supplanted. No one is doing the hard work of combating that. Let’s change it.

Following my journalism thinking essay, I’ve been looking to develop a more general-interest way to deliver the message. On Oct. 16, I gave my first try, at Ignite Philly, a local, volunteer-run outpost of a global confederation of big-idea events. (I spoke there in 2011 and 2013)

Find my notes and slides below, and I’ll add the video here when it’s eventually posted.

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