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Photo: Clay Masters/IPR
Storm Lake Times Editor Art Cullen stands outside newspaper he started with his brother in 1990. The newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize this year for its editorial writing.

I’ve been following a twitter discussion about why big newspapers are doing more reporting via video. Critics contend the move is about pleasing advertisers and is hurting quality.

Judging from a recent National Public Radio (NPR) story on small-town newspapers, I think the big outlets would be better off focusing on building trust with readers.

Clay Masters reported, “Large media outlets could learn from small town newspapers about being authentic and winning the trust of readers. …

“Take the Storm Lake Times [in Iowa], for example. It recently gained national attention when this twice-a-week newspaper for this town of around 11,000 people won a Pulitzer Prize for its editorials. They won the prestigious journalism award for challenging powerful corporate agribusiness interests in the state.

” ‘We inform each other through the newspaper about the reality of Storm Lake,” says Editor Art Cullen. …

“Their classified section is pretty robust … and there’s even a section devoted to local birthdays. Art Cullen says newspapers like his are the thread that holds the fabric of a small town together.

” ‘They know we’re honest and they know we love Storm Lake … that we stick to the facts of a story, and we will argue, argue, argue on our editorial page.’ …

“One of the big differences between larger metro newspapers and community journalism is the staff has to face its audience every day.

” ‘People have no problem coming up to me and telling me what they think of the newspaper,’ says Jim Johnson, who owns newspapers in Kalona and Anamosa, two small newspapers in eastern Iowa. …

“Johnson has the advantage of owning small town newspapers near metro areas. When this former Omaha World-Herald editor bought the papers in Kalona and Anamosa, he wanted to show community newspapers can do just as good or better than large papers.”

More at NPR, here.


Image: Tom McShane
The author of those lines is an unusual 10th century figure — Shmuel HaNagid, prime minister of the kingdom of Granada in Spain, head of both Granada’s Muslim army
and Andalusia’s Jewish community.

The force of history works in mysterious ways. Here is a story about how an ancient Arabic poetic tradition was preserved because Jewish poets valued it.

Benjamin Ramm reports at the BBC, “On 9 December 1499, the citizens of Granada awoke to a scene of devastation: the smouldering remains of over a million Arabic manuscripts, burnt on the orders of the Spanish Inquisition. …

“[Years before], as much of Europe languished in the Dark Ages, the Iberian peninsula was a cultural oasis, the brightest beacon of civilisation. Under the Umayyad dynasty, the caliphate of Al-Andalus stretched from Lisbon to Zaragoza, and centred on the Andalusian cities of Córdoba, Granada and Seville. From the 8th Century, the caliphate oversaw a period of extraordinary cross-cultural creativity known as La Convivencia (the Coexistence). …

“Among the Muslim poets of Al-Andalus, there was a concerted attempt to rediscover and reinvent the literary forms of Arabic, sophisticated and lyrical, rooted in the concept of fasaaha (clarity, elegance). The fire in Granada destroyed part of this heritage, but it survives in an unexpected form – in an imaginative body of Hebrew poetry, which illustrates the extent of cross-cultural exchange.

“Peter Cole, the foremost translator of Hebrew poetry from Al-Andalus, argues in his book The Dream of the Poem that a major legacy of the Moorish writers was to inspire Jewish poets to emulate their work. … The innovations were initiated in the 10th Century by Dunash Ben Labrat. …

“Controversially, Ben Labrat adopted Arabic poetic metre, and was accused of ‘destroying the holy tongue’ and ‘bringing calamity upon his people’. But the Hebrew renaissance that followed produced some of the most beautiful poetry in the language, and the period became known as the ‘Golden Age’ of Iberian Jewish culture. …

“At a time of intercommunal tension, it is tempting to idealise this Muslim-Jewish period of mutual flourishing. There are critics who argue against the notion of La Convivencia – some have called it a ‘myth.’ … Documentation about communal relations during this period is scant, [and] the extent of ‘coexistence’ continues to be a subject of passionate disputation. …

“The kingdom of Granada was the last territory to fall to the Christian Reconquest in 1492, after which Jews were forcibly converted or expelled. Saadia Ibn Danaan, a rabbi who wrote prose in Arabic and poetry in Hebrew, transmitted the tradition to North Africa.” Read more.


Photo: Only a Game
Golf was the entree to a freer world for this Afghan girl.

We hear a lot of stories about disadvantaged kids who rise above their circumstances by becoming stars — at sports, say, or ballet.

But sometimes the reason those pursuits mark a turning point is simply that they open up a different world. They show the kid that there are different worlds. The kids don’t have to become stars to benefit.

Here is a story about an Afghan girl whose path to breaking free involved golf. Martin Kessler tells the story at the radio show Only a Game.

“Before it was her turn to take the shot that could change her life, Shagufa Habibi remembers being uncomfortably warm.

“Shagufa and 11 of her teammates were standing on a soccer pitch in Herat, Afghanistan. Herat doesn’t have a golf course, so this soccer pitch was the best her team could do. It was a summer afternoon — the hottest part of the day in a city where temperatures can exceed 100 degrees. It was the only time locals would let the women have the field.

“Shagufa wore a long black dress and a head scarf. She carried a wooden club.

“Each of the women had one chance to hit a ball at a target at the other end of the field. Whoever got closest would get to attend a golf tournament in Bangladesh.”

Shagufa amazed herself. Her shot was the best.

“Shagufa Habibi was born in 1995, the youngest child in a large family. Her parents are illiterate. Her dad made his living selling dried fruit — until his hand was mangled in a terrorist attack at a local mosque. …

“When Shagufa was a young girl, the Taliban controlled Afghanistan. Girls couldn’t go to school, so Shagufa and her seven sisters stayed home. Shagufa was allowed outside just once a day, to help her mom buy food. …

“In 2001, the Taliban lost control of the government, and schools opened for girls. Shagufa’s friends started attending. But Shagufa’s father wouldn’t have it – he believed women belonged at home.

“So Shagufa and her sisters devised a plan. After their father left the house in the morning, they would sneak off to school.”

Over the next few years, there were conflicts with Shagufa’s conservative father, an unwanted marriage to an older man, separation, depression, and a decision to embrace sports at school. Sports were so freeing.

” ‘I was forgetting everything,’ Shagufa says. ‘I’m just free. And this ball was giving me more motivation for my future to be so optimistic.’

When Shagufa went to that golf tournament, she was “amazed by what she saw in Bangladesh. Girls weren’t wearing long dresses or scarves. She says women looked so free.

“On the final day of the trip, the Afghan embassy hosted their players for a lunch. The conversation turned to education. Shagufa had a question – but she wasn’t sure she should speak up.

” ‘Should I ask them or not, should I ask them or not?’ Shagufa remembers thinking. ‘Then I said, “Would you tell me, please: how is the education in Bangladesh? And is it possible for me, somehow, I come and do my education?” ‘ ”

Read what happened next at WBUR’s Only a Game, here.


Photo: The Victoria and Albert Museum
A notation knife that has music carved into each side of the blade. Italy, c. 1550.

Photo: Rashaun Mitchell + Silas Riener
Rashaun Mitchell + Silas Riener created new choreography in June at New York City’s Madison Park, where passersby could watch the process.

I have heard of modern dance performed outdoors, but this is the first time I heard of creating the choreography in public. That would be like putting some kind brain-wave detector on my head so people could read what I’m thinking as I write a post.

Brian Seibert at the New York Times wrote about the choreography project.The choreographers Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener, with dancers of their choosing, are creating something out in the open.

“They’re participating in a collaborative public art project, ‘Prismatic Park,’ sponsored by the Madison Square Park Conservancy. The sculptor Josiah McElheny has created a red pavilion for poets, a blue wall to back musicians and a green circular floor for dancers.

“Artists from those disciplines are in the park for a rotation of residencies through Oct. 8, and will be tasked with making works inspired by the space and unplanned interactions with the public. …

“Seibert: How did you approach the project?

“Riener: We were both excited by it and interested in subverting it. So, of course, the first thing we did was ignore the circle and use the full area.

“Mitchell: I tell the dancers, ‘You’re going to be confronted by people, a squirrel is going to run by, you’re going to stop to say hello to your boyfriend — all of that is what we’re doing.’ … We’ve done a lot of work outside, but this felt more vulnerable, because we weren’t coming in with something set. The first day, my nerves were wild.

“Riener: This part of every process is typically private, and I wasn’t prepared for how uncomfortable I would feel. The constant feeling of being on display, even in your rest moments. You can sort of hide behind a tree.” …

“Mitchell: One time, an older man started gesturing for me to come over and I started mirroring the gesture. And he got a kick out of it and started moving his whole body and we were in this dance together. … I’ve dropped into what it is, and feel more aligned with myself and connected to other people. … It’s a hard time in the world right now, and in a weird way, this is therapeutic.”

More at the New York Times, here.

I had a kooky friend in high school who claimed she could analyze you from your description of your favorite scene. At first, I described something sunny with flowers and little brooks and birds singing in trees. Her analysis: I was conventional, appreciated safety.

I was offended and said I had other favorite scenes. I described a stormy ocean with huge waves and dark clouds racing above, driftwood tossed on a rocky shore. She didn’t want to accept that one. She didn’t believe it. Added that I sounded like I had a split personality.

All of which is to say that I do like both kinds of scenes but that for taking pictures, I really prefer sunlight. Here are a few recent photos. Mostly sunny, mostly Rhode Island.

I have a favorite here. It is not perfect by photographer standards, but I love it. Can you guess?

http://www.haroldlopeznussa.com/

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Photo: thebarrowboy

The game of Scrabble can be played in many languages, but English probably offers the most entertainment as it is known for having an awful lot of words.

And as Travis M. Andrews notes at the Washington Post, the number of words keeps growing.

“The Oxford English Dictionary, considered by many as the standard-bearer of dictionaries, …  just announced several new additions to its vast pages, including … ‘Zyzzyva,’ which now has the unique distinction of being the OED’s last word.

“It’s a noun, pronounced ‘zih-zih-vah and defined as ‘a genus of tropical weevils (family Curculionidae) native to South America and typically found on or near palm trees.’ …

“The insect was discovered in Brazil in 1922 by Irish entomologist Thomas Lincoln Casey, who gave it the strange name. The origin of the word is unknown, and it seemingly has no etymology. Many different theories exist, however, which the OED listed in its blog.

“Some think Casey was attempting to create a word that, when spoken aloud, mimicked the sound made by these insects. …

“Others, however, think Casey was merely having a laugh and came up with the strange combination of letters — so many z’s! — as a practical joke, knowing it would then be the final word in most English dictionaries. …

“If nothing else, Scrabble players should take note. The word, with no special boosters, is worth 23 points.” More here.

By the way, did you know this spelling of the life force chi — “qi” — is permissible in Scrabble? So many options! Remember this on your next rainy day at the shore.