Picking sincerity over cynicism: Giving Maria Popova the Brain Pickings treatment

Curator of curiosity Maria Popova took an editorial turn last week to champion journalistic integrity and truth in the media

Maria Popova. Image from Forbes.

I have something of a soft spot for Maria Popova. For the past two years, her Brain Pickings blog has been a constant companion, like a ridiculously well-read friend whose smarts would put yours to shame if it weren’t for her wholehearted delight in sharing them.

That said, I have something of a tsundoku approach to her weekly Sunday newsletters, which tend to pile up in my inbox like the books on my shelf. I have been gradually clearing that backlog, and enjoying every minute of it. But I am baffled as to how, when I can’t get through all she posts in a week, she manages to find time enough not only to write it all but to read all she writes about.

Opening up Brain Pickings is to venture down the rabbit hole of curiosity. Once you’re in, you quickly discover it’s more than a hole – it’s a whole warren of wonderment you could easily get lost in and never emerge from – but at least you’d never get bored.

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Charlie Hebdo & the importance of nuance

Paris unity march, 10th Jan 2015 Photo from http://www.legalinsurrection.com

I’ve been thinking a lot about absolutes and nuance lately. Today marks one month since two brothers attacked the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and slaughtered twelve people, including four cartoonists, the editor and two policemen. Two days later, they were cornered by police, while their accomplice (who had killed a policewoman the previous day) took hostages and demanded their release. All three were shot dead, but not before four of the hostages had also been killed. Twenty people dead, three of whom won’t be much mourned (though some will no doubt hail them as “martyrs”), and for what? Because they didn’t like some cartoons.

That mentality is terrifying – that anyone could feel justified in committing such inhuman brutality over a cartoon they find offensive defies all reason and decency. It is tempting to think it all comes down to religious ideology, the warped and self-serving distortion of Islam akin to that of ISIS or Boko Haram (which was quietly massacring 2,000 people in Baga, Nigeria as the world was focusing on Paris). But to me, it is something deeper, more elementary and more general than that. It is a glorified bully mentality – the enforcing of your beliefs on others through violence or the threat of it. Their menace might be greatly enhanced by their numbers and weaponry, but it is still the mindless mentality of bullies and thugs, the egotistical and absolutist conviction that their viewpoint is the only valid one.

People are perfectly entitled to be offended by a cartoon of Muhammad, Continue reading

A new year, a new look & a Liebster Award

Being nominated for a Liebster Award seems as good way as any to reboot this blog. If you don’t know (and I didn’t, myself), the Liebster Award is a nice little blogger-to-blogger boost, a way for bloggers to acknowledge and promote other little-known bloggers they like. Given how little I’ve posted over the last year it’s perhaps somewhat undeserved. Nevertheless,liebster-award thanks to Lauren Foley for nominating me. Lauren is a terrific writer, and if you do nothing else you should read her magnificently-titled and just plain fantastic story, Squiggly Arse-Crack. But do make sure check out her blog.

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It’s almost a year since I thought of starting this blog, a year since the confluence of unexpected changes in my life made me take stock of its direction. Or its lack of direction.

I lost my job. I moved country. I traded the city for a rural village. I became a part-time, quasi-parent to my girlfriend’s two kids. And I decided to change career. All events that, in the months or years that preceded them, I could never have imagined. All new beginnings, fresh starts with blind hopes and fears.

I figured I would use the blog as something as a record of those changes. The diary of an Irishman adjusting to life in England. Or maybe a city boy transposed to country life. Or perhaps the travails of redundant career-changer in an increasingly intractable recession. But I never made a choice, and I never did get started.

A year on, things are still in a state of flux and uncertainty, and I’m rebeginning. Again. Just qualified, I’m starting out to try to be a journalist, in this hostile, post-Leveson era, and feeling the daunting uncertainty just as much as ever. So the idea of the blog is still relevant. Continue reading