The Sunday Post for August 6, 2017

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

Beat the Clock

This essay by soccer player Georgia Cloepfill starts with what I believe is called a “devastating indictment” of the discrepancy in how male and female athletes are treated, financially and otherwise; that section alone is worth your time. And then she offers more, handfuls of short, lyrical-in-a-good-way vignettes about the nature of work, sacrifice, and achievement, through the lens of a woman who’s dedicated a great deal of heart to her sport.

I ask the clock how much time is left. It answers in monotonous pulses: there is still time, there is still time; or: it is nearly over. The amount of time that passes is inseparable from the immensity of my panic — they are one and the same.

With a comfortable lead, ninety minutes have the texture of a single day. Things happen with a calm inevitability. Events are as stable as a sunset, and consequences are modest. There is still time to erase, if necessary; to repeat, if you’ve already done the right thing; to find glory, if glory has thus far proved elusive.

Academic language and the problem of meaninglessness

At its worst obscure, self-righteous, and exclusionary, academic language is such an easy target! And yet I can’t help cheering Nathan J. Robinson on as he takes aim and fires at it again. In fairness (to the language), his point is that academic writing isn’t inherently bad, it’s just used that way.

if people are actually trying to communicate with one another their words need to have meaning, and we need to have relatively fixed and identifiable definitions for concepts and actions. That’s always going to be elusive, because the usages of words will change over time and vary among users, so it will be impossible for any definition to stay truly stable and universally agreed. Yet while their boundaries can be fuzzy and contested, words ultimately need to be something more than meaningless mouth-noises.
Being rich wrecks your soul. We used to know that.

If we’re going to face off against inflated language (see above), why not go head-to-head with inflated pocketbooks as well? If Spidey has to check his virtue, even more so Batman.

According to many philosophies and faiths, wealth should serve only as a steppingstone to some further good and is always fraught with moral danger. We all used to recognize this; it was a commonplace. And this intuition, shared by various cultures across history, stands on firm empirical ground.

Over the past few years, a pile of studies from the behavioral sciences has appeared, and they all say, more or less, “Being rich is really bad for you.”

The ISBN, decoded

Bonus for book nerds! Adrian Tahourdin reports out of London on how to decode the ISBN, and on the sea change its adoption signaled in what we know about the books we read. The article is a bit of an amuse-bouche, so here are a couple of trails to follow, based on Tahourin’s references: Philip Bradley on the ISBN’s history and use, and David Whitaker (“the father of the ISBN”) on the classification system’s birth.

One senior editor at the time would spend half his working hours proof-reading the item; I think he quite enjoyed it. He must have known many of the ISBN prefixes by heart: 0 19 for Oxford, 0 521 for Cambridge, the somehow pleasing 0 224 for Jonathan Cape, and the equally pleasing 0 393 for Norton and 0 674 for Harvard. Another editor at the TLS used to like being tested on ISBN prefixes, but she recalls that particular challenge now with some (understandable) embarrassment. She’s probably not even aware that Cambridge University Press a few years ago changed their prefix from 521 to 107.