What we've been reading: NSA, eloquence, guts and sci-fi

What we've been reading
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Welcome to the first AccountingWEB edition of What we’ve been reading. It does exactly what it says on the tin: each week, the AccountingWEB team will share articles or content that piqued our interest.

One of the unique and great aspects of working at AccountingWEB is how diverse a cast of characters we are. If you had to phrase the AccountingWEB editorial team as a joke, it’d be two Englishmen, a South African (with an Irish twist) and a Spaniard walk into a bar.

So given this kaleidoscopic array, What we’ve been reading is bound to be a fascinating concoction of articles and ideas.

We hope you enjoy it!

Francois: Titanpointe: the NSA’s spy hub in New York, hidden in plain sight

At 33 Thomas street, right in the centre of Manhattan, there’s a 33 story skyscraper without windows. Looking at pictures, it resembles the secret police headquarters from a dystopian sci-fi future.

Somehow, this brutalist monstrosity has leaked into our reality from a darker timeline. Locals call it the Long Lines Building. Ostensibly, it’s a telephone exchange and wire centre building for the major telecoms companies AT&T and Verizon.

It’s also home to the National Security Agency and it was a fulcrum of PRISM, the agency’s tentacled beast of a surveillance programme (remember Edward Snowden?).

This report from The Intercept is a fascinating and alarming story, asking the old question: who are our cities for?

Richard: The Power by Naomi Alderman

Since the New York Times broke the decades of allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, women have finally felt liberated to speak out against sexual misconduct. 

But this movement was not just confined to the film industry. The hashtag #metoo revealed the all too familiar stories of abuse. And the sexual harassment furore even graced these very pages.

That's why it is hard to read Naomi Alderman’s Atwoodesque novel The Power without the current backdrop hitting you like a rusty nail.

Like all great science fiction stories, this novel subverts the all too familiar status quo; the narrative we've seen far too often – powerful men abusing women. Instead, The Power asks the simple question: what if men were afraid of women?

So, what’s it about? When teenage girls reach the age of 14 or 15 they experience an awakening. They discover the ability to electrocute is at their fingertips. Suddenly, women feel empowered. In one cathartic example, a teenage girl is finally able to exact revenge against her sexually abusive foster guardian.

With themes of power and inequality, The Power is certainly a timely read. 

Tom: The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase

Now dear AccountingWEB readers, as tempting as it may be to post a ‘not before time’ comment about my writing, I urge you to refrain: it was the Budget yesterday and I’ve still got a headache.

While this has the hallmarks of a grammar textbook, I’d say it’s more of a primer for people who actively dislike grammar. The author’s stated aim is to “demolish the bleak and imbecile idea that the aim of writing is to express yourself clearly in plain, simple English using as few words as possible”.

The examples and references come thick and fast (there’s a cliché for you), and range from classical to the contemporary. My favourite nugget of information from the book so far is that in English, adjectives go in the following order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose-noun.

“So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac.”

Valme: Is your gut microbiome the key to health and happiness?

With January stress around the corner, the prospect of dealing with last minute work during the next couple of months might be daunting. If you suddenly feel the urge to get into a plane and hide on a lost island in the Pacific, you might want to know that the key to happiness might be much closer: in your own stomach.
 
Various studies have linked a healthy microbiome with reduced levels of stress and anxiety as well as an enhanced athletic ability and a positive influence on weight control and the immune function.
 
Following a diet rich in probiotics (which are dietary fibres that feed bacteria) seems to be one of the best ways to look after your microbiome. So if the lack of sunshine and the stress of the season are making you feel a little bit down, you might want to give it a go!
 
What have you been reading this week? Let us know in the comments section below.

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