Sunday 10.4.2015 New York Times Digest


1. Is Cultural Appropriation Always Wrong?

“It’s a truth only selectively acknowledged that all cultures are mongrel.”

2. Confusion, Horror and Heroism in Oregon Shooting

“Roseburg now joins Charleston, S.C.; Newtown, Conn.; Blacksburg, Va.; Aurora, Colo.; and many more on the roster of places where troubled men with firearms — almost uniformly men — have uncorked their rage through mass killings.”

3. How They Got Their Guns

“Criminal histories and documented mental health problems did not prevent at least eight of the gunmen in 14 recent mass shootings from obtaining their weapons, after federal background checks led to approval of the purchases of the guns used.”

4. The Decline of ‘Big Soda’

“The drop in soda consumption represents the single largest change in the American diet in the last decade and is responsible for a substantial reduction in the number of daily calories consumed by the average American child.”

5. The Reign of Recycling

“As you sort everything into the right bins, you probably assume that recycling is helping your community and protecting the environment. But is it? Are you in fact wasting your time?”

6. Patti Smith, Survivor

“I just do my work, and I work every day, and my ambition is just to do something better than I last did. I’d like to write something as great as Pinocchio or Little Women. I won’t say Moby-Dick because that’s impossible. I’d like to write a book that everybody loves. I’d like to take a picture that someone wants to put above their desk so they can look at it while they’re writing a letter or doing whatever they’re doing while sitting at their desk. I’d like to do a painting that would astonish people.”

7. The Flâneur Discovers Paris, a Step at a Time

“Since moving to Paris long ago, I have learned the two cardinal rules of flânerie. First, don’t smile at strangers on the street. The smile is too intimate and fraught with meaning to be casually shared. On the other hand, the ‘regard,’ or ‘look’ — the electric charge between two people when their eyes lock — is part of the game. Second, don’t rush. This is not New York, where people are caught in a constant battle to get somewhere very quickly and impatient with hapless tourists or just about anyone who blocks the way. This is not even the Opéra Metro stop on weekday mornings when commuters rush to connect with the interurban RER train and the No. 3 Metro line. You have to surrender to the present.”

8. Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation

“Our rapturous submission to digital technology has led to an atrophying of human capacities like empathy and self-­reflection, and the time has come to reassert ourselves, behave like adults and put technology in its place.”

9. Changing the Subject, by Sven Birkerts

“The ideal situation, repeatedly evoked, is that of the rapt reading experience of the child; literature, like modern technologies, distances us from sensory reality, but it does so in a focused way that consolidates our habit of self-narrative and indeed of reframing and possessing the world in words.”

10. How to Hold a Stranger’s Baby

“Start with the classic cradle hold, but change positions if the child cries, arches its back or looks exasperated. One of Rice’s go-to moves is to nestle a baby upright against his chest and gently pat its behind.”

11. Donald Trump Is Not Going Anywhere

“Trump said he was not following any special diet or exercise regimen for the campaign. ‘All my friends who work out all the time, they’re going for knee replacements, hip replacements — they’re a disaster,’ he said. He exerts himself fully by standing in front of an audience for an hour, as he just did. ‘That’s exercise.’”

The Revenant

Sunday 9.27.2015 New York Times Digest

1. Stop Googling. Let’s Talk.

“Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel. People keep the conversation on topics where they won’t mind being interrupted. They don’t feel as invested in each other. Even a silent phone disconnects us.”

2. How Lee Child, Author of the Jack Reacher Novels, Spends His Sundays

“The secret disadvantage that writers have is that writing takes away from reading time. So it’s very appealing to me to say I’ll take the evening off and read a book. I’ll read absolutely anything. I read my peers and contemporaries because at a certain level a book is almost a diary of how that person felt during that year. So I read all my friends to catch up on their news.”

3. Complex Car Software Becomes the Weak Spot Under the Hood

“New high-end cars are among the most sophisticated machines on the planet, containing 100 million or more lines of code. Compare that with about 60 million lines of code in all of Facebook or 50 million in the Large Hadron Collider.”

4. Smaller, Faster, Cheaper, Over: The Future of Computer Chips

“When you’re thinking that big, bumping into the limits of physics could be a most humbling experience.”

5. A Better Government, One Tweak at a Time

“Following this recipe may yield a government that’s just like Google: clear, user-friendly and unflinchingly effective.”

6. How Not to Be a Networking Leech

“Here are some tips to help you avoid becoming a networking parasite.”

7. Download: Cassian Folsom

“Monks try to escape from the world, but the world kind of runs after us.”

8. Donald Trump, Our Reality TV Candidate

“Donald Trump is the presidential candidate that reality TV made. An electorate trained in voting contestants on and off shows like American Idol wants to keep him around because he makes things interesting. Instead of any plausible policy stance, Mr. Trump has built his campaign around an entertaining TV persona.”

9. Why Students Hate School Lunches

“In France, where the childhood obesity rate is the lowest in the Western world, a typical four-course school lunch (cucumber salad with vinaigrette, salmon lasagna with spinach, fondue with baguette for dipping and fruit compote for dessert) would probably not pass muster under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, because of the refined grains, fat, salt and calories. Nor would the weekly piece of dark chocolate cake.”

10. Steve Martin Adds ‘Curator’ to His Wild and Crazy Résumé

“He said that Harris often reminded him of Edward Hopper, who is at the core of his own collection, but he admitted that the connection was personal, ‘not art historical — their pictures don’t even look alike.’ Rather, the painters seemed to share an obsession with isolation. ‘For Hopper, isolation meant desolation,’ he said, adding that the cosmopolitan Harris found meaning and beauty in it. ‘He was trying to be alone.’”

11. Robert Zemeckis, Master of Illusion, Returns

“Mr. Kehr takes the position that Mr. Zemeckis, who, beginning with Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), has been perhaps the most digitally adventurous of Hollywood filmmakers, is unfairly dismissed as a technician and misleadingly typecast as a purveyor of feel-good entertainment. A former critic who contributed to The New York Times, Mr. Kehr sees a darker worldview. He has characterized Roger Rabbit, for example, as a caustic allegory of American race relations worthy of Mark Twain.”

12. How to Take a Class From Serena Williams and Usher

“Mr. Rogier’s idea was this: a series of online courses taught by people who are the best in the world at what they do. How about an acting class taught by Mr. Hoffman or Kevin Spacey? Want to finally write that novel? Perhaps you would like to study with James Patterson, who has sold upward of 300 million books. If tennis is your thing, here’s Serena Williams, who will share with you the secret of her cunning forehand.”

13. How to Ask for Forgiveness, in Four Steps

“The most important step is to understand how your actions affected others.”

14. Selfish, by Kim Kardashian West, and More

“Kardashian wants us to know that she is leading a beautiful life, that it is peopled by beautiful friends, all of whom reflect or enhance her own beauty, but the question for you and me is: Are we in any kind of danger here? Is Kardashian a threat to us? Or should we look to her, instead, as exemplar, as someone with much to teach us about mastering our own selfish lives?”

15. The Invention of Nature, by Andrea Wulf

“The transcendentalism in much of Humboldt’s writing deeply affected Whitman, Thoreau, Poe and the English Romantics. In South America the liberator Simón Bolívar, whom Humboldt had known in Paris, asserted that the German’s vision had awakened the South American people to pride in their continent. Later, environmentalists from George Perkins Marsh to John Muir saw Humboldt as their spiritual ancestor.”

16. Cabins, the New American Dream

“According to legend, the cabin and the shack are ideal launchpads for remarkable lives, but lately they’ve become homes to aspire to — particularly for overburdened types whose acquisitive binging has made them want to purge.”

On Not Reading

Mulholland Drive

Mulholland Drive by Kevin Tong

(Via Biblioklept.)

Sunday 9.20.2015 New York Times Digest


1. Watching the Planet Burn

“Having exhumed fossil organics from the depths of the Earth and burned them off into the atmosphere in world-altering quantities, we now inhabit the space between their origin and their destination — the surface of a planet on fire.”

2. Adrian Frutiger Dies at 87; His Type Designs Show You the Way

“A font is how the sounds of language meet the eye, and each character has its own anatomy, temperament and needs: You cannot simply toss 26 letters and 10 numbers into a caldron, give them a stir and have a font emerge. A type designer is obliged to reconcile the often competing imperatives of form and function, for a font that is especially beautiful may not be especially legible, and vice versa. Postmodernity — in which words are read not only on paper but also on fleetingly glimpsed road signs and electronic screens — has only amplified the problem.”

3. Donald Trump and the Art of the Public Sector Deal

The Art of the Deal is not a free-market book.”

4. A Toxic Work World

“The problem is with the workplace, or more precisely, with a workplace designed for the Mad Men era, for Leave It to Beaver families in which one partner does all the work of earning an income and the other partner does all the work of turning that income into care — the care that is indispensable for our children, our sick and disabled, our elderly. Our families and our responsibilities don’t look like that anymore, but our workplaces do not fit the realities of our lives.”

5. Googling for God

“What is the most common word to complete the following question: Why did God make me _? No. 1, by far, is ‘ugly.’ The other sad answers in the top three are ‘gay’ and ‘black.’”

6. Welcome to the Age of the Unfunny Joke

“Comedy is becoming an occasion to abandon humor for the exposure of unsoftened truth.”

7. The Power of Grace Jones

“As if to burnish her over-the-top reputation, the book even contains a copy of her tour rider, which requires that her green room be furnished with two dozen oysters on ice, unopened because ‘Grace does her own shucking.’”

8. Cheap Chic, Manifesto of a Fashion Revolution, Is Back

“The book was about knowledge and access — to not just the right flea market or Army Navy store, but also the souk in Marrakesh where a djellaba cost $10.”

9. The Social Sex: A History of Female Friendship’

“Friendship is a bond that is uniquely defined by the people who exist within it. Unlike relationships such as marriage or parenthood, which have clear timelines and boundaries, friendships have no ceremonial beginning or end, no biological definition. They are not sanctioned by any church, nor recognized officially by any state. This is perhaps why women, historically diminished by the government and burdened by the family, find such fulfillment and power among friends.”

10. Dead Forests and Living Memories

“We use trees to measure our own lives, to anchor our notions of time. To most of us, trees represent constancy and continuity, living giants that persist through many human generations. We want them to achieve maturity; we want them to tower above us.”

11. Barbie Wants to Get to Know Your Child

“For adults, this new wave of everyday A.I. is nowhere near sophisticated enough to fool us into seeing machines as fully alive. That is, they do not come close to passing the ‘Turing test,’ the threshold proposed in 1950 by the British computer scientist Alan Turing, who pointed out that imitating human intelligence well enough to fool a human interlocutor was as good a definition of ‘intelligence’ as any. But things are different with children, because children are different. Especially with the very young, ‘it is very hard for them to distinguish what is real from what is not real,’ says Doris Bergen, a professor of educational psychology at Miami University in Ohio who studies play. The penchant to anthropomorphize — to believe that inanimate objects are to some degree humanlike and alive — is in no way restricted to the young, but children, who often favor magical thinking over the mundane rules of reality, have an especially rich capacity to believe in the unreal.”

12. What the World Got Wrong About Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

“In the mid-1970s, the writer Gay Talese, while doing research for his book Thy Neighbor’s Wife, ran into Abdul-Jabbar at the Playboy Mansion. Abdul-Jabbar told Talese that when he retired, he wanted to become a sportswriter. ‘It seemed like such a strange thing to admit,’ Talese told me. ‘It almost felt like he wanted to be anyone else. He was caught in this huge body, but his aspiration was to be diminished in terms of ambition: He wanted to be the man in the press box. You don’t expect a person with stardom in every muscle to want to become a writer.’”

13. Life on the Papal Beat

“Benedict, with his careful shuffle of a walk, his tremulous voice, his insistence on intellectual rigor in Catholic practice, seemed to suggest that the church might just have lost the culture wars. Francis, whose folksy joviality deflects attention from his sharp political instincts, presents the church as fully engaged in a battle that there may still be a chance of winning — for souls, yes, but also for the planet.”

Sunday 9.13.2015 New York Times Digest


1. What Is the Point of College?

“Two distinct visions of higher education contend throughout our classrooms and campuses.”

2. A Dying Young Woman’s Hope in Cryonics and a Future

“Josh, a political science major, fell in love with Kim, an agnostic science geek, shortly after encountering her freshman year at Truman State University at a meeting of the College Libertarians. There, in the fall of 2007, they bonded over a dislike for the U.S.A. Patriot Act.”

3. Walt Disney, a Visionary Who Was Crazy Like a Mouse

“Here is something that might surprise you: Walt Disney, that icon of American ingenuity, was in financial straits through most of his career.”

4. How to Measure a College’s Value

“Graduates fared better if, during college, they did any one of these: developed a relationship with a mentor; took on a project that lasted a semester or more; did a job or internship directly connected to their chosen field; or became deeply involved in a campus organization or activity (as opposed to minimally involved in a range of things).”

5. Are Western Values Losing Their Sway?

“Are Western values, essentially Judeo-Christian ones, truly universal?”

6. The Next Genocide

“The Holocaust may seem a distant horror whose lessons have already been learned. But sadly, the anxieties of our own era could once again give rise to scapegoats and imagined enemies, while contemporary environmental stresses could encourage new variations on Hitler’s ideas, especially in countries anxious about feeding their growing populations or maintaining a rising standard of living.”

7. There Is No Theory of Everything

“It is also very often the case that the really good teachers don’t write or don’t write that much. They are not engaged in ‘research,’ whatever that benighted term means with respect to the humanities. They teach. They talk. Sometimes they even listen and ask questions.”

8. Are College Lectures Unfair?

“The same lecture, given by the same professor in the same lecture hall, is actually not the same for each student listening; students with more background knowledge will be better able to absorb and retain what they hear.”

9. What the Privileged Poor Can Teach Us

“I discovered that visiting faculty in their offices to talk things through wasn’t an imposition, but an expectation. I learned that I didn’t just need to make demands of myself, but that I could make demands of others.”

10. Hooray for Hollywood! (No, Really.)

“The French director Olivier Assayas observed not long ago, the blockbuster is ‘the most coherent representation of the world’ in which the audience lives. Fast and Furious proves him right, I think.”

11. The Long Emancipation, by Ira Berlin

The Long Emancipation offers a useful reminder that abolition was not the charitable work of respectable white people, or not mainly that. Instead, the demise of slavery was made possible by the constant discomfort inflicted on middle-class white society by black activists.”

12. Date-Onomics, The Sex Myth and Modern Romance

“In the time of Tinder, our sexuality feels anything but secret. But romance is still mysterious — what does it feel like for everyone else? — and three new books try to explain modern mating.”

13. The Making of Home, by Judith Flanders

“A plain ‘house’ is bricks and a mortgage, the business end of domesticity; the idea of ‘home’ seems much, much more alarming.”

14. Is College Tuition Really Too High?

“Without greater access to higher education, the United States is likely to have even greater income inequality, a huge segment of the population will see its income fall and some of our core assumptions about national identity — ours as a land of opportunity, a prosperous democracy — will be at risk.”

15. A Prescription for More Black Doctors

“Xavier has accomplished this without expansive, high-tech facilities — its entire science program is housed in a single complex. It has accomplished this while charging tuition that, at $19,800 a year, is considerably less than that of many private colleges and flagship public universities. It has accomplished this without filling its classrooms with the nation’s elite black students.”

16. Uber Would Like to Buy Your Robotics Department

“Researchers who leave for industry are paid better, certainly, and often get sizable research budgets. But the intellectual register of their work changes. No more exploring hard, ‘basic’ problems out of deep curiosity; they need to solve problems that will make their employers money. When the computer scientist Andrew Moore left Carnegie Mellon to become a vice president of Google in 2006, his new job, he says, was to be ‘as useful as possible to someone trying to buy something’ — which is to say, to help Google’s algorithms learn that the search query ‘my basement is smelly’ should point to a selection of dehumidifiers.”

17. If You Build It, They Will Come … Won’t They?

“The hope is that buildings by starchitects will turn the University of Cincinnati into a desirable, glamorous place to spend four years living and studying.”

18. The Return of the Sex Wars

“To Halley, it’s strange to hear feminists appealing to men to change their behavior while leaving women out of the equation. ‘I’m really troubled by this trend in which women are helpless and passive and men are the big responsible protectors,’ she said. ‘That’s the ideology of the gilded cage. It’s astonishing to see feminists reawakening it uncritically.’”

19. Why We Should Fear University, Inc.

“With every safe academic space balanced by a space of socially desirable danger out of activists’ reach. Our students emerge from classrooms that, we complain, have been sanitized to the point of ridiculousness, and then spend their evenings in Greek houses and dorms that are in a state of perpetual alcoholic fugue.”

20. The Ring Cycle: Boxing’s Eternal Cinematic Appeal

“We go to boxing movies to remind ourselves that boxing still exists, and that therefore so do real men. In an age when men best each other through superior portfolio management or high-tech gadgetry, boxing’s often purer form of manliness, one stubbornly immune to new weaponry or accessories, is precisely the point.”