Sunday 2.7.2016 New York Times Digest


1. Everything About Everything: David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest at 20

“As a novel about an ‘entertainment’ weaponized to enslave and destroy all who look upon it, Infinite Jest is the first great Internet novel. Yes, William Gibson and Neal Stephenson may have gotten there first with Neuromancer and Snow Crash, whose Matrix and Metaverse, respectively, more accurately surmised what the Internet would look and feel like. (Wallace, among other things, failed to anticipate the break from cartridge- and disc-based entertainment.) But Infinite Jest warned against the insidious virality of popular entertainment long before anyone but the most Delphic philosophers of technology. Sharing videos, binge-watching Netflix, the resultant neuro-pudding at the end of an epic gaming marathon, the perverse seduction of recording and devouring our most ordinary human thoughts on Facebook and Instagram — Wallace somehow knew all this was coming, and (as the man himself might have put it) it gave him the howling fantods.”

2. Wanted in China: More Male Teachers, to Make Boys Men

“Worried that a shortage of male teachers has produced a generation of timid, self-centered and effeminate boys, Chinese educators are working to reinforce traditional gender roles and values in the classroom.”

3. Courses in Manhood for African-American Boys

“Manhood Development is the flagship program of the Office of African American Male Achievement, the country’s first department within a public school district that specifically addresses the needs of its most vulnerable children: black boys, who have stubbornly remained at the bottom of nearly every academic indicator, including high school graduation rates in most states, according to the Schott Foundation for Public Education.”

4. The Lives and Lies of a Professional Impostor

“He has portrayed himself as a Scottish-born D.J., a Cambridge-trained thespian, a Special Forces officer and a professor at M.I.T. He has posed as executives from Microsoft, British Airways and Apple, always with a military background. He pretended to be a soldier seeking asylum in Canada to escape anti-Semitic attacks in the United States. He once maintained an Irish accent so well and for so long that his cellmate in an Indiana jail was convinced that he was an Irish mobster.”

5. Cover Crops, a Farming Revolution With Deep Roots in the Past

“The practice of seeding fields between harvests not only keeps topsoil in place, it also adds carbon to the soil and helps the beneficial microbes, fungus, bacteria and worms in it thrive.”

6. Real Compassion in College Admissions

“The best way for colleges to tell kids they truly value a concern about others and a real commitment to community service is to announce that they’ll give an admissions bump of one standard deviation to anyone who spends two years after high school doing full-time AmeriCorps-type community or military service.”

7. America Is Flint

“Lead poisoning goes far beyond Flint, and in many parts of America seems to be even worse.”

8. Dear Google, Is There a Shrink for That?

“Where before, word of mouth was crucial to the search for a therapist, prospective patients are now likely to take to the web, and faced with thousands of anonymous possibilities, look for some way in which to determine who may be the best fit, whose boxes check their own boxes.”

9. Dream Cities, by Wade Graham

“Graham’s argument is that the basic physical structures of our contemporary world that these men created, from the shopping mall to the picturesque suburb, have grown mundane through constant repetition, to the point that they barely register on the eye. A ‘remarkable, global urban monotony’ has set in, everywhere from Singapore to Ulan Bator to Buenos Aires to Boston. A garden designer and historian, Graham wants us to see these urban and architectural forms afresh, not as the drab commonplaces they have become but as the work of visionaries ‘whose dreamed-of cities became the blueprints for the world we actually live in.’”

10. Paradise Now: The Story of American Utopianism, by Chris Jennings

“‘Every utopia,’ Jennings writes, ‘reveals the anxieties and disappointments of its author(s).’”

11. Wood Shop Enters the Age of High-Tech

“Tinkering is now a pedagogy.”

12. Black America and the Class Divide

“There are really two nations within Black America. The problem of income inequality, Dr. Wilson concludes, is not between Black America and White America but between black haves and have-nots, something we don’t often discuss in public in an era dominated by a narrative of fear and failure and the claim that racism impacts 42 million people in all the same ways.”

13. After Racist Episodes, Blunt Discussions on Campus

“The new frontier in the university’s eternal struggle with race starts here, with blunt conversations that seek to bridge a stark campus divide. Yet what was evident in this pregnant moment during a new diversity session that the university is requiring of all new students was this: People just don’t want to discuss it.”

14. The Sheltering Campus: Why College Is Not Home

“To prepare for increased autonomy and responsibility, college needs to be a time of exploration and experimentation. This process entails ‘trying on’ new ways of thinking about oneself both intellectually and personally, which is possible only if a certain degree of freedom is allowed. While we should provide ‘safe spaces’ within colleges for marginalized groups, we must also make it safe for all community members to express opinions and challenge majority views. Intellectual growth and flexibility are fostered by rigorous debate and questioning.”

15. A Hint of Danger in the Forest

“Living animals resist the meanings we give them.”

16. How Chris Jackson Is Building a Black Literary Movement

“He stands between the largely white culture-making machinery and artists writing from the margins of society, as well as between the work of those writers and the largely white critical apparatus that dictates their success, in both cases saying: This, believe it or not, is something you need to hear.”

17. Roger Goodell’s Unstoppable Football Machine

“Every corporate office celebrates itself, to some degree, but the N.F.L.’s is particularly overwhelming, as if it were the sanctum of a highly successful megachurch marrying ESPN and Scientology. I had the strange feeling, as I waited in the lobby, that I was being watched, if not filmed.”

Sunday 1.31.2016 New York Times Digest


1. Green-Eyed Verbs

“Sometimes, when I open a magazine and find yet another intelligently researched piece of journalism or brilliant social analysis in the form of a book review, I think: ‘What beauty!’ And then, almost immediately afterward, I think, ‘Could I offer the world something so useful and beautiful?’”

2. Why Sports Fans Risk Life and Limb for a Rolled-Up T-shirt

“It’s become a sports-event ritual as sacrosanct as the seventh-inning stretch or the singing of the national anthem. After making the obligatory I-can’t-heeeeear-you hand gestures, the Pinstripe Police and their cognates start catapulting rolled-up shirts in the general direction of fans. Often the squads are equipped with air cannons. Others go old-school and use slingshots made of surgical tubing. The Phillie Phanatic, never one to be outdone, shoots off free hot dogs using a four-foot pneumatic gun.”

3. Fake Online Locksmiths May Be Out to Pick Your Pocket, Too

“It is a classic bait-and-switch. And it has quietly become an epidemic in America.”

4. Everybody’s a Critic. And That’s How It Should Be.

“The days of the all-powerful critic are over. But that figure — high priest or petty dictator, destroying and consecrating reputations with the stroke of a pen — was always a bit of a myth, an allegorical monster conjured up by timid artists and their insecure admirers. Criticism has always been a fundamentally democratic undertaking. It is an endless conversation, rather than a series of pronouncements. It is the debate that begins when you walk out of the theater or the museum, either with your friends or in the private chat room of your own head. It’s not me telling you what to think; it’s you and me talking. That was true before the Internet, but the rise of social media has had the thrilling, confusing effect of making the conversation literal.”

5. Welcome to the Age of the Commando

“The mythos of Special Operations has seized our nation’s popular imagination, and has proved to be the one prism through which the public will engage with America’s wars. From the box office to bookstores, the Special Ops commando — quiet and professional, stoic and square-jawed — thrives. That he works in the shadows, where missions are classified and enemy combatants come in silhouettes of night-vision green, is all for the better — details only complicate.”

6. How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off

“Child prodigies rarely become adult geniuses who change the world.”

7. Sam Shepard Takes Stock of ‘Buried Child’ and the Writer’s Life

“I remember as a kid, going into other people’s houses. Everything was different. The smells in the kitchen were different; the clothing was different. That bothered me. There’s something very mysterious about other families and the way they function.”

8. She? Ze? They? What’s In a Gender Pronoun

“Facebook now offers 50 different gender identity options for new users, including gender fluid (with a gender identity that is shifting), bigender (a person who identifies as having two distinct genders) and agender (a person without an identifying gender). There are day cares that proudly tout their gender-neutral pronoun policies — so kids don’t feel boxed in — and college professors who are skewered on the Internet for messing them up.”

9. How to Experience David Bowie’s New York

“Walking in general (the earlier in the day the better) was a preferred way for Mr. Bowie to experience city life.”

10. The Rise and Fall of American Growth by Robert J. Gordon

“Robert J. Gordon, a distinguished macro­economist and economic historian at Northwestern, has been arguing for a long time against the techno-optimism that saturates our culture, with its constant assertion that we’re in the midst of revolutionary change. Starting at the height of the dot-com frenzy, he has repeatedly called for perspective: Developments in information and communication technology, he has insisted, just don’t measure up to past achievements. Specifically, he has argued that the I.T. revolution is less important than any one of the five Great Inventions that powered economic growth from 1870 to 1970: electricity, urban sanitation, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, the internal combustion engine and modern communication.”

11. Don’t Distract Me

“We must get better at managing our entanglements with technology.”

12. Buffalo in the City

“Buffalo plaid, once the uncomplicated icon of woodsy masculinity, is now a bit of a camp classic. Its redefinition as something universal and unisex has the flavor of an accidental subversion.”

13. What Does a Parrot Know About PTSD?

“It’s one of those unlikely natural outcomes of the so-called anthropocene, the first epoch to be named after us: the prolonged confinement of intelligent and social creatures, compelling them to speak the language of their keepers. And now, in yet another unlikely occurrence, parrots, among the oldest victims of human acquisitiveness and vainglory, have become some of the most empathic readers of our troubled minds. Their deep need to connect is drawing the most severely wounded and isolated PTSD sufferers out of themselves. In an extraordinary example of symbiosis, two entirely different outcasts of human aggression — war and entrapment — are somehow helping each other to find their way again.”

Sunday 1.24.2016 New York Times Digest


1. Can Shame Be Useful?

“The experience of shame — the feeling that one has failed to live up to one’s own standards — can play a positive role in recovery from addiction, as well as from other kinds of destructive habits.”

2. When the Water Turned Brown

“Interviews, documents and emails show that as every major decision was made over more than a year, officials at all levels of government acted in ways that contributed to the public health emergency and allowed it to persist for months. The government continued on its harmful course even after lead levels were found to be rising, and after pointed, detailed warnings came from a federal water expert, a Virginia Tech researcher and others.”

3. The Art of Home Staging

“In the past, many stagers focused on decluttering and implementing minor tweaks in furnished homes. Or they appointed vacant apartments with basic rental furniture to prove that rooms were large enough for regular sofas and queen-size mattresses. Today, they are increasingly tackling all-out transformations that aim to present compelling contemporary design, while projecting a complete aspirational package.”

4. The Oscars and Hollywood’s Race Problem

“Hollywood has a race problem. Hollywood has always had a race problem. The movie industry continues to ignore audiences of color, to its own detriment, given the box office success of movies that do feature diverse casts. It continues to ignore the simple fact that people of color want to see their lives reflected in the movies they watch. Representation is not a lot to ask.”

5. What a Million Syllabuses Can Teach Us

“Such data has many uses. For academics, for example, it offers a window onto something they generally know very little about: how widely their work is read.”

6. Drivers With Head Shots: The New Side Job for the Creative Class in Los Angeles

“This is Hollywood’s new creative underclass, where being a driver for hire has replaced waiting on tables as the preferred side job for the city’s underemployed actors and artists. Over the last two years, droves of them have gone to work for ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft because of their flexible hours and, until recently, decent pay.”

7. The Cult of Marie Kondo

“More than five million copies of Ms. Kondo’s books have been sold, along with licenses to print them in 40 languages, including Mongolian. Fox and NBC are working on a sitcom inspired by her.”

8. Under No Certain Search Terms

“I could open a browser, punch in a range of dates and a few search terms, and within seconds have a presorted queue of articles, every one of which was relevant. I could feel confident that when it came to coverage of, let’s say, an embassy of Japanese statesmen arriving in San Francisco in 1872, I hadn’t missed a single mention. I blessed the librarians who had digitized their holdings, and got to work. But there’s a problem with doing research this way: You find exactly what you’re looking for, and nothing you’re not.”

9. Why Are Corporations Hoarding Trillions?

“Collectively, American businesses currently have $1.9 trillion in cash, just sitting around. Not only is this state of affairs unparalleled in economic history, but we don’t even have much data to compare it with, because corporations have traditionally been borrowers, not savers. The notion that a corporation would hold on to so much of its profit seems economically absurd, especially now, when it is probably earning only about 2 percent interest by parking that money in United States Treasury bonds. These companies would be better off investing in anything — a product, a service, a corporate acquisition — that would make them more than 2 cents of profit on the dollar, a razor-thin margin by corporate standards. And yet they choose to keep the cash.”

10. The Living Dead

“Much like the research on the microbiome has fundamentally reshaped our understanding of biology, studies of the necrobiome appear poised to illustrate, on a small scale, what many hope will be a more rigorous way of doing forensic science.”

How to Write Clearly

“Never send off any piece of writing the moment it is finished. Put it aside. Take on something else. Go back to it a month later and re-read it. Examine each sentence and ask ‘Does this say precisely what I mean? Is it capable of misunderstanding? Have I used a cliché where I could have invented a new and therefore asserting and memorable form? Have I repeated myself and wobbled round the point when I could have fixed the whole thing in six rightly chosen words? Am I using words in their basic meaning or in a loose plebeian way?’”

—Evelyn Waugh

(Via Terry Teachout.)



“Honestly: scholars bore me. I don’t have the spine to withstand colorless writing for very long, and furthermore I suspect that colorless writing is indicative of colorless thought.”

Luc Sante

 (Image via the New York TimesPreviously on SFYP.)

Sunday 1.17.2016 New York Times Digest


1. Iowa’s Heartland Beyond the Campaign Trail

“Iowa is not just a reminder that America is more than the sum total of its skyscrapers and safe spaces. It also reaffirms that our nation, beginning with Iowa, is full of unsung surprises.”

2. Drug Overdoses Propel Rise in Mortality Rates of Young Whites

“The rising death rates for those young white adults, ages 25 to 34, make them the first generation since the Vietnam War years of the mid-1960s to experience higher death rates in early adulthood than the generation that preceded it.”

3. Loose Lips Sink Careers, Even for C.E.O.s

“On a daily basis I wonder if Twitter isn’t custom designed to trigger career suicide.”

4. Investing Advice That Doubles as a Bookmark

“Everything you need to know can fit on a large index card.”

5. Why I Taught Myself to Procrastinate

“While procrastination is a vice for productivity, I’ve learned — against my natural inclinations — that it’s a virtue for creativity.”

6. In Online Dating, ‘Sextortion’ and Scams

“The desire for companionship and connection makes people vulnerable to a most 21st-century crime: the online romance scam, which bilked victims of all ages and orientations out of more than $200 million last year, according to the F.B.I.”

7. How Measurement Fails Doctors and Teachers

“The objections became harder to dismiss as evidence mounted that even superb and motivated professionals had come to believe that the boatloads of measures, and the incentives to ‘look good,’ had led them to turn away from the essence of their work. In medicine, doctors no longer made eye contact with patients as they clicked away. In education, even parents who favored more testing around Common Core standards worried about the damaging influence of all the exams.”

8. Hallelujah College

“Some evangelicals have poured their energies into a different sort of Christian organization, one that has been proliferating quietly for decades at universities around the country: Christian study centers. These are not ministries, exactly, and what they do is not old-fashioned evangelism.”

9. Why I Always Wanted to Be a Secretary

“When the time came to choose between a secretarial career or the uncertain prospect of a job in academia, the choice was easy. The secretaries I knew seemed happier than the doctoral students I knew, and when they left work at the end of the day, the secretaries had plenty of time for gardening and needlepoint. I skipped all the lesson planning and paper grading, and made writing my after-hours hobby.”

10. In Praise of Blue Notes: What Makes Music Sad?

“There is a culture around any music, and how you understand that culture influences how you hear. Listening is augmented hearing, hearing through certain layers. Sometimes music follows a consensual code from maker to taker: hearing through an intellectual filter, in accordance with somebody who’s playing through the same intellectual filter. The filter doesn’t have to be sincere or true. Sometimes it can be a managed lie. But the mood survives, passed on and on.”

11. Ricky Jay and the Met Conjure Big Magic in Miniature

“Buchinger (1674-1739) was a magician and musician, a dancer, champion bowler and trick-shot artist and, most famously, a calligrapher specializing in micrography — handwriting so small it’s barely legible to the naked eye. His signature effect was to render locks of hair that, when examined closely, spelled out entire Psalms or books from the Bible. What made his feats even more remarkable is that Buchinger was born without hands or feet and was only 29 inches tall.”

12. With the Rise of Justin Trudeau, Canada Is Suddenly … Hip?

“But the notion that our neighbor to the north is a frozen cultural wasteland populated with hopelessly unstylish citizens is quickly becoming so outdated as to be almost offensive.”

13. David Bowie: Invisible New Yorker

“He traveled with this cloak of invisibility — nobody saw him. He just eradicated himself.”

14. Letter of Recommendation: Sick Days

“Sick in bed is a time to let all the thoughts of the last few months, all your experiences and memories, float up in your head, up near the ceiling, which is wobbling with fever. It is a time to take stock of your life.”

15. The Trials of Alice Goffman

“The most difficult thing about doing fieldwork is remembering who you are.”

16. The Happiness Code

“Many of CFAR’s techniques resemble a kind of self-directed version of psychotherapy’s holy trinity: learning to notice behaviors and assumptions that we’re often barely conscious of; feeling around to understand the roots of those behaviors; and then using those insights to create change. But there was something unsettling about how CFAR focused on superficial fixes while overlooking potentially deeper issues.”

David Bowie (1947–2016)