Sunday 05.24.2015 New York Times Digest

1. Our Pampered Wilderness

“‘Glamping,’ shorthand for ‘glamorous camping,’ is having a moment. There’s a long tradition of renting old cabins in parks. Moderately priced yurts are popular now, too. But glamping takes this to another level. Imagine sleeping in a spacious, walled canvas tent on a raised platform. Between high-thread-count sheets. With vanity tables.”

2. Young Saudis, Bound by Conservative Strictures, Find Freedom on Their Phones

“Young Saudis are increasingly relying on social media to express and entertain themselves, earn money and meet friends and potential mates.”

3. The Bookstore Built by Jeff Kinney, the ‘Wimpy Kid’

“Many small bookstores nationwide, surprisingly, are holding steady and even thriving. After years of decline, booksellers have rebounded lately as print sales have stabilized, and their ranks are swelling. Last year, the American Booksellers Association counted nearly 2,100 member stores, compared with about 1,650 in 2009.”

4. What to Learn in College to Stay One Step Ahead of Computers

“Computers and robots are already replacing many workers. What can young people learn now that won’t be superseded within their lifetimes by these devices and that will secure them good jobs and solid income over the next 20, 30 or 50 years? In the universities, we are struggling to answer that question.”

5. Infidelity Lurks in Your Genes

“It turns out that genes, gene expression and hormones matter a lot.”

6. Download: Hannes Wingate

“It’s a fairly regular occurrence that people in survival school have tantrums and get upset. We take them into the red zone where they feel like their life is on the line. They faint, cry, vomit. Almost everyone goes through it. But they come out on the other side recalibrated; realizing that when their plane is late and their burger is cold, none of that matters. It’s a liberating experience. You ask a native person, ‘Show me your survival skills,’ and they will have no idea what you are talking about. ‘What do you mean? We are just living.’ I don’t look at what we do at survival school as teaching a bag of tricks. I more see it as bringing people into contact with the environment in which we evolved as a species.”

7. Shoes That Put Women in Their Place

“Pseudoscientific ideas promoted Darwinian concepts of survival of the fittest and linked male height directly to sexual attractiveness. Heels could have been pressed back into service in men’s fashion, yet they were rejected. Heels on men detracted from their masculinity by highlighting a natural lack of height, rather than conferring any advantage gained from artificially increased stature.”

8. How to Lock Up Fewer People

“If we are going to end mass incarceration, we need to recognize that the excessively long sentences we impose for most violent crimes are not necessary, cost-effective or just.”

9. Why Do We Experience Awe?

“We believe that awe deprivation has had a hand in a broad societal shift that has been widely observed over the past 50 years: People have become more individualistic, more self-focused, more materialistic and less connected to others. To reverse this trend, we suggest that people insist on experiencing more everyday awe, to actively seek out what gives them goose bumps.”

10. Dwayne Johnson, Star of San Andreas, Is Solid. Solid as a …

“He may be the oddest superstar we have.”

11. Italy’s Treasured Olive Oil, at the Source

“Olive oil is as old as time. Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans all cultivated it. And here, in this sacred conclave of olive oil producers in a small farmhouse on a hillside — and throughout Tuscany and more rugged regions to the south — it was almost a religion.”

12. The Daemon Knows, by Harold Bloom

“His teacherly aim is to pose the question in close readings of 12 daemon-possessed writers whom he interrogates in pairs: Whitman with Melville, Emerson with Dickinson, Hawthorne with Henry James, Mark Twain with Frost, Stevens with T. S. Eliot, Faulkner with Hart Crane. He might well have chosen 12 others, he tells us, reciting still another blizzard of American luminaries, but dismisses the possibility ‘because these [chosen] writers represent our incessant effort to transcend the human without forsaking humanism.’”

13. Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker, by Thomas Kunkel

“He covered the Lindbergh kidnapping trial (‘a mess’), witnessed the electrocution of six men, and watched a woman who had been stabbed in the neck bleed to death while he tried to make her lie still. He might have gone on like that and had a productive if ultimately forgettable career, were it not for a newspaper series he wrote on the anthropologist Franz Boas that became, for Mitchell, ‘a kind of graduate-level seminar’: ‘Don’t take anything for granted,’ Boas told him, among other things. The advice helped transform Mitchell from a competent beat reporter with a graceful prose style into, arguably, our greatest literary journalist — a man who wrote about freaks, barkeeps, street preachers, grandiose hobos and other singular specimens of humanity with compassion and deep, hard-earned understanding, and above all with a novelist’s eyes and ears.”

14. Should There Be a Minimum Age for Writing a Memoir?

“We really do not need yet another memoir by a person too young to have undergone any genuinely interesting and instructive experiences — or, having had such experiences, too young to know what to make of them — and too self­involved to have any genuine empathy for those whose paths he crosses.”

15. Death in the Browser Tab

“This was at a time when death still happened in the home. The bereaved propped up their beloved dead, dressed them in good clothes and had them photographed as though they were still alive. But postmortem pictures, with their melancholy grandeur and intimate setting, are different from images that capture the rude shock of sudden death.”

16. Letter of Recommendation: Uni-ball Signo UM-151

“The cost is such that I do not mind if I lose it (almost inevitably, I will). Aesthetically, there is the sleek silhouette, the smooth barrel, the graceful link of the arcing clip to the gentle curving cap; viewed on its side, the pen perfectly evokes a Shinkansen bullet train. I love the way the silver conical tip sits visible through its clear plastic housing, like a rocket waiting to be deployed. I love the small black rubber grip, with its pairs of dimples, arranged in a pattern whose logic evades but intrigues me. The pen slides discreetly into a pocket, and like a sinuous dagger it just feels meant to be held.”

17. Proving My Blackness

“Some people wondered why, in a society that represses black people, I would even want to be black. But I never wanted to be black. I was black. What I wanted was to retain my connection to my heritage, my community, my family. To my mom. And I wanted proof. So last summer, after exhausting my attempt at amateur genealogy, I spit into a test tube for a DNA test. Only then did I realize, in a panic, that my life of racial ambiguity would soon be over.”

18. Judy Blume Knows All Your Secrets

“For those of us who were teenagers in the early ’80s and in the decade before — Are You There God? was published in 1970 — there was no Sassy magazine, there was no Internet; there was just Judy Blume, planting the radical idea, for generations of women, that their bodies would be, should be, a source of pleasure and not of shame. Her credibility was total, a young person’s raw perspective, filtered — subtly — through the common sense of a frank, funny woman.”

19. Can China Take a Joke?

“Comedy in the People’s Republic isn’t so much an attitude or philosophical viewpoint as it is a set of forms. The most widespread is xiangsheng — typically (if imperfectly) translated as ‘cross-talk’ — a traditional two-person comedic performance that often features wordplay and references to Chinese literary classics, as well as singing and dancing. Cross-talk originated with street performers during the late Qing dynasty. In 1861, the Xianfeng Emperor died and the government declared a 100-day period of mourning, which meant all stage shows were canceled. Many artists resorted to illegal busking, and a Peking-opera performer named Zhu Shaowen hung up a sign in a public square: ‘I’m poor, and I’m not afraid to stand on the street corner and shoot the breeze,’ goes one loose translation.”

Sunday 05.17.2015 New York Times Digest

1. Rise of the Robots and Shadow Work

“The disappearance of jobs has not ushered in a new age of leisure, as social theorists predicted uneasily in the 1950s. Would the masses utilize their freedom from labor in productive ways, such as civic participation and the arts, or would they die of boredom in their ranch houses? Somehow, it was usually assumed, they would still manage to eat.”

2. Don’t Be So Sure the Economy Will Return to Normal

“Are these economic problems transitory, or are we glimpsing the beginnings of a grimmer future?”

3. Want a Green Card? Invest in Real Estate

“Under the federal program, a foreigner who invests $500,000 — and in some instances, $1 million — in a project that will create at least 10 jobs can apply for a green card. It generally takes from 22 to 26 months to obtain legal residency through the program, as opposed to several years for other visa programs.”

4. Primates of Park Avenue

“It didn’t take long for me to realize that my background in anthropology might help me figure it all out, and that this elite tribe and its practices made for a fascinating story.”

5. No Longer Wanting to Die

“This dialectic tension between acceptance and change is the root concept of dialectical behavior therapy.”

6. I Love the Post Office

“Like the D.M.V. and jury duty, the post office is one of the last great equalizing institutions.”

7. Thou Shalt Worship None of the Above

“To live in a country as pluralistic as the United States is inevitably to be influenced by a grab bag of beliefs. ‘Thou shalt reconsider assumptions you held as a child and remain open to new ideas’ might as well be the first commandment of our national faith.”

8. Let the Kids Learn Through Play

“Play is often perceived as immature behavior that doesn’t achieve anything, but it’s essential to their development. They need to learn to persevere, to control attention, to control emotions. Kids learn these things through playing.”

9. What’s Lurking Behind the Suicides?

“What the news media often misses though, and what tribal members understand but rarely discuss above a whisper, is that youth suicides here are inextricably linked to a multigenerational scourge of sexual abuse, with investigations into possible abuse now open in at least two of the nine recent suicides.”

10. Mounting Evidence of Advantages for Children of Working Mothers

“Evidence is mounting that having a working mother has some economic, educational and social benefits for children of both sexes.”

11. Detroit’s Recovery, and My Dad’s, Too

“Curious things happen when people begin to pull themselves out of a rut. Some friends and family members will say they always knew things would turn around. Some will take credit. For others, the memory of the way the person was before, the slights, the insults and the sheer embarrassment of witnessing someone so low will always be what they remember.”

12. How to Get People to Pitch In

“What does consistently work may be surprising: interventions based not on money, but on leveraging social concerns.”

13. They Built It. No One Came.

“They bought 63 acres for $63,000 in Pitman, a tiny community in Eldred Township, and they began to rescue period cabins and structures in the area and move them to the site. Filled with Colonial zeal, they bought an antique letterpress and began printing brochures to advertise their concept. Dressed in their homespun linen garments, made from flax they had planted and sewn themselves, they set up tables at gay-pride festivals, living-history farms and farming museums. ‘People would look at us and say, “Oh, so you’re gay Amish?”’ Johannes said. They did get a few takers: a man who was interested in the culture of the early German settlers, but preferred to observe its customs rather than pitch in; a guy they called ‘the Primitive man,’ who set up a lean-to on the property and wore loincloths in the summer (he stayed the longest but turned out to be mentally ill).”

14. For Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson, a Complicated Match Made on the Hardwood

“‘I’m not a lesbian,’ Ms. Johnson said. ‘But Brittney is different.’”

15. The Tyranny of Constant Contact

“Even those of us who don’t have small children or jobs with the State Department, it seems, now need to be accessible at all hours of the day. It’s as if we’re doctors on call.”

16. Swearing Off the Modern Man

“I decided to swear off modern men. No more Twitter games. No more Instagram dissections. No more Facebook predation. I wanted someone mature.”

17. Travel Industry Responds to Rise in Solo Sojourners

“If a spouse or partner can’t leave work, has a conflict, or is disinterested in a destination that his or her partner is pining to see, the partners have no qualms about heading off on their own.”

18. Joseph J. Ellis: By the Book

“I think The Scarlet Letter is the great morality tale in American literature that defies all merely moralistic categories. With Gatsby it’s all about style. I try to reread it every summer for rhythm and flow. When I was younger I would have picked Hemingway, especially the Nick Adams stories during trout season, but he’s faded as I’ve aged.”

19. Elon Musk, by Ashlee Vance

“Musk is brutal on himself, routinely working 100-hour weeks. He is brutal as a boss, too, often berating or summarily firing colleagues while hogging credit for others’ accomplishments. Yet he is without question a leader who pushes risky ideas forward through a combination of long-range vision and deep technical intelligence. He knows how to hire good people and how to motivate them. Most important, he never, ever gives up.”

20. On the Move, by Oliver Sacks

“The emergent field of narrative medicine, in which a patient’s life story is elicited in order that his immediate health crisis may be addressed, in many ways reflects Sacks’ belief that a patient may know more about his condition than those treating him do, and that doctors’ ability to listen can therefore outrank technical erudition. Common standards of physician neutrality are in Sacks’ view cold and unforgiving — a trespass not merely against a patient’s wish for loving care, but also against efficacy. Sacks has insisted for decades that symptoms are often not what they seem, and that while specialization allows the refinement of expertise, it should never replace the generalism that connects the dots, nor thwart the tenderness that good doctoring requires.”

21. Future Crimes, by Marc Goodman

“The cornucopia of technology that we are accepting into our lives, with little or no self-reflection or thoughtful examination, may very well come back and bite us.”

22. Toward an Oral Art

“At Audible, arguably the premier venue for audiobooks, poetry represents around half a percent of the total offerings, and Audible itself has produced only 35 or so poetry audiobooks, as against their nearly 23,000 recordings in other genres. The numbers at Audible’s competitors are similarly discouraging for poets. Among more than 11,000 available titles at Audiobooks and more than 30,000 at Scribd, only a fraction are poetry collections.”

23. After the Tall Timber Collects Renata Adler’s Nonfiction

“Adler made her name covering many of the same subjects as her peers — the civil rights movement in the South, the hippies in California, the New Left — from a contrarian perspective she called the ‘radical middle.’”

24. Goebbels: A Biography, by Peter Longerich

“Goebbels’s path to his death in the bunker below the ruins of Hitler’s Chancellery began in 1924, when he became a founding member of a chapter of the National Socialist Workers Party in his hometown, Rheydt, a small city in the Rhineland, not far from Düsseldorf. That year Goebbels turned 27 years old, without past accomplishments or future prospects: unmarried, unemployed and still living at home, he was the author of an unpublished doctoral dissertation on a deservedly obscure German writer and a few unfinished works of autobiographical fiction.”

25. One Nation Under God,’ by Kevin M. Kruse

“Kruse tells a big and important story about the mingling of religiosity and politics since the 1930s. Still, he oversells his basic premise. Americans easily accepted placing God’s name on their currency and in the oath children recite every school day because similar invocations were already routine in public discourse — from the Declaration’s reference to the ‘unalienable Rights’ endowed by the ‘Creator’ to the official chaplains who have opened sessions of the House and Senate with a prayer since 1789. Following the attacks of 9/11, we’ve added the ubiquitous ‘God Bless America’ to bumper stickers, to the ends of political speeches and to many a seventh-inning stretch. As features of what the sociologist Robert Bellah called ‘civil religion’ (a term he borrowed from Rousseau), the familiarity of these practices comforts some without making particular demands on anyone else. Even back in the age of Eisenhower, the A.C.L.U. understood that.”

26. The Underground Art of the Insult

“At its most refined, shade should have an element of plausible deniability, so that the shade-thrower can pretend that he or she didn’t actually mean to behave with incivility, making it all the more delicious.”

27. The Makeup Shake-Up

“Many of these videos simply help viewers learn professional makeup techniques at home: the angular wings of a cat-eye, say, or smoky eyes just like Kim Kardashian’s. But with those basics covered, the ironclad law of web content — that there must always be more — has now brought us tutorials that go beyond these utilitarian roots and into territory that is artsier, weirder and far more subversive.”

28. Leaving It All Behind

“I will give up all vehicles, mobile phones, cosmetics, colorful clothes, footwear, money, ornaments. Renouncers can have only white clothes, just a few of them. You are allowed to own only books about Jain religion, a bowl in which we can eat food and the broom we use to clear the path that we walk on.”

29. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

“They are marquee stars of urban fiction, or street lit, a genre whose inner-city settings and lurid mix of crime, sex and sensationalism have earned it comparisons to gangsta rap. The emergence of street lit is one of the big stories in recent American publishing, a juggernaut that has generated huge sales by catering to a readership — young, black and, for the most part, female — that historically has been ill-served by the book business. But the genre is also widely maligned. Street lit is subject to a kind of triple snobbery: scorned by literati who look down on genre fiction generally, ignored by a white publishing establishment that remains largely indifferent to black books and disparaged by African-American intellectuals for poor writing, coarse values and trafficking in racial stereotypes.”

30. Works in Progress

“A very small sampling of the female artists now in their 80s and 90s we should have known about decades ago.”

Gay Talese’s Address Book

(Via Grantland.)

This blog is a Gay Talese fanzone. Previously: Gay Talese’s Daily Routine, Gay Talese’s Office, Dressed for a Dungeon, “I Don’t Use Notebooks. I Use Shirt Boards,” and The Species of Tailoring Is Threatened by the Outside World.

Sunday 05.10.2015 New York Times Digest


1. Tell-Tale Signs of the Modern-Day Yuppie

“Three decades ago, the yuppie was viewed as a self-interested alien invader in an America that had experienced a solid 20 years of radical activism and meaningful progress in civil rights and women’s liberation. A generation and a half later, we have so deeply internalized the values of the yuppie that we have ceased to notice when one is in our midst — or when we have become one ourselves.”

2. The Price of Nice Nails

“Nail salons are governed by their own rituals and mores, a hidden world behind the glass exteriors and cute corner shops. In it, a rigid racial and ethnic caste system reigns in modern-day New York City, dictating not only pay but also how workers are treated.”

3. Mom: The Designated Worrier

“Sociologists sometimes call the management of familial duties ‘worry work,’ and the person who does it the ‘designated worrier,’ because you need large reserves of emotional energy to stay on top of it all.”

4. Invite Some Germs to Dinner

“Some experts wonder if we’ve reached a point of diminishing returns in food safety — whether our food could perhaps be too clean.”

5. When Humans Declared War on Fish

“World War II brought a leap in human ingenuity, power and technical ability that led to an unprecedented assault on our oceans. Not only did ships themselves become larger, faster and more numerous, but the war-derived technologies they carried exponentially increased their fishing power.”

6. See Death as a Triumph, Not a Failure

“What I came to realize was that the Victorians cared about the mortal body; its very mortality mattered profoundly to them. Today we try to deny the body’s movement toward death, its inevitable decay. The Victorians, instead of fearing the process of dying and the corpse, felt reverence. These were stages in the life of a beloved body and should be treasured.”

7. The Real Problem With America’s Inner Cities

“The real problem we now face: on one hand, a vicious tangle of concentrated poverty, disconnected youth and a culture of violence among a small but destructive minority in the inner cities; and, on the other hand, of out-of-control law-enforcement practices abetted by a police culture that prioritizes racial profiling and violent constraint.”

8. The Plagiarism Jitters

“My fear is not that I will knowingly borrow narrative and get caught — my fear is that a sticky sentence or apt aphorism will be caught up in my least attentive literary browsing, and I will find it all too readily as I search to complete my own thoughts.”

9. Frida Kahlo Is Having a Moment

“There is little doubt Kahlo continues to exist as a potent figure of myth.”

10. The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough

“There is no fortuity in the Wright brothers’ saga as related by McCullough, no unexpected events that changed their course. Except for Orville’s startling emergence from a horrible wreck during one of his flights, there’s not even any luck. Neither brother attended college, nor had been trained in physics or engineering, yet each step they took was not only correct but in many cases brilliant, and in nearly all cases original. That every one of those steps was also achieved through excruciating patience and obsessive attention to detail does not diminish the only word that can express what Wilbur, particularly, possessed: genius.”

11. Freedom of Speech, by David K. Shipler

“Parents are rumbling with teachers and administrators over which novels get assigned in class; federal prosecutors are muzzling whistle-blowers and journalists; a theater faces defunding for its edgy political work; on the Internet, bigots are testing our free speech principles; and across the nation, activists fear that the Citizens United decision will allow the moneyed to smother free speech with television commercials.”

12. What Hollywood Can Teach Us About the Future of Work

“This approach to business is sometimes called the ‘Hollywood model.’ A project is identified; a team is assembled; it works together for precisely as long as is needed to complete the task; then the team disbands. This short-­term, project-­based business structure is an alternative to the corporate model, in which capital is spent up front to build a business, which then hires workers for long-­term, open-­ended jobs that can last for years, even a lifetime. It’s also distinct from the Uber-­style ‘gig economy,’ which is designed to take care of extremely short-­term tasks, manageable by one person, typically in less than a day.”

13. Letter of Recommendation: ‘X Minus One’

“At its worst, ‘X Minus One’ is dated drama told well, but its better episodes have matured into half-hour exercises in a peculiar and intoxicating form of temporal eavesdropping. They let us watch, with great ease and clarity, people who are straining much harder to see us. Usually they’re looking just slightly off to the side. Sometimes they’re looking the wrong way entirely. But occasionally, in the show’s most thrillingly prescient moments, it’s as if they were staring straight at us.”

14. Where Would the Kardashians Be Without Kris Jenner?

“There are still people who dismiss Kris Jenner, 59, and her family — Kourtney, Kim and Khloé Kardashian, all in their 30s; her son, Rob Kardashian, 28; and Kendall and Kylie Jenner, 19 and 17 — as ‘famous for being famous,’ a silly reality-show family creating a contrived spectacle. But we have reached the point at which the Jenners and the Kardashians are not famous for being famous: They are famous for the industry that they’ve created, the Kardashian/Jenner megacomplex, which has not just invaded the culture but metastasized into it, with the family members emerging as legitimate businesspeople and Kris the mother-leader of them all.”

15. ‘Our Demand Is Simple: Stop Killing Us’

“Their innovation has been to marry the strengths of social media — the swift, morally blunt consensus that can be created by hashtags; the personal connection that a charismatic online persona can make with followers; the broad networks that allow for the easy distribution of documentary photos and videos — with an effort to quickly mobilize protests in each new city where a police shooting occurs.”

Sunday 05.03.2015 New York Times Digest


1. American Dream? Or Mirage?

“Overestimating upward mobility was self-serving for rich and poor people alike. For those who saw themselves as rich and successful, it helped justify their wealth. For the poor, it provided hope for a brighter economic future.”

2. Hands-Free Cars Take Wheel, and Law Isn’t Stopping Them

“Is it legal?”

3. Andreessen Horowitz, Deal Maker to the Stars of Silicon Valley

“The economics of Silicon Valley are uncannily similar to those of Hollywood.”

4. The End of California?

“The idea that California could have it all — a pool in every suburban backyard, new crops in a drought, wild salmon in rivers now starved of oxygen — is fading fast.”

5. Sorry, Etsy. That Handmade Scarf Won’t Save the World.

“In progressive circles, buying handmade has come to connote moral virtue, signifying an interest in sustainability and a commitment to social justice.”

6. Our Police Union Problem

“After the untimely death of Freddie Gray, no issue looms larger than the need to discipline, suspend and fire police officers who don’t belong on the streets — and the obstacles their unions put up to that all-too-necessary process.”

7. This Summer’s Action Heroes Are Several Shades of Gray

“He’s sometimes a father, occasionally a husband, often a widower, but almost never a romantic principal and definitely not for the younger woman he’s trying to save. He is, in other words, very much a fighter, not a lover. Violence makes him sexy, as it often does in American movies, where bloodshed, with its heat and frenzied eruptions often and all too blatantly substitutes for sexuality. Yet he remains resolutely uninterested in sex because he’s too sad, too cool or too busy punching younger dudes in the throat. Like latter-day Greek warrior-aristocrats, the action dads inhabit a largely male realm of fighting and bonding, whether they walk alone or in the company of younger men whom they initiate (chastely!) into the brutalizing ways of the world.”

8. Movies Seek Laughs With All Manner of Sex Scenes

“Sex has always served as ample inspiration for comedy — every awkward encounter in bed is a potential gold mine for an observant writer or actor. But this summer, more than any other in recent memory, filmmakers are focused on what’s going on in hotel rooms, taxi back seats and anywhere else two people (or more) are getting it on.”

9. Los Angeles and Its Booming Creative Class Lures New Yorkers

“In an era when it has become fashionable for New Yorkers to grumble that their own city is becoming a sterile playland for the global-money set (Dubai with blizzards, basically), Los Angeles is enjoying a renaissance with a burgeoning art, fashion and food scene that has become irresistible to the culturally attuned.”

10. Making Room (on the Web) for Daddy

“No one teaches you how to be a dad.”

11. Women Turn Tables on Online Harassers

“She took screen shots of the offending messages, superimposed them with remarks like “Tinder is not the solution to your marital problems” and uploaded them to her profile as a warning to future matches.”

12. Oh, Those Clever Librarians and Their #Bookface

“Bookface involves strategically lining up your face or another body part alongside a book cover that features a matching body part so that there appears a melding of life and art. Librarians and other book lovers post these photos weekly on visual apps like Instagram, using the caption #BookfaceFriday. The minitrend is giving a boost to the digital presence of institutions that are, by definition, purveyors of analog information.”

13. A Kindred Spirit to Share the Road

“You can’t choose your family. But you can choose your sidekicks.”

14. There Is Simply Too Much to Think About, Saul Bellow’s Nonfiction and The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune, 1915-1964, by Zachary Leader

“‘Everything is to be viewed as though for the first time.’ Assume ‘a certain psychic unity’ with your readers (‘Others are in essence like me and I am basically like them’). Accept George Santayana’s definition of that discredited word ‘piety’: ‘reverence for the sources of one’s being.’ Cherish your personal history, therefore, but never seek out experience, or ‘Experience,’ as grist: Some writers are proud of their ‘special efforts in the fields of sex, drunkenness’ and poverty (‘I have even been envied my good luck in having grown up during the Depression’); but ‘willed’ worldliness is a false lead. Resist ‘the heavy influences’ — Flaubert, Marx, etc., or what Bellow, citing Thoreau, calls ‘the savage strength of the many.’ The imagination has its ‘eternal naïveté’ — and that is something the writer cannot afford to lose.”

15. Days of Rage, by Bryan Burrough

“Collectively, the several hundred assorted underground bombers, bank robbers, kidnappers and assassins whose exploits are recounted in Days of Rage failed to end the war, failed to advance the cause of black liberation, failed to gain Puerto Rican independence and failed to mobilize or radicalize much of anyone (except, perhaps, right-wing opponents). Never have so few done so much to divide, confuse, discredit and demoralize so many in the much broader social movements from which they emerged.”

16. Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy, by Phyllis Birnbaum

“I decided to cease being a woman forever.”

17. Why ‘Natural’ Doesn’t Mean Anything Anymore

“What are we really talking about when we talk about natural? It depends; the adjective is impressively slippery, its use steeped in dubious assumptions that are easy to overlook. Perhaps the most incoherent of these is the notion that nature consists of everything in the world except us and all that we have done or made. In our heart of hearts, it seems, we are all creationists.”

18. The Amazing New Thing

“What is that thing?”

19. Who Gets to Wear Shredded Jeans?

“We put on jeans with ruined threading in a self-adoring performance of annihilation.”

20. ZPM Espresso and the Rage of the Jilted Crowdfunder

“Kickstarter backers have been trained to expect a world custom-engineered for total frictionlessness. Everything is supposed to work easily, right away and well. One benefit of giving our lives over to machines and algorithms, after all, is that there’s no margin for human error. As for our physical objects, we expect them to be sleek and perfect, designed with a religious devotion to the harmony of form and function. It’s no accident that the most common way people refer to the industrial-design studio at Apple, with its prototypes hidden from visitors under white shrouds, is as a temple. This is a kind of perfection created under the auspices of the old model: high priests, secret tabernacles, inherited authorities, management by diktat.”

21. Want a Steady Income? There’s an App for That

“Income volatility has been called America’s ‘hidden inequality.’ The economists Karen Dynan, Douglas Elmendorf and Daniel Sichel estimated in a Brookings Institution paper that American household incomes became 30 percent more volatile between the early 1970s and the late 2000s, and that in recent years, more than one in 10 American households took in half the annual income that they did the previous year. The Federal Reserve found in 2014 that nearly a third of American households experienced significant income swings. The volatility is hardest, of course, on the poor, who don’t just earn less than the better-­off but also earn their lower incomes more choppily, the money coming in irregular bursts, surging in some weeks, vanishing in others, always making a mockery of plans. Many poor people earn more each year than they spend, but on a given day, they don’t have the cash to handle the expenses due. Payday loans, pawn shops, credit cards, overdraft fees and such fill the vacuum and make things worse, levying a vast toll in interest, fees and stress.”

Sunday 04.26.2015 New York Times Digest


1. College for the Masses

“Enrolling in a four-year college brings large benefits to marginal students.”

2. Apple Won’t Always Rule. Just Look at IBM.

“Apple is the most widely held stock in American mutual fund portfolios. IBM, the former undisputed heavyweight champion, isn’t even in the running anymore. It ranks 62nd, according to a Morningstar analysis performed at my request. IBM is still an important company, but it is struggling. Investors judge it to be worth less than one-quarter of Apple’s market value today. What happened to IBM — how it became this small, in comparison with Apple — is worth remembering.”

3. Dirty Talk and Dostoyevsky on the Night Shift

“I quickly discovered that the sexual imagination of the average man who responds to such ads tends to be fairly predictable, so much so that generic response keys had been programmed. If I steered the texter down particular garden paths it would often be a while before I needed to use any innovation. I set myself a challenge of working my way through the Russian greats during my shifts. Reading Dostoyevsky I would be pressing the key that triggered the message ‘37F,’ in response to the common question ‘What bra size are you?’ Once I had a handle on how it all worked, it was the easiest money in the world.”

4. A Brooklyn Storefront Hid an Artist’s Decades of Work

“As SoHo boomed, Mr. Bates became more alienated. His working-class roots were at odds with the culture enveloping the scene he once knew. ‘The glitz, glitter and boutiques. It became about fashion, money,’ said his wife, a librarian who had lived with Mr. Bates in his Grand Street loft throughout the ’70s. ‘That wasn’t something that Leo…’ her voice broke off. ‘He was a painter,’ she said. And in practical terms, he could not afford to stay. When he lost the lease on the loft, Mr. Bates decided to withdraw. In November 1978, he sold a batch of paintings. Using the proceeds, he made a down payment on 367 Seventh Avenue in Park Slope, moved into the apartment above the storefront and all but vanished. ‘That’s the last time he sold anything,’ Mrs. Bates said. He was 34.”

5. Push, Don’t Crush, the Students

“Does a culture of hyperachievement deserve any blame for this cluster?”

6. Dr. Oz Is No Wizard, but No Quack, Either

“This is daytime television, not the Journal of the American Medical Association.”

7. The Cost of Buying Someone’s Soul. Or Tweets.

“But it’s not just about how many followers you have, it’s about who they are. If one of your followers has a million followers of her own, or is a reporter at a big paper or the editor of a national magazine, you become that much more desirable to a company that might hope for a funny tweet that could blow up, or even become a story.”

8. It’s Not Gay Marriage vs. the Church Anymore

“An increasing number of Bible-based faith communities have an inclusive attitude toward gay families and marriages.”

9. What Role Do You Want to Play?

“We can’t be the people we are without drawing on sources outside ourselves.”

10. Beware Our Mind Children

“‘It’s like your hipster best friend that you aspire to, which is often how these companies market themselves,’ he says. ‘They’re your mate, your buddy. “Now let’s go to this club; let’s hang out.”” And a sense that the familiarity of that is just pulling your attention away from the fact that they’re going through your address book and recording everything in there. And every now and then, pulling a dollar bill out of your wallet and going, “Dude, hey.”’”

11. The Road to Character, by David Brooks

“In the age of the selfie, Brooks wishes to exhort us back to a semiclassical sense of self-restraint, self-erasure and self-suspicion.”

12. Infamy and The Train to Crystal City

“On the West Coast in 1942, roughly 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of them United States citizens, were forcibly relocated and incarcerated, usually in bleak camps throughout the Rockies and Southwest. They were not charged with any crime, and the vast majority were loyal Americans. The story of this national disgrace, long buried by the victims as well as by their oppressors, has become better known in recent years, but it still has the power to shock.”

13. What Do You Read While You Write?

“The procrastination has gotten worse over the years, and of course, I blame technology. When I was younger, my go-to method for avoiding dealing with a writing assignment was to pick up a glossy magazine. My procrastination was, in a sense, solo. Now, with the proliferation of digital media, I get to procrastinate alongside thousands of others, which makes me feel less alone yet more ashamed and overcome by inertia because, well, everyone else is doing it! Misery loves company, but company is the last thing I need when what I really need is to write.”

14. The History of a City Underfoot

“While New York’s reputation as America’s great walking city is assured, the rationale behind this distinction is less certain. Yes, it is easy to get around by foot, but so are Boston and Philadelphia. Yes, it discloses its most treasured secrets only to those who explore it close to the ground, but the same could be said of San Francisco and New Orleans. Still, New Yorkers have an attachment to walking that borders on the metaphysical. Walking is not merely a way to get around New York. It is the way to be a New Yorker.”

15. How Do We Protect New York City’s Pedestrians?

“In a lot of other cities, pedestrians are people who think of themselves as drivers who happen to be walking, and therefore, they’re considerate of the concerns of the driver. But most people in New York think of themselves as pedestrians and are not so sympathetic to the driver’s perspective.”

16. The Rat Paths of New York

“New York is the rat’s ideal habitat. Our idea of what a park or public space should look like mirrors its native environment, which, contrary to the animal’s common name, was almost certainly the grassy Asian steppe. We mow grass, plant a few shrubs and low bushes, a line of trees. Then we improve on nature by adding a constant source of food, our trash. Now at least two million rats live here, maybe millions more, depending on which scientist you ask. If we’d like fewer of them around, we might start thinking about how to make the city more attractive to other animals.”

17. The Walking Cure

“Americans, he once told me, hurried too much to walk properly, whereas in Vienna, where he was a boy, there was a certain style of walking — hands clasped behind the back, head bent in conversation — that men adopted as they strolled side by side. I remember his delight at sharing the details of a book he was reading that described a walk Gustav Mahler took with Sigmund Freud in 1910 through the narrow streets of Leiden, Holland. Mahler, panicked about his marriage, had sought out Freud, who later boasted that he resolved the distraught composer’s sexual neuroses in a single ambulatory session.”

18. How to Walk in New York

“Walking in New York is not Mick Jagger. It is James Brown.”

Unplug the Clock

“The most defeatist thing I hear is, ‘I’m going to give it a couple of years.’ You can’t set a clock for yourself. If you do, you are not a writer. You should want it so badly that you don’t have a choice. You have to commit for the long haul. There’s no shame in being a starving artist. Get a day job, but don’t get too good at it. It will take you away from your writing.”

Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner