“My own writing life is as predictable as the old priest preparing to say the dawn mass. The pleasant cold, the mild pain of being alive. I have the same breakfast every day—cold cereal, yogurt, coffee. I read the newspapers. I take a fistful of vitamins. I shower. I linger at my bookshelf or at the window. I read a chapter or a poem from a shelf I keep above my desk of former lovers and seducers, impossible rivals—Nabokov or Lawrence, Larkin. Woolf. Sitting down at the computer is as daunting as the altar boy’s first genuflection. ¶ Aquinas described writing as a form of prayer. Writing is for me dishearteningly hermetic. Revision is writing. Revision is humiliation—Tuesday saying something less well than Monday. Revision is open to noticing connections. Revision is joy at precisely that moment when the sentence no longer seems mine but speaks back to me and haughtily resists further revision. ¶ I read in the afternoons. I take long walks. I watch TV in the evening. I write letters at all times.”

Richard Rodriquez

(Via Wesley Hill.)

Sunday 9.14.2014 New York Times Digest


1. We’re All Nerds Now

“Never before has the boundary between geek culture and mainstream culture been so porous.”

2. Sun and Wind Alter Global Landscape, Leaving Utilities Behind

“Some experts say the electricity business is entering a period of turmoil beyond anything in its 130-year history, a disruption potentially as great as those that have remade the airlines, the music industry and the telephone business.”

3. Police Armored Vehicle Is Unwelcome in California College Town

“Since 2006, police agencies in California have received 8,533 surplus assault weapons, shotguns and pistols, as well as 7,094 pieces of night-vision equipment, the highest allocation of any state in those categories.”

4. What Were They Thinking? Ugly Video, Blind Justice

“When the wife of an N.F.L. cornerback sports a black eye; when the girlfriend of a linebacker has road burn on her thighs because he dragged her outside his car; when a running back’s 4-year-old son is beaten with a small tree branch; when women have finger bruises on their necks, fractured ulnas and splintered clavicles, do league owners and general managers allow their minds to run down darkened alleys toward the truth?”

5. Trying to Hit the Brake on Texting While Driving

“People know they shouldn’t text and drive. Overwhelmingly, they tell pollsters that doing so is unacceptable and dangerous, and yet they do it anyway. They can’t resist. So safety advocates and public officials have called for a technological solution that does an end run around free will and prevents people from texting in the first place.”

6. A Texting Driver’s Education

“Technology distraction is an issue that scientists say is playing out in many aspects of life — not just behind the wheel, but also at work and at home. In an eye blink, the devices designed to become productivity tools can, in fact, enslave us and become decidedly counterproductive, even deadly.”

7. Jeers and Cheers Over Tax Inversions

“American corporations are doing what they do best: finding ways to profit, regardless of national borders.”

8. Looking Another Culture in the Eye

“In Japan, there is an expression popular with young people: ‘kuuki yomenai.’ Often shortened to ‘K.Y.,’ it refers to someone who is unable to read the atmosphere. On my trip to Japan, I learned just how K.Y. I was.”

9. The Way to Beat Poverty

“One reason the United States has not made more progress against poverty is that our interventions come too late. If there’s one overarching lesson from the past few decades of research about how to break the cycles of poverty in the United States, it’s the power of parenting — and of intervening early, ideally in the first year or two of life or even before a child is born.”

10. Download: Lil Buck

“[Emerson’s] one of my favorite philosophers. He tells you to create your own path. Don’t follow the trail that’s already there. Bruce Lee is another philosopher who has had a huge impact on my life. He has a philosophy about being formless and shapeless like water. Water in a teacup becomes the teacup. Put it in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. But don’t fill up too much at once so you have an overflowing cup. Go at your own pace. It’s how I dance and how I try to live my whole life.”

11. A Monet of One’s Own

“No different from falling in love with a song, one may fall in love with a work of art and claim it as one’s own. Ownership does not come free. One must spend time with it; visit at different times of the day or evening; and bring to it one’s full attention. The investment will be repaid as one discovers something new with each viewing — say, a detail in the background, a person nearly cropped from the picture frame, or a tiny patch of canvas left unpainted, deliberately so, one may assume, as if to remind you not to take all the painted parts for granted.”

12. Should We All Take a Bit of Lithium?

“Mother Nature has already put a psychotropic drug in the drinking water, and that drug is lithium. Although this fact has been largely ignored for over half a century, it appears to have important medical implications.”

13. Useless Creatures

“It may seem like the only way to keep what’s left of the natural world from being plowed under by unstoppable human expansion and by our insatiable appetite for what appears to be useful. But usefulness is precisely the argument other people put forward to justify destroying or displacing wildlife, and they generally bring a larger and more persuasive kind of green to the argument.”

14. The Middle East’s Friendless Christians

“Christianity is now the globe’s most persecuted religion.”

15. Learning How to Exert Self-Control

“There are two warring parts of the brain: a hot part demanding immediate gratification (the limbic system), and a cool, goal-oriented part (the prefrontal cortex). The secret of self-control, he says, is to train the prefrontal cortex to kick in first.”

16. The Lighthouse Keepers

“As marine navigation tools have become more sophisticated, lighthouses have become less necessary, and automated technology has eliminated the need for people to actually operate them. As a result, more and more lighthouses have been decommissioned, creating a quandary as to whether to pursue preservation or privatization, or simply let some fall into neglect.”

17. A Kiss, a Sigh … and a Postage Stamp

“A man who writes a good love letter is a man who knows how to seduce with words.”

18. The Homework Squabbles

“In my house, it’s not homework wars as much as homework squabbles, little questions and doubts that build up and start to nag.”

19. Global Warning

“Liberal democracy remains the best system for dealing with the challenges of modernity, and there is little reason to believe that Chinese, Russian or Islamist alternatives can provide the diverse range of economic, social and political goods that all humans crave. But unless liberal democracies can somehow manage to reform themselves and combat institutional decay, history will end not with a bang but with a resounding whimper.”

20. Can a Book Ever Change a Reader’s Life for the Worse?

“It has become popular to consider fiction in terms of empathy — how it can catalyze and deepen our awareness of lives beyond our own — but what if it can also catalyze other tendencies, other capacities or grooves of thought?”

21. Lena Dunham Is Not Done Confessing

“For all the comparisons to Ephron and even to independent female filmmakers like Nicole Holofcener and Miranda July, the artist to whom she’s most analogous is Allen. With her awkward screen presence, her preoccupation with sex, her frank exploration of her own neuroses and, above all, her willingness to play the part of herself almost to the point of caricature, Dunham has ensured that her work be guided by her own persona, which in turn has been shaped by the twin forces of profound anxiety and exhaustive (though, again like Allen, somewhat roving and undisciplined) intellectual engagement. Plus, of course, extensive therapy.”

22. The Death of Adulthood in American Culture

“It seems that, in doing away with patriarchal authority, we have also, perhaps unwittingly, killed off all the grown-ups.”

23. The Big Leagues

“It is hard to overstate how drastic a change is required of basketball players, most of them barely old enough to drink, when they go pro. One day they’re students who live and breathe the sport; the next, they’re multimillionaires who are expected not only to be exceptional athletes but also exceptional role models, media personalities and holders of that elusive thing, that golden ticket: the personal brand.”

24. Destiny in Taos

“My father, Dennis Hopper, believed that being on the road in search of something was very American. You had to keep moving forward no matter what. Ride into town, gunfight at high noon, then off into the sunset.”

25. Animal Traffic

“From the outside, the place doesn’t look like much. It’s a low-slung glass and concrete pile, set back from the road behind some drab landscaping. It could be mistaken for a small office park, or an administrative building at the neighboring Southern Oregon University. In fact, it’s home to one of the most unique law enforcement institutions in the United States, or anywhere else: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory, the world’s only full-service science lab devoted to crimes against wildlife.”

Sunday 9.7.2014 New York Times Digest


1. Why Flunking Exams Is Actually a Good Thing

“Testing might be the key to studying, rather than the other way around. As it turns out, a test is not only a measurement tool. It’s a way of enriching and altering memory.”

2. OkCupid’s Unblushing Analyst of Attraction

“The data was sitting right there on our servers. It was an irresistible social opportunity.”

3. The Motherhood Penalty vs. the Fatherhood Bonus

“One of the worst career moves a woman can make is to have children. Mothers are less likely to be hired for jobs, to be perceived as competent at work or to be paid as much as their male colleagues with the same qualifications. For men, meanwhile, having a child is good for their careers. They are more likely to be hired than childless men, and tend to be paid more after they have children.”

4. Words of a Slain Journalist

“Everyone has two lives. The second one begins when you realize you have only one.”

5. Demanding More From College

“We live in a country of sharpening divisions, pronounced tribalism, corrosive polarization. And I wish we would nudge kids — no, I wish we would push them — to use college as an exception and a retort to that, as a pre-emptive strike against it, as a staging ground for behaving and living in a different, broader, healthier way.”

6. Why Don’t More Men Go Into Teaching?

“Teaching is an overwhelmingly female profession, and in fact has become more so over time. More than three-quarters of all teachers in kindergarten through high school are women.”

7. Can’t Place That Smell? You Must Be American

“In recent years anthropologists have begun to point out that sensory perception is culturally specific.”

8. Giving Up My Small-Town Fantasy

“It was so easy to want to live in Hudson, so hard to actually live in Hudson.”

9. Why Don’t Americans Take Vacation?

“According to a new report, four in 10 American workers allow some of their paid vacation days to go unused. Why aren’t we taking time off? Is it because we’re a culture of workaholics or are companies not doing enough to accommodate paid vacation?”

10. When Whites Just Don’t Get It, Part 2

“Mass incarceration means that the United States imprisons a higher proportion of its black population than apartheid South Africa did.”

11. Liking Work Really Matters

“Interest matters more than we ever knew. It is crucial to keeping us motivated and effective without emptying our mental gas tank, and it can turn the mundane into something exciting.”

12. Rape and Rotherham

“The crucial issue in both scandals isn’t some problem that’s exclusive to traditionalism or progressivism. Rather, it’s the protean nature of power and exploitation, and the way that very different forms of willful blindness can combine to frustrate justice.”

13. Future Footprints

“Ackerman’s optimism can feel eerily unearned in the absence of a measured acknowledgment of the losses, the traumas, the scars that afflict human and nonhuman communities in this volatile new age.”

14. The Big Sweep

“Ellroy was compared a lot to Chandler in those days. He compared himself to Tolstoy. But his true forebear was Conrad. They shared similar obsessions with the savagery at the heart of man, a kindred prose style — sentences that were concrete in their center but occasionally lush around the edges — and both swung for the fences when it came to pronouncements on the human condition.”

15. SS-­Obersturmbannführer (Retired)

“The enduring image of Eichmann as faceless and order-obeying, Stangneth argues, is the result of his uncanny ability to tailor his narrative to the desires and fantasies of his listeners. Arendt was not the only one to be taken in.”

16. Art of Murder

“Reacher is always up for a good fight, most entertainingly when he goes mano a mano with a seven-foot, 300-pound monster of a mobster named Little Joey. But it’s Reacher the Teacher who wows here, instructing Casey Nice and us in the assets of the AK-47 and the properties of bulletproof glass, while passing on neat tricks like how to stroll through airport security, buy a gun when you’re out of town and smash a guy’s nose with your elbow.”

17. Should Literature Be Considered Useful?

“Literature is the record we have of the conversation between those of us now alive on earth and everyone who’s come before and will come after, the cumulative repository of humanity’s knowledge, wonder, curiosity, passion, rage, grief and delight. It’s as useless as a spun-sugar snowflake and as practical as a Swiss Army knife (or, in Kafka’s stunning description of what a book should be, ‘an ice-axe to break the sea frozen inside us’).”

18. Put the Physical in Education

“Recent research suggests that even small amounts of exercise enable children to improve their focus and academic performance.”

19. So Bill Gates Has This Idea for a History Class …

“I remember the chain of thought. I had to do prehistory, so I have to do some archaeology. But to do it seriously, I’m going to talk about how humans evolved, so, yikes, I’m in biology now. I thought: To do it seriously, I have to talk about how mammals evolved, how primates evolved. I have to go back to multicelled organisms, I have to go back to primeval slime. And then I thought: I have to talk about how life was created, how life appeared on earth! I have to talk geology, the history of the planet. And so you can see, this is pushing me back and back and back, until I realized there’s a stopping point — which is the Big Bang.”

Sunday 8.31.2014 New York Times Digest


1. Is Owning Overrated? The Rental Economy Rises

“Entrepreneurs say the rental economy is part of a growing, post-recession movement to value experiences over possessions.”

2. ISIS Displaying a Deft Command of Varied Media

“ISIS is online jihad 3.0. Dozens of Twitter accounts spread its message, and it has posted some major speeches in seven languages. Its videos borrow from Madison Avenue and Hollywood, from combat video games and cable television dramas, and its sensational dispatches are echoed and amplified on social media. When its accounts are blocked, new ones appear immediately. It also uses services like JustPaste to publish battle summaries, SoundCloud to release audio reports, Instagram to share images and WhatsApp to spread graphics and videos.”

3. In E-Sports, Video Gamers Draw Real Crowds and Big Money

“If you don’t want to call it athletics or sports, that doesn’t mean anything to me. That doesn’t change the reality of the massive growth we’re seeing.”

4. Using Gambling to Entice Low-Income Families to Save

“Instead of attacking lotteries, a growing number of credit unions and nonprofit groups are using them to encourage low-income families to save.”

5. No Canvas, No Leather: A Reboot for the Sneaker

“Created by DuPont in 1955, it is made from high-density polyethylene fibers and was originally used, and continues to be used, for things like labels and book jackets. Tyvek has also been used in hazmat suits, banners, medical and industrial packaging, and covers for cars and boats. Now designers are fashioning shoes, bags and other accessories from it.”

6. For a Career Guide, 42 Years of Soft Landings

“Three main points in the book still hold, as Mr. Bolles explained in a personal note he sent along with the book:

  • The traditional job-hunting system is a numbers game that is ‘heavily loaded toward failing the job hunter.’
  • A ‘creative minority’ has come up with nontraditional, highly successful methods of job hunting that involve choosing the places you want to work and approaching the people there who can hire you.
  • Before choosing those places, job hunters must look inward, figuring out what they would most love to do — and where, geographically, they want to do it.

Those three concepts are as relevant in 2014 as they were in 1972, as are the shock of rejection, the loss of self-esteem, and the depression that can result from a prolonged round of job hunting, which Mr. Bolles also covers.”

7. Saving Our Birds

“The passenger pigeon taught us that even the most numerous species can undergo population collapses in astonishingly short periods of time. Cod fishermen of the North Atlantic learned the same painful lesson just two decades ago. It is far more effective and cost-efficient to conserve a species while it is abundant than to wait until it reaches the brink.”

8. Download: Zubin Mehta

“I’m not online. My life is not that. I have a homepage but I have never seen it myself. My secretary does that.”

9. Losing Our Touch

“For all the fascination with bodies, our current technology is arguably exacerbating our carnal alienation. While offering us enormous freedoms of fantasy and encounter, digital eros may also be removing us further from the flesh.”

10. Handmade Landscapes

“If we are learning anything in the Anthropocene, it is that we are not really separate from the plants and animals. An important part of the landscape now, our built environments are also an expression of nature — termites erect mounds, humans erect farms and cities.”

11. When Whites Just Don’t Get It

“United States now has a greater wealth gap by race than South Africa did during apartheid.”

12. Of Pot and Percocet

“Implementation of a medical marijuana law was associated with a 25% lower yearly rate of opioid painkiller overdose deaths, on average.”

13. The Original Charter School Vision

“Mr. Shanker believed deeply that unions played a critical role in democratic societies and wanted charter schools to be unionized. But he also wanted to take democratic values to an even higher level: Students would see workplace democracy in action firsthand in charter schools because they would see teachers who were active participants in decision making. Likewise, students in economically and racially integrated schools would learn on a daily basis that we all deserve a seat at democracy’s table.”

14. André 3000 Is Moving On in Film, Music and Life

“A few hours before the Coachella show, I get a message that Prince and Paul McCartney are going to be there. My spirit is not right, and idols are standing side-stage, so as the show started, I’m bummed. This is horrible. In my mind I was already gone to my hotel room halfway through. So Prince called a couple days after. It was my first time actually talking to Prince. He said: ‘When you come back, people want to be wowed. And what’s the best way to wow people? Just give them the hits.’ I’m explaining to him that I really didn’t want to do it. He said: ‘I’ve been there. I’ve tried to do other things. After you give them the hits, then you can do whatever.’”

15. David Lynch, Who Began as a Visual Artist, Gets a Museum Show

“When I found out adults could do that, that’s all I wanted to do. I wanted to smoke cigarettes, drink coffee and paint.”

16. Bubbles Carry a Lot of Weight

“The three dots shown while someone is drafting a message in iMessage is quite possibly the most important source of eternal hope and ultimate letdown in our daily lives.”

17. The Invasion of the Lobster Legs

“Every summer, it seems, red pants threaten to become a thing. Every summer, they seem trapped by the same old cultural baggage.”

18. Freud’s City, From Couch to Cafes

“Freud’s working life as a young man was erratic; the path to his couch zigzagged. He spent time in Paris studying with the hypnotist Charcot and explored everything from the sexual anatomy of eels to the use of cocaine as an anesthetic. But once Freud settled into his practice and apartment at Berggasse 19, he became a creature of almost obsessional habit. He had his beard trimmed daily by a barber. He would take his dinner at the same hour (1 p.m.), demanding the whole family present, before a stroll to buy cigars or walk his dog. He owned just three suits, three pairs of shoes and three sets of underclothes.”

19. The Delusions We Deserve

“What biological psychiatry has elided in its rush to reduce mental illness to brain dysfunction: the environment as a causal factor in mental breakdown.”

20. Choose Your Own Race

“Martin becomes black not to teach anyone a lesson but to better reflect his ‘true self.’ As in Adam Mansbach’s novel Angry Black White Boy, Martin’s condition speaks to a generation of suburban white kids who came up in the 1990s possessed by a vibrant hip-hop culture that let them access sincere rage at the world’s injustice in a way music hadn’t done since punk.”

21. Does Where You Live Make a Difference in How and What You Write?

“Places do things to you.”

Sunday 8.24.2014 New York Times Digest


1. Dealing With Digital Cruelty

“Whether you’re a celebrity author or a mom with a décor blog, you’re fair game. Anyone with a Twitter account and a mean streak can try to parachute into your psyche.”

2. Why We’re Not Driving the Friendly Skies

“Where are the flying cars?”

3. Rethinking Eating

“Having radically changed the way we communicate, do research, buy books, listen to music, hire a car and get a date, Silicon Valley now aims to transform the way we eat. Just as text messages have replaced more lengthy discourse and digital vetting has diminished the slow and awkward evolution of intimacy, tech entrepreneurs hope to get us hooked on more efficient, algorithmically derived food.”

4. Large Dams Just Aren’t Worth the Cost

“The actual construction costs of large dams are too high to yield a positive return.”

5. Bug Love

“What might be a pest in one context may not be in another.”

6. On Not Writing

“Not writing can be good for one’s writing; indeed, it can make one a better writer.”

7. Kings of Their Very Own Genres

“However they may differ, Werner Herzog and David Lynch, the principal creator of ‘Twin Peaks,’ are two utterly distinctive filmmakers as well as singular personalities; at once solitary searchers and skilled self-promoters, they are avant-garde visionaries who have, on occasion, enjoyed considerable commercial success and have never lacked for devoted fans. Both men emerged from the counterculture of the late 1960s and early 1970s to create their own myths. Although Mr. Lynch could be characterized as some sort of surrealist, and Mr. Herzog is essentially a maker of documentaries, neither belongs to any particular school or shared tendency.”

8. Of Myself I Sing

“Much self-promotion on social media seems less about utility and effective advertising and more about ego sustenance.”

9. Dollywood: A Little Bit Country, a Little Bit Gay

“And then there was us, a middle-aged lesbian couple in expensive yet practical footwear who traveled from Atlanta to see if we could find the campy gay undercurrent that runs through Dollywood, arguably the most culturally conservative amusement park in the country.”

10. You Like a Hotel, It Likes You Back

“The more followers you have, the more robust your social media presence, the more alluring you are to hospitality brands.”

11. On the Syllabus

“Programming was not always such a manly field, by the way. It was originally a field for women, and not just because it was invented by one, Ada Lovelace, in the 1840s. The human ‘computers’ on the atomic bomb project at Los Alamos were women; so were the ‘Eniac girls’ coding for John von Neumann in the 1940s. Chandra recounts the ‘masculinization’ of the industry through male-oriented aptitude tests that led to an influx of what one analyst called ‘often egocentric, slightly neurotic’ programmers disproportionately equipped with beards and sandals.”

12. The Enclosure of the American Mind

“The elite university, for Deresiewicz, is the little world that forms the great one, the training ground where members of the international ruling class learn two vital lessons: that they are superior to all others, and that even if they break rules or fail, they will never suffer.”

13. Progress Report

“Almost every idea for reforming education over the past 25 years has been tried before — and failed to make a meaningful difference.”

14. Uncram

“Ease up, take a break, get a good night’s sleep and stop the cramming.”

15. Not Giving an Inch

“As France descended into terror and war, the metric system became entangled in a worldwide struggle over its legacy. To its supporters it stood for reason and democracy; to its detractors, godlessness and the guillotine. It was not until the aftermath of World War II, when new global institutions were established and a host of new nations adopted the meter, that its place as the near-­universal measure was secured.”

16. The New School

“This kind of teaching can look like … nothing at all. So can working on just one problem per class, as though the teacher is just watching the clock while students chase a false supposition down a rabbit hole. In fact, those rabbit holes are where we learn; we begin to understand through trial and error, dead ends and towers of reasoning that collapse because of their faulty assumptions. Allowing students to make these errors, then identify and correct them, is one of the best things a teacher can do.”

17. Of Two Minds

“Defying the myth of the lone genius, he makes the case that the chemistry of creative pairs — of people, of groups — forms the primary (albeit frequently hidden) structural basis of innovation.”

18. The Mind

“In 1982, something disturbing began happening to men in northeastern India: Their penises started to shrink.”

19. Delivery Start-Ups Are Back Like It’s 1999

“The question comes down to how much people are willing to pay to be lazy. To economists, laziness isn’t necessarily a bad thing. To the sympathetic onlooker, these companies could be a step on the path to the world prophesied by John Maynard Keynes (and even ‘The Jetsons’), in which technology advances to the point that chores are replaced by leisure time. But even this suggests a gloomy outcome: On-demand delivery could create a two-tier economy — the people who can afford to hire others to do their errands and the people who do them. That is, unless Amazon succeeds in automating grunt work out of existence. (It already has robots that pick items off shelves and pack them in boxes; it wants to have a fleet of delivery drones.)”

20. Is Breakfast Overrated?

“If you like breakfast, fine; but if not, don’t sweat it.”

21. Who Made Those Bluejeans?

“Regardless of brand, jeans have reflected the mood of the country since the moment they were introduced. ‘You went from cuffed jeans in the ’50s to faded and bell-bottoms in the ’60s and early ’70s, to the designer jeans of the disco era, the saggy jeans of the hip-hop era and on to the exclusive $300 jeans we now call premium,’ Sullivan says. And like all truly revolutionary products, jeans have inspired adoration, outrage and everything in between. As Yves Saint Laurent said more than once, ‘I wish I had invented bluejeans.’”

22. A Recipe for Happiness

“It’s not just health (and skinniness) we’re after from our diets — it’s happiness. The gluten-free converts talk of being clear-minded, and any juice bar offers a host of emotional and psychological claims along with its cups of pulverized shrubbery. So if a goji berry stirs the libido and clams reduce anger, can it all be mixed into a recipe that can feed the soul while also tasting delicious?”

23. The Invasion of the Flats

“In Hollywood, Audrey Hepburn taught the world that flat could be feminine. Her embrace of the Ferragamo ballet slipper in 1957 (a year after Brigitte Bardot wore the Cinderella slipper by Repetto) made the shoes a necessary gamine accessory, providing a demure counterpoint to conventional midcentury notions of sex appeal. Meanwhile, the continental sexpots of the New Wave — from Anna Karina to Jean Seberg — were frequently pictured in ballet flats or the mod Roger Vivier varietal. Like everything we fetishize about the mythical French woman, the flat — along with the striped shirt and the scarf, other essentials for the cartoon dame — denoted practicality and childlike grace. Susan Sontag was a devotee of the tennis shoe. Joan Didion wore flats (and presumably still does). The fashion editor Diana Vreeland, dismissive of ‘hideous strappy high heels’ and the mincing walk they imparted, had her flats custom-made by obliging cobblers.”

24. A Beautiful Mind

“Getting in touch with Federico Forquet requires perseverance. The 83-year-old Neapolitan, who took the haute couture world by storm in the 1960s before turning his passions to gardening and interior design, does not own a cellphone. A fax machine, he says, is too unsightly. And he refuses to open an email account. Friends know that to get in touch they must send an email to his friend Alessandra Di Castro, the Roman antiques dealer. She will print out the message and have it delivered by hand to his flat in Rome or his country retreat near Cetona, Tuscany, where ‘Federico the Great’ — as Women’s Wear Daily dubbed him in 1966 — spends much of his time.”

25. Welcome to the Integratron

“To spend even an hour at the Integratron is to find your mind opening to esoteric possibilities — to feel your doubts melting away beneath the desert sun, skepticism bending toward curiosity. You may not go as far as the thousands who traveled here decades ago, when Van Tassel hosted the annual Giant Rock Spacecraft Convention, a gathering of U.F.O. enthusiasts and alien ‘contactees.’ You may not subscribe to Van Tassel’s belief that ancient Egyptians were capable of levitating ‘anything, including themselves,’ that there are spaceship bases on the moon, that the Integratron is capable of rejuvenating your cells and reversing the aging process. But an Integratron sound bath will startle your ears, and, perhaps, awaken your imagination.”

26. Flipping the Script

“No longer content just to be making movies, a new generation of critically heralded female directors is rivaling the male establishment at the box office — and redefining what it means to be a woman in Hollywood.”

Au Courant

“People talk of keeping au courant, and no doubt an intellectual cannot ignore the human race, nor be indifferent to what is written in his special field; but take care lest the current should carry away with it all your capacity for work, and, instead of bearing you onwards, prevent you from making any headway against it….

What you must principally cut down is the less solid and serious kind of reading. There must be no question at all of poisoning your mind with novels. One from time to time, if you like, as a recreation and not to neglect some literary glory, but that is a concession; for the greater number of novels upset the mind without refreshing it; they disturb and confuse one’s thoughts.

As to newspapers, defend yourself against them with the energy that the continuity and the indiscretion of their assault make indispensable. You must know what the papers contain, but they contain so little; and it would be easy to learn it all without settling down to interminable lazy sittings!…

A serious worker should be content, one would think, with the weekly or bi-monthly chronicle in a review; and for the rest, with keeping his ears open, and turning to the daily papers only when a remarkable article or a grave event is brought to his notice.”

—A. G. Sertillanges, O.P., from The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods (first published in 1921)

(Via Alan Jacobs.)

Sunday 8.17.2014 New York Times Digest


1. Playing Soldier in the Suburbs

“In the name of local preparedness, Washington has been bestowing antiterror grants and Pentagon surplus on communities barely touched by major crime, let alone by terrorism. Tanks and aircraft, helmets and armor, guns and grenade launchers have flowed to police departments from Des Moines (home of two $180,000 bomb-disarming robots) to Keene, N.H. (population 23,000, murder rate infinitesimal and the proud custodian of an armored BearCat).”

2. Deep Tensions Rise to Surface After Ferguson Shooting

“As African-Americans moved into the city and whites moved out, real estate agents and city leaders, in a pattern familiar elsewhere in the country, conspired to keep blacks out of the suburbs through the use of zoning ordinances and restrictive covenants. But by the 1970s, some of those barriers had started to fall, and whites moved even farther away from the city. These days, Ferguson is like many of the suburbs around St. Louis, inner-ring towns that accommodated white flight decades ago but that are now largely black. And yet they retain a white power structure.”

3. In Push to Shorten Games, There’s No Time to Waste

“Attention spans are getting shorter while games are getting longer.”

4. In the Sharing Economy, Workers Find Both Freedom and Uncertainty

“In the promising parlance of the sharing economy, whose sites and apps connect people seeking services with sellers of those services, Ms. Guidry is a microentrepreneur. That is, an independent contractor who earns money by providing her skills, time or property to consumers in search of a lift, a room to sleep in, a dry-cleaning pickup, a chef, an organizer of closets.”

5. Authenticity, Repurposed, in a Mason Jar

“Until several years ago, the simple Mason jar was more likely to be found in the nooks of grandmothers’ pantries than on retailers’ shelves. It was salvaged from near extinction by businesses eager for a homespun aesthetic in a sturdy, affordable package — many of them hoping to lure the millennials who have fetishized the jars in photographs on Instagram and Pinterest.”

6. Download: Nadya Tolokonnikova

“I also listen to Doris Day. My father played for me when I was a child. ‘Que Sera, Sera.’ Whatever will be, will be. Yesterday we listened all day to Marilyn Monroe’s ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.’ It’s about conceptual femininity and I like to think about it and reflect on it.”

7. The Disappearing Volunteer Firefighter

“What was once an iconic part of American life is losing its allure, in part because the work — some would say the calling — is a lot less fun than it used to be.”

8. Playing the Numbers in Digital Dating

“What if it turns out that relying on algorithms doesn’t make dating less chaotic, but more so, in a whole new way? What if, instead of finding our way to a partner, following certain algorithms leads us only further away?”

9. Teaching Is Not a Business

“The process of teaching and learning is an intimate act that neither computers nor markets can hope to replicate.”

10. The Obituary Lottery

“It is a cruel thing, this wheel of obituary fortune. You can never be assured that your passage to eternal bliss will get the attention it deserves.”

11. Should We Teach Plato in Gym Class?

“The training of the body is directly related to the development of a fundamental aspect of the human psyche: what Plato, that pre-eminent teacher of teaching, called thymos. In English we don’t have a word for this concept, but it encompasses both bravery and the urge for glory. Perhaps the closest we have is ‘spiritedness,’ as in ‘a spirited competitor.’ Plato knew that thymos is a marvelous quality that needs to be developed and strengthened, especially in those who represent the community as soldiers. But Plato also knew that thymos can be dangerous. The spirited part of the soul can take control and turn what would have been an admirable man or woman into a beast.”

12. The Wisdom of the Exile

“Uprooting is a devastating blow because you have to separate yourself overnight from something that, for as long as you can remember, has been an important part of your identity. In a sense, you are your culture, customs, language, country, your family, your lovers. Yet exile, should you survive it, can be the greatest of philosophical gifts, a blessing in disguise. In fact, philosophers, too, should be uprooted. At least once in their lives. They should be exiled, displaced, deported — that should be part of their training. For when your old world goes down it also takes with it all your assumptions, commonplaces, prejudices and preconceived ideas.”

13. Pioneer in France and on the Frontier

“Here, as in Paris Blues, Mr. Poitier embodies historical memory. His understated empathy for the Garner and Andersson characters is the film’s tacit reminder that ours is a nation stained by the sins of slavery and ethnic cleansing. Duel at Diablo is another reminder: The demise of the Hollywood western eliminated a genre that once served as an arena where popular artists debated the nature of the national past.”

14. Generation Nice

“Why this microscopic attention paid to a generation whose oldest members are only now entering the prime of their adult lives? One answer is that millennials, the first people to come of age in the 21st century, with its dizzying rate of technological change, have been forced to invent new ways of navigating it.”

15. A Makeover for the Hijab, via Instagram

“Muslim women in their 20s and 30s are making their own mark on hijab culture, while propagating it in a way particular to the ‘selfie generation’: by posting pictures and videos of themselves on various social media sites.”

16. Them Dames

“The story is a thoughtful meditation on female identity and whether the not-so-simple art of murder can ever be defended as a moral necessity. It is a story about stories, the myths we have to create in order to keep putting one foot in front of the other.”

17. In the Rearview Mirror

“The car birthed or fostered not only highways, motels, drive-through restaurants and drive-in movies, municipal parking garages and innovations in home architecture to accommodate the one-car garage, but also mail-order businesses, holidays, campgrounds, ski resorts and destinations like Vermont, which was ‘a quiet, remote backwater until the car and its highway came along.’”

18. How to Monetize Your Cat

“Just kinda go with it.”

19. The Rise of Beefcake Yoga

“The curious Venn diagram overlap of battered war vets, couch potatoes and former wrestlers was not lost on anybody in Page’s camp. Jake Roberts, in some sense, was its center point — an athlete who had taken a severe physical beating and had also given up on himself. When Page heard that his old friend was squirreled away in Gainesville, smoking crack and boozing, he decided that he wanted to help him.”

20. Inside the Dark, Lucrative World of Consumer Debt Collection

“Siegel struck out on his own, investing in distressed consumer debt — basically buying up the right to collect unpaid credit-card bills. When debtors stop paying those bills, the banks regard the balances as assets for 180 days. After that, they are of questionable worth. So banks ‘charge off’ the accounts, taking a loss, and other creditors act similarly. These huge, routine sell-offs have created a vast market for unpaid debts — not just credit-card debts but also auto loans, medical loans, gym fees, payday loans, overdue cellphone tabs, old utility bills, delinquent book-club accounts. The scale is breathtaking. From 2006 to 2009, for example, the nation’s top nine debt buyers purchased almost 90 million consumer accounts with more than $140 billion in ‘face value.’ And they bought at a steep discount. On average, they paid just 4.5 cents on the dollar. These debt buyers collect what they can and then sell the remaining accounts to other buyers, and so on. Those who trade in such debt call it ‘paper.’”

21. Should You Fear the Pizzly Bear?

“The creation story … begins during European colonization, when the Eastern wolf was hunted and poisoned out of existence in its native Northeast. A remnant population … migrated to Canada. At the same time, coyotes, native to the Great Plains, began pushing eastward and mated with the refugee wolves. Their descendants in turn bred with coyotes and dogs. The result has been a creature with enough strength to hunt the abundant woodland deer, which it followed into the recovering Eastern forests. Coywolves, or Eastern coyotes … have since pushed south to Virginia and east to Newfoundland. The Eastern coyote is a study in the balancing act required to survive as a medium-size predator in a landscape full of people. It can be as much as 40 percent larger than the Western coyote, with powerful wolflike jaws; it has also inherited the wolf’s more social nature, which allows for pack hunting. (In 2009, a pack of Eastern coyotes attacked and killed a 19-year-old Canadian folk singer named Taylor Mitchell in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.) But it shares with coyotes, some 2,000 of which live within Chicago’s city limits, a remarkable ability to thrive in humanized landscapes.”

22. A Mother’s Journey Through the Unnerving Universe of ‘Unboxing’ Videos

“Unboxing is not so much a craze anymore as a genre — a manifestation of a new world of consumer expression.”