A Job’s a Job

“…I was finishing a PhD in philosophy at Emory University. The obvious path before me was to drift into a full-time position at a decent institution, work my dissertation into a book, zero in on a specialty, publish some articles and reviews, and lick the necessary wingtips to get tenure. But some sense of destiny (I would have never called it that then) kept me from ever taking such a path seriously. Though I’d proven myself capable of publishing articles and giving papers in the world of philosophy, I rebelled against the prospect of a microspecialty and the bureaucracy of tenure. Moreover, I hadn’t gotten into philosophy in order to become a scholar of philosophy, however wonderful and necessary the work of scholarship can be.

“When my mother called me from Iowa saying that she’d read in the local classified that Kirkwood Community College had a full-time philosophy position open, it seemed a reasonable way to get health insurance. The saying ‘a job is a job’ is particularly poignant for philosophers. Diogenes of Sinope, one of our profession’s early practitioners, used to beg money from statues. When asked why, he replied, ‘In order to get used to being refused.’ But he didn’t have a pregnant wife. And neither my wife nor I really wanted to live in a barrel and relieve ourselves outside, as were Diogenes’s customs.”

—Scott Samuelson, community college professor, journalist, and occasional chef at the beginning of The Deepest Human Life: An Introduction to Philosophy for Everyone (2014)

Sunday 02.22.2015 New York Times Digest

Let's get out of here

1. Should We Stay, or Should We Go?

“‘Let’s get out of here’ may be the five most productive monosyllables in American movies. It confers agency on whoever says it. It draws a line under what’s gone before. It propels action. It justifies a change of scene, no matter how abrupt. No wonder screenwriters can’t get enough of it.”

2. At New York Private Schools, Challenging White Privilege From the Inside

“In the past, private school diversity initiatives were often focused on minority students, helping them adjust to the majority white culture they found themselves in, and sometimes exploring their backgrounds in annual assemblies and occasional weekend festivals. Now these same schools are asking white students and faculty members to examine their own race and to dig deeply into how their presence affects life for everyone in their school communities, with a special emphasis on the meaning and repercussions of what has come to be called white privilege.”

3. Peter Lik’s Recipe for Success: Sell Prints. Print Money.

“By one measure — money — Mr. Lik may well be the most successful fine-art photographer who ever lived. He has sold $440 million worth of prints, according to his chief financial officer, in 15 galleries in the United States that he owns and that sell his work. The images are mostly panoramic shots of trees, sky, lakes, deserts and blue water in supersaturated colors.”

4. In Service Sector, No Rest for the Working

“Employees are literally losing sleep as restaurants, retailers and many other businesses shrink the intervals between shifts and rely on smaller, leaner staffs to shave costs. These scheduling practices can take a toll on employees who have to squeeze commuting, family duties and sleep into fewer hours between shifts. The growing practice of the same workers closing the doors at night and returning to open them in the morning even has its own name: ‘clopening.’”

5. Bringing Big Data to the Fight Against Benefits Fraud

“Business intelligence companies like IBM, SAS and LexisNexis have long provided predictive computer modeling techniques to financial services companies seeking to inhibit fraud. But now some state and local government agencies are turning to these services.”

6. The Upside of Waiting in Line

“The next time you are waiting in line, take consolation in the fact that otherwise you might not have heard of the opportunity in the first place. If we see a line at a club, restaurant or movie, we figure something interesting is going on there, and so lines have become a driver of publicity.”

7. Debt’s Two Sides: Riches and Misery

“Debt can blight your life. But … debt can make you much wealthier. Then it’s called leverage, and it can supercharge your investment returns if you use it wisely.”

8. Home Shrunken Home

“The architects are hoping that sliding glass doors, high ceilings, lots of natural light and Juliet balconies will help alleviate any feelings of claustrophobia.”

9. Please Don’t Thank Me for My Service

“To some recent vets — by no stretch all of them — the thanks comes across as shallow, disconnected, a reflexive offering from people who, while meaning well, have no clue what soldiers did over there or what motivated them to go, and who would never have gone themselves nor sent their own sons and daughters.”

10. Did the Torture Report Give the C.I.A. a Bum Rap?

“The reality is, no one in a position of authority said no.”

11. The Reality of Quantum Weirdness

Is there a true story, or is our belief in a definite, objective, observer-independent reality an illusion?”

12. Straight Talk for White Men

“Two scholars, Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan, sent out fictitious résumés in response to help-wanted ads. Each résumé was given a name that either sounded stereotypically African-American or one that sounded white, but the résumés were otherwise basically the same. The study found that a résumé with a name like Emily or Greg received 50 percent more callbacks than the same résumé with a name like Lakisha or Jamal. Having a white-sounding name was as beneficial as eight years’ work experience.”

13. Kevin Spacey, Star of ‘House of Cards’ and a Bromance With Bill Clinton

“The Clintons have not been shy about their ties to ‘House of Cards.’ Last summer, Mrs. Clinton told People magazine she and Mr. Clinton ‘totally binge-watched’ the first season.”

14. For Sofia Coppola and Anjelica Huston, Oscar’s a Family Friend

“Are shutterbug parents wiping away their mental databases of experiences with their offspring while bulking up their digital ones? And when children grow up reviewing thousands of pictures and hours of video of their young lives, will these images supersede their memories?”

15. Helen Macdonald’s H Is for Hawk

“The premise of her memoir is simple: Macdonald loses her bearings after her beloved father’s sudden death. She retreats from the human world. She’s a poet, historian and longtime falconer, and for complicated reasons, she seizes upon a strange yet sublime prescription for what ails her: She will raise and train a young goshawk, a cur of a bird to some, notoriously difficult to tame.”

16. A Thankless Task

“Though increasingly ambivalent about them as an author, I still regularly turn first to the thankings when opening a book for the first time. I want to know if I can like this writer, if I can trust her. Is this a humble scholar or a self-conscious player on a stage? Was the book a labor of love or a lazy dash to the finish line? Acknowledgments give up fantastic clues, consciously and otherwise.”

17. Does Fiction Have the Power to Sway Politics?

“Fiction can say publicly what might otherwise appear unsayable, combating the coerced silence that is a favored weapon of those who have power.”

18. A True Picture of Black Skin

“DeCarava, a lifelong New Yorker, came of age in the generation after the Harlem Renaissance and took part in a flowering in the visual arts that followed that largely literary movement. By the time he died in 2009, at 89, he was celebrated for his melancholy and understated scenes, most of which were shot in New York City: streets, subways, jazz clubs, the interiors of houses, the people who lived in them. His pictures all share a visual grammar of decorous mystery: a woman in a bridal gown in the empty valley of a lot, a pair of silhouetted dancers reading each other’s bodies in a cavernous hall, a solitary hand and its cuff-linked wrist emerging from the midday gloom of a taxi window. DeCarava took photographs of white people tenderly but seldom. Black life was his greater love and steadier commitment. With his camera he tried to think through the peculiar challenge of shooting black subjects at a time when black appearance, in both senses (the way black people looked and the very presence of black people), was under question.”

19. Letter of Recommendation: Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Tusk’

Tusk was Fleetwood Mac’s follow-up to the 1977 megahit Rumours, the exquisitely engineered soft-rock juggernaut that went platinum 20 times over, spent 31 weeks at No. 1 and made Fleetwood Mac the world’s biggest band, the very definition of commercial rock. Everyone (including most of the band itself) was expecting the next album to be Rumours II: 40 more lucrative minutes of ‘Go Your Own Way’ and ‘Dreams’ and ‘Don’t Stop’ and ‘You Make Loving Fun.’ Instead, they got Tusk — a deliberate act of crazy defiance. Everything about the album is ridiculous, from its length (20 songs, 72 minutes) to its sleeve art (a visual distillation of the precise moment at which the 1970s turned into the 1980s) to its title (the word ‘tusk,’ among the band’s male members, was slang for the male member; when Stevie Nicks heard that this would be the album’s title, she threatened to quit the band).”

20. Walk Hard. Walk Easy. Repeat.

“They knew that walking was physically the easiest (and also the most practical) exercise for those in middle age and older, but the researchers suspected that people might need to push themselves to achieve the greatest health benefits. So they created a regimen consisting of three minutes of fast walking at a pace that Nose says approximates a 6 or 7 on a scale of exertion from 1 to 10. Each ‘somewhat-hard’ three-minute spell was followed by three minutes of gentle strolling.”

21. ‘Out of My Mouth Comes Unimpeachable Manly Truth’

“For the next week, I will subsist almost entirely on a diet of state-controlled Russian television, piped in from three Apple laptops onto three 55-inch Samsung monitors in a room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Manhattan. (If I have to imbibe the TV diet of the common Russian man, I will at least live in the style of one of his overlords.) Two of the monitors are perched directly in front of my bed, with just enough space for a room-service cart to squeeze in, and the third hangs from a wall to my right. The setup looks like the trading floor of a very small hedge fund or the mission control of a poor nation’s space program. But I will not be monitoring an astronaut’s progress through the void. In a sense, I am the one leaving the planet behind.”

22. Meet the Unlikely Airbnb Hosts of Japan

“‘Airbnb doesn’t do as well in collectivist countries,’ she said, citing Japan as an example. ‘But in a place like Australia’ — which, like the United States, rates high on individualism and indulgence and low on pragmatism — ‘it’s huge.’”

Sunday 02.15.2015 New York Times Digest


1. The Epidemic of Facelessness

“Everyone in the digital space is, at one point or another, exposed to online monstrosity, one of the consequences of the uniquely contemporary condition of facelessness.”

2. Museum Rules: Talk Softly, and Carry No Selfie Stick

“One by one, museums across the United States have been imposing bans on using selfie sticks for photographs inside galleries (adding them to existing rules on umbrellas, backpacks, tripods and monopods), yet another example of how controlling overcrowding has become part of the museum mission.”

3. On Tinder, Taking a Swipe at Love, or Sex, or Something, in New York

“There are now about one million Tinder users in New York.”

4. Monopoly’s Inventor: The Progressive Who Didn’t Pass ‘Go’

“Magie filed a legal claim for her Landlord’s Game in 1903, more than three decades before Parker Brothers began manufacturing Monopoly. She actually designed the game as a protest against the big monopolists of her time — people like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller. She created two sets of rules for her game: an anti-monopolist set in which all were rewarded when wealth was created, and a monopolist set in which the goal was to create monopolies and crush opponents. Her dualistic approach was a teaching tool meant to demonstrate that the first set of rules was morally superior. And yet it was the monopolist version of the game that caught on, with Darrow claiming a version of it as his own and selling it to Parker Brothers.”

5. Let It Snow. There’s Work to Be Done.

“When bad weather hits, workers get more productive.”

6. The Tyranny of the Forced Smile

“Our Protestant work ethic has blended with contemporary notions of self-actualization to create a situation in which we are all expected to whistle like Disney dwarfs.”

7. Leaving Only Footsteps? Think Again

“More and more studies over the last 15 years have found that when we visit the great outdoors, we have much more of an effect than we realize. Even seemingly low-impact activities like hiking, cross-country skiing and bird-watching often affect wildlife, from bighorn sheep to wolves, birds, amphibians and tiny invertebrates, and in subtle ways.”

8. Great! Another Thing to Hate About Ourselves

“Each year brings a new term for an unruly bit of body that women are expected to subdue through diet and exercise.”

9. The First Victims of the First Crusade

“Religious violence seldom limits itself to one target and expands to reach the maximum number of available victims.”

10. Vitamins Hide the Low Quality of Our Food

“Most of the vitamins in our diets are synthetic additions.”

11. A Curious Case of Writer’s Block

“Paul was an old man now. He must have begun working on his dissertation well over a half-century ago. I had heard of professional students before, but this was bizarre.”

12. The Ants, the Honeybees and Me

“The biomass of humans is roughly equal to the biomass of ants on our planet.”

13. The Caligulan Thrill

“The essential dream of our age isn’t conflict; it’s a synthesis, in which the aristocratic thrills of libertinism are somehow preserved but their most exploitative elements are rendered egalitarian and safe.”

14. Why Movie ‘Facts’ Prevail

“Studies show that if you watch a film — even one concerning historical events about which you are informed — your beliefs may be reshaped by ‘facts’ that are not factual.”

15. In Praise of the Cute Animal Video

“Whether compiled on BuzzFeed Animals, Reddit or the Animal Planet site, I self-medicate by looking at everything from a cat toying with a dolphin, a seal climbing onto a sailboat, a porcupine playing with a gloved zookeeper by spinning around like a Cuisinart blade, a baby panda sneezing or a herd of cows drawn from a distant hillside to a man sitting in a lawn chair playing a trombone.”

16. Love in the Time of Binge-Watching

“In modern-day romance, resisting the impulse to binge so that you may watch with a lover is the new equivalent of meeting the parents or sharing a sober kiss.”

17. The Whites, by Richard Price Writing as Harry Brandt

“Many years ago, in a magazine interview, Richard Price (now the author of nine novels, including Clockers and Lush Life) was asked why he devoted so much of his considerable literary talent to crime fiction and film scripts featuring criminals. He responded by saying that when you circle around a murder long enough you get to know a city. I cut that line out of the magazine and taped it above my computer screen. For several years, it presided over what I wrote in my own novels. With that answer, I believed that Price had crystallized what many writers knew and attempted to practice. That is, he considered the crime novel something more than a puzzle and an entertainment; he saw it as societal reflection, documentation and investigation.”

18. What Our Paranoia About Drones Says About Us

“Drones exist in the unlit parking lot of our imaginations, not only because of their history as agents of civilian deaths abroad but also because of something much closer to home. We increasingly glance at one another through a veil of suspicion, doubt and fear.”

19. It’s Buggy Out There

“Pure water does not automatically freeze at 0 degrees Celsius; it will remain liquid to about minus 40 degrees. To freeze at higher temperatures, water needs a seed, or ice nucleus, a tiny particle that acts as a geometric template, aligning water molecules into a highly organized solid crystal.”

20. How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life

“In those early days, the collective fury felt righteous, powerful and effective. It felt as if hierarchies were being dismantled, as if justice were being democratized. As time passed, though, I watched these shame campaigns multiply, to the point that they targeted not just powerful institutions and public figures but really anyone perceived to have done something offensive. I also began to marvel at the disconnect between the severity of the crime and the gleeful savagery of the punishment. It almost felt as if shamings were now happening for their own sake, as if they were following a script.”

21. The Stanford Undergraduate and the Mentor

“After sightseeing in Rome, Lonsdale and Clougherty were together in the hotel room they were sharing when she started dressing for evening Mass. Lonsdale came up behind her and kissed her, touching her neck and hair and telling her she was beautiful. She had told him she was a virgin. Both agree they had sex. But what actually went on between them that night, and throughout their yearlong relationship, would become highly contested. After the relationship ended, Clougherty accused Lonsdale of sexual assault. Stanford investigated whether he broke the university’s rule against ‘consensual sexual and romantic relationships’ between students and their mentors and, later, whether he raped her. The findings from the investigations have sparked a war of allegations and interpretations, culminating last month with dueling lawsuits, filled with damaging accusations. This case, which has been picked up by the media, does not fit neatly into the narratives that have fueled an ongoing national conversation about sexual assault of students on campus. But it exposes the risks of Stanford’s open door to Silicon Valley and the pressure that universities are under to do more for students who say they’ve been raped. It also reveals the complexity of trying to determine the truth in a high-stakes case like this one.”

22. The Post-Trend Universe

“The ability to find styles that actually suit one’s body and personality is cause for celebration, offering women so many more forms of self-expression. In the past, trends allowed every part of the fashion business to get a piece of the action. Department stores could sell their beloved ‘hot items,’ magazines could assert their authority over readers and manufacturers could produce endless knock-offs. This might have been great for business, but less so for the consumer. Now, though, every brand, and every media outlet, is focused on creating its own universe, ostensibly for the people who want its products or to buy into a point of view. As popular as fashion is today, running on a mixture of media platforms, the information is usually too diffuse. That’s why branding is so dominant; it helps establish corporate identities — boundaries, really — but branding also functions as a filter for many consumers.”

23. Permanent Midnight

“Nine years ago, after the skin on her face reacted to her computer screen, to fluorescent lights and then to the sun, Lyndsey was diagnosed with photosensitive seborrhoeic dermatitis, in its usual form a well-recognized skin complaint. This later developed into a chronic and severe reaction over her entire body. When her skin meets light, even through protective clothing, it burns. Not a ripped-off wax-strip burn but a blowtorch burn (her metaphor). The extremity of the reaction means she barely leaves her small house in Hampshire…. She spends her days in a blacked-out room, building up pockets of resistance which allow her out for a brief walk, before dawn or after sunset.”

Sunday 02.08.2015 New York Times Digest


1. How to Be Invisible

“It is time for all of us to reconsider the beauty, elegance and imagination that can come with being unseen.”

2. The Near Death, and Revival, of Monticello

“The estate, reduced by land sales from about 5,000 acres to 522, sold in August 1831 for $7,000 to James Turner Barclay, an eccentric local druggist whom Martha Jefferson Randolph considered to be a madman. He grew experimental silkworms on the property before becoming a missionary and decamping for the Holy Land.”

3. Insured, but Not Covered

“The Affordable Care Act has ushered in an era of complex new health insurance products featuring legions of out-of-pocket coinsurance fees, high deductibles and narrow provider networks. Though commercial insurers had already begun to shift toward such policies, the health care law gave them added legitimacy and has vastly accelerated the trend, experts say.”

4. Madam C.E.O., Get Me a Coffee

“Professional women in business, law and science are still expected to bring cupcakes, answer phones and take notes.”

5. Good Lovers Lie

“Research shows that on average in an ordinary conversation, people lie two to three times every 10 minutes.”

6. The Best Way to Address Campus Rape

“People often wonder why college administrators try to adjudicate these fiendishly difficult cases, rather than putting them in the hands of the criminal justice system. The reason is that the Department of Education has very forcefully told schools to handle sexual grievances themselves and given them very detailed instructions about how to do so. A report last year from a White House task force on campus sexual assault underscored the importance to a university of following that advice. Even though the D.O.E.’s instructions are presented as recommendations rather than law, its Office for Civil Rights can put any school that fails to follow them on the list of colleges under investigation and even take away its federal funding.”

7. The Futility of Vengeance

“Vengeful acts were what kept our prehistoric ancestors alive. Back then, letting a slap go unpunished marked you as prey. Uncooperative behavior also threatened the survival of the group, which may be why today bystanders feel uncomfortable, if not outraged, when they see injustice and take great satisfaction when offenders get their due.”

8. The Best Decade Ever? The 1990s, Obviously

“It was simply the happiest decade of our American lifetimes.”

9. In Defense of Tinder

“As a psychological researcher who studies online dating, I believe that Tinder’s approach is terrific for pursuing casual sex and for meeting a serious relationship partner.”

10. 15 Minutes of Fame? More Like 15 Seconds of Nanofame

“As the medium gets smaller, so does the fame.”

11. How to Be a Friend in Deed

“While technology does offer support, many still crave the real thing. Crisis is a test of friendship, and success, in this case, is measured in intimacy.”

12. Falling Marriage Rates Reveal Economic Fault Lines

“Although 64 percent of college-educated Americans were married, fewer than 48 percent of those with some college or less were married.”

13. Football Major, Basketball Minor?

“Most college officials have focused reforms on sustaining academic standards and limiting sports participation. But to acknowledge reality — or what some consider the charade of college sports — others propose the opposite: more sports, as in offering varsity athletes academic credit, and perhaps a whole curriculum built around their sport, under the tutelage of learned coaches.”

14. Is Your First Grader College Ready?

“Credit President Obama and the Common Core Standards for putting the ‘college and career ready’ mantra on the lips of K-12 educators across the country. Or blame a competitive culture that has turned wide-open years of childhood into a checklist of readiness skills. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that college prep has hit the playground set.”

15. How to Raise a University’s Profile: Pricing and Packaging

“Instead of focusing on undergraduate learning, numerous colleges have been engaged in the kind of building spree I saw at George Washington. Recreation centers with world-class workout facilities and lazy rivers rise out of construction pits even as students and parents are handed staggeringly large tuition bills. Colleges compete to hire famous professors even as undergraduates wander through academic programs that often lack rigor or coherence. Campuses vie to become the next Harvard — or at least the next George Washington — while ignoring the growing cost and suspect quality of undergraduate education.”

16. A University Recognizes a Third Gender: Neutral and A Gender-Neutral Glossary and For Transgender Students, Business Schools Are a Transition

“Today, a growing number of students are embracing the idea that when it comes to classifying gender, there should be more than two options — something now afforded by the dating website OkCupid and by Facebook, which last year added a tab for ‘custom’ alongside ‘male’ and ‘female,’ with some 50 options, including ‘agender,’ ‘androgyne,’ ‘pangender’ and ‘trans person,’ as well as an option for controlling who can see the customized version.”

17. Mourning Lincoln and Lincoln’s Body and Founders’ Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln

“Abraham Lincoln was the best president the United States has ever had. But we live inside his tomb. For a very long time now, too many Americans have found it easier to think about Lincoln’s body — that brawn, that bullet — than about the bodies of the millions of men, women and children who had been kept in slavery, bodies stolen, shackled, hunted, whipped, branded, raped, starved, murdered and buried in unmarked graves. The mourning of Lincoln has come at the expense of mourning them. And what of the grief on the streets of American cities where the cry rises (because, a century and a half after Booth shot Lincoln, the argument still needs making): Black lives matter. And still the bullets volley, and fall and clatter.”

18. The Test, by Anya Kamenetz

“Kamenetz probes psychometry, or the science of testing, demonstrating its roots in the deeply held racism of the early-20th-century I.Q. movement. She shows why today’s achievement tests, designed to evaluate ability on a specific day, typically at the end of the school year, are poor tools for helping either teachers or students improve their practices in real time. ‘They conceptualize proficiency as a fixed quantity in a world where what’s important is your capacity to learn and grow,’ she writes. ‘They are a 20th-­century technology in a 21st-century world.’”

19. Can We Reverse-Engineer the Environment?

“Like many modern wonders, Chicago’s canal solved the problem it was engineered to solve — the city’s sewage crisis — but it did so by sending the consequences downstream, to the Mississippi Valley and, in unanticipated ways, to all of us. In hindsight, it looks less like a triumph of the heroic age of civil engineering than like a prologue to the chastening age we live in now, the epoch geologists have proposed calling the Anthropocene, the age of the sixth extinction.”

20. Eddie Huang Against the World

“The story Huang tells in his memoir is one of survival and struggle in a hostile environment — a prosperous neighborhood in Orlando. Though the picaresque book is written in Huang’s jaunty mash-up of hip-hop lingo and conspicuously learned references to American history and literature, it is also an extraordinarily raw account of an abused and bullied child who grows to inflict violence on others. The racism Huang encounters in Florida is not underhanded, implicit or subtle, as it often is for the many Asians from the professional classes living in and around the coastal cities where the American educated elite reside. It is open, overt and violent.”

21. My Dad, the Pornographer

“The commercial popularity of American erotic novels peaked during the 1970s, coinciding with my father’s most prolific and energetic period. Dad combined porn with all manner of genre fiction. He wrote pirate porn, ghost porn, science-fiction porn, vampire porn, historical porn, time-travel porn, secret-agent porn, thriller porn, zombie porn and Atlantis porn. An unpublished Old West novel opens with sex in a barn, featuring a gunslinger called Quiet Smith, without doubt Dad’s greatest character name. By the end of the decade, Dad claimed to have single-handedly raised the quality of American pornography. He believed future scholars would refer to him as the ‘king of 20th-century written pornography.’ He considered himself the ‘class operator in the field.’”

Sunday 02.01.2015 New York Times Digest


1. Reading in Transit

“Gerritsen comes to New York for two weeks three times a year and spent 13 weeks shooting straphangers for the project. No e-readers were allowed.”

2. $3 Tip on a $4 Cup of Coffee? Gratuities Grow, Automatically

“There are records of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson giving tips to their slaves.”

3. At Your Service: Information Sleuth at the New York Public Library

“Mr. Boylan has fielded questions from surgeons who called while performing operations.”

4. Climate Change’s Bottom Line

“Shifts in weather over the next few decades will most likely cost American companies hundreds of billions of dollars, and they have no choice but to adapt.”

5. Dying Shouldn’t Be So Brutal

“Dying is not easy, but it needn’t be this hard.”

6. The Vaccine Lunacy

“In 2004, there were just 37 reported cases of measles in the United States. In 2014, there were 644.”

7. Closing the Math Gap for Boys

“After just a single year in Chicago’s intensive tutoring and mentoring program, known as Match, participants ended up as much as two years ahead of students in a control group who didn’t get this help.”

8. Lights Out in Nigeria

“The inverter’s batteries charge while there is light, storing energy that can be used later, but therein lies the problem: The device requires electricity to be able to give electricity. And it is fragile, helpless in the face of the water pump and microwave. Finally, I buy a second generator, a small, noisy machine, inelegant and scrappy. It uses petrol, which is cheaper than diesel, and can power lights and fans and freezers but only one air-conditioner, and so I move my writing desk from my study to my bedroom, to consolidate cool air.”

9. The Only Baby Book You’ll Ever Need

“Professor Lancy, who teaches at Utah State University, has pored over the anthropology literature to collect insights from a range of culture types, along with primate studies, history and his own fieldwork in seven countries. He’s not explicitly writing for parents. Yet through factoids and analysis, he demonstrates something that American parents desperately need to hear: Children are raised in all sorts of ways, and they all turn out just fine.”

10. Was Abolitionism a Failure?

“In 1860 the premier antislavery newspaper, The Liberator, had a circulation of under 3,000, in a nation of 31 million.”

11. The Death of the Dinosaurs

“Few are ready to demote the role of the dinosaurs’ asteroid, which created a crater larger than any found in the half-billion-year history of animal life. Some experts still contend that it was the lone killer. But many now lean toward a one-two punch of a planet weakened by volcanoes and then crippled by the asteroid. Or vice versa.”

12. The Myth of the Harmless Wrong

“The notion of ‘harmless wrongs’ or ‘victimless crimes’ is more complicated that you might think. Although logically possible, victimless crimes are psychologically rare. Perceptually speaking, if you see something as wrong, you almost certainly see it as harmful. The absence of victims occurs only in the absence of immorality.”

13. David Adam’s The Man Who Couldn’t Stop

“Obsessive-compulsive disorder can make people do weird things. The mathematician Kurt Gödel was so afraid of tainted food that he would eat only portions his wife tasted first; after she became too ill to do this, he starved to death.”

14. Gateway to Freedom, by Eric Foner

“It may seem difficult to believe that slave owners and hired slave catchers prowled the streets of Manhattan before the Civil War, openly carrying whips, pistols and manacles in order to reclaim their ‘property,’ but such was the case.”

15. They Eat Horses, Don’t They? by Piu Marie Eatwell

“We glean insights that help make sense of one of the most perplexing French paradoxes: the fact that, despite guaranteeing workers a stunning 40 days of paid vacation per year and with its citizens spending an astounding 15.3 hours per day on ‘leisure and personal care,’ France also ranks fifth among nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in worker productivity. This particular form of cultural exceptionalism, Eatwell suggests, putting forward an argument from the economist Olivier Passet, is probably because of the exceedingly high unemployment rates among France’s oldest and youngest potential workers, an absence that artificially inflates productivity figures.”

16. A Theory of the Drone, by Grégoire Chamayou

“May not governments start using their killer drones not just in wars waged against foreigners in faraway countries but also at home, against their own citizens?”

17. Is Being a Writer a Job or a Calling?

“There is something dreary about wanting writing to be a real job. The sense of inner purpose, so often unmentionable in a society enamored of professionalization, distinguishes a writer from a hack. Emily Dickinson didn’t turn her calling into a job, and neither did Franz Kafka, or Fernando Pessoa, or Wallace Stevens, or any of the millions of writers who have never earned a penny for their thoughts. A defrocked priest forever remains a priest, and a writer — independent of publication or readership or ‘career’ — is always a writer. Independent, even of writing. Writing, after all, is something one does. A writer is something one is.”

Sunday 1.25.2015 New York Times Digest


1. Instagram’s Graveyard Shift

“This is the ghost world of #graveyardshift (#nightshift’s sister hashtag), whose workers file into Instagram every evening. These pictures may be clever or maudlin, silly or harrowing or sad. ‘Desperate’ is a word that comes to mind, but so does ‘resigned.’ And even ‘resistance.’ Sometimes it’s in the form of a gag, a ridiculous pose; sometimes it’s in the form of a gaze so steady that it seems to warm the fluorescent panels framing so many of these pictures. The hashtag itself is a form of solidarity.”

2. A Quiet Revolution in Helping Lift the Burden of Student Debt

“A couple of little-noticed legislative tweaks to a small, obscure loan repayment program — revisions made under two very different presidents — appear to have created the conditions for far-reaching changes in how a college education is bought and paid for.”

3. Your College May Be Banking on Your Facebook Likes

“EverTrue enables educational institutions to parse the social media activities of their graduates.”

4. Searching for Sex

“Men make more searches asking how to make their penises bigger than how to tune a guitar, make an omelet or change a tire.”

5. The Secrets of Street Names and Home Values

“Street names tell stories. They tell us if a neighborhood is expensive or affordable, brand-new or decades old. With street names alone, we can uncover all kinds of insights.”

6. How Auschwitz Is Misunderstood

“In Rwanda in 1994, the Hutu perpetrators killed 800,000 Tutsi at a more intensive daily rate than the Germans did the Jews, using only the most primitive technological means, mainly machetes, knives and clubs.”

7. This Is Your Grandmother

“I’d begun to save each of her messages on my cellphone until I got the next, having realized that any message could be the last. She was in the early stages of dementia, and when I answered or called her back, she was often too tired to talk, so these messages became our conversation.”

8. What’s Worse Than Sad

“We trivialize what we wish to make truly important.”

9. Is Your Data Safe at Healthcare.gov?

“The health insurance site has been sharing user data — possibly including characteristics like users’ age and income, as well as whether they’re pregnant — with companies like Google, Twitter and Facebook.”

10. The League, a Dating App for Would-Be Power Couples

“Users are shown only five potential matches a day. If they don’t connect with any, they have to wait until tomorrow’s batch is served. If Tinder is a superstore for mate-shopping, the League, with its tiny pool and selective criteria for entry, is a boutique.”

11. Reeling Through Life and Silver Screen Fiend

“Returning from the ‘briny darkness’ of the New Beverly each night, he logs every film dutifully in one of five reference books, before haring across town to do stand-up at the Largo, waking up bleary-eyed the next morning to scratch out gags fitfully for ‘MADtv.’ ‘I look back … and I’m amazed I didn’t kill anyone,’ he writes. ‘Does anyone act more like an overserious senior citizen with time running out on their chance for immortality than someone in their 20s?’”

12. Once Upon a Time, by Marina Warner

“The Grimm brothers’ collection is the most translated book after the Bible and the Quran, clocking in at 160 languages.”

13. Somebody’s Watching Us

“For nearly 30 years, the legend goes, he wrote the best books for the best publisher, won the best prizes and taught in the best city.”

14. Which Literary Figure Is Overdue for a Biography?

“Here is a crash course in Murray: He was the author of a memoir, four novels, several books about the blues that are at once scholarly and down-homey, and a few volumes of cultural criticism. Ah, yes, and a collection of poetry that includes a poem about William Faulkner I’d dare anyone to top. Ralph Ellison was a dear friend of his. The painter Romare Bearden was a friend, too. Murray and Bearden entered into an artistic collaboration that yielded Bearden’s series The Block, inspired by the view from Murray’s balcony in Harlem. Murray hung out with James Baldwin in Paris in the 1950s. He was the co-writer of Count Basie’s autobiography. The National Book Critics Circle gave him a lifetime achievement award in 1997. Duke Ellington called him ‘the unsquarest man I know.’ During his college days, he spent a night at Ma Rainey’s house; in his memoir, South to a Very Old Place, he describes sleeping in her ‘red-velvet-draped, tenderloin-gothic, incense-sultry sickroom.’”

15. The Case for Legalized Gambling on Sports

“Gamblers are always looking for an edge and, at any level of play, basketball is a relatively easy game to corrupt. Each team has only five players on the court, and teams score dozens of times a game. It takes just one deliberate underperformer to tilt the contest in a way that isn’t possible in most other team sports. (Scoring in baseball and football, by contrast, is much more contingent on how the team performs as a whole.)”

16. The Orthodox Sex Guru

“How widespread sexual aversion is among ultra-Orthodox women is impossible to say, and the question is made especially difficult because there is a host of movements and sects with varying statutes and customs. But there is an erotic ideal that all these cultures share. After a young woman marries — often, like the Satmar wife Marcus told me about, to a man she has met and spoken with only once before the wedding — she’s supposed to feel that sex is a blessing, a union full of Shekinah, of God’s light, not just a painful or repellent reproductive chore. Quietly, rabbis refer struggling wives to Marcus’s care. Her task is to instill desire in them.”

17. The Megyn Kelly Moment

“For those unfamiliar with the phenomenon, a Megyn moment, as I have taken to calling it, is when you, a Fox guest — maybe a regular guest or even an official contributor — are pursuing a line of argument that seems perfectly congruent with the Fox worldview, only to have Kelly seize on some part of it and call it out as nonsense, maybe even turn it back on you. You don’t always know when, how or even if the Megyn moment will happen; Kelly’s political sensibility and choice of subjects are generally in keeping with that of the network at large. But you always have to be ready for it, no matter who you are.”

18. Why Is India So Crazy for World Records?

“Har Parkash, a 72-year-old man from New Delhi, covered his body in 366 flag tattoos, chugged a bottle of ketchup in under 40 seconds, adopted his 61-year-old brother-in-law and set several other records and then, for good measure, changed his name to Guinness Rishi, his life and identity swallowed up by his obsession.”

Sunday 01.18.2015 New York Times Digest


1. Among the Disrupted

“Aside from issues of life and death, there is no more urgent task for American intellectuals and writers than to think critically about the salience, even the tyranny, of technology in individual and collective life.”

2. From Amateur to Ruthless Jihadist in France

“If we have such a hard time regulating something as simple as cigarettes, how do you expect us to regulate something as abstract as ideas, as religion?”

3. Lower Oil Prices Provide Benefits to U.S. Workers

“The latest drop in energy prices … is disproportionately helping lower-income groups.”

4. Restoring ‘Wonder Theater’ Movie Palaces to Glory

“The renovation effort was herculean…. When it started two years ago, he said, workers discovered that water had corroded vast sections of decorative plaster, carpets squished underfoot, light fixtures had been torn from the walls, pigeons roosted in the ceiling and a naked man was found curled up on the stage, alive but startled when police officers and two workers woke him.”

5. In Charge, and Sounding the Part

“As people gain authority, their voice quality changes, becoming steadier in pitch, more varied in volume and less strained. Power sounds distinctive, creating hierarchies measurable through waves of sound.”

6. The Power of a Simple Nudge

“Community college students received texts reminding them to complete their re-enrollment forms, particularly aid applications. Among freshmen who received the texts, 68 percent went on to complete their sophomore year, compared with 54 percent of those who got no nudges.”

7. After PTSD, More Trauma

“There are many reasons to be disappointed, even angry with the V.A. right now — the unforgivably long wait times, the erratic quality of care, the reports of administrators’ falsifying records to cover up those shortcomings. My own disappointment is that after waiting three months, after completing endless forms, I was offered an overhyped therapy built on the premise that the best way to escape the aftereffects of hell was to go through hell again.”

8. The Best Way to Get Over a Breakup

“For many, the key may turn out to be some self-reflection, but not too much: writing about your feelings, ‘but then not necessarily mulling over it or doing any more. Just write it, talk about it, leave it, do it again.’”

9. Toilets for the People

“A disproportionate amount of poop on the streets is not from dogs but from humans.”

10. Mean Girls in the Retirement Home

“High school doesn’t last forever, everyone grows up. But Nanna’s experience suggests otherwise. It says that the cruel, like the poor, are always with us, that mean girls stay mean — they just start wearing support hose and dentures.”

11. Packing Heat at the Airport? Oops

“Increasingly, screeners for the Transportation Security Administration are detaining travelers for more than their toiletries or electronics. Gun confiscations at checkpoints have been on the rise, reaching approximately 2,200 last year, the agency reported, a 20 percent increase over the previous year and 230 percent more than in 2005. A vast majority of the weapons were loaded and had bullets in the chamber.”

12. Why Some Teams Are Smarter Than Others

“The smartest teams were distinguished by three characteristics. First, their members contributed more equally to the team’s discussions, rather than letting one or two people dominate the group. Second, their members scored higher on a test called Reading the Mind in the Eyes, which measures how well people can read complex emotional states from images of faces with only the eyes visible. Finally, teams with more women outperformed teams with more men. Indeed, it appeared that it was not ‘diversity’ (having equal numbers of men and women) that mattered for a team’s intelligence, but simply having more women. This last effect, however, was partly explained by the fact that women, on average, were better at ‘mindreading’ than men.”

13. Is a Climate Disaster Inevitable?

“The defining feature of a technological civilization is the capacity to intensively ‘harvest’ energy. But the basic physics of energy, heat and work known as thermodynamics tell us that waste, or what we physicists call entropy, must be generated and dumped back into the environment in the process. Human civilization currently harvests around 100 billion megawatt hours of energy each year and dumps 36 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the planetary system, which is why the atmosphere is holding more heat and the oceans are acidifying.”

14. At the Super Bowl of Linguistics, May the Best Word Win

“If wordsmiths had a Super Bowl, this would be it, a place where the nation’s most well-regarded grammarians, etymologists and language enthusiasts gather to talk shop.”

15. A Voice Still Heard: Selected Essays of Irving Howe

“He was an American Orwell: our most thrilling dissident, a socialist with conservative cultural sympathies, a scything polemicist capable of the most tender, patient literary explication. Unlike Orwell, Howe never went on great foreign adventures — there was no journalism in him. And his standing will never be buoyed by his novels, because there aren’t any. But Orwell and Howe shared a romantic vision of their chosen path in life, and it’s that ­marrow-deep commitment to heterodoxy that makes the current climate feel uninspired and careerist by contrast.”

16. The Point of Order

“Most people now think of the police primarily in their role of crime fighting. But it is at least as much their other original mandate, the prevention of disorder, that perpetuates the suspicion many hold for them. Order is a subjective thing, and the people who define it are not often the people who experience its imposition.”

17. Try This at Home!

“You can’t self-censor art based on the possibility that some people might misunderstand the point.”

18. A 12-Hour Window for a Healthy Weight

“Meal times have more effect on circadian rhythm than dark and light cycles.”