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

A Very Sophisticated Act

“Quoting writers and citing the places where their words are to be found are by now such common practices that it is pardonable to look upon the habit as natural, not to say instinctive. It is of course nothing of the kind, but a very sophisticated act, peculiar to a civilization that uses printed books, believes in evidence, and makes a point of assigning credit or blame in a detailed, verifiable way.”

—Jacques Brazun and Henry F. Graff, The Modern Researcher, 5th ed. (1992)


Sunday 04.19.2015 New York Times Digest


1. The Machines Are Coming

“Machines aren’t used because they perform some tasks that much better than humans, but because, in many cases, they do a ‘good enough’ job while also being cheaper, more predictable and easier to control than quirky, pesky humans. Technology in the workplace is as much about power and control as it is about productivity and efficiency.”

2. Workers Seeking Productivity in a Pill Are Abusing A.D.H.D. Drugs

“Many young workers insist that using the drugs to increase productivity is on the rise — and that these are drugs used not to get high, but hired.”

3. Utilities See Solar Panels as Threat to Bottom Line

“Many utilities are trying desperately to stem the rise of solar, either by reducing incentives, adding steep fees or effectively pushing home solar companies out of the market. In response, those solar companies are fighting back through regulators, lawmakers and the courts.”

4. Technology That Prods You to Take Action, Not Just Collect Data

“The quantified self has become the infantilized self.”

5. Can You Be a Waitress and a Feminist?

“It’s easy to have ideals, but reconciling them with the need to pay rent is a more difficult task.”

6. Would You Want to Smell BBQ All the Time?

“One person’s putrid is another person’s pleasant, and local governments around the country are having a hard time regulating what’s in the olfaction of the beholder.”

7. The Other Side of Boredom

“Sometimes boredom serves as empty ground on which to build new ideas, while other times it acts as a guide to our true desires.”

8. When a Gun Is Not a Gun

“There is a lesser-known psychological phenomenon that might also explain some of these shootings. It’s called ‘affective realism’: the tendency of your feelings to influence what you see — not what you think you see, but the actual content of your perceptual experience.”

9. Checking Charlie Hebdo’s Privilege

“The Hebdo massacre is just one of many cases in which today’s progressives, in the name of overthrowing hierarchies, end up assuming that lines of power are predictable, permanent and clear.”

10. With ‘Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck,’ Brett Morgen Demythologizes a Legend

“Mr. Morgen figured a Cobain documentary would take about 18 months. It took eight years.”

11. Hey, Kids, Look at Me When We’re Talking

“Dr. Nass told me about research he was doing that suggested young people were spending so much time looking into screens that they were losing the ability to read nonverbal communications and learn other skills necessary for one-on-one interactions. As a dorm supervisor, he connected this development with a host of popular trends among young people, from increased social anxiety to group dating.”

12. Don’t Confuse Jeremy Piven with Ari Gold

“‘Beyond sharp elbows, you’ve got to create your own work,’ he said, ‘to make a meal out of the scraps that you’re given.’ Early in the taping of Entourage, which ran for eight seasons on HBO starting in 2004, he hogged the camera and filled dead air with a barrage of hastily improvised banter. ‘It was awkward at first,’ he acknowledged. ‘People were asking, “Who is this guy and what does he think he is doing?” But I just kept talking and they didn’t yell, “Cut.” And suddenly one scene turns to three.’”

13. Why Is Spring Being So Passive Aggressive?

“Dr. Rosenthal estimates that 5 percent of adult Americans have ‘the full-blown syndrome, so it’s bad enough that it impairs function: work, productivity, interpersonal difficulties. Over and above the severe, there’s another 15 percent with a milder problem, who see reduced productivity and creativity.’”

14. Reclaiming the Age-Old Art of Getting Lost

“The ubiquity of map and navigation apps these days can be a boon, but it also means that pedestrians can easily choose efficiency at the expense of discovery.”

15. Spinster, by Kate Bolick

“What’s surprising about Spinster is how, in its charmingly digressive style, the book sets forth a clear vision not just for single women, but for all women: to disregard the reigning views of how women should live, to know their own hearts and to carve out a little space for their dreams, preferably a space with 11-foot ceilings. By the end of her book, Bolick has yet another devoted boyfriend but still sounds a little ambivalent about settling down. Even so, she has figured out how she wants to live: with romance, flair and courage of conviction, whether married or not.”

16. Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

“What are the actual stakes of shaming? Lurking and somewhat ­underdocumented in the tales gathered here is the fact that as agonizing as these experiences are, men often survive them just fine.”

17. Galileo’s Middle Finger, by Alice Dreger

“The fracas taught Dreger a somber lesson: When a motivated group with a playbook of ugly tactics spots a ­scientific finding they don’t like, they can often dominate public discussion in a way that replaces a factual story with a false one. Only scientists of Galilean character can weather the storm. And even they, like Galileo, might be effectively exiled.”

18. Rust: The Longest War, by Jonathan Waldman

“It is a book about what is corroding away unseen and unnoticed by most of us. The heroes and antiheroes in this account of cans exploding, bridges collapsing and buildings falling apart are the engineers and corrosion experts who are either saving us all from oblivion or pushing paranoia.”

19. Infested, About Bedbugs, by Brooke Borel

“A book about bedbugs is, by necessity, a book about nearly everything: about travel and adventure, about our ­relationship to nature, about how scientists solve problems, about trust and whether we view strangers as friends or foes. It is a book about what people will do under extreme circumstances, and about environmental politics, and art and mental illness. It is even a book about kinky sex.”

20. The Triumph of Seeds, by Thor Hanson

“These little pods can fly, spin, bury themselves, float across oceans, sleep for a thousand years, poison or seduce — a nearly infinite variety of poetic solutions to the hard and gritty question of survival. This is, in fact, the natural order at its most thrilling — seeds taking on the same issues of evolution and survival as a tiger, a whale or, let’s not forget, a human.”

21. The Muddied Meaning of ‘Mindfulness’

“Mindfulness has come to comprise a dizzying range of meanings for popular audiences. It’s an intimately attentive frame of mind. It’s a relaxed-alert frame of mind. It’s equanimity. It’s a form of the rigorous Buddhist meditation called vipassana (‘insight’), or a form of another kind of Buddhist meditation known as anapanasmrti (‘awareness of the breath’). It’s M.B.S.R. therapy (mindfulness-based stress reduction). It’s just kind of stopping to smell the roses. And last, it’s a lifestyle trend, a social movement and — as a Time magazine cover had it last year — a revolution.”

22. Instabloids

“For her purposes, Instagram was the equivalent of WordPress.”

23. A Visual Remix

“A number of artists are using this abundance as their starting point, setting their own cameras aside and turning to the horde — collecting and arranging photographs that they have found online. These artist-collectors, in placing one thing next to another, create a third thing — and this third thing, like a subatomic particle produced by a collision of two other particles, carries a charge.”

24. Letter of Recommendation: Kneipp Herbal Bath Oils

“Physical envelopment is soothing in almost any form: swaddling yourself in blankets on a winter night, driving through a fog bank, being hugged. The appeal of fondue, I’ve always suspected, is less about the flavor of kirsch mixed with cheese than the pleasure of watching a surrogate bread cube embraced in melted Emmentaler.”

25. The Man Who Makes the World’s Funniest People Even Funnier

“White is not a particularly funny person, but he has one of Hollywood’s most finely attuned, and highly valued, senses of humor.”

26. Her Majesty’s Jihadists

“More British Muslim men have joined ISIS and the Nusra Front than are serving in the British armed forces.”

27. Sally Mann’s Exposure

“For all the righteous concern people expressed about the welfare of my children, what most of them failed to understand was that taking those pictures was an act separate from mothering. When I stepped behind the camera and my kids stepped in front of it, I was a photographer and they were actors, and we were making a photograph together. And in a similar vein, many people mistook the photographs for reality or attributed qualities to my children (one letter-­writer called them ‘mean’) based on the way they looked in the pictures. The fact is that these are not my children; they are figures on silvery paper slivered out of time. They represent my children at a fraction of a second on one particular afternoon with infinite variables of light, expression, posture, muscle tension, mood, wind and shade. These are not my children at all; these are children in a photograph.”


Ad for Prince’s 1981 album Controversy, back cover of Billboard, October 24, 1981.


(Via Michaelangelo Matos.)

Sunday 04.12.2015 New York Times Digest


1. Unequal, Yet Happy

“There’s no longer any one way to keep up with the Joneses. If the Joneses drive a BMW 3 Series, you can compete by buying a BMW 4 Series. But if the Joneses drive a minivan, you can drive a sport utility vehicle to rebel against their staid domesticity. (This is what happened in the 1990s, when suburbanites embraced the S.U.V. as a symbol of fun and adventure.) And if the Joneses drive an S.U.V., you can drive a Prius, or forgo a car altogether — as a sign that you embrace a green lifestyle.”

2. For Drinking Water in Drought, California Looks Warily to Sea

“The rising interest in desalination is not simply a matter of desperation, though that is certainly a factor in states with growing populations and few obvious sources of new water. Advocates say the technology has improved markedly over the past 20 years. While the water can cost twice as much as conventionally treated water, it is still less than a penny a gallon, and that is starting to look tolerable in parched regions.”

3. House That Wouldn’t Budge (or Float Away) Faces a Last Stand

“We want to help them understand that modernism is not always the best thing, that playing with the iPad is not always the best thing — that there are values to think about.”

4. Her Stinging Critiques Propel Young Adult Best Sellers

“Whenever I get a letter from her, I go through this mourning process. The first day, I rage all day. The second day, the tears set in, and I say she’s right, and I’m a terrible writer. The third day I say I’m not a terrible writer, but I can’t write this book. The fourth day, I get to work.”

5. Married, With Roommates

“If we were in Iowa, it would be weird.”

6. The Moral Bucket List

“It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?”

7. Best, Brightest — and Saddest?

“We are not teenagers. We are lifeless bodies in a system that breeds competition, hatred, and discourages teamwork and genuine learning.”

8. Where Are the Teachers of Color?

“Minority students have become a majority in public schools. Yet the proportion of teachers who are racial minorities has not kept up: More than 80 percent of teachers are white.”

9. My Unveiling Ceremony

“To write about the hijab is to step into a minefield. Even among those who share my cultural and faith background, opinions veer from those who despise it as a symbol of backwardness to those for whom religion begins and ends with that piece of cloth. And while a majority of women in Egypt today are veiled, that hasn’t always been the case: The pendulum swings.”

10. Andy Warhol as a Guide to Trade

“Warhol believed that defeating this cognitive bias led to greater appreciation of beauty. It also leads to better public policy, especially in relieving poverty. For example, while our attention is naturally drawn to the latest fascinating and expensive innovations in tropical public health, many experts insist it is cheap, boring mosquito bed nets that best protect against malaria. Despite their lifesaving utility, these boring nets tend to be chronically underprovided.”

11. The Dangerous Myth of Appomattox

“Southern soldiers continued to fight as insurgents, terrorizing blacks across the region. One congressman estimated that 50,000 African-Americans were murdered by white Southerners in the first quarter-century after emancipation.”

12. Do Assassins Really Change History?

“Since 1950, a national leader was assassinated in almost two out of every three years.”

13. No One to Meet? How About a Tweetup?

“Is everyone really worth meeting? Here’s one way to find out: Next time you are alone in a strange city, post an open invitation on Twitter and see who shows up.”

14. Paul Beatty’s The Sellout

“A member of the father’s group, the Dum Dum Donut Intellectuals, has rewritten a version of Huck Finn in which he has replaced ‘the repugnant “N-word”’ with ‘warrior’ and ‘slave’ with ‘dark-skinned volunteer.’ The retitled book is ‘The ­Pejorative-Free Adventures and ­Intellectual and Spiritual Journeys of African-American Jim and His Young Protégé, White Brother Huckleberry Finn, as They Go in Search of the Lost Black Family Unit.’”

15. Is There Anything One Should Feel Ashamed of Reading?

“Harold Bloom is coming to dinner, so you hide your copy of The Da Vinci Code. That’s no good. That’s hierarchical shame, top-down shame, a reflexive cringe before a perceived superior, and you should reject it absolutely. Bring out your whole beloved Dan Brown collection — Angels and Demons, The Lost Symbol, Inferno — pile it defiantly on the kitchen table, put The Da Vinci Code on top, and if Professor Bloom raises a highbrow eyebrow, if he so much as sniffs, throw him out of the house. Show him the door, and as he blunders off into the outer darkness, stand on your porch reading loudly from one of the great passages: ‘The days of the goddess were over. The pendulum had swung. Mother Earth had become a man’s world, and the gods of destruction and war were taking their toll!’”

16. Film School, for Profit or Not

“The rapidly shifting film school landscape has led to what a business professor might refer to as marketplace confusion. Never have the film school options been so many, and never has there been greater bewilderment about where to go — or whether to go at all. ‘You practically need a degree just to sort through it,’ said Reed Martin, author of The Reel Truth, a guide for aspiring filmmakers.”

17. The Hackathon Fast Track, From Campus to Silicon Valley

“Hackathons have become commonplace among professional developers, especially in booming tech centers like San Francisco and New York, and have emerged as prime places for networking, job recruiting, entrepreneurial pitching and, in many cases, winning cash. (One sponsored by the tech company Salesforce famously offered a $1 million prize to the most innovative project.) Now weekend hackathons organized by and for students are surging in size, scale and frequency.”

18. M.B.A. Programs That Get You Where You Want to Go

“The smartest move might be to choose your business school by focusing on a very specific outcome and, assuming a good fit personally, going to the one with an impressive record of helping students achieve the same.”

19. Can You Learn to Lead?

“For much of the 20th century, the paragons of business education promised to create not leaders but managers, those economic actors whose emergence came about at the dawn of the mega-corporations, and whose power increased alongside them. The manager was the noble steward of the American economy, and would be so until the 1970s, when the nation turned on its management elite in the midst of a recession and accused it of negligence. Caught flat-footed selling a title, ‘manager,’ that had lost its social cachet, the ivory towers of business scrambled to find a new pitch. And they found it in leadership.”

20. First-Generation Students Unite

“What happens when students from undereducated families matriculate at the biggest brand names in higher education?”

21. Why Writers Love to Hate the M.F.A.

“With so many highly tutored creative writers already out there, is success possible without the instruction and literary connections that are cultivated in M.F.A. programs and that a volatile publishing industry — now evolved around program graduates and sensibilities — has come to look for and expect?”

22. Letter of Recommendation: The Gnostic Scriptures

“The Gnostic scriptures, an amorphous set of beautifully and transgressively alternative Christianities — left out of, or never considered part of, the biblical canon, and composed primarily between the second and fourth centuries — tell these parables as most have never heard them. In fact, they rearrange their every element. Jesus is a particularly mercurial character here. He may take the form of Eden’s serpent or embody the tree of knowledge. Sometimes he is a man without also being God; at other times he is a divinity impervious to the physical and psychic agonies of crucifixion, laughing at the ignorance of his would-be murderers. In some versions, he fools the Romans into tormenting someone else. In one beautiful Coptic hymn, he digs out a river channel in the stars, so that variously cargoed souls may come sailing like boats toward judgment. In another, he rescues his ‘beautiful daughter’ from a lion’s pit.”

23. How to Beat a Polygraph Test

“The first step is not to be intimidated.”

24. The Radical Vision of Toni Morrison

“She marveled at the ways of being that people have let go of, that mystify her. When she found out that I had never slept on ironed sheets, her mouth hit the floor. ‘Do you make your bed every morning?’ Rarely, I said. ‘Well, how do you get in it?’ she asked. ‘I don’t know, I just straighten the duvet and get sort of comfortable in the tangle and climb in.’ She groaned. I told her that my mother said there was nothing in the world like ironed sheets. ‘Your mother is right,’ she said. ‘There is nothing in the world like ironed sheets.’ She remembered a trip down South, when her host put her sheets out to dry on the jasmine bush — or was it a frangipani tree — and then ironed them. ‘Oh,’ she said, inhaling deeply as if the sheets were still in her hands, ‘it was a sleep like no other. I’ve never had anything like it since.’”

25. Iris Apfel Doesn’t Do Normcore

“Style has nothing to do with how much you spend on your clothes. The most stylish people I’ve seen in my life were in Naples right after the Second World War. They were all practically in tatters. But the way they threw themselves together and carried themselves, they really looked like a squillion dollars.”

26. The Agony and the Ecstasy of Kanye West

“‘I have this table in my new house,’ West said, offering a parable. ‘They put this table in without asking. It was some weird nouveau riche marble table, and I hated it. But it was literally so heavy that it took a crane to move it. We would try to set up different things around it, but it never really worked. I realized that table was my ego. No matter what you put around it, under it, no matter who photographed it, the douchebaggery would always come through.’”

Lateral Thinking

“The few pages of this chapter have taken you a few minutes to read; they have taken me, I’m sorry to say, days and days to write. No, I haven’t been sitting at my computer the whole time. First I carried the germ around for a while, mulling over how to best approach it, then I sat down and knocked a few items onto the screen, then I began fleshing out the argument. Then I got stuck, so I made lunch or baked some bread or helped my kid work on his car, but I carried the problem of this chapter around with me the whole time. I sat down at the keyboard again and started in again but got distracted and worked on something else. Eventually I got where we are now. Even assuming equal knowledge about the subject, who probably has had the most ideas – you in five minutes of reading or me in five days of stumbling around? All I’m really saying is that we readers sometimes forget how long literary composition can take and how very much lateral thinking can go on in that amount of time.”

Thomas C. Foster

Sunday 04.05.2015 New York Times Digest

California Drought

1. California Drought Tests History of Endless Growth

“For more than a century, California has been the state where people flocked for a better life — 164,000 square miles of mountains, farmland and coastline, shimmering with ambition and dreams, money and beauty. It was the cutting-edge symbol of possibility: Hollywood, Silicon Valley, aerospace, agriculture and vineyards. But now a punishing drought — and the unprecedented measures the state announced last week to compel people to reduce water consumption — is forcing a reconsideration of whether the aspiration of untrammeled growth that has for so long been this state’s driving engine has run against the limits of nature.”

2. Measure for Measure, Index Funds Rule

“These contests seem to strengthen the case for investing in broad, low-cost index funds that don’t try to beat the market, but merely try to match it.”

3. Learning Through Tinkering

“If we want to raise kids to be independent thinkers and change-makers, one of the best things we can do is give them the tools to figure stuff out for themselves.”

4. Why Evangelicals Should Love the Pope

“The authorities were constantly at odds with Jesus because he hung out with the ‘wrong’ people — the despised, the outcast, the ceremonially unclean — and he claimed the authority of God in doing so. Jesus was condemned for being ‘a friend of tax collectors and sinners’ and for consorting with prostitutes. His anger was directed most often against the proud, the hypocritical and the self-righteous. The powerful hated him, while those who were broken flocked to him.”

5. The Real Reason College Tuition Costs So Much

“The rapid increase in college enrollment can be defended by intellectually respectable arguments. Even the explosion in administrative personnel is, at least in theory, defensible. On the other hand, there are no valid arguments to support the recent trend toward seven-figure salaries for high-ranking university administrators, unless one considers evidence-free assertions about ‘the market’ to be intellectually rigorous.”

6. Let Prisoners Take College Courses

“We don’t have access to the Internet but prison officials are all for TVs in the cells. It’s called the ‘TV program.’ When prisoners watch TV instead of going to the yard, there’s less violence. We’re entertained and confined and everyone’s happy. But the TVs could be put to better use. What if, a few times a week, massive open online courses, or MOOCs, were streamed on the prison’s internal station, channel 3? Companies like Coursera already record university lectures — in subjects like psychology, sociology, existentialism, economics and political science — and stream them online for free. The MOOCs, which are free for the rest of the world, could help American prisoners become more educated and connected.”

7. Our Cosmic Selves

“The iron in our blood, the calcium in our bones and the oxygen we breathe are the physical remains — ashes, if you will — of stars that lived and died long ago.”

8. What’s That? You Want to be Buried How?

“The example set by Jeremy Bentham, the 18th-century English philosopher, might be considered truly avant-garde. Mr. Bentham asked that his head be embalmed and fixed on top of his skeleton, which was to be dressed in his own black suit and placed in a glass case, ‘in the attitude in which I am sitting when engaged in thought,’ as he put it.”

9. The Travel Selfie: I Was Here, Give Me a Discount

“Kimpton, which owns more than 60 boutique hotels, is among the latest wave of brands trying to parlay selfie culture into tourist dollars. JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa in California is offering a ‘Your Spring Selfie’ vacation package through May that starts at $399 and includes a selfie-stick and map of scenic ‘selfie spots’ around the resort. (Those who share their selfies on social media using hashtags such as #SpringSelfie may win an upgraded return visit.) The promotion comes in the wake of several others around the world, including selfie packages offered at the Mandarin Oriental in Paris and La Concha Renaissance Resort in San Juan, P.R.”

10. When It Comes to Reading, Is Pleasure Suspect?

“The problem with pleasure, in reading as in anything else, is that it can become the default mode, the baseline expectation. At that point, as Neil Postman put it three decades ago, we may find that we are slowly but surely amusing ourselves to death.”

11. How ‘You Do You’ Perfectly Captures Our Narcissistic Culture

“Instead of serving the establishment (monotheism, patriarchal energies), the modern tautophrase empowers the individual. Regardless of how shallow that individual is.”

12. The Common Man’s Crown

“‘Until the late 1970s, wearing a ball cap anywhere but on the baseball field carried with it a cultural stigma,’ James Lilliefors writes in his book Ball Cap Nation, citing the Mets cap of the Odd Couple slob Oscar Madison as one example of its signaling mundane degeneracy. In Lilliefors’s reckoning, eight factors contributed to the cap’s increased legitimacy, including the explosion of television sports, the maturation of the first generation of Little League retirees and the relative suavity of the Detroit Tigers cap worn by Tom Selleck as the title character of Magnum P.I.: ‘It made sporting a ball cap seem cool rather than quirky; and it created an interest in authentic M.L.B. caps.’”

13. Letter of Recommendation: The Thomas Guide to Los Angeles

“To leave the house without the Guide, even for a trip as unambitious as a run to a nearby supermarket, was to risk losing my coordinates entirely and landing in a labyrinth of cul-de-sacs where the only escape route was the Boulevard That Defies All Logic. Every city has one of these, a corridor on which you can somehow wind up driving north and south simultaneously, a road on which you can think you’re pulling into a gas station but instead find yourself merging into bullet-speed traffic on a major freeway.”

14. The Many Faces of Tatiana Maslany

“Despite Maslany’s reluctance, I managed to steer our conversation back to her magical quick-change act. I still wanted to know how she does it. ‘I think there’s something about being prepared enough that you can surrender,’ she said. Then she quoted to me something the dancer Martha Graham told the choreographer Agnes de Mille in 1943. At the time, de Mille was confused and bewildered by her sudden rise to fame, and Graham offered her words of encouragement. It is a beautiful pep talk, practically written in verse. I can see why it has special meaning for Maslany as she navigates the challenges of the fishbowl herself. The part Maslany recounted to me is this: ‘It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.’ De Mille asked Graham when she would feel satisfied, and Graham replied: ‘There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.’”