Sunday 12.14.2014 New York Times Digest

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1. Abundance Without Attachment

“Call it the Christmas Conundrum. We are supposed to revel in gift-giving and generosity, yet the season’s lavishness and commercialization leave many people cold. The underlying contradiction runs throughout modern life. On one hand, we naturally seek and rejoice in prosperity. On the other hand, success in this endeavor is often marred by a materialism we find repellent and alienating.”

2. For Jihadists, Denmark Tries Rehabilitation

“Mohammed, a 25-year-old resident of Somali descent who asked to be identified only by his first name, illustrates how counseling can dissuade at least some young Muslims from extremism. He said he never planned to fight in Syria but did intend to abandon his studies and move to Pakistan after falling in with a group of young radicals who offered friendship and comfort after the death of his mother and a dispute with his high school principal.”

3. Why U.S. Women Are Leaving Jobs Behind

“As recently as 1990, the United States had one of the top employment rates in the world for women, but it has now fallen behind many European countries. After climbing for six decades, the percentage of women in the American work force peaked in 1999, at 74 percent for women between 25 and 54. It has fallen since, to 69 percent today.”

4. Some of the Rich Collect Art. Others Collect Passports.

“Wealthy investors from around the world are increasingly shopping for visas or citizenship in other countries, hoping for a personal hedge against their own volatile governments or economies.”

5. What People Buy Where

“The average household in the nation spends approximately $5,000 per year on conspicuous items, but that spending is expressed in varying ways. In 2012 in Dallas, curtains, draperies, decorative pillows, lamps and floor coverings accounted, in part, for above-average conspicuous spending. In Boston, it was fancy wine in restaurants and bars. And in Phoenix, residents spend above the national average on their pets.”

6. Where Tech Giants Protect Privacy

“Across the globe, countries are looking toward Europe for cues on how best to protect their citizens’ privacy.”

7. The Imitation of Marriage

“We may have a culture in which the working class is encouraged to imitate what are sold as key upper-class values — sexual permissiveness and self-fashioning, spirituality and emotivism — when really the upper class is also held together by a kind of secret traditionalism, without whose binding power family life ends up coming apart even faster.”

8. Is It Bad Enough Yet?

“The police killing unarmed civilians. Horrifying income inequality. Rotting infrastructure and an unsafe ‘safety net.’ An inability to respond to climate, public health and environmental threats. A food system that causes disease. An occasionally dysfunctional and even cruel government. A sizable segment of the population excluded from work and subject to near-random incarceration.”

9. The Cult of the Bulletproof Coffee Diet

“It seems these days everyone is a coffee evangelist, but there are perhaps no proselytizers more fervent than those of Bulletproof coffee, a creation of the technology entrepreneur and biohacker Dave Asprey.”

10. The Rapid Decline of the Movie Quotation

“Greed, for lack of a better word, isn’t always good: it results in sequel-ready franchises with less reliance on nuanced English dialogue and more on eye candy.”

11. Jill Lepore’s Secret History of Wonder Woman

“Wonder Woman first appeared in December 1941, wearing a bustier, high-heeled red boots and an American flag. To her readers, many grappling with the shock of Pearl Harbor, she promised to ‘avenge … injustice’ and ‘protect’ America. She came well armed. Her arsenal included a magic power girdle, bullet-deflecting bracelets, a telepathic radio, an invisible airplane, a lasso that forced the truth from anyone it touched and a merry band of scantily clad students from a women’s college.”

12. Fields of Blood, by Karen Armstrong

“Violence almost always originates with the state and spills over to religion, rather than vice versa.”

13. A Country Called Childhood, by Jay Griffiths

“Griffiths believes that we force very young children into too much independence at a time when all they want is intimacy (she particularly deplores Ferberization, or controlled crying), and that we then exert too much control over older children who yearn only for freedom (she is dismayed by standardized testing). She questions the hierarchical nature of most adult-child relations, and demonstrates that in many cultures and across much of history, children have been given a much broader right of self-determination. She is fanatical about the importance of the great outdoors, and believes that all children need the kith of woods, sea and sky. She laments the enclosures movement of the 15th to 19th centuries that eliminated most common agricultural rights.Concerned that so many children today require treatment for psychological ills, she proposes space and freedom as the cure.She makes an eloquent, loosely Marxist argument that children’s play has been overtaken by commercial interests, so that imagination gets upstaged by sophistry. She objects to the way the nuclear family excludes the wider penumbra of people who stand to love any child, describing all the advantages of a “well villaged” child who may belong “to the street or the commons as much as to the home.” She lauds the idea of childhood as a quest that is precious regardless of its destination. And she regrets the fact that too many children are cut off from their daemon — their true calling — by a dreary pragmatism and a rigid, unresponsive education system. She argues from the hard left of common freedoms and from the hard right of reactionary nostalgia.”

14. The Power Broker, 40 Years Later

“Working on The Power Broker — researching it, writing it — took me seven years, and when I finished I was sure I never wanted to see it again.”

15. Exercising a Fat Dog (and Yourself)

“Being told one’s pet is dangerously overweight might provide the impetus that gets an owner moving.”

16. A Brief History of Kissing in Movies

“Cinema may not have invented kissing, but I suspect that over the course of the 20th century, movies helped make it more essential. What is undeniable is that movies — Hollywood movies especially, but far from exclusively — made kissing more visible. They established a glamorous iconography and an elegant choreography for an experience that, in real life, is frequently sloppy, clumsy and less than perfectly graceful.”

My Library

Tom Gauld’s “My Library”:

My Library

(Via Pop Loser.)

Related reading: Eco/Taleb on antilibraries, why it’s sometimes OK to skim, and how to talk about books you haven’t read.

Sunday 12.07.2014 New York Times Digest

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1. Detroit by Air

“You can learn a lot about a place by seeing it from the air.”

2. How Wall Street Bent Steel

“The chain of events that’s put everyone in Canton, Ohio, on edge, from steelworkers and machine tool makers to the school superintendent and, above all, the scion who runs this small city’s biggest company, started with a few keystrokes 2,400 miles away in a bland suburban office building in San Diego.”

3. Looking for the Effects of the Black Friday Boycott

“The question certainly seems worth asking.”

4. How Technology Could Help Fight Income Inequality

“Perhaps the sharing economy can make it easier to live in much smaller spaces and rent needed items, rather than store them in a house or apartment. That would enable lower-income people to live closer to higher-paying urban jobs and at lower cost.”

5. Cleaning Up With Falcons

“I work with falcons to rid areas of gulls and other birds that pose a danger or environmental threat at places like airports and landfills.”

6. Los Angeles, City of Water

“The city now consumes less water than it did in 1970, while its population has grown by more than a third, to 3.9 million people from 2.8 million.”

7. When Talking About Bias Backfires

“The assumption is that when people realize that biases are widespread, they will be more likely to overcome them. But new research suggests that if we’re not careful, making people aware of bias can backfire, leading them to discriminate more rather than less.”

8. Why Save a Language?

“Experiments do show that a language can have a fascinating effect on how its speakers think. Russian speakers are on average 124 milliseconds faster than English speakers at identifying when dark blue shades into light blue. A French person is a tad more likely than an Anglophone to imagine a table as having a high voice if it were a cartoon character, because the word is marked as feminine in his language.”

9. Viscerally Facing Up to Ferguson

“In a year when racial issues roiled the country and popular music largely kept its eyes averted, these were brutal, vital, meaningful moments, unvarnished snatches of raw feeling.”

10. In Los Angeles, a Nimby Battle Pits Millionaires vs. Billionaires

“Why are people building houses the size of shopping malls? Because they can.”

11. The Lives of Millennial Career Jugglers

“Unlike the legions of Americans who work several jobs out of necessity, these young people elect to stretch themselves thin. While one job usually pays the bills, another gig provides a more creative outlet. More than hobbyists, these career jugglers consider their cocktail of roles essential to their well-being and dismiss the notion that they ought to focus on one thing for the rest of their adult lives as boring and antiquated.”

12. The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere

“A lifelong traveler who’s been ‘crossing continents alone since the age of 9,’ a man who has always found ‘delight in movement,’ Iyer pauses to consider the prospect that going nowhere is ‘the grand adventure that makes sense of everywhere else.’ He is traveler enough to know that ‘every time I take a trip, the experience acquires meaning and grows deeper only after I get back home and, sitting still, begin to convert the sights I’ve seen into lasting insights.’”

13. ‘The Image of the Black in Western Art’

“This latest and perhaps last volume — subdivided into two parts, ‘The Impact of Africa’ and ‘The Rise of Black Artists’ — redirects the underlying colonialist, Eurocentric framing of the previous four volumes. The co-editors, David Bindman and Henry Louis Gates Jr., bring focus to black artists globally as makers of their own art and imagery, rather than solely the subjects of others’ fantasies and fascination.”

14. Fragrant, by Mandy Aftel

“Ephemeral and most often invisible, scent is difficult to articulate, and yet it’s inextricably part of our sensory vocabulary. In writing about it, Aftel chooses to be selective rather than all-encompassing. She divides her book into five distinct profiles that represent what she sees as key narratives in the universe of scent: cinnamon, mint, frankincense, ambergris and jasmine.”

15. Wilde in America, by David M. Friedman

“Without Wilde’s aptitude for self-promotion, there might have been no Andy Warhol, no Paris Hilton, no Kim Kardashian. In his new biography of the Irish playwright, novelist and provocateur, Wilde in America, the journalist and cultural historian David M. Friedman argues that Wilde was among the very first to realize that celebrity could come before accomplishment.”

16. Hunting for the Origins of Symbolic Thought

“Like so much that makes us human, symbolism appears to have emerged early on in Africa and spread from there.”

17. A Survey Course in Campus Ethics

“Adult students attending school in a foreign country must assume (and accept) that they will face certain challenges. But if your school recruited these students and assured them that such complications would be addressed — and particularly if they were told the language barrier would not limit their academic pursuits — then it’s consciously doing something damaging: It’s taking money from people who will get almost nothing in return, it’s fabricating an illusion of diversity and it’s potentially wrecking the lives of naïve students who will spend an academic year alienated and confused.”

18. Cyrus Vance Jr.’s ‘Moneyball’ Approach to Crime

“The tool is data; the benefit, public safety and justice — whom are we going to put in jail? If you have 10 guys dealing drugs, which one do you focus on? The assistant district attorneys know the rap sheets, they have the police statements like before, but now they know if you lift the left sleeve you’ll find a gang tattoo and if you look you’ll see a scar where the defendant was once shot in the ankle. Some of the defendants are often surprised we know so much about them.”

19. The Real-Life Addams Family

“The dark side of humanity is so dark that nobody can really confront it. That’s why Dante came up with nine circles of hell.”

20. Creature Comforts: The Vermont Country Store Catalog

“Henry James identified ‘two kinds of taste in the appreciation of imaginative literature: the taste for emotions of surprise and the taste for emotions of recognition.’ To trip through the Vermont Country Store catalog or to stroll through its website is to indulge in both. Though many of the Vermont Country Store’s goods are anachronistic (Postum coffee alternative, Princess phones), they aren’t sentimentalized. The company functions like a general store, a place that traffics in Yankee pragmatism, familiarity and the occasional novelty, not performative schmaltz or stylized bathos.”

21. The Knowledge, London’s Legendary Taxi-Driver Test, Puts Up a Fight in the Age of GPS

“It has been called the hardest test, of any kind, in the world. Its rigors have been likened to those required to earn a degree in law or medicine. It is without question a unique intellectual, psychological and physical ordeal, demanding unnumbered thousands of hours of immersive study, as would-be cabbies undertake the task of committing to memory the entirety of London, and demonstrating that mastery through a progressively more difficult sequence of oral examinations — a process which, on average, takes four years to complete, and for some, much longer than that.”

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

“I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun.”

—Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely

Paper Covered With the Wrong Words

Dorothy Parker to her editor in 1945:

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I know the feeling.

(Via Letters of Note.)

Sunday 11.30.2014 New York Times Digest

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1. Why C.E.O.s Are Growing Beards

“For the first time in well over a century, a growing number of the world’s business leaders are sporting facial hair.”

2. To Lure Young, Movie Theaters Shake, Smell and Spritz

“Some theater chains are now installing undulating seats, scent machines and 270-degree screens.”

3. Where Grass Is Greener, a Push to Share Drought’s Burden

“In the American West, water flows uphill to money.”

4. Where Do We Go After Ferguson?

“If our president and our nation now don’t show the will and courage to speak the truth and remake the destinies of millions of beleaguered citizens, then we are doomed to watch the same sparks reignite, whenever and wherever injustice meets desperation.”

5. For Accomplished Students, Reaching a Good College Isn’t as Hard as It Seems

“For well-qualified students, getting into a good college isn’t difficult. It probably isn’t that much harder than it was generations ago. The fact that everyone believes otherwise shows how reliance on a single set of data — in this case, institutional admission rates — can create a false sense of what’s really going on.”

6. When Doping Isn’t Cheating

“Even Tylenol has been shown to boost endurance performance by 2 percent.”

7. Epiphany, With Encyclopedias

“It should be no surprise that for-profit scammers look for insecurities about the failure to succeed as ‘pain points’ — in the jargon of the new sales pitch — to pressure women, veterans and the unemployed into borrowing many thousands to pay for bogus courses as useless as the encyclopedia I was selling decades ago.”

8. When Whites Just Don’t Get It, Part 5

“Researchers once showed people sketches of a white man with a knife confronting an unarmed black man in the subway. In one version of the experiment, 59 percent of research subjects later reported that it had been the black man who held the knife.”

9. Sex and the Saints

“At the very least the church should make it clear that religious leaders cannot have sex with young girls just because an angel told them it was O.K. to do so.”

10. Can Mushrooms Treat Depression?

“A range of studies have suggested that controlled doses of psilocybin can help the user escape cognitive ruts of all sorts.”

11. Is Our Art Equal to the Challenges of Our Times?

“We are in the midst of hard times now, and it feels as if art is failing us.”

12. Elvis, Brooding and Alienated

“The Presley persona was produced at a moment when America’s self-image was in flux. The King achieved his televised apotheosis in 1956, a year that brought The Searchers and began with the Montgomery bus boycott. Flaming Star opened amid lunch-counter sit-ins, little more than a month after the United States elected its first Roman Catholic president. Although the movie is explicitly concerned with the conflict between white settlers and Native Americans, its coded casting, as well as the moment at which it was released, bespeak an even larger historical issue.”

13. On Instagram, Celebrities Have Jokes … Especially About Kim Kardashian

“Instagram has become the place where celebrities can mock other celebrities without the meanspiritedness usually associated with Twitter. Instagram photos cannot be reposted, which doesn’t lend itself to flame wars like those on Twitter. (There, popularity is predicated on retweets and viral comments that can blow up in a celebrity’s face overnight.) If Twitter, at times, resembles a brawl in the parking lot, Instagram seems more like gossip at the local bar.”

14. Got a Best Seller? Chipotle May Come Calling.

“A novel conceived in a prestigious Midwestern graduate workshop, polished for years in a Brooklyn brownstone and edited in a Manhattan publishing house carries a whiff of artisanal craftsmanship not so far off from that of medicinal cocktails and locally sourced furniture.”

15. Do Online Death Threats Count as Free Speech?

“What matters more: one person’s freedom to express violent rage, or another person’s freedom to live without the burden of fear?”

16. The Business Tycoons of Airbnb

“According to its fans, Airbnb, along with the car-sharing company Uber, and others, is leading us into a less wasteful, more virtuous future. In it, anyone with excess time or space — or a car and a driver’s license — can easily become an entrepreneur with little to no start-up costs. But the reality is that these markets also tend to attract a class of well-heeled professional operators, who outperform the amateurs — just like the rest of the economy.”

Sunday 11.23.2014 New York Times Digest

23lede2-articleLarge1. The Dark Side of Zootopia

“Whatever thrill is to be derived from staring at a captive tiger is quickly dispelled by the animal’s predicament. Awe gives way to abashment and then to a nearly inexpressible loneliness over being the only beast that does this to another. As such, any zoo, in whatever form, becomes not a demonstration of our prowess so much as a pathetically confused and protracted apology made to a series of wholly diminished and uninterested subjects.”

2. Download: John Mackey

“I don’t travel with the Vitamix because you’ll never get it through security because it’s got those blades. Trust me, I’ve tried it.”

3. Promiscuous College Come-Ons

“Ideally, colleges should want students whose interest in them is genuine, and students should be figuring out which colleges suit them best, not applying indiscriminately to schools that have encouraged that by making it as painless (and heedless) as possible.”

4. Studying for the Test by Taking It

“Tests should work for the student, not the other way around.”

5. Companions in Misery

“The ancient Stoics also proposed that we stop complaining, that we minimize negative emotions like sadness and anger in order to maximize joy, tranquillity and peace of mind. The former set will lead to a miserable life while the latter will lead to a good life ‘in accordance with nature.’ They believed that misery is rooted in trying to control things that are out of our hands (wealth, honors and reputation) instead of working on those things that we do have control over (desires, aversions and opinions).”

6. How to Defeat the Impulse Buy

“While feeling happy doesn’t do much to increase patience, feeling grateful does.”

7. Writing to the Beat

“I’ve always been fascinated by triplets — a series of three notes played in the time value of two notes — and prided myself in mastering the ability, as a drummer must, to divide my mind in half so that my right hand thinks in sets of threes while my left thinks in twos. We call it three-against-two. Of course, I did not invent the application of triplets to literature. In the world of words, the third time is also and often a charm. Have you noticed? ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ ‘Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.’ ‘Truth, justice and the American way.’”

8. Up Next, a Classic Who Loves Old Films

“Hi, I’m Robert Osborne.”

9. Those Who Know Kanye, or Wish They Did

Here is what happens when Kanye West believes in you … Here is what happens when Kanye West indulges you … Here is what happens when Kanye West leans on you … Here is what happens when Kanye West feels protective of you … Here is what happens when Kanye West does not know you exist ….”

10. How to Find a Job With Meditation and Mindfulness

“There could not be two less compatible concepts: the quiet of the ancient practice of meditation and the heart thump of striving New Yorkers looking for the next opportunity. Now, meditation studios and conferences catering to Type A Manhattan careerists are becoming a new hub for networking without the crass obviousness of looking for a job.”

11. Crisis Negotiators Give Thanksgiving Tips

“How might a hostage negotiator help the average American family get through Thanksgiving?”

12. Jaden and Willow Smith on Prana Energy, Time and Why School is Overrated

“You piece it together. You piece together those little moments of inspiration.”

13. Fahrenheit 451, Read by Tim Robbins

“We seem to have forgotten what gives the novel its enduring, prophetic power. It is indeed a story about a world where books are outlawed and burned, but it is also a tale about the value of intellect, the importance of information and the singular, irreplaceable experience of reading books as books — as physical, palpable and precious objects.”

14. A Chosen Exile, by Allyson Hobbs

“Hobbs tells the curious story of the ­upper-class black couple Albert and Thyra Johnston. Married to Thyra in 1924, Albert graduated from medical school but couldn’t get a job as a black doctor, and passed as white in order to gain entry to a reputable hospital. His ruse worked and he and his wife became pillars of an all-white New Hampshire community. For 20 years, he was the town doctor and she was the center of the town’s social world. Their stately home served as the community hub, and there they raised their four children, who believed they were white. Then one day, when their eldest son made an off-the-cuff comment about a black student at his boarding school, Albert blurted out, ‘Well, you’re colored.’”

15. The Chain, by Ted Genoways

“A healthy, virtuous diet is still dependent on a work force vulnerable to wage theft, sexual harassment and even slavery in the fields.”

16. The Republic of Imagination, by Azar Nafisi

The Republic of Imagination bills itself as an exploration of American culture and values through the careful examination of three works of literature: Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt and Carson McCullers’s The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. (There is also an epilogue that focuses on James Baldwin, which might be seen as a nod to diversity, though Nafisi explicitly disclaims any tendency toward ‘political correctness.’) She hopes to use these literary works to demonstrate certain ideas she has about the American mind, the American way of life and American writing in general. She also intends to put forward a larger theory about the function of literature in relation to society — its enduring importance and meaning within any culture.”

17. How Disney Turned Frozen Into a Cash Cow

“In January, Frozen wedding dresses go on sale for $1,200.”

18. The Secret Life of Passwords

“There is more to passwords than their annoyance. In our authorship of them, in the fact that we construct them so that we (and only we) will remember them, they take on secret lives. Many of our passwords are suffused with pathos, mischief, sometimes even poetry. Often they have rich back stories. A motivational mantra, a swipe at the boss, a hidden shrine to a lost love, an inside joke with ourselves, a defining emotional scar — these keepsake passwords, as I came to call them, are like tchotchkes of our inner lives. They derive from anything: Scripture, horoscopes, nicknames, lyrics, book passages. Like a tattoo on a private part of the body, they tend to be intimate, compact and expressive.”