Sunday 8.23.2015 New York Times Digest

Luc Sante's Desk
1. The Writer’s Room

“Under the canopy of a tree, near a closet full of sweets, with the ghost of a famous painter, six authors on the spaces where they work.”

2. To Gain a Student, Eliminate a Form

“The widely despised form known as the Fafsa (which stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is unnecessary.”

3. Dinner and Deception

“You experience a special rush when your job is to project an aura of warmth and hospitality while maintaining an almost clinical emotional distance. It’s the thrill of the con.”

4. Living in the Ring of Fire

“The larger question, from Seattle to Sagamore Hill, is how we fit disaster into our daily lives — a pact with the known unknown. There is no such thing as a safe place on this earth. More than 90 percent of Americans live in an area with at least a moderate risk of tornadoes, or wildfires, or hurricanes, or floods, or earthquakes. Not to mention the larger threat of climate change, exacerbating most of the above.”

5. The Antiheroes Wear Stetsons and Ride Tall on a Rebellion Frontier

“From the advent of the Cold War to the fall of Saigon, no American movie genre was more relevant than the western, with its allegorical echoes of race, crime, conquest and American exceptionalism.”

6. The Shape of the New, by Scott L. Montgomery and Daniel Chirot

“Montgomery and Chirot make the case for the importance of four powerful ideas, rooted in the European Enlightenment, that have created the world as we know it. ‘Invading armies can be resisted,’ they quote Victor Hugo. ‘Invading ideas cannot be.’”

7. The Road Not Taken, by David Orr

“The poem is neither an ode nor a dark joke but somehow both at once. It doesn’t accept or reject its myth of choice but sets us up to feel the tensions involved in having to choose, as if each reader were the traveler. His decision might have been arbitrary, it might have been meaningful. It might have changed him deeply, it might not have. The options ‘blur and merge,’ Orr writes; they are ‘like overlapping ghosts.’”

8. Kevyn Aucoin’s Making Faces

Making Faces transformed Aucoin, at 35, into an instant expert on the art of being beautiful. He published three such coffee-­table treatises in all, but Faces is his masterpiece, the purest distillation of his view that makeup is performance, an opportunity for women (and drag queens, of course) to gleefully metamorphose with just a few sweeps of a brush. When Making Faces came out, we had no Sephora, no YouTube tutorial to lay bare the intricacies of the smoky eye. What Aucoin did, first with The Art of Makeup in 1996 and then with Making Faces, was give us a codex, a working syllabus, a kind of Joy of Cooking with kohl.”

9. Candy Brain

“It turns out that even mild stress may immediately alter the workings of our brains in ways that undermine willpower.”

10. The Creative Apocalypse That Wasn’t

“How is today’s creative class faring compared with its predecessor a decade and a half ago? The answer isn’t simple, and the data provides ammunition for conflicting points of view. It turns out that Ulrich was incontrovertibly correct on one point: Napster did pose a grave threat to the economic value that consumers placed on recorded music. And yet the creative apocalypse he warned of has failed to arrive. Writers, performers, directors and even musicians report their economic fortunes to be similar to those of their counterparts 15 years ago, and in many cases they have improved. Against all odds, the voices of the artists seem to be louder than ever.”

11. Female BFFs: The New Power Couples

“Lately, we’ve been inundated with images of real-life best friends, triumphantly displayed. It’s difficult to get through a day on the Internet without looking at photos of women flaunting the depth of their intimacy by posing over dinner or watching television together in matching pajamas. We now flick through images not of celebrity couples but of celebrity friends: Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj eating hamburgers in matching varsity jackets; Taylor Swift with Karlie Kloss, Lorde, Selena Gomez, Ellie Goulding, Lena Dunham, her cat Olivia, the entire runway lineup of a Victoria’s Secret show; the U.S. women’s soccer team.”

12. In Praise of Sensible Panties

“The price reflects the craftsmanship; this is sensible underwear that defies American notions of buying in bulk. One would own, I supposed, seven pairs, wash them every Sunday in a finely calibrated Miele or Bosch machine and dry them on a mountaintop.”

13. In Japan, History Has No Place

“Modernity is always fashionable in Japan, but nothing looks more out of date than yesterday’s version of tomorrow.”

To Live and Die in L.A.

I’m a big fan of the movie and I listen to the soundtrack with this song on it all the time but somehow I had never seen this video until Ian Petrie tweeted it to me last night. I’m glad he did.

Sunday 8.16.2015 New York Times Digest

APPLIED-blog427

1. Looking for a Breakthrough? Study Says to Make Time for Tedium

“Innovation isn’t all about eureka moments. In fact, the road to creative breakthroughs is paved with mundane, workaday tasks.”

2. AT&T Helped U.S. Spy on Internet on a Vast Scale

“The National Security Agency’s ability to spy on vast quantities of Internet traffic passing through the United States has relied on its extraordinary, decades-long partnership with a single company: the telecom giant AT&T.”

3. Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace

“A woman who had thyroid cancer was given a low performance rating after she returned from treatment. She says her manager explained that while she was out, her peers were accomplishing a great deal. Another employee who miscarried twins left for a business trip the day after she had surgery. ‘I’m sorry, the work is still going to need to get done,’ she said her boss told her. ‘From where you are in life, trying to start a family, I don’t know if this is the right place for you.’ A woman who had breast cancer was told that she was put on a ‘performance improvement plan’ — Amazon code for ‘you’re in danger of being fired’ — because ‘difficulties’ in her ‘personal life’ had interfered with fulfilling her work goals. Their accounts echoed others from workers who had suffered health crises and felt they had also been judged harshly instead of being given time to recover. A former human resources executive said she was required to put a woman who had recently returned after undergoing serious surgery, and another who had just had a stillborn child, on performance improvement plans, accounts that were corroborated by a co-worker still at Amazon. ‘What kind of company do we want to be?’ the executive recalled asking her bosses. The mother of the stillborn child soon left Amazon. ‘I had just experienced the most devastating event in my life,’ the woman recalled via email, only to be told her performance would be monitored ‘to make sure my focus stayed on my job.’”

4. Key & Peele’ Ends While Nation Could Still Use a Laugh

“In its absence, there may be no alternative that so frankly addresses these enduring prejudices and disparities, especially at a moment when America’s racial divide has taken center stage in the national discourse.”

5. Nick Symmonds, a Sidelined Track Star, Continues to Break From the Pack

“Symmonds has long gone his own way. He is an avid hunter and fisherman who has campaigned for animal rights and gun control. He has been an advocate for gay rights and, most visibly, a forceful activist for enhancing the voice and earning power of professional track and field athletes.”

6. When You’re in Charge, Your Whisper May Feel Like a Shout

“The powerful are often oblivious to their impact. Holding power, as my research shows, reduces one’s capacity to appreciate how one’s words and gestures may affect others. As I studied power and reflected on my own experiences, I realized that three types of communications become amplified by power: direct communication, silence and ambiguity.”

7. How California Is Winning the Drought

“By almost every measure except precipitation, California is doing fine. Not just fine: California is doing fabulously.”

8. The Closing of the Canadian Mind

“The Harper years have seen a subtle darkening of Canadian life.”

9. Screwball With a Whiff of Menace

“In a recent sit-down at the Crosby Street Hotel in SoHo, the couple ticked off a list of the films that resonated most for them in making Mistress America and discussed them with glee, frequently finishing each other’s thoughts. ‘The best thing is talking about other people’s movies,’ Mr. Baumbach said. Ms. Gerwig added, ‘It’s so much easier than talking about your own.’”

10. Sam Elliott, a Leading Man Again at 71, No Cowboy Hat Required

“Mr. Elliott is definitely having a moment.”

11. Sound Baths Move From Metaphysical to Mainstream

“Once found only at New Age retreats or the white-domed Integratron in the Mojave Desert, sound baths are now offered all over Southern California. Celebrities such as Robert Downey Jr., Charlize Theron, Laurence Fishburne and Robert Trujillo of Metallica have participated. Sound healers, sometimes called ‘sounders,’ say the vibrations can relax brain-wave patterns, lower heart rate, reduce stress and pain, relieve anxiety and sometimes help with post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.”

12. Ta-Nehisi Coates: By the Book

“I don’t really understand how anyone could be a writer and ‘avoid’ any genre. It seems contrary to the very idea of writing, to discovery, to understanding. I read whatever I can, whenever I can.”

13. How ‘Rock Star’ Became a Business Buzzword

“Pretty much anyone can be a ‘rock star’ these days — except actual rock stars, who are encouraged to think of themselves as brands.”

14. Personal (Search) History

“We obsess over our self-presentation on social media, while constantly leaving traces of our true selves elsewhere, often without even realizing it. Call it ‘dark data’: the trail of information collected by companies like Amazon, Seamless and Uber about what we really do in our free time, about our splurges and snack preferences — all those unsharable details that we rarely boast about on our feeds.”

15. Rescuing Wildlife Is Futile, and Necessary

“Tending animals until they are fit to be returned to the wild feels like an act of resistance, redress, even redemption.”

16. The Bail Trap

“Of the 2.2 million people currently locked up in this country, fewer than one in 10 is being held in a federal prison. Far more are serving time in state prisons, and nearly three-quarters of a million aren’t in prison at all but in local city and county jails. Of those in jails, 60 percent haven’t been convicted of anything. They’re innocent in the eyes of the law, awaiting resolution in their cases. Some of these inmates are being held because they’re considered dangerous or unlikely to return to court for their hearings. But many of them simply cannot afford to pay the bail that has been set.”

17. Welcome to Liberland, the World’s Newest Country (Maybe)

“An avowed small-government libertarian and euroskeptic, he searched for two years for suitable territory on which to establish Liberland. The man he intermittently calls minister of information technology eventually discovered the plot via consultation of the ‘terra nullius’ entry on Wikipedia. According to the homestead principle, as well as the rules stipulated by the Montevideo Convention of 1933, Jedlicka felt the land was technically his after the flag-planting rite, carried out by Jedlicka, his girlfriend and a college friend. Though he claims he did not seek political office himself, and he in fact recused himself from the initial round of voting, Jedlicka was immediately elected the nation’s first president by a vote of two to zero.”

Sitting Down to Write

“I sit down to write, praying that I can sustain attention long enough to complete a paragraph. I compose half a sentence, type in a word or two that might push the thing to the finish, crave a break from the exhausting demands of syntax, click-click, and I’m at my home page, and I click my way to my e-mail. Maybe the editor says yes or there’s an invitation from someone to contribute or lecture or just some person who loves my book and is writing to say so or maybe a friend asking for lunch, anything to tweak my ego, desperate-needy, or give me something to think about other than the next phrase or clause, and as usual, nothing, not one goddamn thing. ‘Is my college’s server down?’ I wonder; ‘it’s been thirty minutes since I’ve gotten an email, for fuck’s sake; surely the silence shouldn’t be so long,’ and I soar, cursor-wise, up to bookmarks, go to sportsillustrated.com, must get the latest on LeBron James, same info as last time, ten minutes ago, and so click to Facebook, no message or friend request, so check out what George from my high school is doing, oh, having a second cup of coffee, and now there’s Valerie from the neighborhood posting another article on the mistreatment of otters (I just checked my e-mail right now, this minute, tenth time in the past five minutes), and I’ve got to get back to the writing, but one more—click-click—over the New York Times page.”

—Eric G. Wilson, Keep It Fake: Inventing an Authentic Life

Work All the Jobs

“Worked in slaughterhouse, dog biscuit factory, Di Pinna’s of Miami beach, copy boy on the New Orleans’ Item, blood bank in Frisco, hung posters in New York subways 40 feet below the sky drunk hopping beautiful golden third rails, cotton in Berdo, tomatoes; shipping clerk, truck driver, horseplayer ordinary, holder down of barstools throughout a dull alarmclock nation, supported by shackjob whores; foreman for American newsco., New York, Sears-Roebuck stock boy, gas station attendant, mailman…”

—Charles Bukowski, from the forthcoming On Writing

(Via Lit Hub.)

Sunday 8.9.2015 New York Times Digest

North Dakota
1. In North Dakota, Boom, Bust and Oil

“People have been drawn to North Dakota for strange reasons at least since Lewis and Clark’s time.”

2. Twisting Words to Make ‘Sharing’ Apps Seem Selfless

“What I find problematic is the terminology itself and how it frames technology-enabled transactions as if they were altruistic or community endeavors.”

3. At Sea With Joseph Conrad

“He recognized that technological progress, for all its much-heralded benefits, comes with social and ethical costs. To operate a sailing ship was to master a ‘craft.’ You had to observe and interpret nature, adapt and react to fast-changing conditions, obey without question, decide without doubt, toil without pause. The craft connotes more than a clutch of skills; it is a code for how to live. It turns a sailing ship into a ‘fellowship,’ a community forged by shared values.”

4. A Prudent College Path

“More and more public schools are starting, expanding, refining and successfully promoting honors programs, and particularly honors colleges, that give students some of the virtues and perks of private schools without some of the drawbacks, such as exorbitant tuition and an enclave of extreme privilege.”

5. Jon Stewart, Patron Saint of Liberal Smugness

“Liberals turn out to be just as prone to their own forms of intolerance, ignorance and bias. But the beliefs are comforting to many. They give their bearers a sense of intellectual and even moral superiority. And they affect behavior. They inform the condescension and self-righteousness with which liberals often treat conservatives.”

6. What Selfie Sticks Really Tell Us About Ourselves

“The basic need to be acknowledged, or even adored, is perhaps why so many have become their own Hollywood directors, attaching cameras to sticks and sometimes drones to enhance the production value of their lives. The recent selfie-stick bans have been interpreted by some who study the selfie phenomenon as more a cultural movement in favor of authenticity and self-possession than the elimination of an annoyance or possible safety threat.”

7. Capitalists, Arise: We Need to Deal With Income Inequality

“We are creating a caste system from which it’s almost impossible to escape, except for the few with exceptional brains, athletic skills or luck. That’s why I’m scared. We risk losing the capitalist engine that brought us great economic success and our way of life.”

8. The Great Victorian Weather Wars

“Religious men doubted whether anyone could pretend to know the mind of God, while scientists attacked the admiral’s lack of theory and penny-pinching members of Parliament complained about the cost of telegraphy. He struggled with the diplomatic challenge of securing data from rival powers like France, and with the inevitable, sometimes costly failures of his weather forecasting. The burden became too much. Depressed and ailing, on April 30, 1865, he locked himself in his dressing room and cut his throat with a razor.”

9. An N.W.A. Biopic Heads Straight Into Mainstream

“If hip-hop was still primarily an underdog story, this would be understandable, but the genre is at the center of pop culture, both commercially and aesthetically. It’s minted several generations of stars. Film is maybe the last place it’s infantilized.”

10. Do You Have Change for a Bowie? The Advent of Artisanal Cash

“As Bitcoin, PayPal and other electronic forms of payment grow in popularity in the global economy, cash in a growing number of places — not only Bristol and Brixton, but also Amsterdam; Ithaca, N.Y.; and elsewhere — is becoming quite literally an artisanal object.”

11. A Master’s Degree in … Masculinity?

“You’ve heard of women’s studies, right? Well, this is men’s studies: the academic pursuit of what it means to be male in today’s world. Dr. Kimmel is the founder and director of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities at Stony Brook University, part of the State University of New York system, which will soon start the first master’s degree program in ‘masculinities studies.’”

12. I’m Too Old for This

“One day recently I emptied out an old trunk. It had been locked for years; I had lost the key and forgotten what was in there. But, curiosity getting the best of me on a rainy afternoon, I managed to pry it open with a screwdriver. It was full of photographs. There I was, ages 4 to 40. And I saw for the first time that even when I was in the depths of despair about my looks, I had been beautiful.”

13. What It’s Really Like to Be an Airline Pilot

“Air is the medium and we’re dealing with it in so many technical ways. So where there are breaks in that cocoon-ness, like where the jetway bridge meets the plane, we often get this blast of heat, as we did today getting off the 747, or Chicago cold. To me, it’s kind of this nice reminder of what it is we’re actually moving through. Often, you get a smell of the city. In Boston, you can really smell the harbor sometimes. Even before you land sometimes you can get a little bit of a smell of salt in the air.”

14. Can a Virtuous Character Be Interesting?

“Being good is to feel far more at odds with the world than being bad does.”

15. The Tough Love of ‘Austerity’

“‘Austerity’ has become the catchall word for the cost-cutting a government enacts in order to balance its books: Cut pensions, cut the public payroll, cut social services — cut whatever and wherever. Shrink spending, shrink debt, shrink deficits. The idea is to inspire confidence and make the place more attractive to investors, who prefer a government that’s tough and lean to one that’s marbled and tender.”

16. He’s Got Legs

“The most rigorous rebuttals of the anti-shorts view emanate from the archives of the Men’s Dress Reform Party, a flock of odd ducks active in Britain between 1929 and 1937. Following the example of feminists like Amelia ­Bloomer, whose name graced the trousers that freed suffragists from corsetry and heavy skirts, the group sought to rescue men’s clothing from the ‘rut of ugliness and unhealthiness’ into which they felt it had sunk. The party preferred open-necked shirts to stiff collars, sandals to shoes and anything to a frock coat. Skeptical of long trousers, it promoted shorts (and kilts) as instruments of physical and moral hygiene.”

17. How to Project Power

“Don’t bother overexplaining yourself. Speak succinctly. Take ownership of the space around you, whether it’s a boardroom or a cubicle. ‘Say to yourself: “This is my room. This is my table. This is my audience,”’ Gruenfeld says. Most people, women especially, tend to underestimate their standing and worry about being pushy and bossy long before others perceive that to be the case.”

18. Out of the Woods

“In 1979, a gay rights activist, communist and Angeleno named Harry Hay — a founder of a neo-­pagan countercultural movement called the Radical Faeries — urged gay men to ‘throw off the ugly green frog skin of hetero-imitation.’ Instead of fighting for the rights that straights had, like marriage and adoption, the faeries believed that to be gay was to possess a unique nature and a special destiny apart from straight people, and that this destiny would reach its full flowering in the wilds of rural America. So it was perhaps fitting that the faeries began to refer to their secluded outposts as sanctuaries. There are more than a dozen loosely affiliated sanctuaries across three continents today, but in the same year that Hay made his pronouncement, the mother ship of the faeries landed on Short Mountain, one of the tallest points in Middle Tennessee. It remains home to what is almost certainly the largest, oldest, best known and most visited planned community for lesbian, gay and transgender people in the country, a place that one local described to me as a veritable Gayberry, U.S.A.”

Philip Glass: Taxi Driver

Dan Wang on composer Philip Glass, who came out with a memoir earlier this year:

Glass didn’t work just as a taxi driver and as a (self-taught) plumber. He also worked in a steel factory, as a gallery assistant, and as a furniture mover. He continued doing these jobs until the age of 41, when a commission from the Netherlands Opera decisively freed him from having to drive taxis.… He seemed uninterested in stabilizing his position with more regular income. He never took up an honorary conductor position. He never ensconced himself in a plush conservatory professorship. And he didn’t even apply for grants because he didn’t like that they imposed terms.… Other music students may spend their Juilliard prize monies to practice and compose, but he bought a motorcycle so that he can ride around the country. When people made fun of him for appearing in a whiskey ad, he retorted: “It seemed to me that people who didn’t have to sell out… must have had rich parents.”

Related post: “Key to the Whole Thing.”

(Via Kottke.)