Sunday 03.29.2015 New York Times Digest


1. Learning to See Data

“The information is all there, great expanding mountain ranges of it. What’s lacking is the tracker’s instinct for picking up a trail, the human gut feeling for where to start looking to find patterns and meaning. But can such creative instincts really be trained systematically?”

2. In Silicon Valley, Auto Racing Becomes a Favorite Hobby for Tech Elites

“Over the last year or so, racing seems to have become the Valley’s ‘it’ hobby. There are informal groups of drivers at Apple, Facebook and Google who get together to rent out local tracks. As a reporter who covers the industry, I’ve received three separate invitations from sources in the past few months. ‘By the way, are you into cars?’ they’ll say. ‘Ever gone out on a track?’”

3. A Wi-Fi Barbie Doll With the Soul of Siri

“This fall, Mattel plans to introduce Hello Barbie, a Wi-Fi enabled version of the iconic doll, which uses ToyTalk’s system to analyze a child’s speech and produce relevant responses.”

4. The Passive House in New York

“Kurt Roeloffs renovated his townhouse on West 88th Street in Manhattan using passive systems that he says did not add any extra costs to the renovation. Since moving in this past November, he’s been nothing but satisfied living in his home, where the temperature is a constant 72 degrees, and he can walk around barefoot in a T-shirt in total comfort in the winter. ‘We were so impressed with how quiet it is, and how comfortable it is,’ he said. ‘The air just smells fresh and sweet, even after we cook, because the filters get rid of it so quickly.’ His house uses an energy recovery ventilator, which pushes out stale air while drawing in fresh air, exchanging heat in the process. During the winter, heat from the exhausted air is transferred to the incoming cold air; and in summer, heat and humidity are drawn out of incoming air and transferred to the outgoing stale air.”

5. Tweeting Mom’s Goodbye

“A Twitter feed can be the 21st-century equivalent of a papyrus scroll or a folk ballad: scraps of our lives that we share with the larger world. Life-changing experiences can move us to pass along what we believe we’ve learned. We want to shout about a birth into the heavens. We want to place the face of someone we’ve lost in the stars. We want people to know. Social media has become the first line of our utterly human response.”

6. Should We Keep a Low Profile in Space?

“There’s now a perception that advertising our existence could be a mortal threat to the planet.”

7. What Starbucks Is Ditching Along With CDs

“Now, when record labels send physical copies of CDs rather than email digital files, it seems like an imposition — I know, a real first-world problem, but I live in Brooklyn. Who has space for all of this? A friend of mine, also a critic, used to live among towers of CDs, to the point they threatened to take over his entire apartment. I imagined the Fire Department one day having to break in and rescue him from a toppled pile, pinned under stacks of Maroon 5 promos, the worst way to die.”

8. Paul Walker’s Films, Beyond The Fast and the Furious

“Mr. Walker was the cool, laid-back California dude who often seemed to be having a ball on screen. In most of his films, he ran with a diverse crew and was ready with a bro handshake and a quick laugh.”

9. Baselworld, Where the Watch Is Still the Greatest Gadget

“‘We like machines because we can relate to them kinesthetically. There’s something about force being transmitted through gears that we can relate to on a physical level. With watches, we feel that there is something in some inexplicable way alive about them, in a way that electronics are not.’ And that’s the problem with any battery-powered time keeper, be it quartz watch or smartwatch: ‘The minute you put it on your wrist,’ Mr. Forster said, ‘it starts to die.’”

10. She Sounds Smart, but Look at Her Hair!

“In our reality-show era, anyone who steps in front of the camera is subject to a Joan Rivers-style red-carpet dissection.”

11. Unplugging Without FOMO

“In this day and age, it is expected that you know all the unnecessary tidbits. But ask people what they think about death, the process of birth or the caste system in India, and they have no idea what to think.”

12. Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be and The End of College

“Ultimately, these are both utopian books. Perhaps Bruni speaks for both authors when he writes that ‘college has the potential to confront and challenge some of the most troubling political and social aspects of contemporary life; to muster a pre-emptive strike against them; to be a staging ground for behaving in a different, healthier way.’ But he looks backward with nostalgia at what may be lost if Carey’s futuristic vision materializes: the transformative experiences of different people learning in a room together.”

13. Shrinks, by Jeffrey A. Lieberman with Ogi Ogas

“Lieberman recognizes that many people remain skeptical about his specialty and uncomfortable with the notion of mental illness generally. It’s one thing for somebody to suffer from a malfunctioning of the body’s infrastructure, like ­thyroid disease or appendicitis. But mental illness targets the mind, the seat of the self, and its symptoms are often disguised as personal defects — laziness, weakness, a bad attitude. Lieberman tells the story of an unidentified celebrity and his wife, who brought their Yale-student daughter to him for advice. The daughter had been behaving erratically, skipping classes, ­accusing her sorority sisters of theft, insisting to a professor that James Joyce was speaking to her in code. After a lengthy interview and a series of medical tests and scans to rule out alternatives, Lieberman concluded that the daughter suffered from schizophrenia and recommended she be hospitalized for her initial treatment. The famous father was indignant, insisting, ‘She doesn’t need to be locked up in a hospital, for God’s sake. She just needs to buckle down and get her act together!’ Despite parental balking, the daughter spent three weeks in the hospital, where she was prescribed the antipsychotic drug risperidone along with cognitive and group therapy sessions, and her condition improved dramatically. Yet after her release, Lieberman said, her parents’ skepticism again took hold, the daughter received no further outpatient treatment and she very likely relapsed into psychosis.”

14. What’s More Important to You: the Initial Rush of Prose or the Self-Editing and Revision That Come After It?

“I write to find what I have to say. I edit to figure out how to say it right.”

15. Debunking the Myth of the Job-Stealing Immigrant

“It might seem intuitive that when there is an increase in the supply of workers, the ones who were here already will make less money or lose their jobs. Immigrants don’t just increase the supply of labor, though; they simultaneously increase demand for it, using the wages they earn to rent apartments, eat food, get haircuts, buy cellphones. That means there are more jobs building apartments, selling food, giving haircuts and dispatching the trucks that move those phones. Immigrants increase the size of the overall population, which means they increase the size of the economy. Logically, if immigrants were ‘stealing’ jobs, so would every young person leaving school and entering the job market; countries should become poorer as they get larger. In reality, of course, the opposite happens.”

16. An Upbeat Emotion That’s Surprisingly Good for You

“A new study singles out one surprising emotion as a potent medicine: awe. And happily, awe seems to be much easier to come by than many might expect, even for the busy and stressed-out.”

17. Inside America’s Toughest Federal Prison

“How did the toughest prison in the United States become a mental asylum — one incapable of controlling its own population?”

18. Prison Planet

“Different nations take very different approaches to the convicts they deem the most dangerous. From Russia’s prison island to Saudi Arabia’s unexpectedly cushy cellblocks, here are some of the most notable.”

19. The Radical Humaneness of Norway’s Halden Prison

“To anyone familiar with the American correctional system, Halden seems alien. Its modern, cheerful and well-­appointed facilities, the relative freedom of movement it offers, its quiet and peaceful atmosphere — these qualities are so out of sync with the forms of imprisonment found in the United States that you could be forgiven for doubting whether Halden is a prison at all. It is, of course, but it is also something more: the physical expression of an entire national philosophy about the relative merits of punishment and forgiveness.”

20. Let’s Talk (Frankly) About Sex

“The first hour of each class amounts to an informative stand-up routine — Metzger sticks a sanitary pad on her shoulder to show that it won’t slip around — but the second hour is devoted to answering the girls’ questions. Metzger believes that having kids pose questions fosters intimacy and allows parents to hear for themselves what their children’s concerns are. In the first class, when the focus is on the physical changes caused by puberty, Metzger tends to be asked: Why do we have pubic hair? What does it feel like to have a growth spurt? How do I know when I’m getting my period?”

21. Loving the Unlovable Decade

“In contrast to the pared-down discipline of midcentury style, the ’70s were sensual and decadent. People were unafraid to take risks. The furniture was made for hanging out, lounging or sex — activities infinitely more tempting than what was going on in the places where postwar design made its mark: schools, offices and hospitals. Imagine trying to make out on a Barcelona Chair.”

22. The Writer’s Room

“Surrounded by photographs, family mementos and the clamor of everyday life, seven authors offer a glimpse into the spaces where they create.”

How Fran Lebowitz Cares for Her Clothes

“I take very good care of my clothes. When I get home, I instantly hang up my jacket. If it’s hot outside, I’ll hang it on the shower rod so that it can air out a bit before I put it away. That’s the first thing I do. Then I’ll hang up my shirt if I’m going to wear it again that night, and I change into another shirt that I just wear around the house. It’s from high school and has holes in it. I love it because it’s mine and because nobody sees me in it, ever. I put my cufflinks in their little box. I shoeshine once a week. My jeans go in the washing machine, my shirts go out (they’re starched), and my clothes that need to be dry-cleaned go to the most expensive dry-cleaner. I dry-clean as infrequently as possible—not only because it’s psychotically expensive, but also because who knows what it does to the clothes? Dry…clean. These words don’t go together. Wet clean—that is how you clean. I can’t even imagine the things they do at the drycleaner. I don’t want to know.”

Fran Lebowitz

Sunday 03.22.2015 New York Times Digest

Trigger Warning

1. In College and Hiding From Scary Ideas

“While keeping college-level discussions ‘safe’ may feel good to the hypersensitive, it’s bad for them and for everyone else. People ought to go to college to sharpen their wits and broaden their field of vision. Shield them from unfamiliar ideas, and they’ll never learn the discipline of seeing the world as other people see it. They’ll be unprepared for the social and intellectual headwinds that will hit them as soon as they step off the campuses whose climates they have so carefully controlled. What will they do when they hear opinions they’ve learned to shrink from? If they want to change the world, how will they learn to persuade people to join them?”

2. How Tim Gunn of ‘Project Runway’ Spends His Sunday

“On Sundays, Mr. Gunn, 61, who lives on the Upper West Side, turns his focus inward in order to ‘heal and repair.’”

3. For College Basketball Players, Skin Is No Longer In

“Players on the court, like starlets on a red carpet, prefer to bare their arms and hide their legs.”

4. Documentaries Are the Go-To Players of Sports Television

“This is a golden age for sports documentaries.”

5. We’re Frighteningly in the Dark About Student Debt

“We are remarkably ignorant about student debt. How many borrowers are delinquent on their federal loans? How does delinquency differ by amount of debt, income and education? Which colleges leave students underwater, with low earnings and large debts they can’t pay?”

6. Too Old to Commit Crime?

“Research by American social scientists shows that all but the most exceptional criminals, even violent ones, mature out of lawbreaking before middle age, meaning that long sentences do little to prevent crime.”

7. Viva Gentrification!

“Gentrification has produced an undeniable but little appreciated side effect: the end of decades of de facto racial segregation.”

8. Why Health Care Tech Is Still So Bad

“A 2013 RAND survey of physicians found mixed reactions to electronic health record systems, including widespread dissatisfaction. Many respondents cited poor usability, time-consuming data entry, needless alerts and poor work flows.”

9. The Math of March Madness

“Some competitors tried to gain advantage by factoring in lots of external information, like travel distance, seeding and performance in previous tournaments. Professors Lopez and Matthews kept it simple. Their algorithm used just two data sources for each game: the Las Vegas point spreads for the N.C.A.A. matchups and a set of offensive and defensive efficiency ratings developed by Ken Pomeroy, an independent basketball analyst.”

10. Kendrick Lamar on His New Album and the Weight of Clarity

“While some may question Kanye West’s conflicted materialism and ego or Drake’s emotional insularity — or, even the outlaw wisdom of Tupac, who cameos posthumously on To Pimp a Butterfly as a guardian angel — Mr. Lamar could be viewed as a more digestible rap messenger. In addition to being religious, he rarely drinks or smokes, eschews fancy clothes and jewelry and has reportedly been in a quiet, decade-long relationship with his high school sweetheart.”

11. The Metro Areas With the Largest, and Smallest, Gay Populations

“The Gallup analysis finds the largest concentrations in the West — and not just in the expected places like San Francisco and Portland, Ore. Among the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas, Denver and Salt Lake City are also in the top 10.”

12. The Age of Acquiescence, by Steve Fraser

“Fraser, a labor historian, argues that deepening economic hardship for the many, combined with ‘insatiable lust for excess’ for the few, qualifies our era as a second Gilded Age. But while contemporary wealth stratification shares much with the age of the robber barons, the popular response does not.”

13. Heaven’s Bankers, by Harris Irfan

“Like Christianity, Islam forbids usury (riba), but Islam applies this prohibition to any sort of interest. Islam also outlaws gharar, generally translated as ‘uncertainty’; this bars not just gambling but also short sales. Fundamentally, Islam does not allow money to be made from money — it must be made from a tangible asset that one owns and thus has the right to sell — and in financial transactions it demands that risk be shared. So in an Islamic mortgage, rather than lending someone money at interest to buy a house, the bank will buy the house outright and agree to sell it for a ‘cost plus amount,’ which the person living in the house can pay in fixed monthly rental installments. Sukuk behave like bonds, but they tend to be asset-backed, and the returns paid to investors come from those assets’ income streams.”

14. Thrift, by Andrew L. Yarrow

“Thrift meant more than mere saving. It was a larger philosophy of moderation, righteous living, hard work, self-control, responsibility to others and frugal husbanding of all resources, including nature.”

15. Culture Crash, by Scott Timberg

“After the financial crisis of 2008, jobs in graphic design fell by 19.8 percent over four years, in photography by 25.6 percent over seven years, and in architecture by 29.8 percent over three years. In 1999, recordings generated $14.6 billion in revenue to the music business; by 2012, the figure was down to $5.35 billion.”

16. Do Money Woes Spur Creativity or Stifle It?

“Anthony Trollope never stopped working for the post office.”

17. A Sucker Is Optimized Every Minute

“The gut is dead. Long live the data, turned out day and night by our myriad computers and smart devices. Not that we trust the data, as we once trusted our guts. Instead, we ‘optimize’ it. We optimize for it. We optimize with it.”

At Home with John Waters

Previously: John Waters’s Daily Routine.

Sunday 03.15.2015 New York Times Digest

TED Talks

1. The Church of TED

“I grew up among Christian evangelicals and I recognize the cadences of missionary zeal when I hear them. TED, with its airy promises, sounds a lot like a secular religion. And while it’s not exactly fair to say that the conference series and web video function like an organized church, understanding the parallel structures is useful for conversations about faith — and how susceptible we humans remain. The TED style, with its promise of progress, is as manipulative as the orthodoxies it is intended to upset.”

2. Brian Sutton-Smith, Scholar of What’s Fun, Dies at 90

“Why do we study play? We study play because life is crap. Life is crap, and it’s full of pain and suffering, and the only thing that makes it worth living — the only thing that makes it possible to get up in the morning and go on living — is play.”

3. A Frontier Land Dispute, Circa 2015, Pits Modernization Against the Past

“Everybody looks at it and says it’s just one house, or it’s just three houses. But once you add them up, we start losing enough of that historic fabric to where we really don’t have the identity anymore.”

4. A Chess Master Tries to Turn Rabbits Into Wolves

“He can recite Shakespeare sonnets upon request, as well as the poetry of Robert Frost and of Langston Hughes, in whose old Harlem brownstone Mr. Times lived for nine years, while writing poetry and teaching writing to at-risk students and in homeless shelters and drug rehabilitation programs in the 1990s.”

5. Wet Wipes Box Says Flush. New York’s Sewer System Says Don’t.

“Often, the wipes combine with other materials, like congealed grease, to create a sort of superknot.”

6. For Tech Titans, Sharing Has Its Limits

“Some people requiring nondisclosure are the very ones who have built an industry on its opposite, the disclosure of personal information.”

7. How Many Mutual Funds Routinely Rout the Market? Zero

“Most people shouldn’t even try to beat the market: Just pick low-cost index funds, assemble a balanced and appropriate portfolio for your specific needs, and give up on active fund management.”

8. How to Survive the College Admissions Madness

“For every person whose contentment comes from faithfully executing a predetermined script, there are at least 10 if not 100 who had to rearrange the pages and play a part they hadn’t expected to, in a theater they hadn’t envisioned. Besides, life is defined by setbacks, and success is determined by the ability to rebound from them. And there’s no single juncture, no one crossroads, on which everything hinges.”

9. A Christian Nation? Since When?

“Back in the 1930s, business leaders found themselves on the defensive. Their public prestige had plummeted with the Great Crash; their private businesses were under attack by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal from above and labor from below. To regain the upper hand, corporate leaders fought back on all fronts. They waged a figurative war in statehouses and, occasionally, a literal one in the streets; their campaigns extended from courts of law to the court of public opinion. But nothing worked particularly well until they began an inspired public relations offensive that cast capitalism as the handmaiden of Christianity.”

10. What My Friends Mean to Me

“The whole enterprise is exhausting. And yet, one needs friends.”

11. Birth of a Freedom Anthem

“‘We Shall Overcome’ has roots in the antebellum period, when slaves sang ‘No More Auction Block,’ a spiritual with a similar message and tune. By the late 19th century, black churchgoers across the South embraced ‘I’ll Be All Right,’ a song almost identical in rhythm and melody to the civil rights anthem. And in 1900 a black Methodist minister, Charles Albert Tindley, published a hymn titled ‘I’ll Overcome Some Day,’ which included the line, ‘If in my heart, I do not yield, I’ll o-vercome some day.’”

12. Slavery’s Enduring Resonance

“If by some method of time travel the former slaves and slaveholders of Limerick plantation could be brought face to face with us, they would not find our world entirely alien. In place of the rural incarceration of four million black people, we have the mass incarceration of one million black men. In place of laws that prohibited black literacy throughout the South, we have campaigns by Tea Party and anti-tax fanatics to defund public schools within certain ZIP codes. And we have stop-and-search policing, and frequently much worse, in place of the slave patrols.”

13. Visiting Le Corbusier’s Grave

“She was cremated at her funeral. Corbu rescued the backbone from the ashes and showed it to stunned guests. For the rest of his life he kept the bone in his pants pocket, except when it was placed on his drafting table, so he could look at it as he worked.”

14. For Poorer and Richer

“In a substantially poorer American past with a much thinner safety net, lower-income Americans found a way to cultivate monogamy, fidelity, sobriety and thrift to an extent that they have not in our richer, higher-spending present.”

15. Sex and Violence, Beyond the Script

“While sexual misconduct and harassment policies have become more stringent in places from university campuses to dot-com start-ups, theater remains largely unregulated. And it is a unique work environment, one that asks employees to flirt and kiss, argue and fight, strip naked and simulate sex eight times a week for what can be months on end. After hours, sexual encounters are common among cast members; actors date one another, and directors sometimes date their actors. When powerful people behave badly, they have agents to protect them.”

16. Life or Movie? Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter and The Wolfpack Blur Lines

“As playfully asserted by the new film Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, a fantasia inspired by an urban myth, the title character (Rinko Kikuchi) has the power to make something real out of something fake — to remake and refashion the movie in her own image. It’s just the latest exploration of how modern humans have adapted their imaginations and identities in response to the recorded image. Movies play host to our fantasy lives and can even transform and define our day-to-day — at least according to the movies themselves.”

17. In Backcountry and Other Movies,
a Bear Makes a Mean Co-Star

“From horror films to thrillers to even the occasional Hollywood comedy, bears have been a fearsome, growling force to be reckoned with.”

18. Remembering Lisa Adams

“On the social network, she showed a particular interest in writers whom she would engage in chatter on Twitter and then suggest, at least among those in the New York area (since Lisa lived in a Manhattan bedroom community), a coffee or lunch get-together. Both to these local friends, and those who lived farther afield or even abroad, she would send letters in the mail. The letters took note of holidays, birthdays and new jobs. They sometimes transmitted information, often were funny (she had a wicked sense of humor and a throaty laugh) and always conveyed admiration and support. The letters bore the hallmark of her gorgeous penmanship — perfectly slanted cursive T’s and uniformly looped L’s. She loved beautiful stationery and Sharpies, and she wielded them well.”

19. Abandonment Issues

“The older I get, the more preoccupied I become with the number of things I’ve given up on over the years. I’m fond of the line, often attributed to Paul Valéry, about how ‘a work of art is never finished, merely abandoned,’ but as I look back with mounting unease at a path strewn with half-started and half-finished projects, I wonder if I might have taken this counsel too much, and too literally, to heart.”

20. Religious History

“Tried before the Roman Inquisition in 1859, the case revolved around a pious German princess who entered Sant’Ambrogio, one of Italy’s strictest convents, only to learn that its inhabitants were not as holy as they appeared. Instead of worshiping the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the princess said, they were a mystical lesbian cult, and Sister Maria Luisa, their beautiful, deviant novice mistress, had attempted to have her poisoned.”

21. A Manners Manifesto

“In the democratic present, perhaps the way to distinguish useful etiquette from frippery is to discern which rules help us be good rather than seem good. Serving others first is plainly charitable. Filling companions’ glasses, waiting to eat, giving another the last of the stew, chewing with a closed mouth — each is a basic acknowledgment of togetherness. Perhaps the consequential lesson in the matter of holding your fork, etc., is that customs differ at different tables in different lands, and that there is a certain intelligence in doing as is done. In other words, whatever unites merits keeping, and what divides can be folded and stored away with the linen too old and ornamental to use.”

22. The Last Volunteer

“I became a switchboard operator in the Army during the Second World War and was part of the effort to defeat Fascism. After the war, I worked with the United Farm Workers, and later was elected vice president of the local chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. It bothers me a little that at 99 you’re going to die any minute, because I have a lot of other things I want to do.”

23. The Heart-Stopping Climbs of Alex Honnold

“Honnold could afford to buy a decent home, if that interested him. But living in a van — a custom-outfitted van, in his case, with a kitchenette and cabinets full of energy bars and climbing equipment — represents freedom. It also represents a commitment to the nomadic climber’s ideal of the “dirtbag,” the purist so devoted to climbing that he avoids any entanglement that might interfere, stretching every penny from one climbing area to the next. Honnold, who graduated from high school with a 4.6 grade-point average and who has big ears and wide-set brown eyes — “cow eyes,” his mother calls them — has been the king of the dirtbags for the last decade. When he’s not climbing overseas in places like Patagonia, France or Morocco, he lives an endless road trip through the Southwestern desert, Yosemite Valley, British Columbia and points between. Along the way, he has turned himself into the greatest living free-soloist, meaning that he climbs without ropes, alone.”

24. Jane Goodall Is Still Wild at Heart

“Goodall’s first book, My Friends, the Wild Chimpanzees, was published by National Geographic in the mid-’60s, making her a star among the public, though it was regarded dimly by academia. Goodall recalled for me an episode at Cambridge, after the school made the exceptional decision, on the recommendation of Leakey, to admit Goodall into a Ph.D. program despite her lacking an undergraduate degree. When her book appeared — before her Ph.D. was even completed — her Cambridge mentor sputtered with rage: ‘It’s — it’s — it’s for the general public!’ She told me she was nearly expelled from the program. That Goodall was a woman and attractive made her an easy object of the ethologists’ derision. How could she give the subjects of her research names? Think they had emotions? A social life? What was she doing out there?”

25. From Jamaica to Minnesota to Myself

“In creative writing, I teach that characters arise out of our need for them. By now, the person I created in New York was the only one I wanted to be. Over the next two years, I came and left often, pushing the limits of a student visa. I’d make friends but never get close enough to have them ask me anything too deep, playing at being aloof when I was really just shy, and I’d walk past gay bars, turn and walk past again, but never go in. Back home I fell back into church, knowing I didn’t belong there anymore. Once I forgot to code-switch in time and dashed to the bathroom in J.F.K., minutes before my flight to Kingston, to change out of my skinny jeans and hoop earrings. Eight years after reaching the end of myself, I was on borrowed time. Whether it was in a plane or a coffin, I knew I had to get out of Jamaica.”

26. My Saga, Part 2

“If there is something to be gained, if it is gainable, no power on earth can restrain the forces that seek to gain it. To leave a profit or a territory or any kind of resource, even a scientific discovery, unexploited is deeply alien to human nature.”

Sunday 03.08.2015 New York Times Digest


1. The Cost of Paying Attention

“Attention is a resource; a person has only so much of it. And yet we’ve auctioned off more and more of our public space to private commercial interests, with their constant demands on us to look at the products on display or simply absorb some bit of corporate messaging. Lately, our self-appointed disrupters have opened up a new frontier of capitalism, complete with its own frontier ethic: to boldly dig up and monetize every bit of private head space by appropriating our collective attention. In the process, we’ve sacrificed silence — the condition of not being addressed. And just as clean air makes it possible to breathe, silence makes it possible to think.”

2. A Former College Lineman Now on the Streets, Looking for Answers, and Help

“It’s my brain that keeps me from being a productive member of society. I’m physically very strong, but I’m mentally so weak. Something is wrong with me. I don’t know what it is, but I used to be normal, you know? I’m confident — well, I’m pretty sure — that football had something to do with it.”

3. On the Case at Mount Sinai, It’s Dr. Data

“Mr. Hammerbacher, 32, is on the faculty of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, despite the fact that he has no academic training in medicine or biology. He is there because the school has begun an ambitious, well-funded initiative to apply data science to medicine.”

4. The Feel-Good Gene

“For the first time, scientists have demonstrated that a genetic variation in the brain makes some people inherently less anxious, and more able to forget fearful and unpleasant experiences. This lucky genetic mutation produces higher levels of anandamide — the so-called bliss molecule and our own natural marijuana — in our brains.”

5. Here’s What Will Truly Change Higher Education: Online Degrees That Are Seen as Official

“The failure of MOOCs to disrupt higher education has nothing to do with the quality of the courses themselves, many of which are quite good and getting better. Colleges are holding technology at bay because the only thing MOOCs provide is access to world-class professors at an unbeatable price. What they don’t offer are official college degrees, the kind that can get you a job. And that, it turns out, is mostly what college students are paying for. Now information technology is poised to transform college degrees. When that happens, the economic foundations beneath the academy will truly begin to tremble.”

6. America Needs Its Own Emojis

“The Japanese vocabulary is most notable for what it fails to offer Americans.”

7. If an Algorithm Wrote This, How Would You Even Know?

“These days, a shocking amount of what we’re reading is created not by humans, but by computer algorithms.”

8. The Case for Old Ideas

“The assumption, deeply ingrained in our intelligentsia, that everything depends on finding the most modern and ‘scientific’ alternative to older verities has been tested repeatedly — with mostly dire results.”

9. Revenge Movies Offer Mythic Middle-Aged Protectors

“When we meet him, the former assassin, former C.I.A. agent or former cop is haunted by a horrible misstep in his past, and racking himself with guilt from which he will never recover. He drinks, or has given it up. And his haunted stasis is broken only by mission; it is only when in mode, on a killing spree to retrieve his honor (and the innocent girl), that he is really at home.”

10. Black Comedians in South Africa Put Power in the Punch Lines

“The road to a comedy renaissance in South Africa was rocky, to say the least. For decades, comedy was the white man’s domain — blacks who made incendiary jokes in public were liable to be arrested.”

11. For Some in Transgender Community, It’s Never Too Late to Make a Change

“Coming out as transgender is not easy for anyone. But the issues are particularly thorny for those trying to reconfigure a central tenet of identity decades after building an adult life with family and career.”

12. Erik Larson’s Dead Wake, About the Lusitania

“Few tales in history are more haunting, more tangled with investigatory mazes or more fraught with toxic secrets than that of the final voyage of the Lusitania, one of the colossal tragedies of maritime history. It’s the other Titanic, the story of a mighty ship sunk not by the grandeur of nature but by the grimness of man. On May 7, 1915, the four-funneled, 787-foot Cunard superliner, on a run from New York to Liverpool, encountered a German submarine, the U-20, about 11 miles off the coast of Ireland. The U-boat’s captain, Walther Schwieger, was pleased to discover that the passenger steamer had no naval escort. Following his government’s new policy of unrestricted warfare, Schwieger fired a single torpedo into her hull. Less than half a minute later, a second explosion shuddered from somewhere deep within the bowels of the vessel, and she listed precariously to starboard. The Lusitania sank in just 18 minutes. Nearly 1,200 people, including 128 Americans, died with it. The casualties included the millionaire Alfred Vanderbilt, the Broadway impresario Charles Frohman and the noted art collector Hugh Lane, who was thought to be carrying sealed lead tubes containing paintings by Rembrandt and Monet.”

13. Kazuo Ishiguro: By the Book

“Given the centrality of the frontier myth in America’s collective memory, I’ve long been puzzled by the reluctance of the U.S. literary community to embrace this genre more wholeheartedly. I sense nervousness, evasion and self-consciousness whenever the topic comes up in polite circles. Is it just that the western seems to be owned so much by the cinema? Or is there a deeper unease about the territory it inevitably occupies?”

14. The ‘Loser Edit’ That Awaits Us All

“The loser edit has become a limber metaphor for exploring our own real-world failures. Fate doles out ideas for subplots — fire her, dump him, all species of mortification — and we eagerly run with them, cutting loser narratives for friends and enemies, the people we have demoted to the status of mere character. Everybody’s setbacks or degradations have been foreshadowed if we look hard enough at the old tape. We arrange the sequences, borrowing from cultural narratives of disgrace, sifting through the available footage with a bit of hindsight — and in turn, we endure our own loser edits when we stumble.”

15. How the Army Jacket Became a Staple of Civilian Garb

“Proving immune to the seasonal cycles of designer fashion, retaining currency with elites despite its presence in bargain bins, losing no prestige with youth even as their elders try the same look, the army soldier’s green jacket has developed a status on par with that of the gold miner’s bluejeans with which it pairs so well.”

16. Letter of Recommendation: LaCroix Sparkling Water

“To the extent it has a brand identity, LaCroix is for people who might not be perfect but are proud of their lifestyle choices every day.”

17. How to Drive a Getaway Car

“Vary the routes you take to work, your children’s school, the gym. Predictability makes for easy surveillance, and, as Farrer tells his students, ‘routine movements are the riskiest.’ Keep the windows up and the doors locked. To facilitate speedy exits, back into parking spots. Wait for a well-lit public place before pulling over, especially if it’s for a fender bender. Never tailgate: ‘Give yourself space to maneuver,’ says Farrer, whose courses include instruction on how to ram through roadblocks, drive in reverse in a slalom pattern to dodge bullets and skid 180 degrees in what’s called a ‘bootlegger’s turn.’”

18. Is Most of Our DNA Garbage?

“Why does an onion carry around so much more genetic material than a human? Or why, for that matter, do the broad-footed salamander (65.5 billion bases), the African lungfish (132 billion) and the Paris japonica flower (149 billion)? These organisms don’t appear to be more complex than we are, so Gregory rejects the idea that they’re accomplishing more with all their extra DNA. Instead, he champions an idea first developed in the 1970s but still startling today: that the size of an animal’s or plant’s genome has essentially no relationship to its complexity, because a vast majority of its DNA is — to put it bluntly — junk.”

19. Hooking Up

“With every passing season, the gap between hip-hop and fashion shrinks just a bit more.”

20. Vanity Clause

“Over-grooming is now a mode of hysteria common to every other man I know, and it isn’t attractive. I believe it feeds off a larger anxiety in the culture, the obligation to self-invent, the demand for constant increase, and it has made the men of my generation into emotional shadows of their former selves.”

21. The Unknown Notebooks of Jean-Michel Basquiat

“He kept his notebooks like a poet would, rather than like his tagging peers, whose notebooks often consisted of endless elaborations on a single tag. Even so, the words aren’t just written; they are sketched. The letters are shapely; their placement on the page matters. (By contrast, the addresses and phone numbers here and there are scrawled.) Basquiat was always a poet and a painter simultaneously, by instinct.”

My New Favorite Baseball Player


From ESPN The Magazine comes a story about 21-year-old Toronto Blue Jays pitching prospect Daniel Norris. What’s so interesting about Daniel Norris? He lives in a van. Well, not just that he lives in a van, but that he’s the sort of curious character who, despite being a millionaire pro athlete, chooses to live in a van.

There are almost too many quotable bits from the article to count:

A few Blue Jays stop by on their way into the facility and watch Norris fiddle with his stove. The pilot light doesn’t seem to be working. The water is still cold. “Why don’t you just, like, go get something normal to eat,” says another young pitcher, Marcus Stroman, reminding Norris that the team provides free coffee inside. “Don’t you think this is kind of crazy?”

“Not to me,” Norris says. “To me this is the way that makes sense.”


He has always lived by his own code, no matter what anyone thinks: a three-sport star athlete in high school who spent weekends camping alone; a hippie who has never tried drugs; a major league pitcher whose first corporate relationship was with an environmental organization called 1% for the Planet. He is 21 and says he has never tasted alcohol. He has had one serious relationship, with his high school girlfriend, and it ended in part because he wanted more time to travel by himself. He was baptized in his baseball uniform. His newest surfboard is made from recycled foam. His van is equipped with a solar panel. He reads hardcover books and never a Kindle. He avoids TV and studies photography journals instead.


Before the Blue Jays understood his convictions, Norris felt like the team had trouble making sense of his unpredictable life — coaches, teammates and executives asking him questions that indicated a measure of unease. Why, with seven figures in the bank, did he take an offseason job working 40 hours a week at an outdoor outfitter in his hometown of Johnson City, Tennessee? Would it do permanent damage to his back muscles to spend his first minor league season sharing an apartment with two teammates in Florida and sleeping only in a hammock? Why had he decided to spend his first offseason vacationing not on a Caribbean cruise with teammates or partying in South Beach but instead alone in the hostels of Nicaragua, renting a motorcycle for $2 a day, hiking into the jungle, surfing among the stingrays? And was that really a picture on Twitter of the Blue Jays’ best prospect, out again in the woods, shaving his tangled beard with the blade of an ax?


For almost 80 years, his father and grandfather owned and operated a small bicycle shop in car-dependent Johnson City, and their store was not only a place to sell bikes but a way to spread their family values and popularize a belief system. Play outdoors. Love the earth. Live simply. Use only what you need. Norris spent his childhood outside with his parents and his two older sisters, going for weekend bike rides and hiking trips, playing football, basketball and baseball. In school, he was a varsity star in all three, but it was baseball — and particularly pitching — that most aligned with his personality. Being alone on the mound reminded him of being out in the wild, where he was forced to solve his own problems and wrestle with self-doubt. “I was a good pitcher because I was already good at taking care of myself,” he says. “I love having teammates behind me, but I’m not going to rely on them. It can get quiet and lonely out there when you’re pitching, which drives some people crazy. But that’s my favorite part.”


On the morning in 2011 when his $2 million signing bonus finally cleared, Norris was in Florida with the rest of the Blue Jays’ new signees. All of their bonuses had been deposited on the same day, and one of the players suggested they drive to a Tampa mall. They shopped for three hours, and by the time the spree finally ended they could barely fit their haul back into the car. Most players had spent $10,000 or more on laptops, jewelry and headphones. Norris returned with only a henley T-shirt from Converse, bought on sale for $14. It’s been a fixture of his wardrobe ever since.


His advisers deposit $800 a month into his checking account — or about half as much as he would earn working full time for minimum wage. It’s enough to live in a van, but just barely. “I’m actually more comfortable being kind of poor,” he says, because not having money maintains his lifestyle and limits the temptation to conform. He never fills Shaggy beyond a quarter tank. He fixes the van’s engine with duct tape rather than taking it to a mechanic. Instead of eating out with teammates, he writes each night in a “thought journal” that rests on the dashboard.

“Research the things you love,” he wrote one night. “Gain knowledge. It’s valuable.”

“Be kind. Be courteous. Love others and be happy. It’s that simple.”

“Where else can you be as free as by yourself in the middle of nowhere, or in the middle of the ocean, or on the peak of a mountain. Adventure is freedom.”


This is his favorite beach in Florida, a 25-foot stretch of sand separated from the road by a line of palm trees, a place so public that nobody else seems to notice it. The traffic cruises by on the causeway at 50 miles an hour, and he has the beach to himself. He comes here to paddleboard, to read and to journal. Once, after a morning in the water, he returned to the beach and fell asleep on his surfboard. A few hours later, he felt the cold chill of water on his foot and awoke to see that the tide had risen and swept him back out into the ocean on his board. He was quite a distance from shore, out there by himself, disoriented and scared. “That was one of the best moments of my life,” he says.

Instantly my new favorite baseball player.

(Hat tip: @GenerationMeh.)