Sunday 10.25.2015 New York Times Digest

Is California…

1. My Dark California Dream

“Confusing one’s own youth with the youth of the world is a common human affliction, but California has been changing so fast for so long that every new generation gets to experience both a fresh version of the California dream and, typically by late middle-age, its painful death.”

2. A Global Chill in Commodity Demand Hits America’s Heartland

“Between 1993 and 2013, China built 200 cities of a million people or more.”

3. Can You Get Smarter?

“Kids who think that their intelligence is malleable perform better and are more motivated to learn than those who believe that their intelligence is fixed and unchangeable.”

4. First, Kill the Witches. Then, Celebrate Them.

“Insofar as we can chart its murky origins, Halloween derives from Samhain, an ancient Celtic harvest festival. Irish and Scottish immigrants carried its otherworldly imagery to America, largely in the mid-19th century. Black cats arrived along with their broomstick-flying consorts in the 1890s. The witches’ origin is unknown; they played no role in the Celtic tradition. The costumes came later, as did the witches’ basic black. Trick-or-treating began in the 1920s. The candy companies saw to the rest.”

5. How Salad Can Make Us Fat

“Drop a bunch of kale into your cart and you’re more likely to head next to the ice cream or beer section.”

6. Next From Christo: Art That Lets You Walk on Water

“I don’t like anything about computers. Young people today on their flat screens, it’s all virtual; nothing is real. All our projects involve real things — real wind, real sun, real wet, real danger, real drama. And this is very invigorating for me.”

7. Dressed to Kill and The Hunger: So Lethal, So Very Fashionable

“Full of logical inconsistencies, Dressed to Kill is best appreciated as a series of intersecting fantasies — those of the homemaker, her shrink, her son and the director, who cast his wife at the time (Nancy Allen) as a savvy call girl variously serving as surrogate mom, big sister and dream girlfriend for Mr. Gordon’s quasi-autobiographical character.”

8. Your Job Title Is … What?

“A search on LinkedIn reveals that over 55,000 people have the word ‘influencer’ in their titles; there are more than 74,000 brand architects and 35,156 professional evangelists. (LinkedIn doesn’t break down how many of those evangelists are associated with an actual religious congregation, but I suspect it is relatively few.)”

9. ‘NPR Voice’ Has Taken Over the Airwaves

“In addition to looser language, the speaker generously employs pauses and, particularly at the end of sentences, emphatic inflection. (This is a separate issue from upspeak, the tendency to conclude statements with question marks?) A result is the suggestion of spontaneous speech and unadulterated emotion. The irony is that such presentations are highly rehearsed, with each caesura calculated and every syllable stressed in advance.”

10. I’ll Never Write My Memoirs, Grace Jones’s Memoirs

“Shaving my head led directly to my first orgasm.”

11. Risky Business

“Self-help is more than just a genre of books. It’s a pile of tea leaves, a crystal ball, a mood ring on the finger of America — pick your divination metaphor, and it’s that. A glance at the self-help titles on each week’s best-seller list provides a diagram of the topics and shortcomings that readers are fretting over at this very moment, from gut health to decluttering to the proliferation of workplace distractions.”

12. Terry Gross and the Art of Opening Up

“Over the years, Gross has done some 13,000 interviews, and the sheer range of people she has spoken to, coupled with her intelligence and empathy, has given her the status of national interviewer. Think of it as a symbolic role, like the poet laureate — someone whose job it is to ask the questions, with a degree of art and honor. Barbara Walters was once our national interviewer, in a flashier style defined by a desire for spectacle. Gross is an interviewer defined by a longing for intimacy. In a culture in which we are all talking about ourselves more than ever, Gross is not only listening intently; she’s asking just the right questions.”

13. The Strange Case of Anna Stubblefield

“What made them so uncomfortable was not that Anna was 41 and D.J. was 30, or that Anna is white and D.J. is black, or even that Anna was married with two children while D.J. had never dated anyone. What made them so upset — what led to all the arguing that followed, and the criminal trial and million-dollar civil suit — was the fact that Anna can speak and D.J. can’t; that she was a tenured professor of ethics at Rutgers University in Newark and D.J. has been declared by the state to have the mental capacity of a toddler.”

14. Does Frequent Sex Prime the Immune System for Pregnancy?

“Sex alters a woman’s immune system in ways that affect her chances of conceiving.”

15. Collecting Art for Love, Not Money

“A connoisseur, in the old sense of the term, was less a shopper than a historian. To collect meant to connect yourself to the myriad of civilizations that preceded your own; accumulating objects was a way of placing yourself in a historical continuum, of assuming temporary ownership of something that once belonged to someone else and, after your death, would belong to someone else still. It was an act of humility: It meant educating yourself about a tradition, while also realizing that your education would never be complete. Assuming the mantle of stewardship. Realizing that, despite your best efforts, you would never know enough. Understanding that the object of your passion — silver or maiolica or tapestries — might never be understood or appreciated by anyone else. (It meant not caring about other people’s opinions.) It meant devotion. It meant obsession.”

16. Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday: They Did It Their Way

“When Holiday died, Sinatra holed up in his penthouse for two days, weeping, drinking and playing her records.”

17. A Very Revealing Conversation With Rihanna

“Don’t believe the pictures — in between each poolside party photo is an untaken one in which she’s simply working. Almost every night, when you’re asleep, Rihanna is in the studio.”

18. Jonathan Franzen’s Crackling Genius

“He likes women from California, at least that is what he always says, and he is someone I could telephone in consternation, in need of advice, and have done so. But he would not want to hear from me every day, and this has also strengthened a mutual trust, both of us being people who want brief social engagements and then to return to nurturing a productive alienation or joy and either way conduct life with a limited amount of interaction, at least with other writers.”

19. Jeong Kwan, the Philosopher Chef

“Jeong Kwan has no restaurant. She has no customers. She has published no cookbooks. She has never attended culinary school, nor has she worked her way up through the high-pressure hierarchy of a four-star kitchen. Her name does not appear in any of those annual round-ups listing the greatest chefs in the world, although Ripert will assure you that she belongs among them.”

20. The Maddening and Brilliant Karl Lagerfeld

“It’s not everyone who sees thoughts as action, but he does. Let me show you how he trips from one thing to the next. When I asked him about the 19th century, he only said, ‘We are spoiled. We have dry cleaners. They did not.’ Then he talked about the Scottish philosopher David Hume. (‘I just found a book by him in a box of books that came to me from my parents.’) Then quickly we moved to the case of the German novelist Günter Grass.”

Magic Hour

(Via Slate.)

Sunday 10.18.2015 New York Times Digest


1. The Lonely Death of George Bell

“Each year around 50,000 people die in New York, and each year the mortality rate seems to graze a new low, with people living healthier and longer. A great majority of the deceased have relatives and friends who soon learn of their passing and tearfully assemble at their funeral. A reverent death notice appears. Sympathy cards accumulate. When the celebrated die or there is some heart-rending killing of the innocent, the entire city might weep. A much tinier number die alone in unwatched struggles. No one collects their bodies. No one mourns the conclusion of a life. They are just a name added to the death tables. In the year 2014, George Bell, age 72, was among those names.”

2. Climb In, Tune In: A Renaissance for Sensory Deprivation Tanks

“Like yoga — which went in and out of fashion and is now back with a vengeance — this holistic pastime is drawing new converts who claim the practice can help alleviate depression, anxiety, addiction, jet lag, muscle tension, almost anything. But its return is also garnering critics, who complain of moldy facilities, exaggerated health claims and that sweaty sock stench that seems to plague the interiors of many tanks.”

3. Police Killings of Blacks: Here Is What the Data Say

“The deeper you look, the more it appears that the race problem revealed by the statistics reflects a larger problem: the structure of our society, our laws and policies.”

4. Lecture Me. Really.

“In the humanities, there are sound reasons for sticking with the traditional model of the large lecture course combined with small weekly discussion sections. Lectures are essential for teaching the humanities’ most basic skills: comprehension and reasoning, skills whose value extends beyond the classroom to the essential demands of working life and citizenship.”

5. The Best Jobs Require Social Skills

“The only occupations that have shown consistent wage growth since 2000 require both cognitive and social skills.”

6. Gamblers, Scientists and the Mysterious Hot Hand

“Taken to extremes, seeing connections that don’t exist can be a symptom of a psychiatric condition called apophenia. In less pathological forms, the brain’s hunger for pattern gives rise to superstitions (astrology, numerology) and is a driving factor in what has been called a replication crisis in science — a growing number of papers that cannot be confirmed by other laboratories.”

7. Ruining That Moody Urban Glow

“Color temperature is measured in Kelvin units. Lower temperatures are warm, in the yellow range; higher temperatures are cool, in the blue. Sodium bulbs are around 2,200 Kelvin — light in which one might fall in love. The brutal LED outside our house is 4,000 — light more conducive to dismembering a corpse.”

8. Longing for the Innocence of Playboy

“Playboy showed me what a pretty girl should look like — thin, white, young. More, it showed me what boys thought a pretty girl should look like. Unless they sneaked a peek at the hairy, heedless lovers in The Joy of Sex, the only naked female bodies they saw were ones like those proffered by that sophisticated swinging bachelor Hugh Hefner, living the good life at the Playboy Mansion, where celebrities from John Lennon and John Belushi to Bill Cosby cavorted with ambitious lasses in lingerie or body paint.”

9. 2015, When the Future Was Bright, in Back to the Future

“With the benefit of hindsight — and a closer look — Back to the Future, Part II proves surprisingly prescient. Coexisting with inventions and trends that may never come to fruition are those that have now arrived, including the use of drones, eyeglasses as wearable tech, video conferencing, and a focus on urban renewal and green space.”

10. It’s All Right to Cry, Dude

“Are men who cry foolish? Weak? Enlightened? The correct answer, I am almost certain, is none of the above. Crying is part of being human, and men are probably just as human as anybody else.”

11. Richard McGuire’s Here

“We are only able to see one thing at a time in the same way that we are unable to see through walls. That is the premise of Richard McGuire’s brilliant and revolutionary Here, for which the term ‘graphic novel’ feels awfully small. Here has a single setting: a corner of his childhood living room, in a house built in 1907 in what may be Perth Amboy, N.J. The time frame, however, ranges over eons, from 3,000,500,000 B.C. to A.D. 22,175, although most of the action occurs in the 20th century and the early decades of the 21st.”

12. Should Art Be Timeless or Should It Speak to Something More Current?

“If you shoot for timelessness in your writing, consciously orient yourself to the upper realm, the shining truths and the inexhaustible symbols etc., you will — by a kind of law — produce drivel. You will waft and drift and never get a toehold. If, on the other hand, you bet it all on the particular, really dive unreservedly into specificity, with no thought for higher things, you will find — inevitably, magnificently — that your novel about three plumbers in Milwaukee in 1987 becomes a singing blueprint of human significance.”

13. Letter of Recommendation: Mack’s Earplugs

“Mack’s Soft Foam Earplugs are the filter for modernity that only an earlier version of modernity could have produced.”

14. What Do We Really Know About Osama bin Laden’s Death?

“American history is filled with war stories that subsequently unraveled.”

Dual Profession

“What the young writer of today should contemplate is a dual profession – and incidentally it would be the best thing in the world for his tortured creativeness to be forced to touch some non-literary world, forced to remember what saner folk are daily up to. Let the young Balzac or Byron not only wear his elbows shiny at his desk, but let him with equal assiduity learn another and slightly more lucrative calling. But I would like him to keep out of advertising, journalism, and the teaching of literature, if possible, because they are too much akin to his writing. No, let him become a doctor or a grocer, a mail-flying aviator or a carpenter, a farmer or a bacteriologist, a priest or a Communist agitator, and with the two professions together, he make make a living … provided any of us will be ‘making a living,’ a couple of decades from now.”

—Sinclair Lewis, Yale Literary Magazine, 1936

(Hat tip: @GenerationMeh.)

Sunday 10.11.2015 New York Times Digest


1. Silicon Valley’s Most Elusive Beast

“In Renaissance Europe, a unicorn horn, known as an ‘alicorn,’ was a must-have accessory for any well-appointed cathedral, monastery or palace. According to Odell Shepard’s Lore of the Unicorn, Queen Elizabeth I kept such a horn in her royal wardrobe. Pope Clement VII had one, too, which he ‘richly adorned with gold.’ The unicorn was a revered symbol of Christ, and its horn was believed to possess magical properties. The outlandish prices paid for alicorns — usually narwhal tusks — in the 16th and 17th centuries convey a sense of their assumed potency: One horn could be worth more than 10 times its weight in gold, and Queen Elizabeth was said to have one as valuable as a castle.”

2. A Student Loan System Stacked Against the Borrower

“Even though the economy and labor market have improved, student loan borrowers are experiencing high distress levels compared with borrowers with other types of consumer debt, the government report found. More than one in four student loan borrowers are delinquent or in default on their obligations.”

3. The Student Who Stood Up for Privacy

“Mr. Schrems sent Facebook a formal request to see all of the data the company had collected about him, which he has the right to do under European law. After a couple of weeks and about a dozen emails, he received a CD by mail with more than 1,200 pages of information — every ‘poke,’ friend request and invitation (and response) he had sent since setting up an account in 2008. Most of it was no surprise, but he was shocked to see that Facebook had retained information he had deleted — and was no longer visible online — including the complete text of a private chat with a friend who had been hospitalized for psychological problems.”

4. An Alpine Antidote to Working Weekends

“Americans live to work — it’s culturally ingrained. If we’re not busy, we’re not worthy. No matter how much I try to challenge American work mores, I don’t seem to make much progress.”

5. Why Can’t We Sit Still Anymore?

“Sitting has gone from something responsible and orderly to something borderline unseemly.”

6. What Really Keeps Women Out of Tech

“Studies show that the public’s image of a scientist hasn’t changed since the 1950s.”

7. Will You Ever Be Able to Upload Your Brain?

“We all find our own solutions to the problem death poses. For the foreseeable future, bringing your mind back to life will not be one of them.”

8. Deforestation and Drought

“Drought is usually thought of as a natural disaster beyond human control. But as researchers peer deeper into the Earth’s changing bioclimate — the vastly complex global interplay between living organisms and climatic forces — they are better appreciating the crucial role that deforestation plays.”

9. Ronda Rousey’s Next Fight: Body Image in Hollywood

“I swear to God, if anyone calls me fat one more time in my life, I’m going to kill them.”

10. Found on Facebook: Empathy

“Empathy, their study suggests, can be dispensed and felt virtually, though in-person empathy — a hug, for instance, as opposed to a Facebook ‘like’ — has six times the impact on feelings of social support.”

11. Strangers Drowning, by Larissa MacFarquhar

Strangers Drowning is a journey through the ‘am I doing enough’ world of ambitious altruism and ascetic selflessness.”

12. Other People’s Money, by John Kay

“Kay writes like an anthropologist: The roots of finance’s dysfunction, he says, are cultural.”

13. How the Other Half Banks, by Mehrsa Baradaran

“Poverty is expensive, even for those who aren’t debt-laden. The average family earning $25,000 a year but without a bank account spends about $2,400 a year — more than it spends on food — on financial transactions. Even those who manage to open regular bank accounts face disproportionately large fees and harsh penalties for small overdrafts.”

14. Pastrami on Rye, by Ted Merwin

“Somewhere during the course of the mid-20th century, the deli replaced the synagogue as the most likely center of Jewish things.”

15. Shooting a Lion

“Trophy photographs seem to most of us an anachronistic display of imperial masculinity and colonial appropriation, and the outrage that followed the death of Cecil the lion demonstrated our keen desire to distance ourselves from everything these photographs evoke. But the way safaris work in our culture makes me wonder about that distancing. Safaris offer close-up, once-in-a-lifetime views of animals in the wild — but at the same time they are deeply embedded in colonial iconography and in structural inequality.”

16. Letter of Recommendation: Vin Scully

“You can listen to Scully for hours and never hear a familiar platitude or a half­baked thought. His technique, however, is rather simple. He describes the action in front of him just as he encounters it. His demeanor is jovial, neighborly — Mr. Rogers goes to Chavez Ravine. He quotes Dylan Thomas and offers old-fashioned homilies about the weather (Scully still refers to a breeze as a ‘zephyr’). He coos over children and leads viewers, his ‘friends,’ through stories about everything from the time he went ice-skating with Jackie Robinson to the time he dreamed of being chased by a giant clam (he had just shared an Italian dinner with Tommy Lasorda, you see). In his voice, you can hear traces of radio plays, New York’s prewar slums, Broadway — a lifetime of experience spent in what, in its more romantic era, was called show business.”

17. The Year We Obsessed Over Identity

“There’s a sense of fluidity and permissiveness and a smashing of binaries. We’re all becoming one another. Well, we are. And we’re not.”

18. The Passion of Nicki Minaj

“The fact that you feel upset about me speaking on something that affects black women makes me feel like you have some big balls. You’re in videos with black men, and you’re bringing out black women on your stages, but you don’t want to know how black women feel about something that’s so important? Come on, you can’t want the good without the bad. If you want to enjoy our culture and our lifestyle, bond with us, dance with us, have fun with us, twerk with us, rap with us, then you should also want to know what affects us, what is bothering us, what we feel is unfair to us. You shouldn’t not want to know that.”

Sunday 10.4.2015 New York Times Digest


1. Is Cultural Appropriation Always Wrong?

“It’s a truth only selectively acknowledged that all cultures are mongrel.”

2. Confusion, Horror and Heroism in Oregon Shooting

“Roseburg now joins Charleston, S.C.; Newtown, Conn.; Blacksburg, Va.; Aurora, Colo.; and many more on the roster of places where troubled men with firearms — almost uniformly men — have uncorked their rage through mass killings.”

3. How They Got Their Guns

“Criminal histories and documented mental health problems did not prevent at least eight of the gunmen in 14 recent mass shootings from obtaining their weapons, after federal background checks led to approval of the purchases of the guns used.”

4. The Decline of ‘Big Soda’

“The drop in soda consumption represents the single largest change in the American diet in the last decade and is responsible for a substantial reduction in the number of daily calories consumed by the average American child.”

5. The Reign of Recycling

“As you sort everything into the right bins, you probably assume that recycling is helping your community and protecting the environment. But is it? Are you in fact wasting your time?”

6. Patti Smith, Survivor

“I just do my work, and I work every day, and my ambition is just to do something better than I last did. I’d like to write something as great as Pinocchio or Little Women. I won’t say Moby-Dick because that’s impossible. I’d like to write a book that everybody loves. I’d like to take a picture that someone wants to put above their desk so they can look at it while they’re writing a letter or doing whatever they’re doing while sitting at their desk. I’d like to do a painting that would astonish people.”

7. The Flâneur Discovers Paris, a Step at a Time

“Since moving to Paris long ago, I have learned the two cardinal rules of flânerie. First, don’t smile at strangers on the street. The smile is too intimate and fraught with meaning to be casually shared. On the other hand, the ‘regard,’ or ‘look’ — the electric charge between two people when their eyes lock — is part of the game. Second, don’t rush. This is not New York, where people are caught in a constant battle to get somewhere very quickly and impatient with hapless tourists or just about anyone who blocks the way. This is not even the Opéra Metro stop on weekday mornings when commuters rush to connect with the interurban RER train and the No. 3 Metro line. You have to surrender to the present.”

8. Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation

“Our rapturous submission to digital technology has led to an atrophying of human capacities like empathy and self-­reflection, and the time has come to reassert ourselves, behave like adults and put technology in its place.”

9. Changing the Subject, by Sven Birkerts

“The ideal situation, repeatedly evoked, is that of the rapt reading experience of the child; literature, like modern technologies, distances us from sensory reality, but it does so in a focused way that consolidates our habit of self-narrative and indeed of reframing and possessing the world in words.”

10. How to Hold a Stranger’s Baby

“Start with the classic cradle hold, but change positions if the child cries, arches its back or looks exasperated. One of Rice’s go-to moves is to nestle a baby upright against his chest and gently pat its behind.”

11. Donald Trump Is Not Going Anywhere

“Trump said he was not following any special diet or exercise regimen for the campaign. ‘All my friends who work out all the time, they’re going for knee replacements, hip replacements — they’re a disaster,’ he said. He exerts himself fully by standing in front of an audience for an hour, as he just did. ‘That’s exercise.’”

The Revenant