Disgrace

“How does it become a man to behave toward this American government to-day? I answer that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it.”

—Henry David Thoreau, “Resistance to Civil Government” (1849)

Sunday 8.13.2017 New York Times Digest

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1. You’ll Never Be as Radical as This 18th-Century Quaker Dwarf

“Lay, a hunchback as well as a dwarf, was the world’s first revolutionary abolitionist. Against the common sense of the day, when slavery seemed to most people as immutable as the stars in the heavens, Lay imagined a new world in which people would live simply, make their own food and clothes, and respect nature. He lived in a cave in Abington, Pa., ate only fruits and vegetables — ‘the innocent fruits of the earth’ — and championed animal rights. He refused to consume any commodity produced by slave labor and was known to walk abruptly out of a dinner in protest when he found out that his host owned slaves.”

2. Stay, Hide or Leave? Hard Choices for Immigrants in the Heartland

“In small agricultural towns that supported President Trump by 20-point margins, residents are now seeing an immigration crackdown ripple through the families that have helped revive their downtown squares and transform their economies.”

3. In the Land of Internet Subcultures, Try Not to Look Like a Tourist

“One user’s home platform is another’s foreign land. A point made by a subculture at home on Facebook might look funny to another on Twitter, which can read as evidence of a conspiracy to yet another on YouTube, which might be seen as offensive on Tumblr, which could be a joke on Reddit.”

4. Chile’s Energy Transformation Is Powered by Wind, Sun and Volcanoes

“Chile, Mexico and Brazil are now among the top 10 renewable energy markets in the world.”

5. A New Kind of Classroom: No Grades, No Failing, No Hurry

“Students are encouraged to focus instead on mastering a set of grade-level skills, like writing a scientific hypothesis or identifying themes in a story, moving to the next set of skills when they have demonstrated that they are ready. In these schools, there is no such thing as a C or a D for a lazily written term paper. There is no failing. The only goal is to learn the material, sooner or later.”

6. The Incredible Shrinking Sears

“At the turn of the 20th century, as Americans established roots across the nation, they turned to Sears. Through its robust mail-order business — some catalogs were more than 500 pages — Sears shipped groceries, rifles, corsets, cream separators, davenports, stoves and entire prefab houses to some of the most remote regions of the country.”

7. Tech’s Damaging Myth of the Loner Genius Nerd

“The myth that programming is done by loner men who think only rationally and communicate only with their computers harms the tech industry in ways that cut straight to the bottom line.”

8. Google Doesn’t Want What’s Best for Us

“We have an obligation to care about the values of the people who run Google, because we’ve given Google enormous control over our lives and the lives of our children.”

9. Donald Trump Is Giving North Korea Exactly What It Wants

“If President Trump thinks that his threats last week of ‘fire and fury’ and weapons ‘locked and loaded’ have North Koreans quaking in their boots, he should think again. If anything, the Mao-suit-clad cadres in Pyongyang are probably gleeful that the president of the United States has played straight into their propaganda.”

10. Why Are Police Officers More Dangerous Than Airplanes?

“You are far more likely to die at the hands of a cop than to perish in an plane crash.”

11. Making Affirmative Action White Again

“The most important pieces of American social policy — the minimum wage, union rights, Social Security and even the G.I. Bill — created during and just after the Great Depression, conferred enormous benefits on whites while excluding most Southern blacks.”

12. Trump Isn’t a Threat to Our Democracy. Hysteria Is.

“A dysfunctional economy, not lurking tyranny, is what needs attention if recent electoral choices are to be explained — and voting patterns are to be changed in the future.”

13. Fleeing to the Mountains

“Flee to the mountains, deserts and babbling brooks to get in touch with wild spaces, to find perspective and humility. The wilderness nourishes our souls, if we let it.”

14. Why Women Had Better Sex Under Socialism

“A comparative sociological study of East and West Germans conducted after reunification in 1990 found that Eastern women had twice as many orgasms as Western women.”

15. ‘Virtue Signaling’ Isn’t the Problem. Not Believing One Another Is.

“The real problem, of course, isn’t the signaling part: Everyone is signaling all the time, whether it’s about social justice or their commitment to Second Amendment rights or their concerns about immigration law. Those who accuse others of virtue signaling seem angry about the supposed virtues themselves — angry that someone, anyone, appears to care about something they do not.”

16. Letter of Recommendation: Gum

“I always chew gum while I’m writing and while I’m driving — not just one or two of the little pellets, but several sticks at a time.”

Sunday 8.6.2017 New York Times Digest

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1. The Transformation of the ‘American Dream’

“In the 1930s and ’40s, the term appeared occasionally in advertisements for intellectual products: plays, books and church sermons, book reviews and high-minded articles. During these years, it rarely, if ever, referred to business success or homeownership.”

2. The Secret Life of the City Banana

“You don’t want to stress the bananas.”

3. The Policies of White Resentment

“White resentment needs the boogeyman of job-taking, maiden-ravaging, tax-evading, criminally inclined others to justify the policies that thwart the upward mobility and success of people of color.”

4. America Is Running Out of Bomb-Sniffing Dogs

“Despite decades of trying, researchers have yet to develop a machine as exquisitely sensitive and discerning as a dog’s nose.”

5. On a Date While Venezuela Burns

“What do you talk about on a date when your country is collapsing?”

6. Racial Violence on the Screen

“White America is connected, whether it wishes to be or not, to a history that has shot and lynched black folk into silence. When visual evidence of police brutality circulates widely, it is a warning to black folk to keep in place.”

7. The Pianist Jeremy Denk on the Joys of Chopin, Our Most Catlike Composer

“He frequently writes the act of listening into the music, aware that somehow composing a good phrase is only half the job, and the beauty of moments must be given space to sink in.”

8. An Encore for the Native Americans Who Shook Up Rock ‘n’ Roll

“The film reveals how Native American rhythms and stylings became a part of the larger tapestry of American music.”

9. What’s So Hard About Casting Indian Actors in Indian Roles?

“When vetting is a challenge even for tribes, which can become embroiled in controversies over identity, how can casting directors do it? Physical appearance can be deceiving, and requiring tribal membership may exclude those who are not enrolled.”

10. Who Owns a Tweet?

“If someone uses another’s work for commercial purposes … it becomes much easier for the owner of the content to file a cease-and-desist order or to argue that compensation is necessary.”

11. Why Kids Can’t Write

“Students continue to arrive on college campuses needing remediation in basic writing skills.”

12. How to Conquer the Admissions Essay

“Don’t brag about your achievements. Instead, look at times you’ve struggled or, even better, failed. Failure is essayistic gold. Figure out what you’ve learned. Write about that. Be honest and say the hardest things you can. And remember those exhausted admissions officers sitting around a table in the winter. Jolt them out of their sugar coma and give them something to be excited about.”

13. In the Era of Digital Composition, What Should a Writer Keep?

“Some writers keep every draft; others keep just one. But there are many points on the line between those two extremes.”

14. If SoundCloud Disappears, What Happens to Its Music Culture?

“The death of SoundCloud … would mean more than the sunsetting of a service: It could mean the erasure of a decade of internet sound culture.”

15. Letter of Recommendation: Ghosting

“Ghosting … provides a line of flight. Freed from the ties that hurt us, or bore us, or make us feel uneasy, finally we can turn our attention inward.”

16. The Loyal Engineers Steering NASA’s Voyager Probes Across the Universe

“They also may be the last people left on the planet who can operate the spacecraft’s onboard computers, which have 235,000 times less memory and 175,000 times less speed than a 16-gigabyte smartphone.”

17. Losing It in the Anti-Dieting Age

“If you had been watching closely, you could see that the change had come slowly. ‘Dieting; was now considered tacky. It was anti-feminist. It was arcane. In the new millennium, all bodies should be accepted, and any inclination to change a body was proof of a lack of acceptance of it.”

Sunday 7.30.2017 New York Times Digest

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1. When Life on Earth Was Nearly Extinguished

“The planet’s most profound catastrophe struck 252 million years ago, at the end of the Permian period, killing 90 percent of life in the ocean and 75 percent on land.”

2. How to Repair the Health Law (It’s Tricky but Not Impossible)

“The politics are exceedingly tricky in a divided and dysfunctional Washington, but economists, insurers, doctors and health policy experts across the political spectrum agree that immediately addressing three or four basic shortcomings in the existing system would go a long way toward making the law more effective and financially stable.”

3. Why Health Care Policy Is So Hard

“The magic of the free market sometimes fails us when it comes to health care.”

4. Finland Has a Sports Screw Loose

“We have some weird hobbies.”

5. White Economic Privilege Is Alive and Well

“The income gap between black and white working-class Americans, like the gap between black and white Americans at every income level, remains every bit as extreme as it was five decades ago. (This is also true of the income gap between Hispanic and white Americans.)”

6. How We Make Black Girls Grow Up Too Fast

“All women in our culture are subject to this kind of symbolic violence, when people judge their bodies to decide if they deserve abuse. But for black women and girls that treatment is refracted through history and today’s context.”

7. Artificial Intelligence Is Stuck. Here’s How to Move It Forward.

“A.I. systems tend to be passive vessels, dredging through data in search of statistical correlations; humans are active engines for discovering how things work.”

8. Young Digital Artists, Anxious About … Technology

“The young artists in the show … tend to share, despite their immersion in digital technology, a profound ambivalence about where it is taking us. They also seem to share the ‘Black Mirror’ sensibility…: The perception, endemic to the satirical British TV series, that technology has led us into a digital fun house where nothing is as it seems and everything is as we fear it might be.”

9. A Doctor Gives Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop a Pelvic Exam

“Dr. Gunter has emerged as the most ardent critic of Ms. Paltrow’s website, routinely responding with snark and medical data to its pronouncements on diet and female genital health.”

10. Keeping Up, on Camera, Is No Longer Just for the Kardashians

“Mr. Henry is one of a small but growing number of entrepreneurs who have turned their lives into do-it-yourself reality shows. They pay videographers, editors and producers thousands of dollars a month to shadow them and create content for their social media platforms. They ‘star’ as part motivational speaker, part life coach, as they dispense advice and speak enthusiastically about the hustle. They are earnest to a fault; you’ll find no melodrama here (or even much drama).”

11. A Lot Like Prayer: Remembering Denis Johnson

“He never assumed a tough-guy persona. His stories, fiction and nonfiction alike, exalt the innate dignity inherent in cowardice and failure, in loserdom, in life at the bottom of the barrel. He seems to ask whether at some level, cowardice might not be the same as love of life.”

12. Is It O.K. to Protest Trump by Withholding Taxes?

“Today nearly two-thirds of the federal budget covers so-called mandatory spending: Medicare and other health expenditures, Social Security payments, unemployment benefits, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. If secretly reducing your tax payments prevented you from being complicit with expenditures you dislike, it would also make you complicit in trying to reduce expenditures you do like.”

13. Letter of Recommendation: Duolingo

“Any online time-waster offers an escape from the world, often by preying on your worst instincts: envy, pettiness, poor impulse control. But Duolingo offered an escape that made me feel connected to the better parts of the world, and of myself.”

14. How to Be Selected for a Jury

“We are wary of people who are trying to get on a jury.”

15. How to Make a Movie Out of Anything — Even a Mindless Phone Game

“There are no protagonists or antagonists in Fruit Ninja. There’s no mythology. No moral. The game play involves staring at a wall as pineapples, watermelons, kiwis, apples and oranges fly up into view. The only thing you do is swipe at the fruit with your finger, cutting them in half. Sometimes there are bombs, and you’re not supposed to swipe at those. ‘There’s a fun game to play, but that’s it,’ Vinson says. ‘The challenge was: What the [expletive] am I going to do with Fruit Ninja?’”

16. The Majestic Marble Quarries of Northern Italy

“There is no avoiding the tyranny of weight.”

How Iggy Pop Breaks in His Jeans in the Summer

How to break in a pair of jeans, courtesy of Iggy Pop, as told by Anthony Bozza in the documentary Blue Gold: American Jeans, currently streaming on Netflix:

He said that the best thing about summer, something that he always does is he buys a pair of Levi’s jeans at the beginning of the summer and wears them every single day until the end of the summer and never washes them. And sometime about July he said they start to stink a little but it doesn’t matter because that’s when they start getting good. That’s when they start fitting. And he said by August, they are sticking to your ass so perfectly that he doesn’t care if no one is going to come near him, it doesn’t matter. He finally has the perfect pair of jeans.

Whether you’d do such a thing or not, the whole doc is worth checking out if you’re a denim head or simply interested in cultural history.

Previously: Repair Your Own Jeans.

Sunday 7.23.2017 New York Times Digest

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1. The Glory of a Summer Sleep

“Sleep is the most generative part of our day because it is when our ego gets out of the way.”

2. How Arline Jacoby, Artist, Spends Her Sundays

“I read the obituaries religiously, but only about people I think are going to be interesting.”

3. In China, Silicon Valley Giants Confront New Walls

“Just about every American tech company from Amazon to Zynga has taken a shot at China. But outside of Apple and a group of older companies like IBM and Intel, few have a major presence in the country today.”

4. One Family, Many Revolutions: From Black Panthers, to Silicon Valley, to Trump

“There’s a sense in which we’re all David Horowitz now.”

5. When the (Empty) Apartment Next Door Is Owned by an Oligarch

“Anger at who is causing that harm can stray uncomfortably close to xenophobia. But politicians and anxious residents often add that their real grievance is with foreign money, not foreigners. And maintaining that distinction is important if cities that have long prided themselves on being cosmopolitan want to continue embracing immigration while curbing speculation.”

6. Why Women Aren’t C.E.O.s, According to Women Who Almost Were

“What their stories show is that in business, as in politics, women who aspire to power evoke far more resistance, both overt and subtle, than they expected would be the case by now.”

7. The Men Who Never Have to Grow Up

“If boys will be boys, then girls must be grown-ups, whose job it is to protect men from their worst impulses.”

8. Let’s Get Excited About Maintenance!

“Americans have an impoverished and immature conception of technology, one that fetishizes innovation as a kind of art and demeans upkeep as mere drudgery.”

9. A Warrant to Search Your Vagina

“Can police officers actually get a warrant to search someone’s vagina? The answer is yes.”

10. What Is America to Me?

“Talking with these teenagers, I’m always struck by how familiar they seem. There’s the class clown, raising his hand to ask a silly question that makes his classmates laugh. There’s the school beauty, who never leaves her seat — she knows the others, vying to be her partner, will come to her if she waits. There’s the sleepy kid trying to nap undetected behind an open book, and the Type A kid with a hand always in the air. Their clothes and hairstyles are different, but they seem exactly like the suburban students I once taught; exactly like my own three sons, the youngest still a teenager himself; exactly like my high school classmates.”

11. Don’t Believe in God? Maybe You’ll Try U.F.O.s

“Interests in nontraditional supernatural and paranormal phenomena are driven by the same cognitive processes and motives that inspire religion.”

12. Jay-Z and the Politics of Rapping in Middle Age

“As popular culture archetypes, these used to be scary black men. But every once in a while, they’re granted a humanity that, with old-school rappers, is harder to come by.”

13. Thanks to Venmo, We Now All Know How Cheap Our Friends Are

“By rendering payments between friends nearly invisible — no cash changes hands, no checks are written — Venmo theoretically should make these relationships less obviously transactional. Yet not only does it encourage pettiness, distilling the messiness of human experience down to a digitally precise data point, but by making it so easy to pay someone back for purchases as trifling as a coffee, the app arguably promotes the libertarian, every-user-for-himself ethos of Silicon Valley.”

14. What the Magician Penn Jillette Can’t Travel Without

“I always have the Bible that I’m reading, because I’m an atheist. And I always have Moby Dick because I’m an American.”

15. How Inequality Erodes the Foundation of Modern Societies

“The greatest threat to Western liberal democracies in the future is more likely to come from extreme inequality than from Islamic extremism.”

16. American Surveyor

“Asked once why he was so eternally curious about things, Thoreau responded, ‘What else is there in life?’”

17. The Birth of the Modern Middle East

“Far from spurning or avoiding modernity, Muslims are ‘drenched in it.’”

18. What Will Service Work Look Like Under Amazon?

“In contrast to Whole Foods, which focuses in its marketing on fair-trade and locally sourced offerings, Amazon is made up of a dizzying array of supply chains that are effectively invisible: not hidden, just easily omitted from the consumer experience.”

19. Letter of Recommendation: Cold Showers

“I have been taking cold showers for a couple of months now, and I have noticed zero changes in my skin or spirits or metabolism. I have, however, noticed a significant, though perhaps unintended, change in my entire disposition toward the outside world.”

20. The Accent Whisperers of Hollywood

“With the rise of prestige TV in the United States, the demand for skilled performers from around the world — particularly well-trained British performers — has increased, as has the desire to quickly communicate quality with authentic-sounding accents. Actors have worked hard to deliver.”

Sunday 7.16.2017 New York Times Digest

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1. Please Prove You’re Not a Robot

“Robots are getting better, every day, at impersonating humans. When directed by opportunists, malefactors and sometimes even nation-states, they pose a particular threat to democratic societies, which are premised on being open to the people.”

2. This Instagram Dog Wants to Sell You a Lint Roller

“Pet influencers outperform humans.”

3. When Big Pharma Spends, Research Isn’t No. 1.

“Big pharmaceutical companies have spent more on share buybacks and dividends in a recent 10-year period than they did on research and development.”

4. Make Everyone Take the SAT or ACT. And Make It Free

“The two standard college admission tests — the SAT and the ACT — could be administered universally and free of charge to students.”

5. You Don’t Have to be College-Bound to Take a Gap Year

“Gap years are especially helpful for older people working through career transitions.”

6. If Tech Execs Act Like Spoiled Brats, Should We Spank Them?

“Deal with these men as we would deal with very naughty children. No dessert! You’re grounded! I’d suggest spanking, but that could backfire, too. You never know what some people might be into.”

7. An Ancient Cure for Alzheimer’s?

“Are certain parasites more beneficial to the brain while others are harmful?”

8. The Playboy President and Women’s Health

“American women are being stripped of their sexual and reproductive autonomy not by a moralizing puritan but by an erotically incontinent libertine.”

9. Don’t Let Our Democracy Collapse

“The health of our electoral process is likely to deteriorate further, with some of the threats striking at the very basis of democratic society: our confidence that votes have been fairly and accurately counted. What’s worse, we cannot count on the courts, the president, Congress or state legislatures to save us.”

10. Cliffhangers Are Ruining the Golden Age of TV

“I … think artistry is in special danger of becoming mere stimulation.”

11. When Is Speech Violence?

“Words can have a powerful effect on your nervous system. Certain types of adversity, even those involving no physical contact, can make you sick, alter your brain — even kill neurons — and shorten your life.”

12. A British Expat in Norway Gets Beyond the Scandinavian Stereotypes

“In small, homogeneous nations governed by a rigid social conformity, it takes a particularly extreme temperament to stand out.”

13. Understanding Poetry Is More Straightforward Than You Think

“Poetry has an unfortunate reputation for requiring special training and education to appreciate, which takes readers away from its true strangeness, and makes most of us feel as if we haven’t studied enough to read it.”

14. Letter of Recommendation: Detroit Techno

“The radical act of Detroit’s techno rebels was that they entered an inhuman network of machinery and found a voice within it.”

15. Arks of the Apocalypse

“It seems to be a human impulse to collect things just as they’re vanishing.”