Sunday 10.15.2017 New York Times Digest

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1. Is Globalization Drawing Us Together or Tearing Us Apart?

“How can we hang on to decency in a world where old patterns, good and bad, have been disrupted?

2. Becoming a Steelworker Liberated Her. Then Her Job Moved to Mexico.

“For months, Shannon kept working as the factory shut down around her. She struggled with straightforward questions: Should she train workers from Mexico for extra pay or refuse? Should she go back to school or find a new job, no matter what it paid? And she was forced to confront a more sweeping question that nags at many of the 67 percent of adults in this country who do not have a four-year college degree: What does my future look like in the new American economy?”

3. How a Seed Bank, Almost Lost in Syria’s War, Could Help Feed a Warming Planet

“Mr. Shehadeh is a plant conservationist from Syria. He hunts for the genes contained in the seeds we plant today and what he calls their ‘wild relatives’ from long ago. His goal is to safeguard those seeds that may be hardy enough to feed us in the future, when many more parts of the world could become as hot, arid and inhospitable as it is here.”

4. ‘Allah’ Is Found on Viking Funeral Clothes

“The evidence, she added, supported the theory that the Viking settlements in the Malar Valley of Sweden were, in fact, a western outpost of the Silk Road that stretched through Russia to silk-producing centers east of the Caspian Sea. It is well known that the Vikings traded with the Arab world, and archaeologists have found plenty of Arab coins in Viking settlements. The trade lasted 150 years, beginning in the first half of the ninth century. But Dr. Larsson said that the silk and other artifacts found in the Viking graves suggested not just trade or plundering — but a deeper cultural exchange and shared ideas.”

5. Black Lawmakers Hold a Particular Grievance With Facebook: Racial Exploitation

“As black activists tried last year to focus attention on police brutality, unfair treatment before the law, inequality and white supremacy, social media giants like Facebook were being commandeered by Russian intelligence agents to turn white voters against them.”

6. An Alternate Universe of Shopping, in Ohio

“Stores are trying out all manner of gimmickry — anything, really — to win back shoppers. And when brands want to try out new concepts, they often come to Columbus.”

7. Why Surge Prices Make Us So Mad

“Technology is making ‘variable’ or ‘dynamic’ pricing — the same strategies that ensure a seat on an airplane, a hotel room or an Uber car are almost always available if you’re willing to pay the price — more plausible in areas with huge social consequences.”

8. Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood’s Oldest Horror Story

“How many times do we have to go through this before things really change?”

9. White Nationalism Is Destroying the West

“The greatest threat to liberal democracies does not come from immigrants and refugees but from the backlash against them by those on the inside who are exploiting fear of outsiders to chip away at the values and institutions that make our societies liberal.”

10. Why Are Millennials Wary of Freedom?

“Only about 30 percent of Americans born after 1980 believe it is absolutely essential to live in a democratic country.”

11. Would You Buy a Self-Driving Future From These Guys?

“People have good reason to doubt grand promises about world-changing technology.”

12. The New Bedtime Story Is a Podcast

“As podcast makers look to expand their audience — just under a quarter of Americans have listened to a podcast in the past month — they’re turning to a previously untapped demographic: children.”

13. Should Your Spouse Be Your Best Friend?

“Is considering your spouse your closest friend a sign of hard-earned intimacy, attachment and trust, or is it a sign you’ve become so enmeshed in the day-to-day logistics of managing your lives that you’ve given up sexual attraction, passion and erotic play? Has marriage become little more than benefits with friendship?”

14. Tired of Twee Edison Bulbs? Bring On the Neon

“Whatever you could do with light bulbs, you could do in bigger, better, clearer ways with neon tubes.”

15. As the 747 Begins Its Final Approach, a Pilot Takes a Flight Down Memory Lane

“For those who grew up under 747-crossed skies, it can be hard to appreciate how revolutionary the jet’s dimensions were when it first (and improbably, to some observers) got airborne in 1969. The inaugural model, the 747-100, was the world’s first wide-bodied airliner. The jet weighed hundreds of thousands of pounds more than its predecessors (the Boeing 707, for example), and carried more than twice as many passengers. Born in a factory so large that clouds once formed within it, the 747-100 was nearly twice as long as the Wright brothers’ entire first flight.”

16. Along the Mississippi

“Sometimes traveling is filled with annoyances – missing the turn off a highway or negotiating between three children and only two pretzel sticks. But other moments are so unexpectedly profound that they make the entire trip worthwhile.”

17. President Clinton Looks Back at President Grant

“As Americans continue the struggle to defend justice and equality in our tumultuous and divisive era, we need to know what Grant did when our country’s very existence hung in the balance. If we still believe in forming a more perfect union, his steady and courageous example is more valuable than ever.”

18. The Ghost That Haunts Grant’s Memoirs

“Grant’s style is strikingly modern in its economy. It stood out in that age of clambering, winding prose, with shameless sentences like lines of thieves in a marketplace, grabbing everything in reach and stuffing it all into their sacks.”

19. Tom Hanks: By the Book

“I stack up the books, three columns six or eight books at a time, and just wear that pile down.”

20. Exploring the Necessity and Virtue of Sleep

“Sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day — Mother Nature’s best effort yet at contra-death.”

21. How to Pawn Valuables

“You don’t need good credit, income or a bank account.”

22. In Northern Minnesota, Two Economies Square Off: Mining vs. Wilderness

“Central to the debate between the two camps is a philosophical question: What is the right kind of economy for a place like the Boundary Waters?”

23. Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety?

“Over the last decade, anxiety has overtaken depression as the most common reason college students seek counseling services. In its annual survey of students, the American College Health Association found a significant increase — to 62 percent in 2016 from 50 percent in 2011 — of undergraduates reporting ‘overwhelming anxiety’ in the previous year.”

24. The Prophet of Germany’s New Right

“Despite the unique cultural taboos arising from the historical memory of Nazism, Germany has joined a long list of European countries — Austria, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy and Slovakia among them — where far-right, sometimes explicitly racist political parties command significant minorities in national elections. This ethno-nationalist renaissance presents an odd paradox. European nationalists who at one time might have gone to war with one another now promote a kind of New Right rainbow coalition, in which sovereign states steadfastly maintain their ethnic and cultural identities in service of some larger ‘Western’ ideal. This ‘ethno-pluralism,’ as New Right activists call it, is not based on Western liberal notions of equality or the primacy of individual rights but in opposition to other cultures, usually nonwhite, that they say are threatening to overtake Europe and, indeed, the entire Western world by means of immigration. The threat to the West is also often cast in vague cultural terms as a kind of internal decay.”

 

Sunday 10.8.2017 New York Times Digest

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1. The Golden Age of ‘Existential’ Dread

“Calling something ‘a matter of life and death’ sounds hysterical and alarmist; ‘existential threat’ feels more solemn, gravely analytical, as if you’ve been poring over classified reports with world-weary experts. It is the verbal equivalent of a B-movie scientist somberly removing his glasses. We say it with abandon now, in every context.”

2. As Overdose Deaths Pile Up, a Medical Examiner Quits the Morgue

“After laboring here as the chief forensic pathologist for two decades, exploring the mysteries of the dead, he retired last month to explore the mysteries of the soul. In a sharp career turn, he is entering a seminary program to pursue a divinity degree, and ultimately plans to minister to young people to stay away from drugs.”

3. Global Economy’s Stubborn Reality: Plenty of Work, Not Enough Pay

“In many major countries, including the United States, Britain and Japan, labor markets are exceedingly tight, with jobless rates a fraction of what they were during the crisis of recent years. Yet workers are still waiting for a benefit that traditionally accompanies lower unemployment: fatter paychecks.”

4. Don’t Get Too Comfortable at That Desk

“New office designs are coming to a workplace near you, with layouts meant to cater to the variety of tasks required of modern white-collar workers.”

5. A Robot Makes a Mean Caesar Salad, but Will It Cost Jobs?

“Walking a couple of minutes within a building to a salad-tossing robot instead of venturing outside for lunch would mean shorter work breaks and increased productivity, he said.”

6. Pinpointing Racial Discrimination by Government Officials

“Emails with black-sounding names were 13 percent more likely to go unanswered than those with white-sounding names.”

7. Inside North Korea, and Feeling the Drums of War + While the U.S. Talks of
War, South Korea Shudders

“High school students march in the streets in military uniform every day to denounce America. Posters and billboards along the public roads show missiles destroying the U.S. Capitol and shredding the American flag.”

8. Confessions of a Sensible Gun Owner

“A great many hunters and gun owners are like me. We are not ‘gun nuts,’ stockpiling weapons in the name of some future apocalypse. We exercise our Second Amendment rights in a way that is palatable to most people who otherwise oppose guns — we’re the bridge that connects the two sides of the chasm in the national debate.”

9. N.R.A. and G.O.P., Together Forever

“The N.R.A. has successfully taken the issue of rational gun regulation out of the policy realm and made it a central feature of the culture wars. The issue is no longer simply about bump stock, or assault weapons, or specific regulations, or public safety; the debate over guns has become a subset of the larger cultural clash that pits us against them — liberals versus ‘normal’ Americans.”

10. No, That Robot Will Not Steal Your Job

“In the natural world, matter is neither created nor destroyed, but things are transformed. The same is true in the economic world. When new technology destroys, it leaves behind a layer of ash in which new jobs grow.”

11. Co-Parenting With Alexa

“Today, we’re no longer trusting machines just to do something, but to decide what to do and when to do it. The next generation will grow up in an age where it’s normal to be surrounded by autonomous agents, with or without cute names. The Alexas of the world will make a raft of decisions for my kids and others like them as they proceed through life — everything from whether to have mac and cheese or a green bowl for dinner to the perfect gift for a friend’s birthday to what to do to improve their mood or energy and even advice on whom they should date. In time, the question for them won’t be, ‘Should we trust robots?’ but ‘Do we trust them too much?’”

12. How Computers Turned Gerrymandering Into a Science

“Gerrymandering used to be an art, but advanced computation has made it a science.”

13. Who Invented ‘Zero’?

“The void is as old as time, but it was a human innovation to harness it with a symbol.”

14. Our Changing Climate Mind-Set

“When we viewed photographs and film of the annihilated cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we sensed that the world could be ended by nuclear weapons. Now these hurricanes have conveyed a similar feeling of world-ending, having left whole islands, once alive in their beauty and commerce, in ruin.”

15. Whatever Happened to Just Being Type A?

“One trend we see is people putting their personality types in their profiles as a shortcut to describing themselves.”

16. Blade Runner, Serving Sexy Replicant Looks for Fall

“Film professors put it on their syllabuses. Fashion designers turn to it as frequently as Breakfast at Tiffany’s. And music video directors ape it shot for shot.”

17. A Trust Buster for the New ‘Knowledge Monopoly’

“We, the consuming public, have failed to properly understand the new tech superpowers, he suggests, leaving little hope for stodgy and reluctant American regulators. The scope of their influence is obscured by the sheer number of things they do and sell, or problems they purport to be solving, and by our outdated sense of what constitutes a monopoly.”

18. What if Platforms Like Facebook Are Too Big to Regulate?

“What can a government realistically do about a problem like Facebook?”

19. After the Hurricane Winds Die Down, Larry McMurtry’s Houston Trilogy Lives On

“Some claim the three essential books in Texas history are the Bible, the Warren Commission report and Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about 19th-century cattle drives.”

20. How to Fight and Fix Your Car Like a Woman

“The book’s explanations of how to ‘fight like a woman’ are eye-opening, but of course there’s no substitute for physical practice. The biggest takeaway is counterintuitive: At all costs, resist. Many women are taught from an early age that the best chance of survival in an attack is to obey. Not true, says Kardian …. Get in the car, follow him to the deserted apartment, do what he wants — and you’re toast.”

21. Should Women Make Their Own Pop Music Canon?

“We take female musicians just seriously enough not to notice that we don’t actually take them seriously enough. They matter in the present. But posterity is another matter.”

22. Letters of Recommendation

“Six writers on their favorite cultural experiences of 2017.”

23. Frances McDormand’s Difficult Women

“I’m not an actor because I want my picture taken. I’m an actor because I want to be part of the human exchange.”

 

Sunday 10.1.2017 New York Times Digest

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1. Preparing Your Home for a Disaster

“There is no time like the present to think about all the things that could go wrong.”

2. In a Warming World, Keeping the Planes Running

“Low-lying airports may become increasingly vulnerable to storm surges. Hotter temperatures may cause tarmac to melt, restrict takeoff weights or require heavier aircraft to take off later in the day.”

3. The Latin Mass, Thriving in Southeastern Nigeria

“Catholic traditionalists see the ancient language of the Latin Mass as a sign of their faith’s stability and unity, an indication that Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. They would like to see it return worldwide, but for now, some of its strongest adherents have been in places like Nigeria, where historical tumult and ethnic strife have given traditionalists special reason to value this aspect of their faith.”

4. We Are All Jew-ish Now

“It’s not necessarily an identity. Better to call it a sensibility: the sensibility of whoever feels a bit unsure of who they are — a bit peculiar or out of place, a bit funny.”

5. Brevity Is the Soul of Twit

“The medium forces one to stick to the point.”

6. Speaking Ill of Hugh Hefner

“The things that were distinctively Hefnerian, that made him influential and important, were all rotten, and to the extent they were part of stories that people tend to celebrate, they showed the rot in larger things as well.”

7. Hugh Hefner, the Pajama Man

“In his endless dream, forever partying in his custom black lodge, nothing changed around him. Even his Christmas cards featured him in pajamas.”

8. Professors Behaving Badly

“Is there something about adjunct faculty members that makes them prone to outrageous political outbursts?”

9. Production of a Lifetime: Whitney Houston and Clive Davis

“There was a psychological cost to being a black superstar whose image was created with the express purpose of maximum crossover.”

10. A Muslim American’s Homecoming: Cowboys, Country Music, Chapatis

“As a Muslim American immigrant, am I just a few 140-character proclamations away from having my citizenship revoked? But fear also sparked curiosity. To me, ‘Wyoming’ sounds foreign and peculiar, spilling lazily off the tongue like a yawn and evoking in my mind the wild terrain someone else might associate with a Zimbabwe or Mozambique. What’s exotic to me isn’t food gilded with turmeric and six-day weddings — it’s grits and rodeos. How much time did I have left to experience them?”

11. Jennifer Egan: By the Book

“Nineteenth-century novels. I’m amazed by their capaciousness and flexibility — all the gutsy things that happen routinely in those books and today would be called experimental. Their authors were essentially rock stars, and you can feel the swagger in their prose.”

12. Karl Ove Knausgaard’s Visions for His Daughter

“Knausgaard’s art can still seem a kind of magic. How does he take the plainest things, in the plainest language, and make them feel so alive?”

13. Tracking the Hyper-Gentrification of New York, One Lost Knish Place at a Time

“The essential pain is not in the disappearance of wherever it was that used to serve the best 3 a.m. souvlaki … but in the transformation of the city into a place that no longer accommodates failure, a place that disavows mediocrity in the human form — defined now as the person without the big job, brilliant kid, sweeping view, outsize network — while all too willingly embracing any aesthetic expression of the average (this chain store, that grotesquely bland glass high-rise).”

14. Is Free Speech an Absolute Right, or Does Context Matter?

“Liberalism is founded on the belief that we should tolerate one another’s error, not because we approve of it, but to avoid the violence that would result if we each sought to silence the other. The liberal believes that life is more important than truth — that it is better to live in a peaceful society full of error than in a pure society full of persecution. The price of this toleration is that we must constantly put up with hearing speech that we consider wrong; we must smother our moral instincts.”

15. What I Care About Is Important. What You Care About Is a ‘Distraction.’

“The magic of waving away a ‘distraction’ is that it lets you minimize and dismiss something without having to explain why. The whole discussion is tabled, by fiat. It’s to trump everything, instantly. By calling something a distraction, you declare yourself — and the things you value — squarely in the white-hot center of the universe, far away from all tangential concerns, without pausing to justify that placement at all.”

16. Letter of Recommendation: ‘Shark Tank’

“You start to feel as if you could write your own business plan after watching a few episodes.”

17. How to Eat Spicy Food

“Relax and let the plant compounds expand your ability to experience food in a new way.”

18. Have Your Date and Your Garlic Too

“There are two proper ways to use garlic: pounding and blooming.”

19. The Mind of John McPhee

“McPhee gathers every single scrap of reporting on a given project — every interview, description, stray thought and research tidbit — and types all of it into his computer. He studies that data and comes up with organizing categories: themes, set pieces, characters and so on. Each category is assigned a code. To find the structure of a piece, McPhee makes an index card for each of his codes, sets them on a large table and arranges and rearranges the cards until the sequence seems right. Then he works back through his mass of assembled data, labeling each piece with the relevant code. On the computer, a program called ‘Structur’ arranges these scraps into organized batches, and McPhee then works sequentially, batch by batch, converting all of it into prose. (In the old days, McPhee would manually type out his notes, photocopy them, cut up everything with scissors, and sort it all into coded envelopes. His first computer, he says, was ‘a five-thousand-dollar pair of scissors.’)”

20. When ‘Not Guilty’ Is a Life Sentence

“More than 10,000 mentally ill Americans who haven’t been convicted of a crime — people who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity or who have been arrested but found incompetent to stand trial — are involuntarily confined to psychiatric hospitals.”

21. How Fake News Turned a Small Town Upside Down

“I started to ask why anyone should be allowed to publish false information for the express purpose of angering their audience and pushing them further away from those with whom they disagree, but Stranahan cut me off. ‘Hey, I’m walking into the White House right now,’ he said. He had just arrived for a press briefing with the president’s spokesman. ‘Let me call you back.’”

 

Sunday 9.24.2017 New York Times Digest

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1. Facebook’s Ad Scandal Isn’t a ‘Fail,’ It’s a Feature & Will Mark Zuckerberg ‘Like’ This Column?

“People who use the platform to keep in touch with loved ones may forget that the site makes its money by serving as a conduit for whatever messages people with money want to push at us.”

2. Push for Gender Equality in Tech? Some Men Say It’s Gone Too Far

“One radical fringe that is growing is Mgtow, which stands for Men Going Their Own Way and pronounced MIG-tow. Mgtow aims for total male separatism, including forgoing children, avoiding marriage and limiting involvement with women.”

3. As Equifax Amassed Ever More Data, Safety Was a Sales Pitch

“As part of its pitch to clients, the company promised to safeguard information.”

4. Technology Used to Track Players’ Steps Now Charts Their Sleep, Too

“Wearable technology represents opportunity not only for the teams, but for the companies who sell it. Many teams break down their data for their own personal insights, effectively doing research on the companies’ behalf.”

5. Some People Learn to Code in Their 60s, 70s or 80s

“While millennials make up the bulk of those learning in-demand skills like web design, programming or digital marketing — the average age of students at coding boot camps, for instance, is just under 30 — some people old enough to be their parents or even grandparents are also acquiring these abilities.”

6. The Best Investment Since 1926? Apple

“In the history of the markets since 1926, Apple has generated more profit for investors than any other American company.”

7. Climate Change Is Complex. We’ve Got Answers to Your Questions.

“The emissions that create those risks are happening now, raising deep moral questions for our generation.”

8. The Not-So-Glossy Future of Magazines

“Increasingly, the longtime core of the business — the print product — is an afterthought, overshadowed by investments in live events, podcasts, video, and partnerships with outside brands.”

9. The U.S. Still Leans on the Military-Industrial Complex

“As weapons production increased, the manufacture of autos and electronics shifted partly or wholly overseas. So did the production of other civilian products — leaving behind weapons bought by the Defense Department as an ever bigger share of the nation’s factory output.”

10. Coming Home to a Shipping Container

“Building with shipping containers isn’t exactly new, but until recently it hasn’t been exactly mainstream either. Now, though, it is becoming a lot more popular, as eco-friendly practices begin to influence market trends. Containers are loved by the hip and the practical, artisans and DIY-ers, engineers and construction foremen, as they are both sustainable and affordable. And used 20- or 40-foot containers can be obtained for as little as several hundred dollars apiece, so it’s not surprising that some industry professionals consider them the future of home building.”

11. How to Win a War on Drugs

“The U.S. could achieve Portugal’s death rate from drugs, we would save one life every 10 minutes. We would save almost as many lives as are now lost to guns and car accidents combined.”

12. Everyone Wants to Reduce Drug Prices. So Why Can’t We Do It?

“The pharmaceutical and health products industries spent $145 million on lobbying for the first half of 2017.”

13. Sisterhood’ Felt Meaningless. So My Sisters and I Got in the Car.

“The art historian Moyo Okediji notes that in Yoruban concepts of history, the community must assure children that they are not physically alone and ‘that a series of road maps exists, made by great and talented ancestors who as individuals have beaten a track for succeeding generations.’”

14. Want Geniuses? Welcome Immigrants

“Many of our country’s finest minds and brightest ideas are forged when dreamers from elsewhere encounter an unfamiliar place with unimagined possibilities. There’s a creative spark in that convergence. It has powered American greatness.”

15. Rocket Man Knows Better

“As global anxiety mounts, remedial history is in order.”

16. Why Texas Is No Longer Feeling Miraculous

“It finally seems to be dawning on people that low taxes, less regulation and more oil are no substitute for actually governing.”

17. Do Women Get to Write With Authority?

“Young men purchase authority on credit for which they are preapproved. But if you are a young woman, even now, no one and nothing will guarantee you. Is it any wonder, then, that if you wish to be in possession of authority, you seek to borrow before you expect to own?”

18. The Last Stand of the Amazon’s Arrow People

“Hidden deep in primeval Amazon forests, these groups represent the final frontier of a seemingly inexorable conquest that began with the landing of Portuguese and Spanish navigators on South America’s shores at the start of the 16th century.”

19. A Starry Night Crowded With Selfies

“It’s as if taking a photo of a work in a museum means ‘seeing’ it to a viewer, even though someone like me worries that taking the photo replaces seeing it in the slow and thoughtful way I would ideally wish.”

20. Learning to Live With a Changing World Map

“The United States, a country founded as a breakaway colony, has generally been reluctant to see changes to the world map.”

21. Alternative Movie Posters: Fan Art We Love

“Created by artists outside Hollywood, these hand-drawn beauties are not only better than most fan art, they’re often better than the real thing.”

22. How to Survive the Apocalypse

“In a world where the bombproof bunker has replaced the Tesla as the hot status symbol for young Silicon Valley plutocrats, everyone, it seems, is a ‘prepper.’”

23. Marilynne Robinson on Finding the Right Word

“I was very struck by something that I came across in my reading of Jonathan Edwards. I recall him quoting a writer who talks about how whatever we say lives on after us, that we continue to exist so long as any word we say exists in a living mind. And that there should be two judgments: one when we die, and one when the full impact of our lives has played itself out. That is, when every word that we’ve said, for good or ill, basically ceases to be active.”

24. Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson and the Ways We Talk About Our Past

“The talk in these rejoinders of Hemings as simply ‘property,’ as if she were akin to an inanimate object or nonsentient being, turns aside decades of historiography that makes clear that enslaved people, when they had chances, often acted to shape their circumstances to the extent that they could.”

25. When Corruption and Venality Were the Lifeblood of America

“The ambiguous liberal ideals of contract freedom and self-regulation that helped eradicate slavery became instruments for brute and chaotic corporate power. With the ex-slaves betrayed and the Indians conquered at last, an ‘uncommon’ America emerged, characterized by neither the imperatives of creative destruction nor even simple greed as much as by extravagance, mismanagement and predatory flimflam. Risk-taking and rugged individualism, big business’s eternally self-proclaimed virtues, were in extremely short supply at the top; Gilded Age fortunes sprang from government subsidies, insider tips and, above all, the corruption required to get these favors.”

26. Survival of the Prettiest

“Books by Darwin number 25. Books about Darwin, according to the global library catalog WorldCat, number about 7,500, with production ever rising. This cascade started with 22 books about Darwin published in 1860, the year after his On the Origin of Species appeared, averaged about 30 a year for almost a century, ballooned to almost 50 a year after World War II, and reached 100-plus in the 1980s. Currently we get about 160 a year — a Darwin tome every 2.3 days.”

27. How We Make Up Our Minds

“New knowledge doesn’t erase old misconceptions the way a software upgrade deletes the previous code. Instead, different theories coexist within our minds, and compete to explain the world.”

28. Are Artists the New Interpreters of Scientific Innovation?

“Science is too important to leave to the scientists.”

29. The Visionaries Behind the Memorable Worlds of Film

“Transcendent production design isn’t just about getting surfaces right, any more than great acting is just memorizing words. It’s about translating writers’ and directors’ intentions into a crystallized universe that’s both visceral and rich with meaning, telling parts of the story that even the best actors can’t.”

 

Fall In

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Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash.

I’m writing this on the first day of fall in the Northern Hemisphere.

Depending upon where you are, it might not feel like fall yet. Right now, for instance, it’s 92°F outside where I live. And humid. More summer than fall. Yet, at the same time, school’s back in session, football is being played, and Halloween paraphernalia is appearing in stores.

The leaves on one of the trees outside my window are starting to change color. Some leaves have even started to fall. It’s getting darker earlier and lighter later. And even though it’s still hot out during the day, it’s cooling down more at night.

Change is in the air.

This leads to a question: Should one also change in conjunction with the seasons? By this I mean more than donning a natty scarf when the temperature drops below a certain level—I mean changing things about the way you eat, sleep, live, and work.

Conventional productivity advice doesn’t really take up this question. One of the things, in fact, that irks me about such advice is that it tends to frame things in terms of daily routines, routines that are ostensibly the same regardless of the season. In other words, most productivity advice is seasonless. Here I’m thinking of things like Mason Currey’s engrossing 2013 book Daily Rituals and Tim Ferriss’s more tech bro-y late-2016 knockoff Tools for Titans.

Now, I’m as interested in famous people’s daily routines as anyone. But at the same time, I feel it’s important to resist the tyranny of “the day.”

What do I mean by that?

Well, we live in a world of seasons—and increasingly more variable and violent seasons at that—but productivity advice seems to always think in terms of the day, the week, the year, or five years, never the season, the sun, and the shadow.

In Lewis Mumford’s endlessly-rich 1937 book Technics and Civilization, he explains how the clock altered human relations by organizing everything around twenty-four little hours instead of, say, the rhythm of the seasons.

The consequences of this, Mumford argues, are profound:

When one thinks of the day as an abstract span of time, one does not go to bed with the chickens on a winter’s night: one invents wicks, chimneys, lamps, gaslights, electric lamps, so as to use all the hours belonging to the day. When one thinks of time, not as a sequence of experiences, but as a collection of hours, minutes, and seconds, the habits of adding time and saving time come into existence.

Because of the clock, Mumford continues, “Abstract time became the new medium of existence. Organic functions themselves were regulated by it: one ate, not upon feeling hungry, but when prompted by the clock: one slept, not when one was tired, but when the clock sanctioned it. A generalized time-consciousness accompanied the wider use of clocks: dissociating time from organic sequences….”

Since we all pretty much live according to “clock time” now, the autumnal equinox presents us with an opportunity to cast off our Apple Watches and reflect on some of the benefits of living according to what might be called “seasonal time.” To that end, I encourage you to step out of “clock time” and into “seasonal time.”

This will, no doubt, strike some as unappealing. Many people see nature as something to overcome or counteract, not as something to flow with or submit to. For others, it will be impossible. “Clock time” is simply imposed on them too strongly. But if you can do it, even just a little bit, I strongly recommend it, if only for the perspective it brings.

To quote Ecclesiastes 3:1, “To every thing there is a season.” What if we took that adage seriously, not just by buying pumpkin spice lattes but by doing key things in a more fall-like way? Fall-like might take different forms. The point is to embrace fall in particular and seasonal change in general. I’m definitely not recommending becoming “Mr. Autumn Man”. I’m talking about something else, something deeper.

One example I like is how novelist Lee Child sits down every September and begins work on a new Jack Reacher novel. He finishes up sometime the following spring and then spends the rest of the year doing other stuff—stuff like spending the entire month of August on vacation. (I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty nice.) Note, too, that this routine produces a book a year. (As someone who writes much more slowly, this sounds pretty nice to me as well.) And Child has been doing things this way since the late 1990s. (For more on Child’s process, see Andy Martin’s Reacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me.)

Fall is a time to write for me as well, but it also means welcoming—rather than fighting against—the shorter days, the football games, the decorative gourds. Productivity writer Nicholas Bate’s seven fall basics are more sleep, more reading, more hiking, more reflection, more soup, more movies, and more night sky. I like those too. The winter will bring with it new things, new adjustments. Hygge not hay rides. Ditto the spring. Come summer, I’ll feel less stress about stopping work early to go to a barbecue or movie because I know, come autumn, I’ll be hunkering down. More and more, I try to live in harmony with the seasons, not the clock. The result has been I’m able to prioritize better.

And yes, fall for me also means some of the stereotypical stuff: apple picking, leafy walks, we’re even trying to go to a corn maze this year.

In sum, as the Earth wobbles around the Sun, don’t be afraid to switch things up. I can’t promise an uptick in productivity, but when you think of things in terms of seasons instead of a single day, the entire year becomes your canvas.

Sunday 9.17.2017 New York Times Digest

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1. Our Constitution Wasn’t Built for This

“Our Constitution was not built for a country with so much wealth concentrated at the very top nor for the threats that invariably accompany it: oligarchs and populist demagogues.”

2. How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food

“Nestlé’s direct-sales army in Brazil is part of a broader transformation of the food system that is delivering Western-style processed food and sugary drinks to the most isolated pockets of Latin America, Africa and Asia. As their growth slows in the wealthiest countries, multinational food companies like Nestlé, PepsiCo and General Mills have been aggressively expanding their presence in developing nations, unleashing a marketing juggernaut that is upending traditional diets from Brazil to Ghana to India.”

3. Hold the Egg Sandwich: Egyptian TV Is Calling

“Mr. El-Gamasy owns the Lotus Deli in Ridgewood, Queens, a place known for its sandwiches, extensive craft beer selection, and its gracious, friendly owner. But few of his customers — and likely, none of his viewers in Egypt — know that the man making egg sandwiches and small talk behind the counter is the same one who appears on popular Egyptian television news programs, holding forth on subjects from immigration policy to North Korea.”

4. Computers Are Taking Design Cues From Human Brains

“For about half a century, computer makers have built systems around a single, do-it-all chip — the central processing unit — from a company like Intel, one of the world’s biggest semiconductor makers. That’s what you’ll find in the middle of your own laptop computer or smartphone. Now, computer engineers are fashioning more complex systems. Rather than funneling all tasks through one beefy chip made by Intel, newer machines are dividing work into tiny pieces and spreading them among vast farms of simpler, specialized chips that consume less power.”

5. Bump in U.S. Incomes Doesn’t Erase 50 Years of Pain

“Since the 1950s, three-quarters of working Americans have seen no change in lifetime income.”

6. In Amish Country, the Future Is Calling

“The Amish have not given up on horse-drawn buggies. Their rigid abstinence from many kinds of technology has left parts of their lifestyle frozen since the 19th century: no cars, TVs or connections to electric utilities, for example. But computers and cellphones are making their way into some Amish communities, pushing them — sometimes willingly, often not — into the 21st century.”

7. When History’s Losers Write the Story

“The South, facing catastrophic loss of life and mass destruction on a European scale, wrote its own history of the war. It cast itself as an underdog overwhelmed by the North’s superior numbers, but whose cause — a noble fight for states’ rights — was just. The North looked the other way. Northern elites were more interested in re-establishing economic ties than in keeping their commitments to blacks’ constitutional rights. The political will to complete Reconstruction died.”

8. The Making and the Breaking of the Legend of Robert E. Lee

“The ups and downs of his reputation reflect changes in key elements of Americans’ historical consciousness — how we understand race relations, the causes and consequences of the Civil War and the nature of the good society.”

9. The Suburb of the Future, Almost Here

“Millennial suburbanites want a new kind of landscape. They want breathing room but disdain the energy wastefulness, visual monotony and social conformity of postwar manufactured neighborhoods. If new suburbs can hit the sweet spot that accommodates the priorities of that generation, millennial habitats will redefine everyday life for all suburbanites, which is 70 percent of Americans.”

10. How to Bring Your Vacation Home With You

“Beyond a week or two away from work, more time off isn’t going to make you happier or calmer or produce more lasting gains of another sort.”

11. The Nazis’ First Victims Were the Disabled

“We often say what happened in Nazi Germany couldn’t happen here. But some of it, like the mistreatment and sterilization of the disabled, did happen here.”

12. The Ever-Changing Business of ‘Anti-Aging’

“The only real solution to aging is, of course, death, but our central mode of dealing with that inevitability is to delay and deny it.”

13. New Sentences: From Lower Ed, by Tressie McMillan Cottom

Lower Ed is a dense little wonder. What seems like it might be a narrow academic study — a sociological analysis of for-profit colleges — turns out to be about the whole agitated essence of America: our markets, inequalities, prejudices, blind spots and guiding mythologies.”

14. What the World’s Emptiest International Airport Says About China’s Influence

“For centuries, Western liberalism has ruled the world. The Chinese believe their time has come.”

15. RT, Sputnik and Russia’s New Theory of War

“You can tighten your internet security protocols to protect against data breaches, run counterhacking operations to take out infiltrators, sanction countries with proven links to such activities. But RT and Sputnik operate on the stated terms of Western liberal democracy; they count themselves as news organizations, protected by the First Amendment and the libertarian ethos of the internet.”

16. What Could We Lose if a NASA Climate Mission Goes Dark?

“One lesson of publicly funded science is that Americans are not very good at predicting how useful it will be.”

 

The Rock at Work

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(Via The Rock’s Instagram.)