Sunday 4.23.2017 New York Times Digest

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1. America’s New ‘Anxiety’ Disorder

“Few Americans, at the moment, would assess our national emotional state as anything better than ‘not great.’ We are not in the midst of real disaster, of course: no Civil War, no Great Depression, not even that grim bit of the 1970s that featured near-constant bombings and hijackings, a presidential resignation and two different women trying to kill Gerald Ford in a single month. But when the new president referred to the country as a scene of ‘carnage’ in his inaugural address, the objections were relatively muted. There’s a bleakness in the atmosphere, and a consensus on what to call it: ‘anxiety.’”

2. Syria Changed the World

“Now in its seventh year, this war allowed to rage for so long, killing 400,000 Syrians and plunging millions more into misery, has sent shock waves around the world.”

3. Go East, Young American

“Maybe the solution is emigration from America.”

4. Is It Time to Break Up Google?

“Could it be that these companies — and Google in particular — have become natural monopolies by supplying an entire market’s demand for a service, at a price lower than what would be offered by two competing firms? And if so, is it time to regulate them like public utilities?”

5. Our Costly Addiction to Health Care Jobs

“For every doctor, there are 16 other health care workers. And half of those 16 are in administrative and other nonclinical roles.”

6. The Planet Can’t Stand This Presidency

“Trump is in charge at a critical moment for keeping climate change in check. We may never recover.”

7. Crime and Different Punishments

“It is not clear that this method of dealing with crime succeeds at avoiding cruel and unusual punishment so much as it avoids making anyone outside the prison system see it. Nor is it clear that a different system, with a sometimes more old-fashioned set of penalties, would necessarily be more inhumane.”

8. ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’: A Newly Resonant Dystopia Comes to TV

“We were hoping to be relevant, but we weren’t hoping it would be this relevant.”

9. Trump Proposed a Wall. They Imagined How It Would Work.

“President Trump’s pronouncements have inspired a boom in border projects of a very different sort: documentaries, shorts, cartoons and art installations about the contested area, where barriers and fences already exist along some stretches.”

10. How Six Degrees Became a Forever Meme

“‘The president of the United States. A gondolier in Venice,’ she says. ‘It’s not just the big names,’ she continues. ‘It’s anyone.’”

11. Cash Is King No More

“At the dawn of what would become our modern economy, in the 17th century, the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza wrote that ‘money has presented us with the abstract of everything.’ What he meant was that money had become the consummate medium for the human desire to possess. Now, 400 years later, everything has become the abstract of money.”

12. Spin Class

“Carry a small notebook everywhere (‘Don’t lose it. Please don’t lose it’); read your work aloud; and study the masters (for dialogue, he recommends Louise Erdrich, Roddy Doyle, Marlon James and Elmore Leonard). And, perhaps less familiarly: Go to the gym? ‘Very few people talk about it, but writers have to have the stamina of world-class athletes,’ McCann writes. ‘The exhaustion of sitting in the one place. … The dropping of the bucket down into the near-empty well over and over again.’”

13. John Waters: By the Book

“Grade school ruined reading for me by demanding book reports for such snore-a-thons as Benjamin Franklin’s biography written for children. I wanted to read Hot Rod and Street Rod, by Henry Gregor Felsen, but my teachers hadn’t heard of them. It wasn’t until I was a teenager and Grove Press came along and introduced me to Burroughs, Marguerite Duras and the Marquis de Sade that I became a real bookworm.”

14. People Have Limited Knowledge. What’s the Remedy? Nobody Knows

“Humans rarely think for themselves. Rather, we think in groups. Just as it takes a tribe to raise a child, it also takes a tribe to invent a tool, solve a conflict or cure a disease. No individual knows everything it takes to build a cathedral, an atom bomb or an aircraft. What gave Homo sapiens an edge over all other animals and turned us into the masters of the planet was not our individual rationality, but our unparalleled ability to think together in large groups.”

15. The Hermit-Burglar and the Optimistic Journalist

“He didn’t choose to become a hermit — he was born one, and the woods gave him exactly what he sought.”

16. Our Climate Future Is Actually Our Climate Present

“The future we’ve been warned about is beginning to saturate the present. We tend to imagine climate change as a destroyer. But it also traffics in disruption, disarray: increasingly frequent and more powerful storms and droughts; heightened flooding; expanded ranges of pests turning forests into fuel for wildfires; stretches of inhospitable heat. So many facets of our existence — agriculture, transportation, cities and the architecture they spawned — were designed to suit specific environments. Now they are being slowly transplanted into different, more volatile ones, without ever actually moving.”

17. Is It O.K. to Tinker With the Environment to Fight Climate Change?

“Once we start putting sulfate particles in the atmosphere, he mused, would we really be able to stop?”

18. When Rising Seas Transform Risk Into Certainty

“Calamity can come for us all, but by bundling enough separate peril together we manage to form a general stability, a collective hedge against helplessness. As climate insecurity mounts, though, that math will get harder.”

19. Why Are We So Obsessed With the End of the World?

“We’ve been imagining the end of the world since we inherited it, and in most of our mythologies the world ceases to exist before it can begin.”

20. 25 Years Later, David Lynch Returns to ‘Twin Peaks’

“You concentrate on your work, try to do the best you can, and when it comes time, you release control, realizing it’s in the hands of fate.”

21. Dave Chappelle Is an American Folk Hero

“That Chappelle is an African-American raised by college professor parents, a Muslim with a Filipino wife, three biracial children and a white stepbrother, speaks to his singular ability to remix cultural boundaries in ways many cannot, or wish they could. He also happens to feel most comfortable in Middle America, on the acres of land he bought in Yellow Springs, Ohio, in the 2000s. So, yes, he is sprawling urban graffiti, with his casual usage of the N-word, his elastic black English and his fusillade of curse words, but he’s also small-town folk with a hard-won vulnerability.”

Cheap Coffee

“Cheap coffee is one of America’s most unsung comfort foods. It’s as warming and familiar as a homemade lasagna or a 6-hour stew. It tastes of midnight diners and Tom Waits songs; ice cream and cigarettes with a dash of Swiss Miss. It makes me remember the best cup of coffee I ever had. Even though there was never just one best cup: there were hundreds.”

—Keith Pandolfi, “The Case for Bad Coffee”

(Via Austin Kleon.)

Previously: “A Beverage, Not a Lifestyle.”

Sunday 4.16.2017 New York Times Digest

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1. Is American Retail at a Historic Tipping Point? + From ‘Zombie Malls’ to Bonobos: What America’s Retail Transformation Looks Like

“About one out of every 10 Americans works in retail.”

2. Supply-Side Economics, but for Liberals

“Certain social welfare policies, according to an emerging body of research, may actually encourage more people to work and enable them to do so more productively.”

3. Why You Should Read Books You Hate

“It was only by burrowing through books that I hated, books that provoked feelings of outrage and indignation, that I truly learned how to read. Defensiveness makes you a better reader, a closer, more skeptical reader: a critic. Arguing with the author in your head forces you to gather opposing evidence. You may find yourself turning to other texts with determination, stowing away facts, fighting against the book at hand. You may find yourself developing a point of view.”

4. What Kind of Pet Should Donald Trump Get?

“Of all the stains besmirching the Trump presidency — the ethical lacunae, the spasmodic ‘policy’ fits, the Golf Digest aesthetic — none looms so large as the absence of a White House pet.”

5. The Real Reason Black Kids Benefit From Black Teachers

“The fact that my skin color matches that of my students doesn’t give me any superpowers as an educator. But it does give me the ability to see them in a way that’s untarnished by the stereotypes, biases and cultural disconnects that fuel inequality and injustice — like the outlook that made Trayvon Martin, carrying Skittles, appear dangerously suspicious to the man who took his life.”

6. America’s Uncivil War Over Words

“The writing of dictionaries in the United States has always been political.”

7. The Evangelical Roots of Our Post-Truth Society

“The conservative Christian worldview is not just a posture of mistrust toward the secular world’s ‘fake news.’ It is a network of institutions and experts versed in shadow versions of climate change science, biology and other fields.”

8. Where Nature Gets to Run Amok

“Chances are you know a place like this yourself. They are those spaces in the peripheries of our vision, glimpsed from the corner of the eye on our daily commute or maybe half-remembered from explorations as a kid; those wastelands that seem to defy the capitalist definitions of usable or workable, they run wild between the urban and the rural environment as a strip of old common, a fenced-off belt of trees, an abandoned, rough, wildflower-filled patch beside a housing project, highway, office block, mall, mill or warehouse.”

9. I Want My Lesbian Bars Back

“In most cities, ‘queer’ bars cater almost exclusively to gay men.”

10. Charles Murray’s ‘Provocative’ Talk

“It is not obvious, to put it mildly, that Middlebury students and faculty had a moral obligation to prevent Mr. Murray from airing these views in public.”

11. The Quiet Power of Humility

“Since humility is so out of fashion as to almost have been forgotten, it’s worth making the case for how to rightly understand it, to articulate why humility is not only an essential Christian virtue but also … an essential civic one.”

12. Oprah Winfrey on ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’

“How can you have Dorothy Dandridge come and sing at your club, and then she can’t use the bathroom and find a hotel? We certainly want to be entertained by you and appreciate you and make ourselves feel good from the experience of your art. But nope, can’t sit down, can’t eat. In 1951, all the people that benefited from those cells didn’t know that it was a black woman’s cells. It’s indicative of the times.”

13. Power and Punishment: Two New Books About Race and Crime

“Forman’s novel claim is this: What most explains the punitive turn in black America is not a repudiation of civil rights activism, as some have argued, but an embrace of it.”

14. A New Biography of Martin Luther Reveals the Life Beyond the Theses

“In 1517, Martin Luther was an unknown academic in search of a cause. Only a few years later, he was the most published author in the history of Christendom. By the time of his death in 1546, the church was riven into competing confessions, Protestant and Catholic, with consequences we still live with today.”

15. The Enduring Power of Adam and Eve (Minus the Sin and Sexism)

“Why were Adam and Eve able to love each other so fiercely? Because those lucky bastards had no choice.”

16. Which Force is More Harmful to the Arts: Elitism or Populism?

“The difference between elitism and populism might better be understood as a difference in a writer’s attitude toward time.”

17. New Technology Is Built on a ‘Stack.’ Is That the Best Way to Understand Everything Else, Too?

“Stack logic is only just finding its footing in the corporate world, and it hasn’t spilled into mainstream conversation just yet. (People might intuit what you meant if you described your Twitter and Facebook accounts as a ‘social-media stack,’ but they might also intuit that they want their conversation with you to be over as quickly as possible.) The concept, however, has gained traction in a telling set of subcultures.”

18. Mike Judge, the Bard of Suck

“If Idiocracy imagined that America would one day amuse itself into ruin, then ‘Silicon Valley’ offers a compelling case for how we’ll go about doing it — not in spite of our best and brightest, but because of them.”

19. The Return of Lorde

“A lot of musicians think they can do pop, and the ones who don’t succeed are the ones who don’t have the reverence — who think it’s just a dumb version of other music. You need to be awe-struck.”

20. I Thought I Understood the American Right. Trump Proved Me Wrong.

“We advanced a narrative of the American right that was far too constricted to anticipate the rise of a man like Trump. Historians, of course, are not called upon to be seers. Our professional canons warn us against presentism — we are supposed to weigh the evidence of the past on its own terms — but at the same time, the questions we ask are conditioned by the present. That is, ultimately, what we are called upon to explain. Which poses a question: If Donald Trump is the latest chapter of conservatism’s story, might historians have been telling that story wrong?”

21. How to Escape From a Car in Water

“No one else will arrive in time; you have to save yourself.”

The Lost City of Z

Sunday 4.9.2017 New York Times Digest

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1. Rising Waters Threaten China’s Rising Cities

“In the end, nature always finds its level.”

2. When Solar Panels Became Job Killers

“With its deep government pockets, growing technical sophistication and a comprehensive plan to free itself from dependence on foreign companies, China aims to become dominant in industries of the future like renewable energy, big data and self-driving cars.”

3. Last of New York’s Master Wigmakers

“Mr. Piazza is one of the last Old World wigmakers making wigs for the public in the city, men and women trained mostly by Italian and Jewish immigrants in the centuries-old trade of hand-tying wigs, a fussy affair that on the patience spectrum falls somewhere between tailoring a jacket and counting the stars.”

4. Behind Kevin Durant’s Jersey Number, a Cold-Blooded Murder

“To some, it is just a number. To Durant and those who knew Chucky Craig, it is a person and a moment.”

5. Damaging Your Phone, Accidentally on Purpose

“When a new model is available, according to recent research, people who have iPhones tend to become more careless with the phones they already own.”

6. The Myth of Main Street

“The dream of Main Street may be populist, but the reality is elitist.”

7. What ‘White’ Food Meant to a First-Generation Kid

“One dominant narrative of immigration paints a rosy picture of two cultures melting together through food, like my mother stuffing our Thanksgiving turkey with sticky rice. But in reality, assimilation is more violent, history more complex, and cultures less disparate. I’d hungrily devoured what I had believed to be American normalcy, but I was still being seen as American-adjacent.”

8. The Utter Uselessness of Job Interviews

“So great is people’s confidence in their ability to glean valuable information from a face to face conversation that they feel they can do so even if they know they are not being dealt with squarely. But they are wrong.”

9. To Be a Genius, Think Like a 94-Year-Old

“The average inventor sends in his or her application to the patent office at age 47, and that the highest-value patents often come from the oldest inventors — those over the age of 55.”

10. Learn a River’s Name Before It’s Gone

“Instead of making up new names, we might consider learning the names that already exist.”

11. Sleep Is the New Status Symbol

“Sleep entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley and beyond have poured into the sleep space, as branders like to say — a $32 billion market in 2012 — formerly inhabited by old-style mattress and pharmaceutical companies.”

12. A Business With Legs (and Abs): Boom Times for Male Striptease Revues

“Part of his success appears to come from a savvy use of geography: Magic Men mostly visits smaller cities, bringing a style of entertainment not often seen in spots like Bismarck, N.D., and Owensboro, Ky. Troupe members regularly interact with fans on Snapchat and Instagram. Magic Men has 1.1 million followers on Facebook; Chippendales has about 803,300.”

13. My Vancouver: An Ever-Unfolding Story

“It’s noteworthy that on only two occasions has the city found itself on the brink of a sports championship: Game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs in both cases, in 1994 against the New York Rangers and in 2011 against the Boston Bruins. Both times, on losing, Vancouver descended into manic violence with stores looted and cars burned. There’s a troublingly adolescent quality to these disturbances, which I theorize are less likely to occur in cities that are soberly aware of their own capacity for self-harm. In Vancouver — where cyclists wear helmets and nobody carries a concealed weapon — I’ve often wondered if in our youthfulness we also lack the maturity to see our own hypocrisies. A city smugly in the downward facing dog.”

14. One Family’s Story of Mental Illness and What Came After

“Today there are some 10 million Americans with mental illness and only 45,000 inpatient psychiatric beds, leaving the suffering to shuffle between ‘crisis hospitalization, homelessness and incarceration.’ Jails and prisons are now the nation’s largest mental health care facilities. The worst data point: There are 38,000 suicides a year in this country, and 90 percent of the victims are mentally ill.”

15. Two Books Explore the Furor Over Rape on Campus

“Kipnis’s book is maddening; it’s also funny, incisive and often convincing. Her observations on ‘the learned compliance of heterosexual femininity,’ how campus hookup culture remains ‘organized around male prerogatives’ and the necessity of allowing ambiguity to exist in sexual relationships reframe feminist visions of consent, sex and male sexual entitlement. She unmasks the Title IX adjudication process as shadowy and baffling on many campuses, and not just in how accusers are treated; she also makes a powerful case that a student-led demand for intellectual safety has too often encroached upon academic freedom and even the work of teaching itself.”

16. Independence Days: My Perfect Imperfect Gap Year

“The idea that gap years are inherently elitist may be due to the potentially high cost of travel and of independent programs, which offer a structured experience — typically of adventure, service and more or less education — that can cost upward of $20,000. But that criticism cuts against the realities most students already face — that is, average in-state tuition and fees of $8,940, or $28,308 at private colleges, according to the College Board. When factoring in room, board and other expenses, this would mean spending about $100,000 over five years at public colleges and more than double that at private ones.”

17. Behind the Problem of Student Homelessness

“More low-income students are arriving on campus without a safety net; should they lose their job or their roommates kick them out, parents may not be able to just cut them a check. Most community college students are older — 29, on average — and on their own. They may not be willing to tell their parents how dire their situation is.”

18. A Town Struggles to Ease Student Stress

“Crying jags over test scores are common here. Students say getting B’s can be deeply dispiriting, dashing college dreams and profoundly disappointing parents.”

19. Learning to Think Like a Computer

“It’s suddenly not enough to be a fluent user of software interfaces. Understanding what lies behind the computer’s seeming magic now seems crucial. In particular, ‘computational thinking’ is captivating educators, from kindergarten teachers to college professors, offering a new language and orientation to tackle problems in other areas of life.”

20. Middlebury, My Divided Campus

“While students must always first demonstrate that they understand an argument on its own terms, I make sure they know that they are free to disagree, both with a particular text and with me. I will grade them on the strength of their argument and the evidence they muster in support of it, not the conclusions they may reach. With these maxims, students not only write better papers, they also learn skills that arm them to fight injustice in all its manifestations.”

21. The Professor and the Jihadi

“Unlike the Islam-bashing polemicists who haunt French opinion pages, Kepel brings a lifetime of scholarship to this argument. He has always been careful to distinguish mainstream Islam from the hard-line Islamist ideologues of the banlieues, who have no real equivalent in the United States. He has long been a man of the left; his wife’s family is from North Africa, and he has no sympathy for the xenophobia of the right-wing National Front. But he believes that radical Islamists are trying to shred France’s social fabric and foster a civil war, and that many leftists are unwittingly playing into their hands. This view has made him a target for almost everyone.”

22. CNN Had a Problem. Donald Trump Solved It.

“Had Trump lost the election, CNN would probably have returned to its previously scheduled struggle for survival. Instead, it has become more central to the national conversation than at any point in the network’s history since the first gulf war. And the man who is presiding over this historic moment at CNN happens to be the same one who was in some part responsible for Donald Trump’s political career. It was Zucker who, as president of NBC Entertainment, broadcast ‘The Apprentice’ at a time when Trump was little more than an overextended real estate promoter with a failing casino business. That show, more than anything, reversed Trump’s fortunes, recasting a local tabloid villain as the people’s prime-time billionaire. And it was Zucker who, as president of CNN, broadcast the procession of made-for-TV events — the always news-making interviews; the rallies; debates; the ‘major policy addresses’ that never really were — that helped turn Trump into the Republican front-runner at a time when few others took his candidacy seriously.”

23. In the Shadow of a Fairy Tale

“The evil stepmother casts a long, primal shadow, and three years ago I moved in with that shadow, to a one-bedroom rent-controlled apartment near Gramercy Park. I sought the old stories in order to find company — out of sympathy for the stepmothers they vilified — and to resist their narratives, to inoculate myself against the darkness they held.”

24. How to Kick Open a Door

“First, try to discern what type of door you’re up against.”

Sunday 4.2.2017 New York Times Digest

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1. Trump Is President. Now Encrypt Your Email.

“Eight years of a broadly likable president lulled liberals into information-security complacency, even as Barack Obama expanded the executive branch’s surveillance powers — and made heavy use of them at home and abroad. We should have been paying closer attention to how much of our data and our communications were exposed to the government, especially after the Snowden leaks revealed the scale and extent of the National Security Agency’s surveillance. After those same leaks revealed the involvement of major private technology companies in government spying efforts, we should have been more careful in our use of them.”

2. Tribes That Live Off Coal Hold Tight to Trump’s Promises

“Some of the largest tribes in the United States derive their budgets from the very fossil fuels that Mr. Trump has pledged to promote.”

3. Tracking the Yachts and Jets of the Mega-Rich

“New technology, specialized websites and an army of amateur plane-spotters and yacht-watchers around the world have made it easier than ever for anyone to pinpoint a billionaire’s yacht or jet anywhere in the world and track their movements.”

4. How Scared Should People on the Border Be?

“Will the president’s dream of a new and bigger wall change anything down here? Very likely not. Tunnels will be dug deeper. Cannons aimed higher. Ladders built taller. Coyotes will charge more. And most of the people building the wall will be Hispanic. In fact, dozens of the companies bidding for the contract are owned by Hispanics. Racism and self-loathing aside, ethics are the stuff of the comfortable: Down here, work is work.”

5. Who Needs Charters When You Have Public Schools Like These?

“Union shows what can be achieved when a public school system takes the time to invest in a culture of high expectations, recruit top-flight professionals and develop ties between schools and the community.”

6. Jerks and the Start-Ups They Ruin

“Bro C.E.O.s are better at raising money than making money. So why do venture capitalists keep investing in them? It may be because many of the venture capitalists are bros as well.”

7. Do Millennial Men Want Stay-at-Home Wives?

“Overall, Americans aged 18 to 34 are less comfortable than their elders with the idea of women holding roles historically held by men.”

8. Nico Muhly on Why Choral Music Is Slow Food for the Soul

“Nobody is meant to clap, and the music is not presented to an audience for approval; rather, it is meant to guide the mind out of the building into unseen heights and depths. It was not originally intended to happen at 7:30 at night for the pleasure of an audience coming from work, with just enough time for a rushed Chablis before the warning gong goes off, quickly checking ticket stubs and crawling over other patrons’ coats.”

9. Love Lessons From the (Very) First Couple

“They were the first to grapple with the central mystery of being alive: being unalone.”

10. With God on Their Side: How Evangelicals Entered American Politics

“One major question dominates FitzGerald’s treatment, and it is suggested by her subtitle. Why should the faithful try to shape America at all? To a strong believer, God’s kingdom is the one that matters, and it is not of this world; America, from such a perspective, is just a tiny speck in a vast world unknowable to us. Get right with the Lord, not the Republican Party.”

11. Don’t Do It: The Simple Solution to Clearing the To-Do List

“Now comes the pivot where the type-AAA female becomes an Everywoman, with advice on how to relax.”

12. Sonic Youth: Cultural Appropriations of Two Musical Hipsters

“Every time America listens to its music it comes to grips, whether we realize it or not, with the chapter of a story we haven’t wanted to hear for 150 years.”

13. Hitler’s Little Helper: A History of Rampant Drug Use Under the Nazis

“The beauty of Pervitin lay in the delightful feelings of euphoria, self-confidence and sharp mental focus it gave its users. It could also banish sleep for up to 48 hours or more. This made the drug especially useful during the invasion of Poland in September 1939 and then again in the rapid offensive by tanks through the Ardennes Mountains in May 1940.”

14. Letter of Recommendation: Life Magazine

“Reading Life in a bungalow in Medford, Mass., I beheld a world that was remote and alluring, places I would never see, parties I would never attend, millionaires and up-and-comers I would never know. It was how the mass of people lived, vicariously, following the fortunes of famous names in magazines; how they still live, overlooked, grinding away, not celebrated, not up-and-coming.”

15. Those Indecipherable Medical Bills? They’re One Reason Health Care Costs So Much.

“In other countries, when patients recover from a terrifying brain bleed — or, for that matter, when they battle cancer, or heal from a serious accident, or face down any other life-threatening health condition — they are allowed to spend their days focusing on getting better. Only in America do medical treatment and recovery coexist with a peculiar national dread: the struggle to figure out from the mounting pile of bills what portion of the fantastical charges you actually must pay. It is the sickness that eventually afflicts most every American.”

Let’s

“Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails. Let us rise early and fast, or break fast, gently and without perturbation; let company come and let company go, let the bells ring and the children cry — determined to make a day of it. Why should we knock under and go with the stream? Let us not be upset and overwhelmed in that terrible rapid and whirlpool called a dinner, situated in the meridian shallows. Weather this danger and you are safe, for the rest of the way is down hill. With unrelaxed nerves, with morning vigor, sail by it, looking another way, tied to the mast like Ulysses. If the engine whistles, let it whistle till it is hoarse for its pains. If the bell rings, why should we run? We will consider what kind of music they are like.”

—Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854)