Some Sort of Orientation

“You shouldn’t feel upset that I haven’t seen the Star Wars films; I hardly see any films. I read. I see two, three, maybe four films per year … Sometimes I see things that are completely against my cultural nature. I was raised with Latin and Ancient Greek and poetry from Greek antiquity, but sometimes, just to see the world I live in, I watch ‘WrestleMania’ … You have to know what a good amount of the population is watching. Do not underestimate the Kardashians. As vulgar as they may be, it doesn’t matter that much, but you have to find some sort of orientation. As I always say, the poet must not close his eyes, must not avert them.”

Werner Herzog, Variety, November 2019

Time Will Do the Rest

“Let the currents move beneath you. Powers will shift. Enemies can vanish. Do what you can do to stay alive. Time will do the rest.”

—Luke Evans’s character in Anna(2019), directed by Luc Besson, who is admittedly “problematic” (Outlaw Vern explains in his review), but I liked it and this line

Sunday 11.3.2019 New York Times Digest

1. It’s the End of California as We Know It

“Our whole way of life is built on a series of myths — the myth of endless space, endless fuel, endless water, endless optimism, endless outward reach and endless free parking. One by one, those myths are bursting into flame. We are running out of land, housing, water, road space and now electricity.”

2. The Twitter Presidency: In Trump’s Twitter Feed: Conspiracy-Mongers, Racists and Spies + Reshaping the White House + What Happens When Ordinary People End Up in Trump’s Tweets

“When Donald Trump entered office, Twitter was a political tool that had helped get him elected and a digital howitzer that he relished firing. The Times examined how, in the year since, he has fully integrated the social media platform into the very fabric of his administration.”

3. How Adam Neumann of WeWork Failed Up

“He benefited from a frenetic, nonstop energy, and silly as it may sound, there’s no question that Mr. Neumann’s good hair and looks helped his cause. At 6 feet 5, he had a physical presence that could dominate a room.”

4. Inside the Debate Between Netflix and Big Theater Chains Over The Irishman

“If he had made The Irishman under the auspices of a traditional Hollywood studio, it would have been business as usual, and the film would most likely be playing at a theater near you. But Paramount declined, because of the hefty budget for the decades-spanning film.”

5. The Glorious Return of Funk

“Funk has always been a socio-political philosophy as much as a sound, and as it crests on the radio, at bars, clubs, house parties and in our popular consciousness, we should pay attention to the meanings we derive from it.”

6. The Government Protects Our Food and Cars. Why Not Our Data?

“Why are Americans protected from hazardous laptops, fitness trackers and smartphones — but not when hazardous apps on our devices expose and exploit our personal information?”

7. The Christian Case for Climate Action

“If we truly believe we’ve been given responsibility for every living thing on this planet (including each other) as it says in Genesis 1, then it isn’t only a matter of caring about climate change: We should be at the front of the line demanding action.”

8. The Happy, Healthy Capitalists of Switzerland

“The real lesson of Swiss success is that the stark choice offered by many politicians — between private enterprise and social welfare — is a false one. A pragmatic country can have a business-friendly environment alongside social equality, if it gets the balance right.”

9. These 7 Million Young People Can Beat Trump + To Beat Trump, Focus on His Corruption + Democrats Can Still Seize the Center + Can Democrats Compete With Trump’s Twitter Feed?

“How to beat Trump in 2020. Four opinion writers show the way.”

10. The Korean Secret to Happiness and Success

“Nunchi, despite being as old as Korean civilization itself, is extraordinarily suited for modern life because it requires speed and adaptability. All you need are your eyes and your ears. And — this is the hard part — a quiet mind.”

11. I Love Housework. Let Me Explain.

“I approach these chores like a spiritual discipline, on par with fasting and prayer. There’s something about the careful consideration required to do them well that puts me at ease.”

12. In Defense of Perfect Instagram Moments

“This is the paradox women face on social media: Share enough highs to seem well adjusted but not braggy, share enough lows to seem down to earth but not suicidal, and share enough unfiltered moments to seem human but not unattractive.”

13. How Many Christmas Movies Is Too Many Christmas Movies?

“Hallmark channels have increased their annual Christmas movie count by 20 percent since 2017, but Lifetime has more than quadrupled its output in the last two years and Netflix has doubled its in that same time.”

14. Tales From the Teenage Cancel Culture

“We all do cringey things and make dumb mistakes and whatever. But social media’s existence has brought that into a place where people can take something you did back then and make it who you are now.”

15. Those People We Tried to Cancel? They’re All Hanging Out Together

“… a unique emerging class of people — journalists, academics, opinion writers — canceled for bad, conservative or offensive opinions. As it happens, cancellation is bringing many of them together.”

16. As Men Are Canceled, So Too Their Magazine Subscriptions

“Even Playboy, mired in identity crisis since dial-up modems, is suddenly woke.”

17. The End of Friendly Generational Relations

“‘Ok boomer’ has become Generation Z’s endlessly repeated retort to the problem of older people who just don’t get it, a rallying cry for millions of fed up kids. Teenagers use it to reply to cringey YouTube videos, Donald Trump tweets, and basically any person over 30 who says something condescending about young people — and the issues that matter to them.”

18. Where Jaws, the Ride, Lives Forever

“Thanks to park archivists like Mr. Alvey, no theme park truly disappears anymore. The Jaws clip is just one in the thriving genre of ‘last-ride’ videos, in which the final moments of amusement park attractions are chronicled for posterity.”

19. The Parks That Made the Man Who Made Central Park

“In surveying various landscapes, Olmsted was drawn to the natural style of the English country garden over the more formal, geometric look of French estates. For Olmsted, an effective park was not unlike a good parlor trick in its ability to transport city dwellers from their noisy, crowded surroundings to a man-made Eden.”

20. An Inventor’s Life That Was Incandescent Any Way You Look at It

“Few biographers, however, possess the narrative talents of Edmund Morris. His ability to set a scene, the words aligned in sweet rhythmic cadence, is damn near intoxicating.”

21. By the Book: André Aciman

“I love reading on the subway. It’s a habit I picked up when I first moved to New York in 1968. I had a 40-minute commute from my apartment on the Upper West Side to Lehman College in the Bronx. This is how I read all of Pascal (arguably the most intelligent writer ever) and the complete plays of Racine. To this day, you won’t spot me on the subway without some sort of reading material. Usually a book, or pages from something I’m writing. I know the M.T.A. gets a bad rap from time to time, but my concentration is the closest it will ever get to perfect on a New York City subway. So they must be doing something right.”

22. The Life and Work of Susan Sontag

“By 1968 Sontag had very nearly become an international symbol of intellectual celebrity at its most accomplished. It mattered too that she was a beautiful woman in a time when her beauty and her sex qualified her for the exotic position of ‘the brilliant exception,’ always a figure held in extravagant regard. It’s hard not to wonder if Sontag’s rise to fame would have been as great had she simply been a pleasant-looking man.”

Sunday 10.27.2019 New York Times Digest

1. While California Fires Rage, the Rich Hire Private Firefighters

“These teams, depending on who you ask, are either part of the dystopian systemic inequality in fire-ravaged California or are offering an extra, necessary service beyond what public agencies can provide.”

2. The Internet Brings Chaos to N.Y. Streets

“Households now receive more shipments than businesses, pushing trucks into neighborhoods where they had rarely ventured.”

3. Friction Between China And Hong Kong Erupts Even on U.S. Campuses

“Students from Hong Kong say the values of the movement seem straightforward and ripe for campus support in the United States: democracy, freedom of expression, the right to protest. But given the sizable mainland Chinese populations at American universities — along with accusations that the protesters have incited violence and lawlessness — the question of how schools should address the issue has been anything but simple.”

4. Changing Times for a P.I.

“These days, all Ms. Schembri really needs to do most of her sleuthing is a cellphone and an internet connection.”

5. Economic Incentives Don’t Always Do What We Want Them To

“If it is not financial incentives, what else might people care about? The answer is something we know in our guts: status, dignity, social connections.”

6. Choosing to Be Vulnerable

“Like any personal relationship, the one between doctors and patients is a complicated dance, each person deciding whether to trust the other. We dip in, we pull back, we test the waters.”

7. Less and Less A Christian Nation

“The share of American adults who regard themselves as Christian has fallen by 12 percentage points in just the last decade.”

8. Against the Superhero Regime

“While ‘genre’ cinema can be as great as any other form … its complete commercial takeover has been obviously bad for popular culture and pop art.”

9. ’90s Pop Culture Is How We Got Trump

“In the 1990s, activism — particularly student activism — was stigmatized as tedious, silly, self-important and, most damningly, ineffectual.”

10. Who’s Caring for the Caregivers?

“AARP’s Public Policy Institute has estimated the annual economic value of unpaid caregiving at $470 billion. If you paid everyone for a year’s worth of caring for loved ones — cooking, washing, transporting, giving pills and shots and rubs, taping together torn oxygen tubes, changing adult diapers, bringing wanderers back home, reading to those who can’t anymore and whose minds beg for the refreshment of new ideas, tucking the pain-ridden into bed at night and prying them out in the morning — it would use up almost all the revenue of Walmart worldwide.”

11. Wendell Pierce: ‘I Still Have Fear, But Now I Have Courage’

“Willy Loman is a man who believes in meritocracy. He believes if you do the things that are necessary, you should achieve certain things in life. And he’s a man who is lost in the denial of what’s really happening in his life, which is that he’s not doing that well.”

12. Twyla Tharp Wants You to Move

“In the book, her philosophy is guided by the body’s need and ability — in small or large ways — to move.”

13. They’ve Come a Long Way From 14th St.

“Explaining their divergent approaches in an email, Scorsese said, ‘I suppose I could say that Al tends to go toward fluidity and music while Bob likes to locate states of mind and being, settling in. But that’s just a matter of their instincts and personal orientations, I think. They’re both tremendous artists with powerful “instruments,” as an acting teacher might put it.’”

14. For Some Horror Writers, Nothing Is Scarier Than a Changing Planet

“A world in climate free-fall, marked by the outlandish and the improbable — freakish hurricanes, droughts, fires, heat waves and flash floods — is ‘not easily accommodated in the deliberately prosaic world of serious prose fiction.’ Yet the idea of a world in crisis is fundamental to horror, a genre historically devalued by the gatekeepers of high culture as, well, outlandish and unserious. Horror has always sought to amplify fear. It works against false comfort, complacency and euphemism, against attempts to repress or sanitize that which disturbs us.”

15. Letter of Recommendation: Mandatory Blackouts

“The blackouts have laid bare the uncomfortable fact that the infrastructure we’ve built and maintained over the course of many decades isn’t matched to the threats we face in our rapidly unfolding climate emergency.”

16. Why Isn’t There a Diet That Works for Everyone?

“He noticed that many of those diets tended to have at least one rule in common: Avoid ultraprocessed food, the sort of packaged fare containing artificial flavorings and ingredients you wouldn’t find in your kitchen that make processed food cheap, convenient, tasty and shelf-stable — and popular.”

17. Can You Really Be Addicted to Video Games?

“Given the long history of hysteria surrounding technology, it’s tempting to agree with those who dismiss claims that video games are addictive. After all, millions of people around the world enjoy video games without any marked repercussions; some studies have even concluded that the right kind of game play can relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety. But these denials become more difficult to accept when juxtaposed with the latest research on behavioral addictions. A substantial body of evidence now demonstrates that although video-game addiction is by no means an epidemic, it is a real phenomenon afflicting a small percentage of gamers.”

A More Natural Transition

“Read the tabloids before you read the Times. It’s a more natural transition from the dream state to full wakefulness.”

Glenn O’Brien

Sunday 10.20.2019 New York Times Digest

1. Trump Campaign Floods Web With Ads, Raking In Cash as Democrats Struggle

“That campaigns are now being fought largely online is hardly a revelation, yet only one political party seems to have gotten the message.”

2. High Schools to TikTok: We’re Catching Feelings

“TikTok’s addictiveness can be traced, in part, to its use of artificial intelligence to anticipate what users want and fill their feeds with it. That technology is so effective that the app’s owner, Bytedance (a Chinese tech conglomerate), last year introduced anti-addiction measures in Douyin, the Chinese version, to help both users and the parents who may be worried about them.”

3. As Local Papers Disappear, Student Journalists Fill Void

“Student journalists across the country have stepped in to help fill a void after more than 2,000 newspapers have closed or merged, leaving more than 1,300 communities without any local news coverage. And several young reporters have broken consequential stories that have prodded powerful institutions into changing policies.”

4. Why Is a Secretive Billionaire Buying Up the Cayman Islands?

“Mr. Dart has chosen an existentially vulnerable piece of land. At 76 square miles, Grand Cayman is roughly the size of Brooklyn and is, on average, only seven feet above sea level. In 2004, Ivan, a Category 5 hurricane, submerged most of the island. The damage was valued at close to $3 billion. Bodies buried in beach cemeteries floated out to sea. Animals escaped their enclosures, and, to this day, rewilded chickens roam the islands.”

5. Out With the Old, In With the Young

“An antiquated system that produces unrepresentative leadership is ill equipped to respond to the problems of our time. And that should concern anyone committed to democratic ideals.”

6. Did Harold Bloom Win the Canon Wars?

“The evolution of the curriculum over several decades has not prevented a sharp decline in humanities enrollment. It is hard to attribute this to particular curricular trends. It is perhaps easier to see how the loss of the privileged place accorded to literary expression in society translates into different decisions by students about what to study.”

7. Are We Ready for the Breastfeeding Father?

“Tales of men whose breasts contained milk date back centuries. In the fourth century B.C., the philosopher Aristotle noted that some men were able to produce milk by squeezing their breasts. In the King James translation of the Bible, the breasts of the malnourished Job are described as full of milk. Later, in the Babylonian Talmud, we find a story of a widowed man whose ‘breasts opened and he nursed his child.’”

8. The Socialist City on a Hill

“Mocked by ideological purists for practicing ‘sewer socialism,’ Milwaukee’s pragmatic socialists focused on winning concrete gains for their working-class constituents. From 1910 to 1960, they held the mayor’s office for nearly 40 years, elected numerous state legislators and aldermen, and won a congressional seat. Sewer socialists — who carried out measures to improve public health and investments in public infrastructure like schools, libraries, parks and, yes, sewers — were known for their integrity, their tactical ingenuity and their relentless organizing. Even today, when third-party politics are more untenable and labor unions are in decline, the sewer socialists’ blend of unwavering idealism and dogged gradualism offers valuable lessons for building and sustaining a progressive working-class movement.”

9. When the Dream of Owning a Home Became a Nightmare

“Real estate brokers and mortgage bankers valued black women like Janice Johnson precisely because they were poor, desperate and likely to fall behind on their payments. The HUD-F.H.A. guarantee to pay lenders in full for the mortgage of any home in foreclosure transformed risk from a reason for exclusion into an incentive for inclusion. Banks could profit from being repaid for inflated mortgages, and profit again when the foreclosed property was resold to another poor family that qualified for a government-guaranteed mortgage.”

10. When We Laugh at Nazis, Maybe the Joke’s on Us

“Recent history shows that the medicine of laughter can have scary side effects.”

11. The Screen Is Changing Shape

“Digital projection has made it easier than ever for filmmakers to play with screen shape, without worrying about a projectionist’s need to adjust the lens or the masking, the paneling around the screen.”

12. What Can Robert Pattinson Do to Keep You Guessing?

“I’ve always thought that the only reason you’d want to play a good guy all the time is because you’re desperately ashamed of what you’re doing in real life, whereas if you’re a pretty normal person, the most fun part of doing movies is that you can explore the more grotesque or naughty sides of your psyche in a somewhat safe environment.”

13. Why Don’t Rich People Just Stop Working?

“The hustle is deeply baked into mainstream notions of what it means to be American.”

14. Fly Fishing Is the New Bird-Watching

“Plus, it’s very Instagrammable, even as it encourages people to put down their phones.”

15. What St. Louis Tells Us About America

“As the northernmost Southern city and the westernmost Eastern city, St. Louis has had peculiar forms of racial stratification.”

16. How Moving to France and Having Children Led a Black American to Rethink Race

“Williams married a white woman and both their children were born with blond hair and blue eyes. Are they, too, black by the one-drop rule? In questioning their determinative race, he has plumbed not only his own but also the complexity of racial identity for people outside the prevalent white/nonwhite binary.”

17. By the Book: Elton John

“I have a huge library of books on art and photography, kept in the gallery at my home in Windsor, all cataloged and detailed so I can have what I want at my fingertips. They’re very well arranged. I hate seeing things lying on the floor in a horrible state. I’m a very organized bloke.”

18. When the C.I.A. Was Into Mind Control

“The program should be remembered for what it was: a vehicle for abominable experiments that often targeted the most vulnerable — drug users, prisoners and psychiatric patients, who were deprived of meaningful informed consent, if there was any consent at all.”

19. Reinventing the Midwestern Supper Club

“If you were tilling the land, logic dictated you fortify yourself with dinner at noon, having been up since dawn, and end the evening with supper, historically lighter fare, its name derived from the Old French souper, with its hint of sipping broth and sopping it up with bread, and the Old English supan, which originally meant simply ‘to drink’ (often to excess). It was the arrival of gaslights and, later, electricity that allowed privileged city dwellers to stay up late, pushing back the dinner hour and making supper a more impromptu, round-midnight affair. Meanwhile, their thriftier country counterparts continued to eat at sundown before snuffing out the candles and going to bed. Noah Webster, in the inaugural 1828 edition of his American Dictionary of the English Language, noted, ‘The dinner of fashionable people would be the supper of rustics.’”

20. Rachel Weisz Is Performing for Herself

“For all her beauty and success, Weisz is still better known for her talent and taste than for an all-consuming and occluding kind of celebrity; it is an endearing pitch of fame, the kind that inspires more admiration than awe.”

Sunday 10.13.2019 New York Times Digest

1. How Photos of Your Kids Are Powering Surveillance Technology

“Who could have possibly predicted that a snapshot of a toddler in 2005 would contribute, a decade and a half later, to the development of bleeding-edge surveillance technology?”

2. Bill Gates Met With Jeffrey Epstein Many Times, Despite His Past

“Mr. Gates started the relationship after Mr. Epstein was convicted of sex crimes.”

3. Witches Are Having Their Hour

“The witch is a feminine archetype who has authority over herself. She doesn’t get power in relationship to other people. She has power on her own terms. And because of that she is, I believe, the ultimate feminist icon.”

4. When a Steady Paycheck Is Good Medicine

“A coalition of nonprofit health care providers is investing in the notion that ample paychecks, stable housing and nutritious food are no less critical to well-being than doctors, medical equipment and pharmacies.”

5. Sharp Cuts in Immigration Threaten U.S. Economy

“Lower immigration portends big problems because the basic American retirement system — Social Security and Medicare — relies on workers to pay for retirees, and the entire expansion of the work force over the next 15 years will come from immigration.”

6. How Italians Became ‘White’

“The story of how Italian immigrants went from racialized pariah status in the 19th century to white Americans in good standing in the 20th offers a window onto the alchemy through which race is constructed in the United States, and how racial hierarchies can sometimes change.”

7. Taxing Our Way to Justice

“For the first time in the past hundred years, the working class — the 50 percent of Americans with the lowest incomes — today pays higher tax rates than billionaires.”

8. A Threat To Political Discourse?

“School debate ultimately strengthens and rewards biased reasoning.”

9. 48 Hours in the Strange and Beautiful World of TikTok

“The video app offers an endless scroll of creativity and goofing off, told in 15-second snippets. What did five critics see when they went down the rabbit hole? Art, artistry and a lot of dancing.”

10. Quickie Weddings Slow Down

“Peek in on an average day and you are likely to witness Mr. Decar emerge from a vertical coffin to officiate a ceremony in a chapel flooded with fog and tombstones. Gothic is one of the most popular themes.”

11. The Forces That Are Killing the American Dream

“Organization Man aspired to join a large corporation and become a pillar of his community. Transaction Man or Woman aspires to be a disrupter and global citizen.”

12. What Reconstruction-Era Laws Can Teach Our Democracy

“The 13th abolished slavery, in 1865. The 14th guaranteed equality and also citizenship for anyone born in America, in 1868. The 15th gave black men who were citizens the right to vote, in 1870. (The 19th gave female citizens that right, in 1920.) Foner agrees with the abolitionist senator Charles Sumner that the Reconstruction amendments were ‘sleeping giants,’ and notes that they provided the foundation for the civil rights revolution of the 1960s.”

13. The Upheaval in the American Workplace

“Greenhouse probably knows more about what is happening in the American workplace than anybody else in the country, having covered labor as a journalist for two decades. He achieves a near-impossible task, producing a page-turning book that spans a century of worker strikes, without overcondensing or oversimplifying, and with plausible suggestions for the future. This is labor history seen from the moments when that history could have turned out differently.”

14. How Fast Fashion Is Destroying the Planet

“More than 60 percent of fabric fibers are now synthetics, derived from fossil fuels, so if and when our clothing ends up in a landfill (about 85 percent of textile waste in the United States goes to landfills or is incinerated), it will not decay.”

15. Penguins Are Promiscuous Too

“Levick witnessed penguins engaging in indiscreet behavior — not just casual sex, but rape, sodomy, even necrophilia. (The birds also engage in their own form of prostitution, where females submit to a quick tryst in exchange for stones to line their nests.)”

16. How Susan Sontag Taught Me to Think

“In the era of prestige TV, we may have lost our appetite for difficult books, but we relish difficult characters, and the biographical Sontag — brave and imperious, insecure and unpredictable — surely fits the bill.”

17. Talk: Edward Norton

“There’s a point at which any actor starts to become their own pollution.”

18. Black Theater Is Having a Moment. Thank Tyler Perry. (Seriously.)

“Right now a circle of young black playwrights is doing some of the most imaginative, confrontational work in the American theater, and Perry is right there at its center. Didn’t see that coming? Maybe it’s not immediately obvious. But it makes sense. He’s the biggest black playwright in America. If you were a kid, teenager or barely an adult in the 2000s, living in a black city and attracted to the stage, it would be hard for Perry not to become someone to revere, reckon with or resist.”

19. What Does PewDiePie Really Believe?

“One crucial thing to understand about YouTube is that there are really two of them. The first YouTube is the YouTube that everyone knows — the vast reference library filled with sports highlights, music videos and old Comedy Central roasts. But there’s a second YouTube inside that one. It is a self-contained universe with its own values and customs, its own incentive structures and market dynamics and its own fully developed celebrity culture that includes gamers, beauty vloggers, musicians, D.I.Y.ers, political commentators, artists and pranksters. The biggest of these personalities have millions of subscribers and Oprah-level influence over their fandoms. Many Inner YouTubers never watch TV and develop elaborate parasocial bonds with their favorite creators. For people who frequent Inner YouTube — generally people under 25, along with some older people with abundant free time — the site is not just a video platform but a prism through which all culture and information is refracted.”

20. To Decode White Male Rage, First He Had to Write in His Mother’s Voice

“The social novel sets out to speak for others but often merely speaks over them. Autofiction, with its resolution to speak only for the authorial self, risks dead-ending in solipsism. Lerner’s escape hatch is a kind of synthesis, a narrative mode that dares to imagine the inner lives of other people while at the same time foregrounding how such efforts are always faulty and provisional, riddled with blind spots.”