Sunday 04.05.2015 New York Times Digest

California Drought

1. California Drought Tests History of Endless Growth

“For more than a century, California has been the state where people flocked for a better life — 164,000 square miles of mountains, farmland and coastline, shimmering with ambition and dreams, money and beauty. It was the cutting-edge symbol of possibility: Hollywood, Silicon Valley, aerospace, agriculture and vineyards. But now a punishing drought — and the unprecedented measures the state announced last week to compel people to reduce water consumption — is forcing a reconsideration of whether the aspiration of untrammeled growth that has for so long been this state’s driving engine has run against the limits of nature.”

2. Measure for Measure, Index Funds Rule

“These contests seem to strengthen the case for investing in broad, low-cost index funds that don’t try to beat the market, but merely try to match it.”

3. Learning Through Tinkering

“If we want to raise kids to be independent thinkers and change-makers, one of the best things we can do is give them the tools to figure stuff out for themselves.”

4. Why Evangelicals Should Love the Pope

“The authorities were constantly at odds with Jesus because he hung out with the ‘wrong’ people — the despised, the outcast, the ceremonially unclean — and he claimed the authority of God in doing so. Jesus was condemned for being ‘a friend of tax collectors and sinners’ and for consorting with prostitutes. His anger was directed most often against the proud, the hypocritical and the self-righteous. The powerful hated him, while those who were broken flocked to him.”

5. The Real Reason College Tuition Costs So Much

“The rapid increase in college enrollment can be defended by intellectually respectable arguments. Even the explosion in administrative personnel is, at least in theory, defensible. On the other hand, there are no valid arguments to support the recent trend toward seven-figure salaries for high-ranking university administrators, unless one considers evidence-free assertions about ‘the market’ to be intellectually rigorous.”

6. Let Prisoners Take College Courses

“We don’t have access to the Internet but prison officials are all for TVs in the cells. It’s called the ‘TV program.’ When prisoners watch TV instead of going to the yard, there’s less violence. We’re entertained and confined and everyone’s happy. But the TVs could be put to better use. What if, a few times a week, massive open online courses, or MOOCs, were streamed on the prison’s internal station, channel 3? Companies like Coursera already record university lectures — in subjects like psychology, sociology, existentialism, economics and political science — and stream them online for free. The MOOCs, which are free for the rest of the world, could help American prisoners become more educated and connected.”

7. Our Cosmic Selves

“The iron in our blood, the calcium in our bones and the oxygen we breathe are the physical remains — ashes, if you will — of stars that lived and died long ago.”

8. What’s That? You Want to be Buried How?

“The example set by Jeremy Bentham, the 18th-century English philosopher, might be considered truly avant-garde. Mr. Bentham asked that his head be embalmed and fixed on top of his skeleton, which was to be dressed in his own black suit and placed in a glass case, ‘in the attitude in which I am sitting when engaged in thought,’ as he put it.”

9. The Travel Selfie: I Was Here, Give Me a Discount

“Kimpton, which owns more than 60 boutique hotels, is among the latest wave of brands trying to parlay selfie culture into tourist dollars. JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa in California is offering a ‘Your Spring Selfie’ vacation package through May that starts at $399 and includes a selfie-stick and map of scenic ‘selfie spots’ around the resort. (Those who share their selfies on social media using hashtags such as #SpringSelfie may win an upgraded return visit.) The promotion comes in the wake of several others around the world, including selfie packages offered at the Mandarin Oriental in Paris and La Concha Renaissance Resort in San Juan, P.R.”

10. When It Comes to Reading, Is Pleasure Suspect?

“The problem with pleasure, in reading as in anything else, is that it can become the default mode, the baseline expectation. At that point, as Neil Postman put it three decades ago, we may find that we are slowly but surely amusing ourselves to death.”

11. How ‘You Do You’ Perfectly Captures Our Narcissistic Culture

“Instead of serving the establishment (monotheism, patriarchal energies), the modern tautophrase empowers the individual. Regardless of how shallow that individual is.”

12. The Common Man’s Crown

“‘Until the late 1970s, wearing a ball cap anywhere but on the baseball field carried with it a cultural stigma,’ James Lilliefors writes in his book Ball Cap Nation, citing the Mets cap of the Odd Couple slob Oscar Madison as one example of its signaling mundane degeneracy. In Lilliefors’s reckoning, eight factors contributed to the cap’s increased legitimacy, including the explosion of television sports, the maturation of the first generation of Little League retirees and the relative suavity of the Detroit Tigers cap worn by Tom Selleck as the title character of Magnum P.I.: ‘It made sporting a ball cap seem cool rather than quirky; and it created an interest in authentic M.L.B. caps.’”

13. Letter of Recommendation: The Thomas Guide to Los Angeles

“To leave the house without the Guide, even for a trip as unambitious as a run to a nearby supermarket, was to risk losing my coordinates entirely and landing in a labyrinth of cul-de-sacs where the only escape route was the Boulevard That Defies All Logic. Every city has one of these, a corridor on which you can somehow wind up driving north and south simultaneously, a road on which you can think you’re pulling into a gas station but instead find yourself merging into bullet-speed traffic on a major freeway.”

14. The Many Faces of Tatiana Maslany

“Despite Maslany’s reluctance, I managed to steer our conversation back to her magical quick-change act. I still wanted to know how she does it. ‘I think there’s something about being prepared enough that you can surrender,’ she said. Then she quoted to me something the dancer Martha Graham told the choreographer Agnes de Mille in 1943. At the time, de Mille was confused and bewildered by her sudden rise to fame, and Graham offered her words of encouragement. It is a beautiful pep talk, practically written in verse. I can see why it has special meaning for Maslany as she navigates the challenges of the fishbowl herself. The part Maslany recounted to me is this: ‘It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.’ De Mille asked Graham when she would feel satisfied, and Graham replied: ‘There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.’”


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