Sunday 06.07.2015 New York Times Digest

California Dreamin'1. California Farmers Dig Deeper for Water, Sipping Their Neighbors Dry

“It’s about survival. Everybody is pulling water out of the ground.”

2. Transgender Children’s Books Fill a Void and Break a Taboo

“A few years ago, gender fluidity was rarely addressed in children’s and young adult fiction. It remained one of the last taboos in a publishing category that had already taken on difficult issues like suicide, drug abuse, rape and sex trafficking. But children’s literature is catching up to the broader culture.”

3. What Makes a Woman?

“As the movement becomes mainstream, it’s growing harder to avoid asking pointed questions about the frequent attacks by some trans leaders on women’s right to define ourselves, our discourse and our bodies. After all, the trans movement isn’t simply echoing African-Americans, Chicanos, gays or women by demanding an end to the violence and discrimination, and to be treated with a full measure of respect. It’s demanding that women reconceptualize ourselves.”

4. The Deadly Combination of Heat and Humidity

“Carrying on this way through the 22nd century locks in a trajectory where summer outdoor conditions could become physiologically intolerable for humans and livestock in the eastern United States — and in regions currently home to more than half the planet’s population.”

5. Why I Defaulted on My Student Loans

“I could give up what had become my vocation (in my case, being a writer) and take a job that I didn’t want in order to repay the huge debt I had accumulated in college and graduate school. Or I could take what I had been led to believe was both the morally and legally reprehensible step of defaulting on my student loans, which was the only way I could survive without wasting my life in a job that had nothing to do with my particular usefulness to society.”

6. A Crisis at the Edge of Physics

“Today, our most ambitious science can seem at odds with the empirical methodology that has historically given the field its credibility.”

7. How to Pose Like a Man

“Two days before the shoot, I flipped through a book of Ms. Ettlinger’s photos to get a sense of how authors typically dressed for their portraits. I made a startling discovery: The male and female authors posed differently. The men looked simpler, more straightforward. The women looked dreamy, often gazing off into the distance. Their limbs were sometimes entwined, like vines. I decided that I wanted to pose like a man. I also thought: No wonder books by women don’t get reviewed as often as those by men. Maybe it was the poses.”

8. Imagining the Lives of Others

“Instead of assuming that we can know what it is like to be them, we should focus more on listening to what they have to say. This isn’t perfect — people sometimes lie, or are confused, or deluded — but it’s by far the best method of figuring out the needs, desires and histories of people who are different from us.”

9. Finding the Right Balance

“Simply staying upright is, in some ways, a full-body exercise. You have fluid-filled ‘organs of balance’ in your inner ear that monitor the position and rotation of your head; and there are sensors known as proprioceptors in muscles and tendons throughout your body that detect subtle stretches and deformations. Your feet alone contain 11 small stretch-sensing muscles: No matter how many calf raises you do in the gym, your balance won’t be stable unless your brain is attuned to the signals from these sensors. Even wearing socks interferes with this subtle feedback and worsens your balance.”

10. Adjusting to a World That Won’t Laugh With You

“It is often said that we are living in a golden age of comedy, when new varieties of funny sprout from every screen and nightclub stage. … But we’re also in the midst of a humor crisis. The world is full of jokes and also of people who can’t take them.”

11. Giorgio Moroder, the Cat in the ‘Stache, Comes Back

“A lot of kids that are big D.J.s now, they don’t even know the influence of these people because they’ve been through the filter of people like me already. Or they might be influenced by another electronic producer that they heard a decade before. But they don’t know that all of this is coming from people like Giorgio Moroder.”

12. Escape to Bro-topia

“Inside, the space was toasty and light-filled, decorated in a cabin-y version of Young Bachelor. A shelf by the door held Mr. Huntington’s cameras and lenses; his iMac sat on a simple desk against one wall, a surfboard propped next to it. Large windows looked straight into green-needled limbs.”

13. These Dads Are Writing Their Own Tickets

“The stay-at-home father and part-time artist is no longer quite as rare a sighting, particularly in liberal metropolises. That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s an easy balance to strike — logistically, as any primary caregiver knows, but also psychologically.”

14. You Want a Cappuccino With That Haircut?

“The guy that will spend $45 on a haircut will also spend $5 on a cup of coffee.”

15. Photographer Edward S. Curtis’s Southwest

“From Seattle, his adopted hometown, Curtis cobwebbed through Navajo and Apache country in the Southwest, across the Great Plains of the Sioux and Cheyenne, and up to Walla Walla and Kwakiutl lands in the Pacific Northwest. He worked 16-hour days, seven days a week, more or less nonstop for 30 years, and eventually published a landmark 20-volume work, The North American Indian. The project was disastrous on nearly every level: It drove him into bankruptcy, probably ruined his marriage and almost got him killed several times. In the end he lost the copyrights to all 40,000 photographs to John Pierpont Morgan, who had financed the project.”

16. Words Without Music, by Philip Glass

“One struggles to imagine how any human could have kept his schedule in the late ’50s and early ’60s: composing from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., loading trucks in the evenings, practicing piano several hours a day, attending classes, taking music and yoga lessons, going to movies and art exhibitions with friends, driving a motorcycle cross-country.”

17. Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga, by Pamela Newkirk

“Two years after an appearance at the 1904 St. Louis World Fair, he was brought to the New York Zoological Park (better known as the Bronx Zoo), where he was locked in a cage with an orangutan before a jeering throng. The display was more than mere entertainment; it was propaganda. The low evolutionary status of a monkey-man was supposed to persuade the masses who were resistant to Darwin and evolutionary theory.… Even after Benga was rescued and embraced by African-American communities in Brooklyn and Lynchburg, Va., he was haunted by a longing for his Congo home. In March 1916, he committed suicide by shooting a bullet through his heart.”

18. Does the Size of a Book Suggest Significance?

“‘Efficiency’ is a terrible word to apply to art. Yet, one sentence hence, and this shall serve as my sole warning to you, I am about to apply it. I think an artist can validly choose to value efficiency, to seek to do as much as possible with as little as possible. In fact, given the constraints all around us — the finiteness of time in a human life, of nature’s tolerance of our abuses, of available food and energy and clean drinking water — an aesthetic of leanness strikes me as just as appropriate to literature, and to one’s existence, as an aesthetic of expansiveness.”

19. Welcome to the Age of Digital Imperialism

“Call it digital imperialism, perhaps, in that the values are arriving not inside artworks made by others but through a tool that locals can use themselves. As Thailand is discovering, the smartphone — for all its indispensability as a tool of business and practicality — is also a bearer of values; it is not a culturally neutral device. On the matter of privacy, for example, the pull toward sharing more and concealing less begins with the mere existence of the camera, tucked in every pocket, available whenever the impulse arises. It continues through the design of the apps we use, which have been calibrated to make our uploading seamless, to make our posts default to public, to make the less private choice always and everywhere more attractive to us in a cycle of escalating self-revelation. Thanks to the Internet’s ability to find for us, in an instant, hordes of other people with the same impulse as ours — to photograph, say, the underside of a taboo body part — we can feel secure in that impulse, even if it’s not shared by anyone else within a hundred or a thousand miles. We Americans might praise this shift as liberatory, or laugh it off as harmless, but we cannot pretend that it is somehow value-free.”

20. Uber’s French Resistance

“Until recently, French taxis faced almost no competition. The state strictly regulated the number of medallions available, keeping the fleet small. Though the government issues medallions to drivers at no cost, this scarcity makes them outrageously expensive on the secondary market. In Paris, the going price is about 2o0,000 euros, or $219,000. Today, the city has just 17,702 taxis, only a few thousand more than it had before the Nazis invaded. Yet virtually every time the government tries to expand the fleet, irate taxi drivers protest with a form of strike they call Operation Escargot, in which cabbies inch along thoroughfares, snarling traffic all over the capital.”

21. Can the Swiss Watchmaker Survive the Digital Age?

“At graduations in the 1990s, students receive gifts from their parents — some the latest mobile phone, others a Montblanc fountain pen. Decades later, a phone from the ’90s is a useless relic. But the Montblanc pen is as good as ever; indeed, the years have imparted character. ‘It has a meaning, it has little scratches,’ Schmiedt said. ‘If I ever scratch up a watch, or — I don’t know, my child maybe dropped it — it’s a mark of life.’ Our electronics are much less tolerant of faults, he noted, grinning as he held up his own iPhone, whose screen was spider-webbed with cracks.”

22. A Music-Sharing Network for the Unconnected

“Mali’s homegrown, offline digital music has created a space for sharing songs that is in many ways more vibrant than the algorithm-driven way music is so often experienced in the United States — more personal, more curated, more human.”

23. Is Translation an Art or a Math Problem?

“Human translators, today, have virtually nothing to do with the work being done in machine translation. A majority of the leading figures in machine translation have little to no background in linguistics, much less in foreign languages or literatures. Instead, virtually all of them are computer scientists. Their relationship with language is mediated via arm’s-length protective gloves through plate-glass walls.”

24. Making and Unmaking the Digital World

“The rapid cycle of obsolescence and replacement that feeds the expansion also produces a lot of garbage — nearly 42 million metric tons of toxic e-waste in 2014, less than a sixth of which made it into the regulated recycling stream, with much of the rest being broken down by workers at dumps throughout the developing world.”

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