Sunday 2.7.2016 New York Times Digest


1. Everything About Everything: David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest at 20

“As a novel about an ‘entertainment’ weaponized to enslave and destroy all who look upon it, Infinite Jest is the first great Internet novel. Yes, William Gibson and Neal Stephenson may have gotten there first with Neuromancer and Snow Crash, whose Matrix and Metaverse, respectively, more accurately surmised what the Internet would look and feel like. (Wallace, among other things, failed to anticipate the break from cartridge- and disc-based entertainment.) But Infinite Jest warned against the insidious virality of popular entertainment long before anyone but the most Delphic philosophers of technology. Sharing videos, binge-watching Netflix, the resultant neuro-pudding at the end of an epic gaming marathon, the perverse seduction of recording and devouring our most ordinary human thoughts on Facebook and Instagram — Wallace somehow knew all this was coming, and (as the man himself might have put it) it gave him the howling fantods.”

2. Wanted in China: More Male Teachers, to Make Boys Men

“Worried that a shortage of male teachers has produced a generation of timid, self-centered and effeminate boys, Chinese educators are working to reinforce traditional gender roles and values in the classroom.”

3. Courses in Manhood for African-American Boys

“Manhood Development is the flagship program of the Office of African American Male Achievement, the country’s first department within a public school district that specifically addresses the needs of its most vulnerable children: black boys, who have stubbornly remained at the bottom of nearly every academic indicator, including high school graduation rates in most states, according to the Schott Foundation for Public Education.”

4. The Lives and Lies of a Professional Impostor

“He has portrayed himself as a Scottish-born D.J., a Cambridge-trained thespian, a Special Forces officer and a professor at M.I.T. He has posed as executives from Microsoft, British Airways and Apple, always with a military background. He pretended to be a soldier seeking asylum in Canada to escape anti-Semitic attacks in the United States. He once maintained an Irish accent so well and for so long that his cellmate in an Indiana jail was convinced that he was an Irish mobster.”

5. Cover Crops, a Farming Revolution With Deep Roots in the Past

“The practice of seeding fields between harvests not only keeps topsoil in place, it also adds carbon to the soil and helps the beneficial microbes, fungus, bacteria and worms in it thrive.”

6. Real Compassion in College Admissions

“The best way for colleges to tell kids they truly value a concern about others and a real commitment to community service is to announce that they’ll give an admissions bump of one standard deviation to anyone who spends two years after high school doing full-time AmeriCorps-type community or military service.”

7. America Is Flint

“Lead poisoning goes far beyond Flint, and in many parts of America seems to be even worse.”

8. Dear Google, Is There a Shrink for That?

“Where before, word of mouth was crucial to the search for a therapist, prospective patients are now likely to take to the web, and faced with thousands of anonymous possibilities, look for some way in which to determine who may be the best fit, whose boxes check their own boxes.”

9. Dream Cities, by Wade Graham

“Graham’s argument is that the basic physical structures of our contemporary world that these men created, from the shopping mall to the picturesque suburb, have grown mundane through constant repetition, to the point that they barely register on the eye. A ‘remarkable, global urban monotony’ has set in, everywhere from Singapore to Ulan Bator to Buenos Aires to Boston. A garden designer and historian, Graham wants us to see these urban and architectural forms afresh, not as the drab commonplaces they have become but as the work of visionaries ‘whose dreamed-of cities became the blueprints for the world we actually live in.’”

10. Paradise Now: The Story of American Utopianism, by Chris Jennings

“‘Every utopia,’ Jennings writes, ‘reveals the anxieties and disappointments of its author(s).’”

11. Wood Shop Enters the Age of High-Tech

“Tinkering is now a pedagogy.”

12. Black America and the Class Divide

“There are really two nations within Black America. The problem of income inequality, Dr. Wilson concludes, is not between Black America and White America but between black haves and have-nots, something we don’t often discuss in public in an era dominated by a narrative of fear and failure and the claim that racism impacts 42 million people in all the same ways.”

13. After Racist Episodes, Blunt Discussions on Campus

“The new frontier in the university’s eternal struggle with race starts here, with blunt conversations that seek to bridge a stark campus divide. Yet what was evident in this pregnant moment during a new diversity session that the university is requiring of all new students was this: People just don’t want to discuss it.”

14. The Sheltering Campus: Why College Is Not Home

“To prepare for increased autonomy and responsibility, college needs to be a time of exploration and experimentation. This process entails ‘trying on’ new ways of thinking about oneself both intellectually and personally, which is possible only if a certain degree of freedom is allowed. While we should provide ‘safe spaces’ within colleges for marginalized groups, we must also make it safe for all community members to express opinions and challenge majority views. Intellectual growth and flexibility are fostered by rigorous debate and questioning.”

15. A Hint of Danger in the Forest

“Living animals resist the meanings we give them.”

16. How Chris Jackson Is Building a Black Literary Movement

“He stands between the largely white culture-making machinery and artists writing from the margins of society, as well as between the work of those writers and the largely white critical apparatus that dictates their success, in both cases saying: This, believe it or not, is something you need to hear.”

17. Roger Goodell’s Unstoppable Football Machine

“Every corporate office celebrates itself, to some degree, but the N.F.L.’s is particularly overwhelming, as if it were the sanctum of a highly successful megachurch marrying ESPN and Scientology. I had the strange feeling, as I waited in the lobby, that I was being watched, if not filmed.”

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