“I don’t do any research. Your entire life is research.”

—Lee Child in Reacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me

In Pursuit of Silence

(More info.)

Sunday 6.19.2016 New York Times Digest


1. Think Less, Think Better

“The capacity for original and creative thinking is markedly stymied by stray thoughts, obsessive ruminations and other forms of ‘mental load.’”

2. An Expensive Law Degree, and No Place to Use It

“People are not being helped by going to these schools. The debt is really high, bar passage rates are horrendous, employment is horrendous.”

3. The Garrison Keillor You Never Knew

“Like Howard Stern, Garrison Keillor created a packaging that nonlisteners took as real. And the actual show is so much more complex, and human and complicated than nonlisteners think it is.”

4. Pillow Talk With a Professional Cuddler

“In recent years, cuddling — billed as therapeutic, nonsexual touch on sites like the Snuggle Buddies and Cuddlist — has become the latest thing in wellness, beyond yoga and meditation.”

5. The Money Cult, by Chris Lehmann

“Lehmann shows that a specifically Protestant, vaguely gnostic materialism has always animated American life, saturating the lowly world of objects with the sanctity of higher, heavenly purpose, even unto our time. His book is a tour de force that illustrates the continuities of American cultural and economic history.”

6. Just How ‘Smart’ Do You Want Your Blender to Be?

“What is presented as an upgrade is actually a stealthy euphemism for ‘surveillance.’”

7. Can Netflix Survive in the New World It Created?

“Now that so many entertainment companies see it as an existential threat, the question is whether Netflix can continue to thrive in the new TV universe that it has brought into being.”

8. The Parasite Underground

“Over the past decade, thousands of people around the world have introduced parasites into their bodies on purpose, hoping to treat immune-related disorders.”

Sunday 6.12.2016 New York Times Digest


1. Gunman in Orlando Pledged Allegiance to ISIS Before Attack

“The shooting was the worst terrorist attack on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001, and the deadliest attack in the nation’s history on a specifically gay gathering.”

2. Doctor’s Plan for Full-Body Transplants Raises Doubts Even in Daring China

“His plan: Remove two heads from two bodies, connect the blood vessels of the body of the deceased donor and the recipient head, insert a metal plate to stabilize the new neck, bathe the spinal cord nerve endings in a gluelike substance to aid regrowth and finally sew up the skin.”

3. Japanese Plant Seeds of Baseball Throughout Africa

“Baseball is called America’s pastime, but Japan has been cultivating the sport in soccer-crazed Africa for years.”

4. Muhammad Ali Inspires Writers in Life and Death

“Ali captivated writers for more than 50 years, and his death this month at 74 is unlikely to diminish his power as a literary muse.”

5. Inside the Ring or Out, Muhammad Ali Fought as if He Would Live Forever

“Boxing takes a heavy toll on those who practice the trade. In his career, Ali had 61 professional fights against 50 opponents. Twenty-nine of those men died before he did.”

6. How to Fix Feminism

“What if the world was set up in such a way that we could really believe — not just pretend to — that having spent a period of time concentrating on raising children at the expense of future earnings would bring us respect? And what if that could be as true for men as it is for women?”

7. The Russian Peasant’s Workout

“The scythe binds you to the landscape. You become part of it, in the picture. Looking across a mown meadow, you have the deep satisfaction of knowing that this was your handiwork.”

8. Yes, There Have Been Aliens

“Instead of asking how many civilizations currently exist, we asked what the probability is that ours is the only technological civilization that has ever appeared.”

9. Who Gets to Be Angry?

“There are consequences for both expressing and suppressing anger.”

10. All That Sex and Blood, Mr. De Palma!

“If you miss homicidal mania, gonzo sexual desire, cruelty lugubriously avenged, camerawork and editing that never sleep, or arriving at the closing credits and exclaiming, ‘Again!’, ‘What the hell was that?’ or sometimes both, then you can certainly salute Mr. De Palma at home.”

11. The End of Reflection

“In a world in which a phone or computer is rarely more than arm’s length away, are we eliminating introspection at times that may have formerly been conducive to it? And is the depth of that reflection compromised because we have retrained ourselves to seek out the immediate gratification of external stimuli?”

12. In Defense of the Three-Week Vacation

“The ancient Romans believed in generous vacations: They took sightseeing tours for two to five years at a time. In more recent centuries, Europeans of means and faint constitutions spent multiple months languishing at spas. Even Jesus withdrew for 40 days and 40 nights to find some peace and quiet in the desert. Yet so many of us today — I’m speaking of those fortunate enough to have the resources and the vacation days — remain slavishly attached to our 24/7 connectivity and take only a week at a time, maybe two!, off work.”

13. Virginia Heffernan’s Magic and Loss

“Heffernan is a gleeful trickster, a semiotics fan with an unabashed sweet tooth for pop culture, who believes we shouldn’t confuse grief over the passing of our favorite technology with resentment because some digital alchemy failed to preserve analog experiences.”

14. In Praise of Forgetting, by David Rieff

“Rieff recoils at the conceit that memorialization is a moral and political duty, as well as a personal one in ‘our therapeutic age.’ To the contrary, he says, remembering is ultimately futile, since all societies will — like the mortal individuals who make them up — eventually crumble to dust.”

15. What if PTSD Is More Physical Than Psychological?

“Modern warfare destroys your brain.”

16. Mecca Goes Mega

“The ancient hills, the old stone homes and many of the sites linked to the life of the Prophet Muhammad have been obliterated by towering shopping malls, hotels and apartment blocks.”

A Writer’s Room: Leonardo Padura Fuentes

Cuban writer Leonardo Padura Fuentes’s workspace as seen on season 6, episode 1 of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. (Click on the images for bigger versions.)

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 10.39.33 AMScreen Shot 2016-06-10 at 10.39.58 AMScreen Shot 2016-06-10 at 10.40.06 AM


Sunday 6.5.2016 New York Times Digest


1. Muhammad Ali Dies at 74: Titan of Boxing and the 20th Century

“Loved or hated, he remained for 50 years one of the most recognizable people on the planet.”

2. A Weekend in Chicago: Where Gunfire Is a Terrifying Norm

“The year, so far, has been steeped in blood. Shootings — 1,177 as of the Friday morning before Memorial Day — are up by 50 percent for the year. Two hundred and thirty-three people are dead.”

3. A Plan to Give Whales and Other Ocean Life Some Peace and Quiet

“Whales and dolphins have extraordinary hearing and the ability to communicate in widely varying voices. But sound produced by human activity can get in the way.”

4. America Is Hitting the Road Again

“It’s partly that gasoline this driving season is cheaper than it has been in 11 years, according to the AAA motor club, and that the reviving economy is making people more willing to part with their money. But there is more than that at play here. This may be a cultural shift, as Americans experiment with the notion that maybe money can, in fact, buy happiness, at least in the form of adventures and memories.”

5. More Time to Unwind, Unless You’re a Woman

“If people in all of these groups are working less, then someone must be working more. The answer, overwhelmingly, is women, who have taken on an Atlaslike role in supporting American economic growth.”

6. Educate Your Immune System

“These findings are very preliminary, but they support a decades-old (and unfortunately named) idea called the hygiene hypothesis. In order to develop properly, the hypothesis holds — to avoid the hyper-reactive tendencies that underlie autoimmune and allergic disease — the immune system needs a certain type of stimulation early in life. It needs an education.”

7. Peter Thiel’s Dropout Army

“We already have enough OKCupids. We don’t have enough of the desperately needed inventions — nuclear fusion energy or cancer cures — that emerge when credentialed scientists tinker away for years on expensive machines that have nothing to do with Snapchat. Of course, this sort of tinkering most often happens in the academic institutions that Mr. Thiel reviles, despite their role in the foundational breakthroughs — such as the internet — that enabled Mr. Thiel to build his $2.7 billion fortune.”

8. The Families That Can’t Afford Summer

“For most parents, summer, that beloved institution, is a financial and logistical nightmare.”

9. Unless You’re Oprah, ‘Be Yourself’ Is Terrible Advice.

“Nobody wants to see your true self.”

10. Sexploitation Films, Short on Good Taste, Still Have Devotees

“Sexploitation has been around since men (and yes, it’s mostly men) first learned how to turn on a camera and watch women (and yes, it’s mostly women) get naked and do something ridiculous (or violent). A genre rooted in nudie reels of the silent era, sexploitation had its golden age in the 1960s as the sexual revolution pushed the boundaries of cinematic depictions of nudity. Around 1970, the birth of hard-core pornography made sexploitation mainstream, prompting its demise.”

11. Ricky Jay’s Matthias Buchinger

“Matthias Buchinger (1674-1739) had no legs or feet, and only partial arms that terminated without hands, and yet he was internationally celebrated for his dexterity. He did magic tricks with cups and balls. He manipulated dice and cards. He loaded and fired guns. He played the flute, bagpipes, dulcimer and trumpet. He bowled trick shots with a skittle ball through a maze of candles and wine­glasses. He donned Highland dress and danced a hornpipe on his leather-clad stumps.”

12. Gardens: The Rooftop Growing Guide, and More

“Whatever your answer — for food, for beauty, for peace, for escape, for muscle tone — there are books aplenty to help you ponder root causes.”

Sunday 5.29.2016 New York Times Digest


1. Which Rock Star Will Historians of the Future Remember?

“As the timeline moves forward, tangential artists in any field fade from the collective radar, until only one person remains; the significance of that individual is then exaggerated, until the genre and the person become interchangeable.”

2. Dreams Stall as CUNY, New York City’s Engine of Mobility, Sputters

“The troubles at City College, and throughout the entire CUNY system, are representative of a funding crisis that has been building at public universities across the country. Even as the role of higher education as an engine of economic mobility has become increasingly vital, governments have been pulling back their support.”

3. One of the World’s Greatest Art Collections Hides Behind This Fence

“Free ports originated in the 19th century for the temporary storage of goods like grain, tea and industrial goods. In the last few decades, however, a handful of them — including Geneva’s — have increasingly come to operate as storage lockers for the superrich.”

4. Dutch Firm Trains Eagles to Take Down High-Tech Prey: Drones

“Mostly, the most crazy ideas work the best.”

5. Born in the VCR Era, Great Courses Seeks to Evolve

“Decades before TED Talks, so-called massive open online courses and YouTube videos made top educators accessible to the masses, the Great Courses built a loyal audience of lifelong learners by making “the world’s greatest professors” available to anyone with a VCR or cassette player.”

6. Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person

“We need to swap the Romantic view for a tragic (and at points comedic) awareness that every human will frustrate, anger, annoy, madden and disappoint us — and we will (without any malice) do the same to them. There can be no end to our sense of emptiness and incompleteness. But none of this is unusual or grounds for divorce. Choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for.”

7. What Can’t Tech Money Buy?

“Tech’s elite, lauded for their originality, are influencing media, politics and society at large with a kind of venture philanthropy, much as their industrial predecessors did more than 100 years ago.”

8. My Adventures in Going Viral

“My brain filled with dopamine. My phone buzzed and blinked. I was experiencing a mythologized modern experience: going viral. When you’re pursuing a career in a field that’s both unrewarding and mostly D.I.Y. you cling to these little successes as if they are buoys in the water, assuring you that you’re not entirely lost at sea.”

9. The Psychology of Genre

“The human brain is a pattern-matching machine. Categories help us manage the torrent of information we receive and sort the world into easier-to-read patterns.”

10. The Liberal Blind Spot

“The bigger problem is not that conservatives are infiltrating social science departments to spread hatred, but rather that liberals have turned departments into enclaves of ideological homogeneity.”

11. On the Trail of Nabokov in the American West

“At the height of the Cold War, an expatriate Russian novelist with the resonant name of Vladimir was roaming through the reddest of red states, researching a book about a jaded aristocrat’s sexual obsession with ‘nymphets’ (a coinage the book put in the Oxford English Dictionary). The wonder is that Nabokov survived at all.”

12. Nathaniel Philbrick: By the Book

“It still astonishes me that the written word is capable of placing us in another person’s shoes.”

13. Sebastian Junger’s Tribe

“In a pre-modern tribe, Junger points out — or indeed a modern society such as Israel, in which the burden of defense is widely shared and never remote from the collective experience — war has a shared social meaning. But in a cosmopolitan society such as our own, far removed from the scene of battle, the human qualities demanded and cultivated by war are fundamentally at odds with our public principles.”

14. Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World, by Timothy Garton Ash

“Free speech is complicated and comes at a high price.”

15. From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime, by Elizabeth Hinton

“From the administration of John F. Kennedy to that of Ronald Reagan, the executive, Congress and the courts together expanded the architecture of criminalization, driven by assumptions about the cultural inferiority and ‘pathology’ of African-Americans.”

16. Capture: Unraveling the Mystery of Mental Suffering, by David A. Kessler

“It might be possible, Kessler says, to learn to harness our own capture circuitry.”