Sunday 2.17.2019 New York Times Digest

1. Time to Panic

“Being alarmed is not a sign of being hysterical; when it comes to climate change, being alarmed is what the facts demand. Perhaps the only logical response.”

2. A Poet and His Muse

“It takes hard work to become a great artist, but it also requires something mysterious and intuitive.”

3. What Is Death?

“Death is not a binary state or a simple biological fact but a complex social choice.”

4. The Nuns Who Taught Me Feminism

“At a time when violence against children, against women, against the displaced and against the planet is so pervasive, I find glimpses of hope in the nuns’ conviction that compassion can be taught and forgiveness fostered.”

5. The ‘Some of My Best Friends Are Black’ Defense

“Sometimes it’s the relationships that white people have with black friends that can lead them astray. They can be lulled into a false sense of familiarity that might have them pushing boundaries better left untouched.”

6. No, You Can’t Ignore Email. It’s Rude.

“Ignoring email is an act of incivility.”

7. The Joy of Standards

“Our modern existence depends on things we can take for granted.”

8. Life Without Plastic Is Possible. It’s Just Very Hard. + 9 Ways to Cut Down on Plastic

“Treating plastic like a drug habit that needs to be kicked is a lifestyle pledge being shared by more and more consumers, horrified by the tens of millions of metric tons of plastic created worldwide each year, much of it in the form of single-use items like straws, that end up in landfills or, worse, the oceans.”

9. A.S.M.R. Videos Give People the Tingles (No, Not That Way)

“As the industry has expanded, it has also faced resistance from those who see it as something sexual.”

10. Book Agent in the Morning, Carpenter in the Afternoon

“He spends most mornings at the McCormick offices in Manhattan’s flower district, (when the agency moved, Rift was tasked with fabricating new desks and bookcases for the space). Then, at around 1 p.m., he rides two subways to a desolate block in Ridgewood, Queens, to spend afternoons at his garage-turned-shop.”

11. Janet Malcolm: By the Book

“Why have a large library and not use it? Why keep books, if you are not going to read them more than once? For the décor? The answer isn’t entirely no. A book-lined room looks nice. I like walking into my living room and seeing the walls of books with faded spines that have accreted over many decades.”

12. How Wild Was Wild Bill Hickok?

“To succeed as a gunfighter in the American West, it helped to have a competitive advantage. Being fast on the draw was essential — and removing a revolver from a stiff leather holster was never as easy as Hollywood made it seem. But possessing good aim in an age of faulty, smoky ammo and inaccurate weaponry helped even more. The best shot in the early days of the era was the taciturn James Butler Hickok, who for no good reason earned the sobriquet Wild Bill. He boasted another advantage: He was ambidextrous, which meant he could fire off a hail of 12 rounds to the six by an ordinary mortal.”

13. Meg Ryan

“Even if you’re famous in just your office building or neighborhood, social media has given everybody the experience I had; more people are having the experience of cultivating other people’s opinions. Everyone is so happy on social media. It’s depressing.”

14. The Secret History of Women in Coding

“If biology were the reason so few women are in coding, it would be impossible to explain why women were so prominent in the early years of American programming, when the work could be, if anything, far harder than today’s programming. It was an uncharted new field, in which you had to do math in binary and hexadecimal formats, and there were no helpful internet forums, no Google to query, for assistance with your bug. It was just your brain in a jar, solving hellish problems.”

15. The Gay History of America’s Classic Children’s Books

“The authors of many of the most successful and influential works of children’s literature in the middle years of the last century — works that were formative for baby boomers, Gen-Xers, millennials and beyond — were gay.”

16. The Tiny Swiss Company That Thinks It Can Help Stop Climate Change

“The ultimate goal for air capture, however, isn’t to turn it into a product — at least not in the traditional sense. What Gebald and Wurzbacher really want to do is to pull vast amounts of CO₂ out of the atmosphere and bury it, forever, deep underground, and sell that service as an offset. Climeworks’s captured CO₂ has already been injected deep into rock formations beneath Iceland; by the end of the year, the firm intends to deploy 50 units near Reykjavik to expand the operation. But at that point the company will be moving into uncharted economic territory — purveyors of a service that seems desperately needed to help slow climate change but does not, at present, replace anything on the consumer or industrial landscape. To complicate matters, a ton of buried CO₂ is not something that human beings or governments have shown much demand for. And so companies like Climeworks face a quandary: How do you sell something that never existed before, something that may never be cheap, into a market that is not yet real?”

A Mark of Sanity

“Teach classes that are meaningful to you and that engage that portion of your students that are reachable. Ignore, in other words, the very idea of professional wisdom. Only write what you want to write. Once you have job security (which I know is a huge barrier) don’t write if you don’t want to. Write for media directed at non-historians, whether that be the local newspaper or fancy national magazines. Write for other academic disciplines. Explore other media than the printed word. Ignoring what the profession rewards might very well be a mark of sanity at the close of the 20th century.”

Ken Cmiel, “History Against Itself” (1994)

Sunday 2.10.2019 New York Times Digest

1. America’s War of Stories

“We are in the midst of another great war, one that encompasses all of the others: a war of stories.”

2. Why Won’t Blackface Go Away?

“It has been a part of American popular culture since what we recognize as popular culture emerged — roughly round 1832, when Thomas Dartmouth Rice, in blackface, performed his song ‘Jump Jim Crow’ to thunderous applause at the Bowery Theatre in New York.”

3. Day Care for All

“Free public college, health care for all, a living wage: These are all important causes that will improve life for millions. But there’s another proposal that belongs on the progressive to-do list: universal affordable high-quality child care. In fact, I would put it ahead of free public college: It would help more people and do more to change society for the better.”

4. The Real Mommy War Is Against the State

“The United States has the least generous benefits, the lowest public commitment to caregiving, one of the highest wage gaps between employed men and women, and among the highest maternal and child poverty rates of any Western industrialized nation.”

5. Why Girls Beat Boys at School and Lose to Them at the Office

“What if school is a confidence factory for our sons, but only a competence factory for our daughters?”

6. Our Brains Aren’t Designed to Handle the Trump Era

“He told me he suspects that humans during the Trump era are unwittingly re-enacting the rat experiments that James Olds and Peter Milner did in the 1950s, wherein the creatures repeatedly pressed a lever to feel an electric jolt to their reward centers. The poor subjects became such hostages to gratification that they stopped eating, drinking, even having sex. Eventually, they died of exhaustion.”

7. Erykah Badu: Accidental Spirit Guide

“Those are phases of wokeness, where you are judgmental and you’re strong in your opinion, and you’re learning this new information, and all that’s a part of building your character. As you grow more and more, you begin to eliminate the need to judge others and to crucify others and to compete, to have a word debate. You lose those interests as you grow.”

8. Maria Popova: By the Book

“Literature is the original internet — every allusion, footnote and reference is a hyperlink to another text.”

9. A Sensible Climate Change Solution, Borrowed From Sweden

“No other source or collection of sources of energy, they argue, is positioned to meet these challenges in time. Without growth in nuclear power, replacing fossil fuels with renewables simply decarbonizes the existing supply. It doesn’t deal with the increased demand coming from the developing world.”

10. How to Reject an Online Suitor

“Keep it straightforward.”

Let the Half-Wit Out for a Walk

“Baseball is for watching. From April to October I watch the Red Sox every night. (Other sports fill the darker months.) I do not write; I do not work at all. After supper I become the American male — but I think I do something else. Try to forgive my comparisons, but before Yeats went to sleep every night he read an American Western. When Eliot was done with poetry and editing, he read a mystery book. Everyone who concentrates all day, in the evening needs to let the half-wit out for a walk. Sometimes it is Zane Grey, sometimes Agatha Christie, sometimes the Red Sox.”

—Donald Hall, Essays After Eighty

Sunday 2.3.2019 New York Times Digest

1. Why Can’t Rich People Save Winter?

“With the outlook for winter so dim, it is surprising, shocking even, that the ski industry and the alpine 1 percent it serves have not led the charge to slow climate change — if not to keep the climate safe for their progeny, then at least to save the snow outside their resorts and chalets. Instead, they have largely kept silent or, at most, pursued anemic, low-impact ‘sustainability’ and ‘awareness’ campaigns that give the appearance of advocacy but have done little to accomplish what the winter sports world, and the world at large, needs: rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.”

2. In the Pale of Winter, Trump’s Tan Remains a State Secret

“The official line from the White House, as with other matters surrounding the president’s physical health and appearance, is that Mr. Trump’s glow is the result of ‘good genes,’ according to a senior administration official who would speak only on the condition of anonymity.”

3. Overlooked

“These remarkable black men and women never received obituaries in The New York Times — until now. We’re adding their stories to our project about prominent people whose deaths were not reported by the newspaper.”

4. Murderer, Esq.

“Even as Mr. Reilly makes it his life’s work to advance the cause, he finds himself illustrating its limits. That’s both because his crime was so severe and because he is not satisfied merely to be housed or employed. He craves elite credentials and recognition, like advanced degrees and fellowships, and wants to work on cutting-edge legal issues.”

5. Taunting the Networks, an App Streams Free TV.

“Why is he doing this? The answer is partly principle, and partly intellectual mischief.”

6. When the Suffrage Movement Sold Out to White Supremacy

“The ratification of the 19th Amendment set off celebratory parades all across the country. But confetti was still rustling in the streets when black women across the South learned that the segregationist electoral systems would override the promise of voting rights by obstructing their attempts to register.”

7. Instagram’s Sneakiness Makes Super Bowl Ads Look Quaint

“There is something hollow and dystopian about opening an app to see people you like and instead seeing people you like try to sell products to you.”

8. The Luckiest Sports Fans, Ranked

“A ranking of the best two-decade runs that any pro sports fans have had since World War II, based on both statistical and subjective factors.”

9. Let Children Get Bored Again

“Once you’ve truly settled into the anesthetizing effects of boredom, you find yourself en route to discovery. With monotony, small differences begin to emerge, between those trees, those sweaters.”

10. What Is the Blood of a Poor Person Worth?

“Blood products made up 1.9 percent of all American exports in 2016, more than soybeans, more than computers.”

11. My Mother Was a Betting Woman

“While racetrack gambling and Catholic church bingo nights were legal, informal lottery betting — a practice created by and largely practiced by African-Americans — was illegal. None of this hypocrisy was lost on my mother. ‘We already know that when white folks want to do something bad enough,’ she said, ‘they can just create a law to get away with it.’”

12. The Real Legacy of the 1970s

“Then along came Ronald Reagan. The great secret to his success was not his uncomplicated optimism or his instinct for seizing a moment. It was that he freed people of the responsibility of introspection, released them from the guilt in which liberalism seemed to want to make them wallow.”

13. How Silicon Valley Puts the ‘Con’ in Consent

“The average person would have to spend 76 working days reading all of the digital privacy policies they agree to in the span of a year.”

14. One Way to Make College Meaningful

“Universities have always been hybrid creatures, serving many masters at once: social norms, the market, churches and the exacting standards of disciplinary research, to name four. But the fantasy of the university as a disinterested sphere of pure knowledge is just that. This is not so much to attack the liberal arts as it is to point out that to link them purposefully with life and career goals is not at all to alter the way they have long functioned.”

15. What Science Can Learn From Religion

“It is hubristic to assume that religious thinkers who have grappled for centuries with the workings of the human mind have never discovered anything of interest to scientists studying human behavior.”

16. At the Border, Nuance Is Held in Check.

“Based on these movies and shows, which coincide with the current political debate over a wall between Mexico and the United States, Americans might think nothing but death unfolds on the border. Violence, after all, sells, much as sex does. It’s hard to find the vitality and color of life on the border amid all the onscreen gunfire and despair. It takes some digging to find alternatives to Hollywood’s view.”

17. Frida Kahlo Was a Painter, a Brand Builder, a Survivor. And So Much More.

“By the time she died at the age of 47 in 1954, she left behind a public persona that is still being mined well into the 21st century; today she has more than 800,000 Instagram followers.”

18. The ‘Winter Friday’ Off Is Now a Thing

“Scientific studies conducted in recent years conclude that a four-day week helped employees be more productive and happy at work.”

19. The Queen of Change

“The book’s enduring success — over 4 million copies have been sold since its publication in 1992 — have made its author, a shy Midwesterner who had a bit of early fame in the 1970s for practicing lively New Journalism at the Washington Post and Rolling Stone, among other publications, and for being married, briefly, to Martin Scorsese, with whom she has a daughter, Domenica — an unlikely celebrity. With its gentle affirmations, inspirational quotes, fill-in-the-blank lists and tasks — write yourself a thank-you letter, describe yourself at 80, for example — The Artist’s Way proposes an egalitarian view of creativity: Everyone’s got it.”

20. Marlon James: By the Book

“Here’s the funny thing about so-called genre books: Nobody has ever had to teach a crime writer about cultural appropriation or representation of other people. That’s an affliction that affects only literary novelists. And scoff at chick lit all you want, but it is the only genre where women work.”

21. An Anti-Facebook Manifesto, by an Early Facebook Investor

“Maybe the more frightening dystopia is the one no one warned you about, the one you wake up one morning to realize you’re living inside.”

22. Does ‘Creative’ Work Free You From Drudgery, or Just Security?

“For the privilege of doing ‘creative’ work, we are asked to accept conditions of financial anxiety and precariousness that in previous times were unthinkable to the gainfully employed. ‘Creative’ puts lipstick — or, more precisely, a pair of Warby Parker eyeglasses and a sleeve tattoo — on a pig. It dresses up a ruptured social compact, the raw deal of the gig economy, as bohemian freedom.”

23. How to Win an Argument

“Ultimately, you don’t really convince people — people convince themselves. You just give them the means to do that.”

24. How Iran’s Greatest Director Makes Art of Moral Ambiguity

“The taste of love and the taste of hate are everywhere the same.”

25. Will Sports Betting Transform How Games Are Watched, and Even Played?

“In the middle of the 20th century, television began reframing the way we experience sports. It gave us replays and extended timeouts, pushed World Series games into prime time, scrambled conference affiliations. Through national telecasts and highlights and, later, superstations and cable networks, fans grew intimate with teams many hundreds of miles away. Now gambling is poised to unleash changes just as transformative, and they may come fast.”

Things and Their Meanings

“The trouble with him was that he was not able to imagine. He was quick and ready in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in their meanings. Fifty degrees below zero meant 80 degrees of frost. Such facts told him that it was cold and uncomfortable, and that was all. It did not lead him to consider his weaknesses as a creature affected by temperature. Nor did he think about man’s general weakness, able to live only within narrow limits of heat and cold. From there, it did not lead him to thoughts of heaven and the meaning of a man’s life. 50 degrees below zero meant a bite of frost that hurt and that must be guarded against by the use of mittens, ear coverings, warm moccasins, and thick socks. 50 degrees below zero was to him nothing more than 50 degrees below zero. That it should be more important than that was a thought that never entered his head.”

—Jack London, “To Build a Fire” (1908)

Sunday 1.27.2019 New York Times Digest

1. The Real Wall Isn’t at the Border

“Not long from now, it won’t make sense to think of the border as a line, a wall or even any kind of imposing vertical structure. Tearing down, or refusing to fund, border walls won’t get anyone very far in the broader pursuit of global justice. The borders of the future won’t be as easy to spot, build or demolish as the wall that Mr. Trump is proposing. That’s because they aren’t just going up around countries — they’re going up around us. And they’re taking away our freedom.”

2. Washington State Weighs New Option After Death

“A bill before the Washington State Legislature would make this state the first in the nation — and probably the world, legal experts said — to explicitly allow human remains to be disposed of and reduced to soil through composting, or what the bill calls recomposition.”

3. Speaking Black Dialect in Courtrooms Can Have Striking Consequences

“Researchers played audio recordings of a series of sentences spoken in African-American English and asked 27 stenographers who work in courthouses in Philadelphia to transcribe them. On average, the reporters made errors in two out of every five sentences, according to the study.”

4. Why Are Young People Pretending to Love Work?

“In the new work culture, enduring or even merely liking one’s job is not enough. Workers should love what they do, and then promote that love on social media, thus fusing their identities to that of their employers.”

5. Dark-Sky Tourism

“Ninety-nine percent of the U.S. population lives under light-polluted skies.”

6. A Frat Boy and a Gentleman

“It’s wrong to assume that every all-male group is toxic. I found many fraternities offering a comforting family away from home, a safe space for guys who worried that it would be hard to be themselves or find friends in college.”

7. You’re Using Your iPhone Wrong

“To be a minimalist smartphone user means that you deploy this device for a small number of features that do things you value (and that the phone does particularly well), and then outside of these activities, put it away. This approach dethrones this gadget from a position of constant companion down to a luxury object, like a fancy bike or a high-end blender, that gives you great pleasure when you use it but doesn’t dominate your entire day.”

8. Why Do the Oscars Keep Falling for Racial Reconciliation Fantasies?

“They symbolize a style of American storytelling in which the wheels of interracial friendship are greased by employment, in which prolonged exposure to the black half of the duo enhances the humanity of his white, frequently racist counterpart. All the optimism of racial progress — from desegregation to integration to equality to something like true companionship — is stipulated by terms of service.”

9. Car Wash, a Raunchy 1970s Comedy Brimming With Meta and Mayhem

“The contradictions between their labor and our leisure are manifest in the irresistible title song. Punctuated by the exhortation ‘work and work and work,’ the song by the soul group Rose Royce explains that while the Dee-Luxe is ‘no place to be if you plan on being a star’ (never mind that at least in the final credits just about everyone gets to be one), it’s ‘better than digging a ditch’ (what isn’t?) and ‘the boss don’t mind if you act the fool’ (of course not). Heard over the radio, the tune sets the Dee-Luxe employees bopping while they work in a speeded-up version of the Funky Robot dance. Has a $3-an-hour job ever been more fun?”

10. What Adam Conover Can’t Travel Without

“We dispel that image by sharing what flying really looked like back then. In the ’60s planes flew a little lower than they do now. In the ’30s and the ’40s, they flew much lower to the ground. It was a horrible experience. There was a lot more turbulence and it was a lot more dangerous. People were much more likely to die in a plane crash. But the cabins were also full of the smell of cigarette smoke and fuel fumes because they weren’t as good at separating the fuel fumes. The main reason that barf bags are on planes today is because the cabins were constantly full of the smell of jet fuel and cigarette smoke, and there was so much more turbulence, so people were just constantly throwing up.”

11. A New History of Native Americans

“White Americans have long defined the past through narratives of frontier freedoms. Recently, however, historians have moved away from such self-justifying accounts, and a growing field has made the experiences of indigenous displacement, survival and resurgence a new pathway for understanding the nation’s history. Celebratory accounts of European settlement and expansion have increasingly passed into an antiquarian realm, succeeded by studies of settler colonialism that approach the past more comparatively as well as more cautiously.”

12. Need a New Self-Help Guru? Try Aristotle

“An Aristotelian life is not solely about bearing the inevitable, but about identifying the particular talents or natural proclivities that each of us has, and then pursuing a path, consistently and deliberately, over the course of a life.”

13. Mama Was a Numbers Runner

“Especially exhilarating is her history of lotteries. All 13 original colonies ran them and used the proceeds to fund capital improvements. But by 1860, most states had become suspicious of lotteries and had outlawed them precisely because of the egalitarian nature of luck — a poor black person could win one. Denmark Vesey, Davis tells us, was one such example. He used his winnings from a 1799 lottery to buy his freedom; later he founded the African Methodist Church in Charleston and led a famous rebellion against slaveholders in 1822. Lotteries, then, had the potential to upend the systems the states ran on — no wonder they were outlawed for so long. (States did not begin to reintroduce legal lotteries until 1964.)”

14. Is Being a ‘Minority’ Really Just a Matter of Numbers?

“In the United States, you’re either straight and white (and so on), or you’re in the minority. In fact, you are a minority. And that can be awkward.”

15. How to Become Less Angry

“Beware the myth of catharsis: Smashing things won’t help. Despite the popularity of so-called rage rooms, where customers pay to bash televisions with a bat or shatter dishware, research shows that such expressions of anger tend to increase anger. Nor can you rely on pharmacology; in fact, anger is not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and Tafrate knows of no clinical drug trials for treating anger akin to diagnosable problems like anxiety and depression.”