The Lighthouse

I’ve joked about this subject before (see, e.g., here and here) and enjoy upbeat lighthouse-themed songs such as Diane Birch’s “Lighthouse,” but from the looks of this, being a lighthouse keeper is no joke.

Sunday 7.28.2019 New York Times Digest

1. The Mosquitoes Are Coming for Us

“Mosquitoes are our apex predator, the deadliest hunter of human beings on the planet. A swarming army of 100 trillion or more mosquitoes patrols nearly every inch of the globe, killing about 700,000 people annually.”

2. Is Peak TV Really a Bonanza for Female Comics?

“The economics of streaming are starting to resemble traditional broadcast television more than most highbrow viewers realize.”

3. To Fight ‘McMansions,’ One Protester Spoils the View (With Himself)

“Seven days a week, Jim Halbrook stands outside a 12-home development on Bainbridge Island, Wash., holding sign decrying the environmental impact of big homes, or ‘McMansions.’”

4. Who Owns Theodore Roosevelt?

“Like a handful of other figures in American history — Washington, Lincoln, King — Roosevelt inspires admiration across the political spectrum, in part because his own politics are so hard to place. Through his career and his voluminous writings, he can appear as a reformer, a nativist, an imperialist, a trustbuster, a conservative and a progressive — often at the same time.”

5. It’s Not Just a Chemical Imbalance

“Black-and-white narratives of psychopathology neglect the tremendous psychological impacts of social and material circumstance: access to the basics of survival; the burdens of intergenerational trauma and insufficient social support systems; the existential gut punch of pervasive injustice.”

6. Can This Ancient Greek Medicine Cure Humanity?

“Many indispensable medicines can be traced back to the earth’s forests and fields: another reason to protect and nurture them a whole lot better than we do.”

7. In Politics, Apologies Are for Losers

“An apology tended to decrease rather than to increase overall support for those who said or did things that many people consider offensive.”

8. Why We Call Things ‘Porn’

“Food porn is images of food, used for immediate pleasure, without your having to go out and buy the food, cook it or worry about the calories. Real estate porn is pictures of real estate, used for instant gratification, without your having to buy the house, clean it or take care of all that furniture. And so on.”

9. Has Robert Mapplethorpe’s Moment Passed?

“His sexually explicit images, once shocking, now look like clinical illustrations in a textbook on fetishes, while his glorifications of black men feed into old, odious stereotypes.”

10. Blue Note Records at 80 + A History of Blue Note Records in 15 Albums

“The name Blue Note Records calls to mind a once-regnant sound in jazz: the hard-bop of the 1950s and ’60s, with its springy four-beat swing rhythm, its spare-but-lush horn harmonies, its flinty, percussive piano playing. Imagine a smoky room with a horn player blowing fiercely over a strolling standup bass, and you’re hearing the Blue Note sound. Think of a modernist, cobalt-hued album cover, with blocky title text and a photo of a studious young musician hunkered over an instrument, and you’re envisioning the Blue Note look.”

11. Why Pop Culture Still Can’t Get Enough of Charles Manson + The Manson Murders: What to Read, Watch and Listen To

“At least one prestigious university offers a semester-long seminar on the murders.”

12. Why Do Women Love True Crime?

“Men, the statistics tell us, are involved in violent crime — as perpetrators and victims alike — in much larger numbers than women. When women are connected to crime, we’re much more likely to be victims or survivors. Perhaps our fascination with these stories stems in part from wanting to learn from them. If a woman escaped her attacker in this particular way, we think, perhaps I could too.”

13. What’s Meat Got to Do With It?

“Ultimately, these semantic squabbles are about marketing. They’re not being fought by consumers.”

14. Stage Right

“Trump and his proxies are constantly hitching the White House agenda to popular culture using the language of action movies.”

15. When You Wear Sunscreen, You’re Taking Part in a Safety Study

“All of us are taking part in toxicology studies, whether we like it — or know it — or not.”

16. The $60 Gadget That’s Changing Electronic Music

“Making something cheaper alters a tool’s potential. It makes it available to more people, and it changes the idea of the instrument, what it’s used for and who uses it. In other words: How an instrument is made — its means of production — influences the music it might be used to create.”

Sunday 7.21.2019 New York Times Digest

1. The Sublime Grandeur of Apollo 11

“What Apollo represents is not goodness but greatness, not moral progress but magnificence, a sublime example of human daring that our civilization hasn’t matched since. So to mark the anniversary by passing moral judgment on the past is a way of burying the appropriate response — which should be awe at what past Americans achieved, and regret that we have not matched such greatness since.”

2. Ed Dwight Was Set to Be the First Black Astronaut. Here’s Why That Never Happened.

“Two grand stories that America tells itself about the 1960s are the civil rights movement and the space race. They are mostly rendered as separate narratives, happening at the same time but on different courses. In the 5-foot-4 figure of Ed Dwight, they came together for a transitory moment.”

3. Using Race for Gain

“Over decades in business, entertainment and now politics, Mr. Trump has approached America’s racial, ethnic and religious divisions opportunistically, not as the nation’s wounds to be healed but as openings to achieve his goals, whether they be ratings, fame, money or power, without regard for adverse consequences.”

4. Safe Deposit Boxes Aren’t Safe

“There are an estimated 25 million safe deposit boxes in America, and they operate in a legal gray zone within the highly regulated banking industry. There are no federal laws governing the boxes; no rules require banks to compensate customers if their property is stolen or destroyed.”

5. When Corporate Lobbies Started to Look Like Museum Galleries

“Big business loves to flash cultural credentials.”

6. Tuition-Free College Could Cost Less Than You Think

“The long-term payoff of these policies could be enormous. Considerable research shows that public and private benefits greatly exceed the costs when students are nudged toward obtaining a college degree. Yet at the moment, only 37 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 29 have a four-year college degree, and completion rates are lower for poorer students.”

7. Science Fiction Sent Man to the Moon

“Works of fiction aren’t particularly known for having influenced historical events. Yet some foundational early rocket science, embedded deep within the developmental history of the Saturn 5 — the towering, five-stage rocket that took Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon 50 years ago this week — was paid for by the budget of the first science fiction film to envision just such a voyage in realistic terms.”

8. The Joy of Hatred

“There’s simply no way to understand the energy of the event — its hatred and its pleasures — without looking to our history of communal racial violence and the ways in which Americans have used racial others, whether native-born or new arrivals, as scapegoats for their lost power, low status or nonexistent prosperity.”

9. The Ridiculous Fantasy of a ‘No Drama’ Relationship

“When heterosexual men say they’re looking for something ‘drama-free,’ I suspect they want something that doesn’t exist: a problem-free partnership with someone who has no life experience. Are they looking for a woman who never gets angry or afraid or sad, who never worries about her family or struggles in her job? Who would want to be with such a person?”

10. FaceApp and the Savage Shock of Aging

“FaceApp proves that we cannot resist the temptation to peek at our decline.”

11. The Lessons of a Hideous Forest

“Organic material goes quickly: cardboard in three months, wood in up to three years, a pair of wool socks in up to five. A plastic shopping bag may take 20 years; a plastic cup, 50. Major industrial materials will be there for much longer: An aluminum can is with us for 200 years, a glass bottle for 500, a plastic bottle for 700, and a Styrofoam container for a millennium. The forest does not know this. It does not think. It just acts.”

12. State and Local Taxes Are Worsening Inequality

“The poor pay taxes at higher rates in 45 of the 50 states.”

13. The App That Tucks Me In at Night

“Internet culture is often described as hyper-visual, but it has also cracked open new relationships to sound.”

14. The Rise of the Spice Girls Generation

“The Spice Girls were adult performers producing adult music that both appealed and was marketed primarily to children.”

15. Does This Red Cap Make Me Look MAGA?

“Some sports fans … have become reluctant to wear their favorite teams’ red headwear, or have even stopped wearing it altogether, because they don’t want people to think they’re wearing one of the MAGA hats, which are also red.”

16. Acts of Kindness, and the Underlying Rot

“Individual acts of kindness don’t solve systemic problems — in fact, they can do harm by glossing over deeper issues.”

17. Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders

“After Spain gave Cuba its independence and also turned over Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines to its enemy, the United States was never ignored again. The danger for Roosevelt was that the war might conceivably have had the opposite effect on his own trajectory.”

18. California and Water

“When the inevitable multiyear droughts set in, farmers must rely on excessive groundwater pumping to irrigate those endlessly expanding acres of fruit and nut trees, endangering the vast underground aquifer that is arguably the state’s most valuable natural resource.”

19. Beware the Writer as Houseguest

“When Hans Christian Andersen stayed with Charles Dickens three weeks longer than originally planned, their friendship never recovered.”

20. The Making of ‘1984’

“Socialists, libertarians, liberals and conservatives alike have vied to remake him in their own image and claim his authority. Orwell’s contested legacy may be rooted partly in his self-divisions. He was a socialist intellectual who hated socialists and intellectuals; an alienated soul who ‘lionized the common man,’ as Lynskey puts it. Still, the filial (and often proprietary) attachment that Orwell’s work tends to evoke in his admirers points to something else: the morally urgent yet highly companionable nature of his writing, which can leave one with the feeling of having been directly addressed by a mind worthy of emulation.”

21. How America Got to ‘Zero Tolerance’ on Immigration: The Inside Story

“His presidency has provided a remarkable opportunity for more junior, or less distinguished, bureaucracy climbers to ascend to heights of government that they might not otherwise have reached anytime soon, if ever. But doing so has required them to acquiesce to, and often execute, policies that both Democratic and Republican administrations previously considered beyond the pale.”

Sunday 7.14.2019 New York Times Digest

1. The Racist History Behind Facial Recognition

“Much like the 19th-century technologies of photography and composite portraits lent ‘objectivity’ to pseudoscientific physiognomy, today, computers and artificial intelligence supposedly distance facial analysis from human judgment and prejudice. In reality, algorithms that rely on a flawed understanding of expressions and emotions can just make prejudice more difficult to spot.”

2. Quietly Hoarding Millions of Faces Culled From Web

“Companies and labs have gathered facial images for more than a decade, and the databases are merely one layer to building facial recognition technology. But people often have no idea that their faces are in them.”

3. The Cures Are Faltering

“Resistance to antibiotics has become one of the world’s most pressing health issues. Overuse of the drugs in humans and livestock has caused germs to develop defenses to survive, rendering a growing number of medicines ineffective in treating a wide range of illnesses — a phenomenon that is playing out worldwide with U.T.I.s.”

4. Rufus the Hawk Rules the Skies Over Wimbledon

“Without him, Wimbledon just might descend into aviary chaos. Pigeons could reign supreme, not just in the air, but also in the rafters, on the rooftops and across the grass courts.”

5. The Nordic Model May Be the Best Cushion Against Capitalism. Can It Survive Immigration?

“Growing numbers of native-born Swedes have come to see the refugees as a drain on public finances. Some decry an assault on ‘Swedish heritage,’ or ‘Swedish culture,’ or other words that mean white, Christian and familiar. Antipathy for immigrants now threatens to erode support for Sweden’s social welfare state.”

6. Why Do Medical Devices Sound So Terrible?

“Hospitals today can be sonic hellscapes.”

7. Unemployment Is Low, but That’s Only Part of the Story

“A falling participation rate suggests a growing accumulation of men and women who are neither working nor unemployed, but rather disengaged.”

8. It Was Never About Busing

“The school bus, treasured when it was serving as a tool of segregation, became reviled only when it transformed into a tool of integration.”

9. You Call It Starvation. I Call It Biohacking.

“Today’s eating disorder is as likely to come in the guise of a diet that purports to optimize you to survive and thrive in late capitalism as it is one that claims to make you beach-body ready.”

10. Please Touch Me

“If welcome, spontaneous touch had fallen out of favor, and formerly sexually active citizens were staying home with ‘Game of Thrones’ and a vibrator, wasn’t it possible that people could literally forget how to touch another human? And if we did lose the muscle memory of consensual touch, how would we get it back?”

11. This Land Was Your Land

“You’ve heard about the banality of evil. This is the banality of normalized degradation.”

12. Move Over Therapy Dogs. Hello, Therapy Cows.

“Cow cuddling, as the practice is called, invites interaction with the farm animals via brushing, petting or heartfelt chats with the bovines. The experience is similar to equine therapy, with one game-changing difference: Horses tend to stand, but cows spontaneously lie down in the grass while chewing their cud, allowing humans to get even more up close and personal by joining on the ground and offering a warm embrace.”

13. Apollo 11 Moon Landing 50th Anniversary

“Looking back at when NASA first put men on the moon.”

14. The Party of the Disappointed People

“When Gass’s book was published, in 1995, the cycle of history had revolved to a point more or less directly opposed to the moment in which it was conceived. Now that the wheel has come full circle, it seems frighteningly ahead of its time, as does Gass himself.”

15. A Lauded Satirist of the Weimar Republic Who Anticipated the Brutality of the Third Reich

“A satirist is an offended idealist.”

16. The Dangerous Art of Pyotr Pavlensky

“Institutions of power are oppressive, yet they are also oddly vulnerable to someone who denies their legitimacy.”

17. Zoos Called It a ‘Rescue.’ But Are the Elephants Really Better Off?

“Science has begun to reveal just how radically the elephant’s outwardly plodding appearance belies the exquisiteness of its senses and sensibilities. Neuroimaging has shown that elephants possess in their cerebral cortex the same elements of neural wiring we long thought exclusive to us, including spindle and pyramidal neurons, associated with higher cognitive functions like self-recognition, social awareness and language. This same circuitry, of course, renders elephants susceptible to the various psychic pathologies that afflict imprisoned humans: extreme boredom and depression, stereotypical behaviors like manic pacing and rocking and heightened aggression.”

18. The Great Race to Rule Streaming TV

“The dominant force driving TV in the Netflix age is the same one driving social networks, video-sharing platforms and online publishers: the relentless pursuit and monetization of our attention.”

The World Before Your Feet

In my Sunday 3.25.2012 New York Times Digest, there appeared an article called “Leaving His Footprints on the City.” It was my first introduction to Matt Green, who was attempting “to walk every street in every borough of New York City” including “parks, paths, cemeteries and occasional overlaps.”

I recall checking out Green’s blog briefly and then filing him and his quixotic project away in the back of my head somewhere under “other weirdos who are interested in walking as epistemology.”

Recently, though, I came across and watched the 2018 documentary about Green and his walking project: The World Before Your Feet.

Here’s the trailer:

If you’re interested in walking like I am, or in New York City, or simply in documentaries about people who march to the beat of their own drum (to borrow a phrase from Thoreau, one of history’s great walkers), I recommend it to you.

After watching it, I feel like it’s not a stretch to say that Green has an understanding of NYC that few, if any, other human beings have, or ever have had. What’s more, it is an understanding that you can have of your own city or town, provided you are able to walk it — though, as Green’s example suggests, to really walk a city isn’t easy.

Sunday 7.7.2019 New York Times Digest

1. The Last Time a Wall Went Up to Keep Out Immigrants

“The nativist movement, as anti-immigrant campaigns were once called, began a century and a half ago, directed first against the Irish, later against those arriving from southern and eastern Europe. The case against these European immigrants was remarkably similar to today’s complaints about those at our gates: They steal jobs from the native-born, they are costly to taxpayers, they don’t respect American values, and they are inclined to be criminals.”

2. They Paid Nearly a Half Million in Ransom. Where’s the Data?

“The bureau’s official position was that victims should not pay ransoms. But many city officials and computer network specialists say that cities often have no choice. The cost for recovering data can far surpass the ransom demand, and agencies often find themselves unable able to perform the most basic municipal tasks. In some cases, even emergency services have been affected.”

3. The Curious Mystical Text Behind Marianne Williamson’s Presidential Bid

“This is not some homey book of feel-good bromides. Rather, it is taken by its readers as a genuine gospel, produced by a Manhattan doctor who believed she was channeling new revelations from Jesus Christ himself. And stepping into this unusual book’s story, in fact, is the key to understanding Ms. Williamson’s latest venture.”

4. ‘This Old House’ Turns 40

“We don’t redo a house in one episode. People want that level of detail, and that’s what’s lacking in the other shows.”

5. What Middle-Class Families Want Politicians to Know

“Being middle class in America used to come with a certain amount of leisure and economic security. Today it involves an endless series of trade-offs and creative workarounds, career reinventions and an inescapable sense of dread.”

6. Why Caves Are Cool

“In my house, air-conditioning is built in to the geology. Last summer, the inside temperature did not exceed 72 degrees.”

7. Writing With Your Eyes Closed

“Milton produced Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained more than a decade after his eyes failed around 1652. ‘A good argument can be made that he was able to render these masterpieces not in spite of his blindness but because of it,’ John Rumrich, who teaches Milton at the University of Texas, told me.”

8. The Dominance of the White Male Critic

“The six most influential art critics in the country, as selected by their peers, are all white…. Yet the most dynamic art in America today is being made by artists of color and indigenous artists.”

9. There Should Be a Public Option for Everything

“Throughout our history, Americans have turned to public options as a way to promote equal opportunity and reconcile markets with democracy. For example, public libraries allow anyone to read, check out books or surf the internet. This expands educational opportunities and guarantees access to information to everyone, but it doesn’t prevent people from buying books at the bookstore if they choose.”

10. Black Directors of the ’90s Speak Out

“The New York Times recently convened a discussion with six directors who were part of a wave of young black talent that surged 30 years ago this month — beginning with the success of Do the Right Thing in July 1989 — only to come crashing down, as Hollywood in the 1990s and 2000s reconstituted itself around films with white directors and white casts.”

11. Can Kidz Bop Survive the Streaming Era?

“Only three artists — the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Barbra Streisand — have more Top 10 albums than the Kidz Bop Kids.”

12. Some Families Are Hiring Coaches to Help Them Raise Phone-Free Children

“A new screen-free parenting coach economy has sprung up to serve the demand. Screen consultants come into homes, schools, churches and synagogues to remind parents how people parented before.”

13. The Horrible Place Between the Apps

“We are not well.”

14. New & Noteworthy

“Mailer, who died the year this book was published, seemed particularly preoccupied with the role of technology at the time. He called it the ‘Devil’s invention’ and the ‘perfect weapon in the Devil’s armory.’ Technology, he argues, is less about pleasure and ease than about wielding power, a view that feels particularly prescient in our current political moment.”

15. We Have Abundant Food. Why Is Our Health — and the Planet’s — So Bad?

“The availability of sugar, that dietary nemesis, has risen 20 percent in the past 50 years — but the amount of cheap vegetable cooking oils on the world market has doubled or tripled, depending on the base plant, the result of agricultural policies pursued by countries like Brazil, which has become the world’s second-largest producer of soybeans after the United States. Cheap fat is hiding in your food far more unobtrusively than sugar.”

16. What Makes an Author’s Obsession a Thrill, Not a Bore?

“Reading about someone’s obsessions can be catching.”

17. Why Do Sports Fans Watch — And Rewatch — Injury Footage?

“On the strength of a single ligament, thousands of fortunes rise or fall. To study an injury is simply to keep yourself informed of a significant world event.”

18. Talk: Dapper Dan

“You cannot isolate what transpired in my life from the African-American experience. You have to start with that. We came to this country as slaves. We didn’t have our own language. We didn’t have our culture. We have to take those elements of this new culture that’s been forced upon us and use that to recreate a culture for ourselves. We continue to do that, and you continue to take it.”

19. Why Is There So Much Saudi Money in American Universities?

“Saudi money flows to all sorts of American schools: M.I.T.’s elite peers, including Harvard, Yale, Northwestern, Stanford and the California Institute of Technology; flagship public universities like Michigan and the University of California, Berkeley; institutions in oil-producing regions, like Texas A&M; and state schools like Eastern Washington University and Ball State University.”

20. Scientists Are Giving Dead Brains New Life. What Could Go Wrong?

“Studies showed that the brain was far more resilient than had been understood. It could, for example, recover neuronal function after a half-hour of oxygen and blood deprivation — in other words, it could be taken offline and turned back on again.”

21. Digital Jail: How Electronic Monitoring Drives Defendants Into Debt

“States and cities, which incur around 90 percent of the expenditures for jails and prisons, are increasingly passing the financial burden of the devices onto those who wear them. It costs St. Louis roughly $90 a day to detain a person awaiting trial in the Workhouse, where in 2017 the average stay was 291 days. When individuals pay Emass $10 a day for their own supervision, it costs the city nothing.”

Sunday 6.30.2019 New York Times Digest

1. What, Exactly, Do We Mean by ‘Democracy’ Anyway?

“The most consequential manifestation of American political narcissism is the extent to which the United States Constitution is exempted from critique.”

2. The Deception Of a Biden Site That’s Not His.

“Meddling by foreigners is illegal. But trolling or disinformation spread by American citizens is protected by the First Amendment.”

3. Subway Got Too Big. Franchisees Paid a Price.

“Subway is the largest fast-food company in the world by store count, with more than 24,000 restaurants in the United States alone. It got that way thanks in large part to entrepreneurial immigrants. Unlike at chains such as McDonald’s and Burger King, where many franchises are operated by investment firms, Subway owners are mostly individuals and families. The company’s co-founder, Fred DeLuca, made stores easy to open; most new franchisees are charged a $15,000 initial fee, compared to $45,000 at McDonald’s. In exchange, Subway operators must hand over more revenue than at many other chains — 8 percent of gross sales — while also agreeing to other fees and stipulations.”

4. Want to Be Less Racist? Move to Hawaii.

“In theory, racial categorizing is supposed to work like a shorthand, helping us determine how to interact with people while expending minimal energy figuring out who they actually are. The problem, though, is that our perception of race and what it means is based on a model of the world that’s almost always incorrect, and often entirely fabricated.”

5. Elegant Lives Built on the Backs of Slaves

“When many Americans think of slavery, they have the misconception that it was strictly an agricultural institution, with black people forced to labor on farms, picking cotton, sugar and tobacco. But historians say that by 1860 slaves made up 20 percent of the population in major cities, and in Charleston black people outnumbered whites. Urban slaves, like Ms. Katin, were forced to work night and day for wealthy families. Many of the houses where they labored were home to prominent politicians of the day, and are both popular tourist and school field-trip destinations.”

6. Jill Lepore Argues for American Patriotism

“Lepore defends a version of civic patriotism against the three alternatives: illiberal nationalism, identity politics and liberal nationalism.”

7. Generic Drugs Are Poisoning Us

“In the United States, imports from India now make up 40 percent of all generics used, and 80 percent of the active ingredients used in both generic and brand-name medications come from India and China. In 2007, when scores of kidney patients across the United States died from allergic reactions after dialysis, experts traced the cause to a contaminant in the blood thinner heparin provided by a Chinese plant contracted by Baxter, the leading American supplier. The F.D.A. had never inspected this plant. Someone there, it seems, had intentionally added a chemical to stretch the drug’s yield and profitability.”

8. How to Be a Bouncer

“The demographic most likely to get violent at bars are men between 21 and 28 years old.”

9. Sperm Donors Can’t Stay Secret Anymore

“In 1884, an older wealthy man and his younger wife sought treatment from a doctor at Jefferson Medical College because they were struggling to conceive. The doctor determined that the husband was infertile, likely from gonorrhea; but rather than explain that uncomfortable fact, he anesthetized the wife under false pretense, and inseminated her with the sperm of another man — a medical student deemed, in a vote held for this undertaking, the best looking in the class. The doctor eventually told the husband, who kept that secret from his wife; but years later, in 1909, the medical student revealed all in an article in the journal Medical World. The story could be seen as an early parable for the industry over all: Eventually the truth will out.”