Creative Idleness

Brunello Cucinelli, billionaire sweater maker/philosopher, on the importance of creative idleness in the December 2017/January 2018 issue of Esquire.

Brunello Cucinelli

Sunday 12.31.2017 New York Times Digest


1. The Only Way to Keep Your Resolutions

“We too often think about self-improvement and the pursuit of our goals in bracing, self-flagellating terms: I will do better, I will muscle through, I will wake up earlier. But it doesn’t need to be that way, and it shouldn’t: Self-control isn’t about feeling miserable.”

2. Want to Be Happy? Think Like an Old Person

“As people’s minds and bodies decline, instead of feeling worse about their lives, they feel better.”

3. Using the Airbnb Model to Protect the Environment

“Much as homeowners can use Airbnb and other services to turn their living space into pop-up hotels when demand warrants it, conservationists are creating ‘pop-up nature reserves’ on idle land.”

4. The Patriarchy Isn’t Going Anywhere

“The patriarchy is bigger than the patriarch.”

5. Dad Believed in U.F.O.s. He Wasn’t Alone.

“I can hear what he would have said, there at the veterans’ home, his broken vessel of a body in a wheelchair but his mind as quick and bright as a shooting star. ‘I’ve been saying it for years,’ he’d assert, followed by a choice epithet he reserved for government officials, followed by, ‘I knew it.’ Then, a satisfying drag on a cigarette.”

6. Is It Too Late to Follow My Dreams?

“There is no age limit to finding artistic success.”

7. America, Can We Talk About Your Drinking?

“Many alcohol researchers and substance-use clinicians believe the steady increase in problem drinking arises from a deeply felt sense of despair.”

8. A D.J. Could Save Your Life Tonight

“Good D.J.s are extraordinary artists, and great D.J.s are transcendent magicians. The art requires extensive musical knowledge. It demands technical know-how. It turns one into a psychologist and reader of moods in order to gauge the whims of a dance floor. And it insists that you spend days, weeks and years learning how to mix flawlessly. That is the core of a D.J.’s magic. The ability to blend, to weave two songs together and seamlessly connect them in a way that continues the narrative you’re spinning on this night.”

9. Your Mother’s Maiden Name Is Not a Secret

“Security questions are astonishingly insecure: The answers to many of them are easily researched or guessed, yet they can be the sole barrier to someone gaining access to your account.”

10. How We Know It Was Climate Change

“There is now ample evidence that global warming has influenced extremes in the United States and around the world through such factors as temperature, atmospheric moisture and sea level. This doesn’t mean that every event has a human fingerprint. But it does mean that we can expect more years like this one, when our old expectations no longer apply.”

11. The College Sports Tax Dodge

“Student-athletes have always been considered unpaid amateurs engaging in extracurricular activities rather than profitable professions. So college sports is deemed part of the educational mission of schools and exempt from income taxes.”

12. An Antidote to Digital Dehumanization? Live Theater

“The theater is an art form scaled to the human, and stubbornly so, relying on the absolute necessity of physical audience, a large part of why theater is so difficult to monetize. It only happens when and where it happens. Once it starts, you can’t stop it. It doesn’t exist to be paused or pulled out at the consumer’s whim. It can’t be copied and sold. In a world increasingly lost to virtuality and unreality — the theater points to an antidote.”

13. How They Created ‘Phantom Thread’

“There’s no strangeness you can imagine that is more strange than the lives of apparently conventional people behind closed doors.”

14. Free Your Mind? ‘Black Mirror’ Isn’t Too Hopeful

“His target isn’t technology per se. Rather, the series assumes that people — enough people anyway — will look at any new device the way a terrorist looks at a truck or a boxcutter, with an eye toward the damage they can do with it.”

15. Why Every Pop Star Wants a Piece of Starrah

“I like my privacy.”

16. Black Gold

“There may be no factor more influential in contemporary geopolitics and yet least understood by journalists and policymakers than the energy revolution, which is less about renewables like wind and solar power than about how the oil and gas sector itself is changing.”

17. Are the American West’s Wildfires Inevitable?

“Today’s forests are often clogged with desiccated vegetation because — unlike in countless millenniums past — they are seldom cleansed by naturally occurring blazes. With such an abundance of fuel to feast on, wildfires like those currently raging in California have become increasingly ruinous and intense.”

18. Planned Obsolescence

“The technological micromoment has become a constant pitfall for authors as our emotional life migrates to platforms with ever-changing protocols and social rites.”

19. Unplanned Obsolescence

“As his thumbs danced over the tiny screen, I realized that ‘all thumbs’ cannot much longer mean clumsy with one’s hands. And I realized how much I’m going to miss it. It has always seemed to me a way of noting a deficit without being vicious about it — a description of the bumbling sitcom dad who tries to fiddle with a circuit breaker and plunges the entire house into darkness. But how can that man be labeled all thumbs if the teenager sitting across from me can use his thumbs on his smartphone fast enough to take dictation from a cattle auctioneer?”

20. We Aren’t Destroying the Earth

“People spreading out across the globe and building international trade networks have reunited the continents in a kind of virtual supercontinent, mixing plant, animal, microbe and fungal species in a way unseen since Pangaea, more than 200 million years ago.”


Sunday 12.24.2017 New York Times Digest


1. Letter of Recommendation: ‘Passport to Your National Parks’

“Lately, my America has felt too vast and fragmented, and fixating on regional curiosities like state-fair butter sculptures and St. Paul sandwiches only exacerbates this crisis of faith. I’ve been searching for new ways to keep liking this country, meaningful ways that don’t feel like work.”

2. In an Era of Online Outrage, Do Sensitivity Readers Result in Better Books, or Censorship?

“In today’s hair-trigger, hyperreactive social media landscape, where a tweet can set off a cascade of outrage and prompt calls for a book’s cancellation, children’s book authors and publishers are taking precautions to identify potential pitfalls in a novel’s premise or execution. Many are turning to sensitivity readers, who provide feedback on issues like race, religion, gender, sexuality, chronic illness and physical disabilities. The role that readers play in shaping children’s books has become a flash point in a fractious debate about diversity, cultural appropriation and representation, with some arguing that the reliance on sensitivity readers amounts to censorship.”

3. What Happens When the Richest U.S. Cities Turn to the World?

“What happens to America’s manufacturing heartland when Silicon Valley turns to China? Where do former mill and mining towns fit in when big cities shift to digital work? How does upstate New York benefit when New York City increases business with Tokyo?”

4. Get Me to a Nunnery

“There is something powerful about being in the presence of faith when you yourself are doubting.”

5. Flying Saucers and Other Fairy Tales

“Our alien encounters, whether real or imaginary, are the same kind of thing as the fairy encounters of the human past — part of an enduring phenomenon whose interpretations shift but whose essentials are consistent, featuring the same abductions and flying crafts and lights and tricks with crops and animals and time and space, the same shape-shifting humanoids and sexual experiments and dangerous gifts and mysterious intentions.”

6. Pop Music in 2017: Glum and Glummer

“Rhythm tracks are just as often hollowed-out and sporadic, with a beat that’s inferred rather than spelled out; kick drums arrive as eruptions rather than foundations. Often, percussion sounds are spattered intermittently around a bass line, or they tick steadily like a suspense-film soundtrack — more haunted house than dance floor.”

7. Who Wants to Buy the Most Expensive House in America?

“Asked why, Mr. Niami shrugged, looking slightly baffled by the line of questioning. ‘Because it’s cool,’ he said.”

8. Yes Me Can

“‘Me’ has expanded, inverted, politicized; at this moment in history, it is suddenly, bracingly synonymous with ‘we.’”

9. Instagram Is Now a Dating Platform, Too. Here’s How It Works.

“After my ex-boyfriend and I broke up, he started liking a lot of my stuff and watching all of my Stories. He would DM me, he would send me memes. And I sort of knew he was trying to get my attention.”

10. Close Reading

“What happens when a leading Catholic intellectual reads the Quran?”

11. Worlds of Wonders

“The move from Egyptian papyrus to locally prepared animal skins after the fall of the Roman Empire changed the shape of books from square to rectangular: ‘most mammals,’ after all, ‘are oblong.’”

12. Jordan Peele’s X-Ray Vision

“Peele developed a tone, other than hysteria, to present the black experience of discomfort in seemingly benign white worlds and the way their residents chronically deny the reality of that experience. Peele takes that reality as a given, but he is amplifying the paranoia that results from its constant denial. It’s a movie made by a person having the same bad dream I and lots of other black people have had.”

13. How to Escape a Burning Building

“Don’t prolong it.”


Sunday 12.17.2017 New York Times Digest


1. At the Solstice, in Praise of Darkness

“However we may celebrate the return of light to our skies and lives, she continued, we might also wish to pause to honor the darkness that will give way to it.”

2. The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program

“We’re sort of in the position of what would happen if you gave Leonardo da Vinci a garage-door opener.”

3. How a President’s Name Became a Racial Jeer

“Across the country, students have used the president’s name to mock or goad minority opponents at sporting events.”

4. Google Thinks I’m Dead

“When an acquaintance said she was alarmed to read that I had passed away, it seemed like an error worth correcting. And so began the quest to convince someone at Google that I am alive.”

5. Asked About Retiring, They Have a Simple Answer: Why?

“The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the labor force participation rate for those 75 and older rose from 6.4 percent in 2006 to 8.4 percent in 2016 and is likely to reach 10.8 percent by 2026.”

6. America’s New Religion: Fox Evangelicalism

“The nationalistic, race-baiting, fear-mongering form of politics enthusiastically practiced by Mr. Trump and Roy Moore in Alabama is central to a new strain of American evangelicalism. This emerging religious worldview — let’s call it ‘Fox evangelicalism’ — is preached from the pulpits of conservative media outlets like Fox News. It imbues secular practices like shopping for gifts with religious significance and declares sacred something as worldly and profane as gun culture.”

7. Earthlings, Unite: Let’s Go to Mars

“I think we should plan to go to Mars because it would be a healthy sign that we, as a civilization, are still planning for a future — that we intend to live. Because right now, frankly, we’re not acting as though we do. We’re acting more the way a friend of mine did in the last year of his life: letting the mail pile up unopened, heaping garbage in the house, littering the floor with detritus, no longer bothering to turn over the calendar pages. He’d clearly decided, on some level, to die.”

8. My Year of No Shopping

“The trick of no shopping isn’t just that you don’t buy things. You don’t shop. That means no trawling the sale section of the J. Crew website in idle moments. It means the catalogs go into the recycle bin unopened on the theory that if I don’t see it, I don’t want it.”

9. When Saying ‘Yes’ Is Easier Than Saying ‘No’

“There are other names for this kind of sex: gray zone sex, in reference to that murky gray area of consent; begrudgingly consensual sex, because, you know, you don’t really want to do it but it’s probably easier to just get it over with; lukewarm sex, because you’re kind of ‘meh’ about it; and, of course, bad sex, where the ‘bad’ refers not to the perceived pleasure of it, but to the way you feel in the aftermath.”

10. Gift-Giving Tips From Scientists

“The appeal of well-wrapped, worthless gifts is nearly universal, and even goes beyond Homo sapiens. Early this year in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology, researchers showed that some male spiders … give food gifts to prospective mates that are nutritionally worthless but wrapped ornately in the silk produced by their bodies. Imagine giving your beloved a chicken nugget meticulously wrapped in beautiful fabric, and you get the idea. Apparently for spiders, as for humans, it’s the wrapping that counts, because the worthlessness of the gift inside did not affect the receptivity of the female.”

11. Jason Segel: By the Book

“I read very slowly and methodically on paper. I have heard that reading a physical book is better for retention as it engages the spatial part of your brain, which a tablet does not: ‘This thing happened around this far into the book.’ You don’t get that on a tablet as everything is on the same page. Apparently our spatial memory is our most developed due to old evolutionary necessity. You had to remember how to get back home.”

12. The Most Popular Poets in the World

“Fights about artistic tastes are nearly always about submerged social hostilities — putting down the audiences as much as the artists.”

13. The Odd, Otherwordly Glow of Fred Herzog’s Photography

“If this is rush hour, where’s the traffic?”

14. Seven Women Discuss Work, Fairness, Sex and Ambition

“Why is this all happening now?”


Sunday 12.10.2017 New York Times Digest


1. The Return of the Techno-Moral Panic

“In the absence of coherent critiques, and in the context of a stunningly rapid adoption of smartphones, a righteously defensive posturing about the social consequences of tech went mainstream. Critics were easily dismissed as Luddites, unable to see the future through a misplaced nostalgia for the past. This assumption was frequently vindicated and started to feel a lot like wisdom. As the world truly moved online, abstract fears were repeatedly met with, and answered by, specific, irresistible and unthreatening products and experiences.”

2. The President vs. the Presidency

“People close to him estimate that Mr. Trump spends at least four hours a day, and sometimes as much as twice that, in front of a television.”

3. With 2020 Census Looming, Worries About Fairness and Accuracy

“For the first time, it will be conducted largely online instead of by mail.”

4. Tax Plans May Give Your Co-Worker a Better Deal Than You

“For the first time since the United States adopted an income tax, a higher rate would be applied to employee wages and salaries than to income earned by proprietors, partnerships and closely held corporations.”

5. Golden State Warriors’ Go-to Guy Doesn’t Play a Minute

“Housen knows his players’ habits and daily rhythms. He knows, for example, that Thompson will wear the same socks until he puts holes in them, so Housen will preemptively swap them out. He knows that Nick Young wants the insoles removed from his sneakers. He knows that JaVale McGee has the largest feet on the team (size 19). He knows that Curry has a shoe calendar — yes, a shoe calendar, to tell him what sneakers to wear for which game — and Housen knows that because Under Armour sends it straight to him. He knows that some of the players have discriminating taste when it comes to bottled water, so he stocks the refrigerator in the visiting locker room with three or four brands. He knows that if Ron Adams, the longtime assistant, indulges in an occasional beer on the plane, he likes Peroni. But Housen also knows that Coach Steve Kerr prefers Modelo Especial. He knows which players want hotel rooms away from the elevators. He knows that McGee is a vegetarian and that Curry avoids gluten. He knows that Zaza Pachulia likes to change into a fresh jersey at halftime. And he knows that Pachulia does not like to leave the arena with damp hair. ‘He’s the only guy I’ve ever had who uses a blow dryer,’ Housen said.”

6. How the Fingerling Caught On (Robot Grip and All) as 2017’s Hot Toy

“How the Fingerling reached this tipping point — when suddenly millions of children cannot do without a $15 farting monkey — is the story of a promising idea’s going viral on social media, a large retailer’s savvy pricing strategy and the science of managing scarcity.”

7. Alexa, Stop Listening! Hey Google, You Too.

“Last month, some Google Home Mini units were found to be recording conversations all the time, not just when users were interacting with it. And over the summer, a hacker showed that an Echo could effectively be turned into a wiretap, though that required physical contact with the device itself. A Bluetooth flaw was also found to be putting both devices at risk of remote hacking.”

8. Should Doctors Ignore Race?

“Rather than relying on race, doctors should focus on the genes important to whatever puzzle they face — an approach often called ‘precision’ or ‘personalized’ medicine. The idea is that tailoring treatment to the patient’s genotype, not to skin color or hair texture, would improve outcomes.”

9. Doom Season in Los Angeles

“Every year, California’s fire season gets a little longer.”

10. The Importance of Dumb Mistakes in College

“Because for all of the supposed liberating power of their digital devices, they might as well be wearing ankle monitors. Technological connectedness has made it much harder for them to make mistakes and learn from them.”

11. How Americans Fell for Korean Beauty

“In the last six years, Korean cosmetics in the United States have gone from nonexistent to almost mainstream.”

12. For Veterans, a Path to Healing ‘Moral Injury’

“The focus for those who suffer from moral injury (and those who care for them) should shift from forgiveness to creative deeds of atonement. Some veterans’ organizations provide such opportunities, even if they don’t adopt this language explicitly.”

13. DNA Tattoos Are the Final Frontier of Love

“Everence is a powdery substance synthesized from a sample of DNA, something as simple as a few thousand cells from a swab of a person’s inner cheek, or from cremated ashes. A small vial of Everence can be brought to a tattoo artist and added to any type of inks.”

14. Kevin Young’s Enthralling, Essential History of the Hoax

“The hoax is like an art that dulls our sense of reality, rather than sharpening it.”

15. The Ku Klux Klan’s Surprising History

“The second Klan was national in scope, with a surprisingly small footprint in the South — its highest per-capita state memberships were in Indiana and Oregon. In New Jersey, Klansmen burned a cross in the black section of Metuchen, today a liberal commuter suburb of New York. The Klan was so powerful in Southern California that it nicknamed Anaheim ‘Klanaheim.’ Its main focus was, as always, on spreading hatred against blacks, Jews and Catholics, but its agenda always fit the local context: In the Southwest, it turned its ire on Hispanics and Latino immigrants; in the Pacific Northwest, it took aim at Japanese.”

16. Letter of Recommendation: iNaturalist

“Learning the names of wild things changes the way we look at nature and the way we think about it.”

17. How to Have Fewer Regrets

“People identify regret as the second most common emotional state, after love.”

18. The Takedown of Title IX

“With funding from right-wing donors like the Charles Koch Institute, FIRE has often aligned with conservative sensibilities. But a number of academics and lawyers, among them a group of feminist Harvard law professors (including Gertner) who released a public letter in August calling for reform, have cited reasons Title IX policies should concern progressives, too: that overly broad definitions of misconduct, encompassing most drunken encounters, threaten to erode distinctions between consensual and nonconsensual sex; that anecdotal evidence (there’s little hard data available) suggests men of color are disproportionately punished; that a conservative administration could co-opt the campus-rape debate to further its own aims; or that perceptions of bias could trigger a backlash casting women as liars.”


Sunday 12.3.2017 New York Times Digest


1. Melting Arctic Ice Makes High-Speed Internet a Reality in a Remote Town

“High-speed internet cables snake under the world’s oceans, tying continents together and allowing email and other bits of digital data sent from Japan to arrive quickly in Britain. Until recently, those lines mostly bypassed the Arctic, where the ice blocked access to the ships that lay the cable. But as the ice has receded, new passageways have emerged.”

2. Builders Said Their Homes Were Out of a Flood Zone. Then Harvey Came.

“The land was raised less than 10 inches above the level that, under federal flood-insurance rules, would have required the family to be notified of their risk and purchase insurance. Other lots in their area were raised as little as 1.2 inches above that height.”

3. The Great American Single-Family Home Problem

“If cities are going to tackle their affordable housing problems, economists say, that is going to have to change. But how do you build up when neighbors want down?”

4. Bound by History, Two Colleges Confront Their #MeToo Moment.

“The torrent of claims against high-profile men in entertainment, media and politics is now spreading across academia, re-energizing the outcry over sexual misconduct on American campuses and bringing forth a new wave of complaints.”

5. The Cost of Devaluing Women

“The bigger cost derives from how women’s ideas are discounted and their talent ignored.”

6. How Drug Cartels Evade Border Security

“Even as the United States spends billions of dollars along the Mexican border — the main route for drug trafficking — as part of President Trump’s crackdown on border security, the traffickers have already found ways to avoid the cameras, drones, drug dogs and agents along the border, officials said.”

7. In a Venezuela Ravaged by Inflation, ‘a Race for Survival’

“At first glance the severity of the situation might not be immediately obvious to a newcomer. Viewed from a certain remove, Caracas may seem like any other capital in the developing world: streets crowded with traffic, people hustling to work, shops open and doing business. But on closer inspection, those impressions quickly fall away to reveal a society falling apart, and people struggling to hold their lives together and make it through the day.”

8. Will Tech Protect My Kids?.

“Unjust racial profiling and resulting racial disparities in the criminal justice system certainly don’t depend on artificial intelligence. But when you add it — as many law enforcement agencies across the country, including those in major cities like Miami, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Atlanta and New York, have over the past couple of years — things get even scarier for black families.”

9. Soil Power! The Dirty Way to a Green Planet

“Sequestering carbon in soil can produce a double dividend: It reduces climate change by extracting carbon from the atmosphere, and it restores the health of degraded soil and increases agricultural yields.”

10. The Sterile Society

“So far the process has not substituted successful marriages for failing ones, healthy relationships for exploitative ones, new courtship scripts for the ones torn up 50 years ago. Instead as Weinsteinian or Polanskian excesses have been corrected, we’ve increased singlehood, sterility and loneliness.”

11. Jean-Claude Van Damme Plays Jean-Claude Van Damme, for Kicks

“If you were born in the dojo, you will die in the dojo.”

12. When Did Poetry Speak to Us? When We Were Very Young

“The most remarkable thing about poetry’s unpopularity isn’t that it exists, but that it exists in the wake of a period in which poems were not merely popular, but embraced with a fierce and unembarrassed joy. That period, of course, is childhood.”

13. Muhammad Ali, Beginning to End for the First Time in a Book

“As a high school athlete in 1959 Cassius was already signing autographs for classmates — ‘Cassius Clay, World Heavyweight Champion.’”

14. A Renowned Travel Writer’s Letters From the Road

“He was a man of letters but also, like his hero Byron, a man of action — a war hero and a restless adventurer, who even swam the Hellespont when he was 69. He never finished school — his headmaster called him ‘a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness’ and tossed him out for holding hands with a shopkeeper’s daughter — but was prodigiously learned, conversant in at least eight languages and able to recite hours of poetry by heart. He was an old-school Englishman, a toff — bespoke clothes, club memberships, plummy accent, riding to hounds — who lived most of his life abroad, broke much of the time, settling down at last in Greece. He was an unabashed snob and social climber who also relished the company of peasants and shepherds. He was a famous ladies’ man and at the same time deeply in love with his wife, who patiently overlooked his wanderings. (She even lent him money for prostitutes.) And he was a tireless socializer, beloved by an enormous circle of friends, who often yearned for solitude and sometimes hid out in monasteries.”

15. A Love Affair With Bookstores

“True, he notes, libraries also deal in books, but ‘the Bookshop is light; the Library is heavy.’ ‘While the Librarian accumulates, hoards, at most lends goods out for a short while,’ he explains, ‘the Bookseller acquires in order to free himself from what he has acquired; he sells and buys, puts into circulation. His business is traffic and transit. The Library is always one step behind: looking towards the past.”

16. What If Our Current State of Affairs Is Actually ‘Normal’?

“The responsibility for maintaining the world falls to you and your peers. This is why your elders pressured you to learn things; they were aware that they would die and that someone would need to be able to design power plants and do heart surgery. As with international law, we might enjoy the thought that there is some coherent structure holding everything together, but in the end the structure is only as stable as we’re prepared to step forward and make it.”

17. How Far Will Sean Hannity Go?

“Hannity later told me he had, over time, developed separate approaches for his radio and television shows. ‘My thoughts are the same: I’m mad,’ he said. ‘But with television, I’ve got the images to help me out. With radio, it’s on me to paint the picture.’”

18. The New Generation of Character Actors

“Over the course this great fragmentation in the film industry — a system increasingly divided between major-studio blockbusters that are announced a decade in advance at shareholder meetings and tiny indies that often disappear after a week in theaters — character actors have only moved further into the mainstream. In lower-budget projects, they are cast in complicated leading roles that win them acclaim; in mega-films (especially superhero ones), they are relied upon for their ability to bring soul to underwritten, potentially clichéd parts.”

19. The Sweet Rewards of Bitter Food

“Nothing worth doing is easy, and nothing worth consuming goes down easy. In an age of ready pleasures, choosing something difficult and unlikable is an announcement of sophistication.”

20. The School Prepping for Apocalypse

“Its popularity offers the provocative suggestion that the next generation of leaders requires not necessarily math or literature or history — though Green School teaches those too — but a wider set of tools, ranging from adaptability to teamwork to the sort of problem-solving that flourishes under conditions of constraint, which will prove useful in a world whose resources will only continue to diminish. It is a prep school meant to do more than merely prepare students for college, but also equip them with survival skills for an unknown new world, in which proficiency with alternative fuels and sustainable building practices — and the experience of living in a nontraditional, unpredictable environment — might be more useful benchmarks than SAT scores.”

21. Is the Age of the Artistic Recluse Over?

“What has increased in the age of distraction is our concern for the necessary conditions in which art could flourish. No longer can the world be kept at bay with the closing of a door; Woolf’s room of her own is now wired for internet. To look at my shelves of favorite novels written in feverish solitude and think that they might never have come to pass is also to know there must be many more today that are simply not being written.”

22. Jay-Z and Dean Banquet, in Conversation

“The goal is not to be successful and famous. That’s not the goal. The goal is, if you have a specific God-given ability, is to live your life out through that. One. And two, we have a responsibility to push the conversation forward until we’re all equal. Till we’re all equal in this place. Because until everyone’s free, no one’s free, and that’s just a fact.”


Sunday 11.26.2017 New York Times Digest


1. An Algorithm Isn’t Always the Answer

“The best things in life are unquantifiable.”

2. The Bad News on ‘Good’ Girls

“Girls today receive two conflicting messages: Be mighty and be good.”

3. The Unexamined Brutality of the Male Libido

“The masculine libido and its accompanying forces and pathologies drive so much of culture and politics and the economy, while remaining more or less unexamined, both in intellectual circles and in private life.”

4. How to Get Your Mind to Read

“Current education practices show that reading comprehension is misunderstood. It’s treated like a general skill that can be applied with equal success to all texts. Rather, comprehension is intimately intertwined with knowledge.”

5. 500 Years Later, the Reformation Is Still Creating Music

“Luther established his own musical currency in the form of chorales, those hymns in the vernacular. He surrounded himself with excellent composers, most notably Johann Walter, who became his chief collaborator in the creation of a Lutheran liturgy. And he continued to draw the attention of slightly later German masters, most now known only dimly to nonspecialists: the likes of Michael Praetorius, Samuel Scheidt, Johann Hermann Schein and Ludwig Senfl. Then came Bach, a long, multifaceted story in himself. His many surviving works written for Leipzig’s Lutheran churches make up an incomparably rich repertory and set a near-impossible standard for subsequent centuries.”

6. Hooray for Fiona the Hippo, Our Bundle of Social-Media Joy

“She has become America’s Large Adult Daughter, its triumphant baby queen, its reigning diva with the skin texture of a wet avocado.”

7. Anthony Bourdain: By the Book

“I’m a hunter of footnotes. If I’m heavily interested in a particular historical subject, I will often track down everything I can find on it. I can disappear down a rathole of books on, say, the history of the Congo or special operations in Southeast Asia for years. The Kennedy assassination, for instance, took me on a decade-long journey through the history of organized crime, the C.I.A., French intelligence, the French Algerian conflict, the Vietnam War, Castro’s Cuba and the history of the K.G.B. I’m like that.”

8. Plain Sight

“Exposure is about truth, sure, but it’s mostly about power — about the relationship of truth to power. When a powerful man exposes himself by forcing his nakedness on others, he’s commanding their attention in a violent way, making them see what they don’t want to see. In the moment of exposure, he’s not the one who feels vulnerable; they are. Conversely, when that man is exposed as a monster, he is shown in a different light. The perspective is forced, and he is revealed to be something else.”

9. Activity Trackers Don’t Always Work the Way We Want Them To

“A large percentage of the adolescents reported feeling less motivated to be active now than before getting the monitor.”

10. The Culture Caught Up With Spike Lee — Now What?

“In 31 years, Lee has achieved a rate of productivity that is rivaled in America only by Woody Allen. His body of work is prodigious: 22 feature movies, of which at least three are absolutely first-rate; a half-dozen more are flawed classics, and all of them are at least sporadically brilliant, artistically daring and always intellectually ambitious. There are also many documentaries, which cover a wide range of black American topics, including two on Michael Jackson and one on Kobe Bryant. Of these, 4 Little Girls (1997), about the Birmingham church bombing, and When the Levees Broke (2006), about Hurricane Katrina, are two of the best documentaries ever made about black life — or perhaps just life — in the South.”

11. Can A.I. Be Taught to Explain Itself?

“It has become commonplace to hear that machines, armed with machine learning, can outperform humans at decidedly human tasks, from playing Go to playing ‘Jeopardy!’ We assume that is because computers simply have more data-crunching power than our soggy three-pound brains. Kosinski’s results suggested something stranger: that artificial intelligences often excel by developing whole new ways of seeing, or even thinking, that are inscrutable to us.”