Killing Them Softly

Brad Pitt’s character at the end of Killing Them Softly (2012)

I wrote about Killing Them Softly (dir. Andrew Dominik, 2012) for Decider, a Brad Pitt film you’ve probably never even heard of, but that I think makes for a timely (re-)watch post coronavirus.

Here’s a taste:

If you’re one of those people who, in times of turmoil, craves art equal in gravity to the moment, consider adding it to your Netflix list. Though it offers little in the way of escapism, the point it makes about America — namely, that we’re a country where consequences are unevenly distributed — is more relevant than ever.

Check out the whole thing.

Somewhere Along the Line

From photographer Joshua Dudley Greer’s Somewhere Along the Line series, a compliation of photographs depicting “the state of America’s infrastructure as a physical manifestation of its economic, social and environmental circumstances in unforeseen moments of humor, pathos and humanity”:

Interstate 75, near Lenox, Georgia, 2014

(Via Swiss Miss.)

Work First

“At Toni’s memorial service, Angela Davis was there, and we were talking about how Toni never thought anyone was guilty of a crime. Do you remember the Menendez brothers’ trial? Toni, who loved detective stories and trials and stuff like that, told me that the Menendez brothers were innocent. One of them had gone to Princeton for, like, five minutes, during which time Toni had met him. And Toni was a much nicer person than me. My meeting someone does not necessarily make me like them, but to Toni it does. The Menendez trial was one of the first televised trials, and Toni and I watched every single day on the telephone together. And the trial started at noon, because it was in L.A. I was supposed to be writing, of course, and I thought, I’m spending the whole day on the phone watching television, but it must be O.K., because so is Toni. And then I found out that Toni got up at five in the morning, and by twelve she had already done a full day’s work.”

Fran Lebowitz

Pivoting to Email

Aliza Nisenbaum, La Talaverita, Sunday Morning NY Times (2016) (Via.)

Quick programming note: my Sunday New York Times Digests, which I’ve been doing every week since December 2, 2007 (i.e., the past 12 years and change – gulp) are moving to an email-only format.

I’ve actually been sending them out via email since 2014, when my buddy Austin Kleon suggested I share them in email newsletter form. (Email newsletters were all the rage then.) In that time, a few thousand people – including people at the New York Times – have signed up for the newsletter version with very little promotion on my part, suggesting there is interest in the email iteration of it. I’ve gotten some positive feedback and shout-outs on it as well, which is always nice.

In the first edition I emailed out to people, I explained that I started doing these Sunday New York Times Digests to “give myself a Sunday morning ritual, to keep track of articles I wanted to talk to my dad about, and to assemble an archive of my recurring preoccupations, as well as track how those preoccupations shift over time.” Those things are still, more or less, true. But my life is different now than it was when I started doing these, and sometimes I debate whether to continue. For now, though, I’m content to simply make them emails and free up this blog for other – and hopefully more-frequent – posts.

If you’d like to continue reading my Sunday New York Times Digest, you can sign up to receive them via email here: (And even if you don’t subscribe, you can read them, including the latest one I sent out yesterday, in the archive here.)

Who knows, I might change my mind and go back to posting them here, but for now I’m going to try things this way.

Good Movies as Old Books

These, an “ongoing personal project” by Matt Stevens, are spot on.

Sunday 3.29.2020 New York Times Digest

1. April Bills Loom. The Economy Hangs on How Many Are Left Unpaid.

“Even the Cheesecake Factory, a multibillion-dollar company, has told landlords not to expect an April remittance.”

2. Driving the Long Haul, and Sensing a Slowdown

“‘I live in something smaller than a jail cell all the time,’ Mr. Woolsey said. ‘I hear other people complaining, and I’m like, get over it. There’s lots of us living like this all the time, coronavirus or not.’”

3. A Job-Eating Virus

“All the traditional rules of engagement in a job hunt suddenly feel irrelevant.”

4. Advice for Getting Through a Crisis

“Somebody once suggested that when you’re stuck in a situation that you can’t do anything about, the best thing is to immerse yourself in study.”

5. Logged On From the Laundry Room

“As the coronavirus sweeps the globe, even chief executives — who normally flit from meetings to conferences in chauffeured SUVs and private jets — have been confined to spare rooms.”

6. Doctors Are Writing Their Wills

“We are standing on the edge of the ocean in the dark. We’re waiting for the wave to hit and we have no idea how high the wave is going to be.”

7. What the Coronavirus Means for Climate Change

“This global crisis is also an inflection point for that other global crisis, the slower one with even higher stakes, which remains the backdrop against which modernity now plays out.”

8. A Natural Classroom, Run by Wolves

“Thanks largely to the wolf’s reintroduction into Yellowstone, their reputation has swung from scourge to savior, at least among some, as biologists have come to understand the wolves’ role in maintaining the park’s ecological balance.”

9. The African-American Art Shaping the 21st Century

“We asked 35 major African-American creators from different worlds (film, art, TV, music, books and more) to talk about the work that has inspired them the most over the past two decades.”

10. Panic Buying Comes for the Seeds

“For me, the need to buy seeds and garden felt like part of the broader suite of practices I’d taken up — running, meditating, jump roping — to stay calm.”

11. America Stress-Bought All the Baby Chickens

“Murray McMurray Hatchery, of Webster City, Iowa, ships day-old poultry through the Postal Service, and is almost completely sold out of chicks for the next four weeks.”

12. I Never Planned on Being a Playboy Pinup

“Last week, seemingly lost amid the new coronavirus news, Playboy announced that the company will stop publishing a print edition. The spring 2020 issue is the last. A quiet exit for a magazine that liked to make noise, beginning with its splashy debut 67 years ago, when Hugh Hefner put Marilyn Monroe on the cover.”

13. GoFundMe Confronts Coronavirus Demand

“The new coronavirus presents an extreme case of the country turning to GoFundMe as a financial safety net.”

14. How to See the World When You’re Stuck at Home

“There is something tantalizing about being there but not being there, about being everywhere and nowhere at once. The geospatial distance leaves us wanting, hungry for more. I’m enamored with the glitchiness of these human landscapes, the way people’s legs are sometimes separated from their bodies, the way everyone’s faces are blurred out, as if they no longer exist (sometimes they no longer do). This is our world, but it is not our world.”

15. A Poet’s Anguish Vibrates Through Time

“In 1820, the British poet spent 10 days quarantined in the Bay of Naples as typhus raged, an enforced stillness mirrored by our own.”

16. In This Moment of Solitude, Books Can Be Our Passports

“So much of childhood involved boredom, lying on the rug on my stomach — as I am right now — wishing I could see more of the vast world than was available to me as a 7-year-old. The reason I fell in love with books is that they were a passport to other places and lives. Books mimicked travel. In a book, I could go anywhere and be anyone. I haven’t read with that primary motivation in a long time, but it feels especially attractive again.”

17. Where America’s Fight for Housing Is an All-Out War

“During the Great Inflation of the 1970s, when living expenses became unstable, factory jobs disappeared and C.E.O. pay began its exorbitant rise, home prices also spiked and, for the first time, outpaced stock performance. Two things happened to homes, according to Dougherty: They became not just dwellings but strategic investments — ones that represented the bulk of American household wealth. As a result, cities, driven by ‘homevoters’ — essentially single-issue voters who wanted to protect their property values — began passing zoning ordinances to limit growth and ‘protect neighborhoods.’”

18. Talk: Werner Herzog

“I advise you to go outside on a clear night and look out into the universe. It seems utterly indifferent to what we are doing. Now we are taking a very close look at the sun with a space probe. Look at the utmost hostility of the hundreds of millions of atomic bombs going off at the same time in its interior. So my personal interpretation of nature comes from taking a quick look at the stars.”

19. Why Would Anyone Want to Visit Chernobyl?

“I was on a kind of perverse pilgrimage: I wanted to see what the end of the world looked like. I wanted to haunt its ruins and be haunted by them. I wanted to see what could not otherwise be seen, to inspect the remains of the human era. The Zone presented this prospect in a manner more clear and stark than any other place I was aware of. It seemed to me that to travel there would be to look upon the end of the world from the vantage point of its aftermath. It was my understanding, my conceit, that I was catching a glimpse of the future. I did not then understand that this future, or something like it, was closer than it appeared at the time. I did not understand that before long the idea of the Zone would advance outward from the realm of abstraction to encompass my experience of everyday life, that cities across the developed world would be locked down in an effort to suppress the spread of a lethal new virus, an enemy as invisible and insidious in its way as radiation and as capable of hollowing out the substance of society overnight.”

Sunday 3.22.2020 New York Times Digest

1. The Best-Case Outcome for the Coronavirus, and the Worst

“Will we endure 2.2 million deaths? Or will we manage to turn things around?”

2. Kenny Rogers, Who Brought Country Music to a Pop Audience, Dies at 81

“More a fan favorite than a critics’ darling, Mr. Rogers was something of a late bloomer in country music; his career as a solo artist did not gain traction until after his breakthrough single, ‘Lucille,’ was released by United Artists in 1977. He was 38 at the time.”

3. America Will Save America

“These are the hallmarks of a horizontal, open society, one that is often inefficient but ultimately more innovative and resilient than closed, top-down systems.”

4. Camus on the Coronavirus

“He was drawn to his theme because he believed that the actual historical incidents we call plagues are merely concentrations of a universal precondition, dramatic instances of a perpetual rule: that all human beings are vulnerable to being randomly exterminated at any time, by a virus, an accident or the actions of our fellow man.”

5. Teachers Deserve More Respect

“Many Americans are not aware of how bleak the education landscape in this country has become.”

6. Civilization at the Abyss

“In the midst of this churning hell, with no place safe or sacred, with a bomb falling even on Buckingham Palace, the new prime minister’s voice became a reassuring wellspring of hope and resolve. His speeches never failed to rise to the demands of the occasion, each one more powerful and stirring than the last.”

7. Illiberal Democracy

“In a liberal democracy, not everything need be decided by majority vote. But once something is put to a vote, it is hard to understand why the side getting fewer votes should win. And Americans have long understood themselves to be voting for their president, not for presidential electors. It is long past time to get rid of the Electoral College.”

8. What Is the Point?

“Perhaps the reason James remains beloved by so many readers more than a century after his death is that his pragmatism often shaded into self-help. He believed in the power of positive thinking, in bucking up; he counseled action, and not just philosophizing, in the face of uncertainty; he may have even, from time to time, turned his frown upside down. But he expressed all of his (and our) struggles and their potential solutions in the smartest possible ways, and never pretended that a revised mood was a settled state of affairs. He knew that living is a continual process, and that perhaps the best we can hope for is just enough therapy to make it to the next crisis.”

9. Letter of Recommendation: Gyms

“A good gym, like a good bar, fuses two things: oblivion and anonymity. Of course there are the ritual greetings and glances and such, but these should be minimal and strictly proscribed.”

10. How to Read Faster

“Reading is visually and cognitively complicated; it’s OK to reread a line because it’s confusing or, better yet, to linger on a phrase so beautiful that it makes you want to close your eyes.”

11. Everyone’s Talking About Canned Tuna. Here’s How to Make It Delicious.

“Even some of those who have access to the finest ingredients, chefs for whom the distance between ocean and table is smaller than average, men and women known for their devotion to the fresh and the new — even they love a can of fish. Especially if it’s what I’ll call a best-available can of fish: sustainably caught, packed in good oil.”

12. The Wing Is a Women’s Utopia. Unless You Work There.

“Women represent both a consumer demographic and a political constituency, and the wires of politics and consumption are easily crossed.”

13. The Accusations Were Lies. But Could We Prove It?

“While truth may be subjective, its balustrades are always the facts at hand. And in the case of our story, I quickly realized that we would never persuade anyone of what we knew to be true — that the accusations were invented — if we couldn’t isolate one key fact: who was making them up.”

Sunday 3.15.2020 New York Times Digest

1. This Is How You Live When the World Falls Apart

“In the end, it’s our vulnerability that connects us.”

2. Facing A World Without Our Games

“For decades, sports were a constant, part of the background noise of American culture, and maybe an unhealthy obsession. Games were always on. Radio was filled with banter. Twitter fights were had. There were office pools, side bets and serious gambling. Sports gave us something to talk about when the conversation slowed, something to watch when there was nothing else to do. Maybe this will be a reboot, a cleanse to slow or recalibrate our metabolism.”

3. Think Cheating in Baseball Is Bad? Try Chess

“Chess has perhaps more cheating than any other game in the world.”

4. Going to Work With Danger, and Maybe Death, Every Day

“In 2018 … approximately one in five worker deaths was in construction.”

5. This Is a Good Time to Stop Fighting Anxiety

“It’s so counterintuitive to allow in the thing that wounds me, but it turns out that befriending my fear has actually caused its voice to soften.”

6. We Forgot About the Most Important Job on the Internet

“Some companies have tried to replace human moderators with algorithms. The results have been mixed at best.”

7. Why America Will Never Get Medicare for All

“Americans have repeatedly rejected expansions of the social safety net because it inevitably collides with one of the most powerful forces shaping the American experience: uncompromising racism.”

8. The Milk Situation

“Since 1975, milk consumption per capita has dipped roughly 40 percent, according to data from Nielsen, and between 2010 and 2018, sales of milk dropped by 13 percent. The already-low price of milk, which is set by the federal government, is projected to drop even further this year.”

9. There Are Too Many Celebrities. Here’s How We’re Dealing With Them as a Society.

“Instagram, Twitter and other platforms are designed to let fans feel closer to celebrities than ever before, and have allowed those celebrities a control over their personas that they did not previously have. So, the new shows do what they can to soothe — or rattle — celebrities into a state resembling authenticity.”

10. Earning Money While You Sleep

“Hundreds of TikTok users have begun live-streaming themselves overnight, while they sleep.”

11. How to Disinfect Your Space on an Airplane

“First things first: Wash your hands.”

12. It’s Time to Unfriend the Internet

“In her first book, Lurking, Joanne McNeil charts the history of the internet through the experiences of the users. These are not necessarily the same as people.”

Sunday 3.8.2020 New York Times Digest

1. I’m Going to Die. I May as Well Be Cheerful About It.

“Facing death offers us an opportunity to work with everything we have within us and everything we know about the world. If we have been resilient most of our lives, most likely we will cope well with our own dying. It is frightening, of course, but it is our last chance to be a role model, even a hero.”

2. Seeing Sanders As Only Escape In a Sea of Debt

“Mr. Sanders seemed to be telling him why his life looked and felt the way it did. His financial instability was not some individual failure, but a function of a broader economic system that had become so unequal that fixing it was a moral calling.”

3. The Tax Code Is Overtaxed

“The I.R.S.’s tax collectors spend remarkably little time collecting taxes. Rather, they administer social welfare programs, regulate retirement savings and, well, adjudicate discounts on those 23andMe kits.”

4. The Rise of Location Trackers for Kids as Young as 3

“These products miss the point of what it means to be a kid, hampering children on the road to independence. And more heartbreakingly, trackers may prevent our kids from feeling truly free.”

5. The Open Borders Trap

“Many progressives also reject the kind of arguments that supporters of immigration once made.”

6. How Working-Class Life Is Killing Americans, in Charts

“Life for many middle- and low-income Americans can lack structure, status and meaning.”

7. Are You an Anti-Influencer?

“‘We looked in the data and saw there were some customers who were really good at picking out failures’ — so good, in fact, that a newly introduced product was less likely to survive if it attracted these buyers. (And if they bought it repeatedly, its chances of survival were even worse.) Professor Tucker called these people harbingers of failure because, statistically speaking, their fondness for a product heralded its demise.”

8. How to Prepare Now for the Complete End of the World

“When the end comes, some will not be waiting in a bunker for a savior. They will stride out into the wilderness with confidence, ready to hunt and kill a deer, tan its hide and sleep easily in a hand-built shelter, close by a fire they made from the force of their two palms on a stick.”

9. The Rich Are Preparing for Coronavirus Differently

“The rich are sparing no expense when it comes to minimizing their experience with the coronavirus.”

10. The Handshake Is on Hold

“As the new coronavirus spreads, leaders around the world are offering guidance about how to touch other humans going forward.”

11. Are Frequent Flier Miles Killing the Planet?

“At a time when the airline industry is bending over backward to be — or at least seem to be — concerned about climate change, can airline companies still justify loyalty programs that would seem to encourage people to fly more?”

12. Grim and Grimmer

“By ‘decadence’ he means a kind of cultural exhaustion and world-weariness he senses in our time and that worries him precisely because it seems to be sustainable rather than a prelude to collapse. The malaise he analyzes is the result of various forces — economic, institutional, technological, cultural, even biological — coming together to sap us of our strength and hope. He treats each of these in turn, weighing different hypotheses that might explain us to ourselves — something rare in works of social prophecy, which tend to roll on a single track.”

13. How a Fake Priest Duped Oxford and a World-Famous Historian

“Peters seemed to others to be a genius at two things: mimicking the verbal pretentiousness and obscurantism of academic parlance and sweeping naïve young women off their feet by means of an alchemy that remained mysterious to everyone else.”

14. Talk: Aaron Sorkin

“It’s a bad idea to sit down and say, ‘I’m going to write something important.’”

15. Letter of Recommendation: Gambling

“You end up in some interesting places at interesting times when you know gamblers, and the gamblers themselves are often good company. These facts alone are salutary. But gambling itself — investing in chance — is an activity that needs to be rehabilitated as much as recommended.”

16. A $60 Billion Housing Grab by Wall Street

“Neighborhoods that were formerly ownership neighborhoods that were one of the few ways that working-class families and communities of color could build wealth and gain stability are being slowly, or not so slowly, turned into renter communities, and not renter communities owned by mom-and-pop landlords but by some of the biggest private-equity firms in the world.”

17. Hideo Kojima’s Strange, Unforgettable Video-Game Worlds

“How do you explain Hideo Kojima to someone who has never picked up a PlayStation controller? His admirers have often compared him to filmmakers: Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch, George Lucas, James Cameron. Each comparison has its merits. Like Lucas, Kojima is inseparable from a beloved franchise, in Metal Gear Solid, that has achieved mythic status among fans; like Tarantino, he cheekily shows off his virtuo­sity through postmodern tricks of deconstruction and self-referentiality. The narratives of the Metal Gear Solid games can be hallucinatorily surreal and difficult to follow, in a Lynchian manner, but at the same time the games are staggeringly popular big-budget blockbusters that marry technical wizardry with cheesy melodrama, à la Cameron.”

Sunday 3.1.2020 New York Times Digest

1. How to Quarantine at Home

“Sometimes the desire for human contact will overwhelm you.”

2. The Pied Pipers of the Dirtbag Left Want to Lead Everyone to Bernie Sanders

“‘It’s a common experience to be someone with a crappy job who does not have an outlet for your set of beliefs and you feel insane because you’re surrounded by liberals or Evangelicals or whatever stultifying milieu. And one day you find a piece of media with some folks who are articulating what you always believed: You’re not crazy, you’re right, this is exactly how the world works, and you’re getting screwed.’”

3. For Seoul’s Poor, Class Strife in ‘Parasite’ Is Daily Reality

“In Seoul, wealth is measured by how high you live”

4. An N.B.A. Veteran Tops The Western Conference And the Music Charts

“I thought you just make a beat and give it to the artists. But it’s not like that at all. I really figured out it’s more about relationships rather than just making a million beats and hoping somebody picks it up.”

5. Is America on the Way to a Caste System?

“There has always been a gap between the haves and have-nots, but what was a tiered system in America is morphing into a caste system. As the rich get richer and more businesses focus exclusively on serving them, there is less attention and shabbier service for everybody who’s not at the pinnacle.”

6. Putting Her Own Dent in the Universe

“One profound learning I took from him was that we don’t have to accept the world that we’re born into as something that is fixed and impermeable. When you zoom in, it’s just atoms just like us. And they move all the time. And through energy and force of will and intention and focus, we can actually change it. Move it.”

7. College Loans: Debt That Swallows Generations

“While most borrowers are 18 to 39 years old, people over 60 are the fastest-growing segment of the population with student loan debt, according to a report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.”

8. My Tireless Quest for a Tubeless Wipe

“Kimberly-Clark is the first and only maker of toilet paper without cardboard tubes.”

9. To Take On the Coronavirus, Go Medieval on It

“For the first time in more than a century, the world has chosen to confront a new and terrifying virus with the iron fist instead of the latex glove.”

10. White Supremacy Goes Green

“From France to Washington to New Zealand, angry voices on the hard right — nationalists, populists and others beyond conventional conservatism — are picking up old environmental tropes and adapting them to a moment charged with fears for the future. In doing so, they are giving potent new framing to a set of issues more typically associated with the left.”

11. My Ex-Boyfriend’s New Girlfriend Is Lady Gaga

“Social media in 2020 is so ingrained that it’s no longer a supplement or even an addiction. It’s just an accelerated extension of the way humans have always behaved. We live in a culture of constant updates. You want to unsubscribe? Well, you can’t.”

12. The Political Pundits of TikTok

“In a sense, these TikTok users are building short-form TV networks, each with a cast of talking heads. On TikTok they’re called hype houses, named after the high-powered influencer collab house in Los Angeles. These political houses are not physical homes, but virtual, ideological ones represented by group accounts.”

13. A Ticket to the World, Full of Men’s Words.

“When I travel, that document is the one thing I have that says, ‘I am American.’ But upon close inspection, it also says something else. It says that America is a country built by men, and that our achievements and values are best articulated by men.”

14. The Unraveling of the Muslim World

“Instead of feuding over theology, Ghattas shows, Saudi Arabia and Iran transformed latent religious divisions into weapons wielded in the pursuit of political power, by cultivating and often arming sectarian militias across the region.”

15. The Myth of the Silent, Sulky, Horny Teenage Boy

“These writers are worried. Both realize that, in our efforts to protect and raise up our daughters, we have neglected our sons’ emotional and physical development. We’ve left their sex education to pornography; we’re clueless about their hormones (turns out, puberty happens long before the first fuzz of a mustache); and we underestimate their vulnerabilities and desire for connection. Our boys get awkward and quiet; we parents get awkwarder and quieter. And then they’re launched into the world without the tools and self-awareness they need to do some good — or, at the very least, to do no harm.”

16. Highways Through Hell

“Despite the threats that lay ahead every time African-Americans got into their cars, despite the stress and its psychological toll, they kept hitting the road, moving forward, questing for freedom.”

17. What’s a Quibi? A Way to Amuse Yourself Until You’re Dead

“A sincere reckoning with just how much of our lives we spend watching things is probably impossible at this point.”

18. Talk: Sonny Rollins

“I used to look at TV a lot. Then I realized, this is very negative. Images and lies and bad for your eyes: I made sure that mantra got in my head, and I stopped looking at TV. I do listen to the radio. I’m trying to get away from that. Silence to me is meditative. To get into that silent space is a huge thing. But even today I’ve had the radio on so much. It’s something I’m working on.”

19. Piled Bodies, Overflowing Morgues: Inside America’s Autopsy Crisis

“Eleven years ago, the National Research Council issued a warning that there were fewer than 500 forensic pathologists in the United States, a number that couldn’t cover even half the annual deaths that require autopsy. (For scale, there are more than 12,000 dermatologists.) In the years since, the opioid epidemic has increased their caseload so drastically that the system is threatening to collapse. In the last 10 years, medical examiner’s offices with a glut of cases have lost accreditation with the national supervising association. The bodies in their districts are often shipped to other offices — which then become overloaded and risk losing accreditation in turn.”