Sunday 1.6.2019 New York Times Digest

1. The Genius of Insomnia

“Lean in to insomnia and you can discern the varied granular textures of the dark. Tune in and your ears can feast on a strange nocturnal orchestration: animal, atmospheric, hydraulic, electric.”

2. The Plot to Pump in Prison

“The United States has one of the lowest breast-feeding rates of any industrialized nation. One reason is that, unlike every other developed country, the government doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave. Once back at work, many women find that their employers make it virtually impossible to pump.”

3. Distillers Dream of a ‘Napa-fication’ of Kentucky

“Americans aren’t just buying more whiskey, and paying more for each bottle. They’re buying into an entire ‘bourbon experience,’ from whiskey-themed boutique hotels in downtown Louisville to trendy restaurants with ‘curated’ whiskey lists to fleets of tour buses carting bachelorette parties and corporate retreats from distillery to distillery.”

4. Who’s Really Getting Ripped Off by $35 Sage?

“Cultural appropriation, it’s big business.”

5. Must Writers Be Moral? Their Contracts May Require It

“This past year, regular contributors to Condé Nast magazines started spotting a new paragraph in their yearly contracts. It’s a doozy. If, in the company’s ‘sole judgment,’ the clause states, the writer ‘becomes the subject of public disrepute, contempt, complaints or scandals,’ Condé Nast can terminate the agreement. In other words, a writer need not have done anything wrong; she need only become scandalous. In the age of the Twitter mob, that could mean simply writing or saying something that offends some group of strident tweeters.”

6. Middle-Class Shame Will Decide Where America Is Headed

“What I have called the ‘middle precariat’ vote — or what could be called the anxiety vote — gave us this president, and now it has also given us a Democratic House. It is a powerful force.”

7. A Psychotherapist’s Plea to Louis C.K.

“Speaking to your real experience is the only way for your true feelings to emerge.”

8. Hollywood’s Obsession With Cartels

“The cartel operative — be he a kingpin or a hit man or a small-time drug dealer — has become the dominant image of Latino people in American television and cinema. He’s of course also the dominant image of Latino people in the discourse of the president of the United States.”

9. How the Dispute Over Runaway Slaves Helped Fuel the Civil War

“Pro-slavery Southerners insisted that the federal government was obliged to capture slaves who had escaped to free states and return them to their masters, and thus vindicate the masters’ absolute property rights in humans. Antislavery Northerners, denying that obligation and those supposed rights, saw the fugitives as heroic refugees from bondage, and resisted federal interference fiercely and sometimes violently.”

10. A Book That Will Make You Terrified of Your Own House

“We spend upward of 90 percent of our time indoors. Luckily, most of our co-habitators are either benign or actually beneficial in some way, like the house spiders that keep down indoor populations of flies or mosquitoes that can carry disease. But because we’ve become so hyper about making our surroundings as pristine as possible — sealing off our homes from the outdoors and using pesticides and antimicrobials with a vengeance — we’ve tipped the scales away from those harmless or helpful bugs, in favor of some of the bad guys.”

11. One of America’s Most Vital Exports, Education, Never Goes Abroad, but It Still Faces Threats

“Over the past decade, the explosion in the number of international students has turned education, almost by stealth, into one of the most vital American exports. The idea that a student taking classes in Iowa City or Ann Arbor can be counted as an export might seem strange. In economic terms, however, the student’s situation is not so different from, say, a Japanese company buying American soybeans: Foreign money flows into the United States from abroad — except that in this case, the product doesn’t leave the country.”

Ricky Jay

Ricky Jay, who died last November, was one of my favorite people in the world, not so much because I was into his magic or his acting or his books — though there were things about all three of those things that I loved — but because he found such a great niche for himself. He was, of course, one of the best sleight-of-hand artists in the world, maybe among the best ever. But he was also a serious scholar outside of academe who wrote elegant, impressively-researched books and gave lectures. Oh yeah, and he also racked up nearly 40 acting credits, which is how most people know him. I admire this sort of range tremendously. Dude just seemed to have it figured out.

After his death, Mark Singer’s 1993 New Yorker profile of Jay re-circulated online. It’s great, and you should read it, but I also liked this bit from his friend David Mamet’s reminiscence:

He spent five or six hours a day practicing. He did it for 60 years. And, like all great preceptors, he was, primarily, a student. His study was the metaphysical idea of Magic, which found expression not only in performance, but in practice, commentary, design and contemplation. They were all, and equally to him, but expressions of an ideal.

The image of Jay this conjures, of him alone in a book-lined study, practicing his craft for hours, resonates with me as well. At heart I feel like Jay was an academic who happened to be a magician and an actor, suggesting to me that the lines between those things, between all things maybe, aren’t as clear cut as most people pretend they are.

Here, via Terry Teachout, is Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants from 1996.

Sunday 12.30.2018 New York Times Digest

1. How to Recycle Your Christmas Tree

“Another good place to check is your local zoo or animal sanctuary, which might want trees for animal enrichment or food. One Michigan petting zoo, for instance, wants to turn your Christmas tree into a nutritious snack for its twin goats, Bubba and Gump.”

2. New Life for Old Classics, as Their Copyrights Run Out

“This coming year marks the first time in two decades that a large body of copyrighted works will lose their protected status — a shift that will have profound consequences for publishers and literary estates, which stand to lose both money and creative control. But it will also be a boon for readers, who will have more editions to choose from, and for writers and other artists who can create new works based on classic stories without getting hit with an intellectual property lawsuit.”

3. How Deepak Chopra, Wellness Expert, Spends His Sundays

“Everyday reality is a lucid dream, and I reflect on that. Then I detach from it and let it go. Experience is ungraspable. It’s all snapshots.”

4. A $21,000 Cosmetology School Debt, and a $9-an-Hour Job

“For-profit schools dominate the cosmetology training world and reap money from taxpayers, students and salon customers. They have beaten back attempts to create cheaper alternatives, even while miring their students in debt. In Iowa in particular, the companies charge steep prices — nearly $20,000 on average for a cosmetology certificate, equivalent to the cost of a two-year community-college degree twice over — and they have fought to keep the required number of school hours higher than anywhere else in the country.”

5. Sears Is Dying, but Workers’ Loyalty Lives On

“Today, there are dozens of Sears alumni groups, from Bangor, Me., to Sioux Falls, S.D., forming one of the largest and most active retiree networks in the nation.”

6. Why the World Needs to Rethink Retirement

“A 30-to-40-year retirement is very different than a 10- or 20-year retirement.”

7. The President’s Field Trip to the Forever War

“This president embodies our republic’s earnest yet shallow understanding of military service, all the while acting as a reminder of the limited mass appeal of service itself.”

8. The Return of Sergio Corbucci

“He was a politically committed artist working in a popular form.”

9. Pop in the Era of Distraction

“Technology and distribution mechanisms — the guitar, the microphone, the LP, radio — have always shaped music. Now, social media and streaming are rewarding a rapidly changing skill set. It’s a different kind of career that makes music just one part of a pool of cultural content: aural, visual, textual, entrepreneurial.”

10. Where Have All the Vowels Gone?

“The planet is getting warmer and the alphabet is getting shorter.”

11. What the Fall of the Roman Republic Can Teach Us About America

“In Watts’s telling of the Roman Republic’s agonizing death, slow-moving structural transformations gradually sowed the seeds of demise. As the population exploded and the economy became ever more sophisticated, the growing share of poor citizens started to demand redress. But since the institutions of the republic were dominated by patricians who had much to lose from measures like land reform, they never fully addressed the grievances of ordinary Romans. With popular rage against increasingly dysfunctional institutions swelling, ambitious patricians, determined to outflank their competitors, began to build a fervent base of support by making outsize promises. It was these populares — populists like Tiberius Gracchus and his younger brother Gaius — who, in their bid for power, first broke some of the republic’s most longstanding norms.”

12. The Lives They Lived 2018

“Remembering some of the artists, innovators and thinkers we lost in the past year.”

Sunday 12.23.2018 New York Times Digest

1. The Year in Pictures 2018

“The images here compel us to look closely, look twice, look slowly.”

2. The Itsy-Bitsy, Teenie-Weenie, Very Litigious Kiini Bikini

“In fashion, there is a fine, sometimes indistinguishable line separating inspiration and theft.”

3. What Is Glitter?

“The path to enlightenment is littered with trade secrets, vapors, aluminum ingots, C.I.A. levels of obfuscation, the invisible regions of the visible spectrum, a unit of measurement expressed as ’10-6 m’ and also New Jersey.”

4. PowerPoint Is the Most Efficient Way for Kids to Manage Their Parents

“For children growing up in a world where personal relationships are often maintained and managed through digital products, sometimes convincing parents to do stuff is most easily achieved with the help of a PowerPoint presentation.”

5. Isabel Wilkerson on Michelle Obama’s Becoming and the Great Migration

“While many of the 45 first ladies who preceded her were the daughters of wealthy merchants (Edith Roosevelt), bankers (Ida McKinley), judges (Helen Taft) and slaveholders (Martha Washington and Julia Grant), Michelle Obama was a descendant of the very caste of people that some of the previous first ladies had owned.”

6. The Not-So-Dumb Objects That Smartphones Have Led Us to Ignore

“Physical objects possess richly specific, intrinsic characters, and can be repositories of meaning in ways that a powerful portal to the entire world cannot manage.”

7. Wild Speculation Isn’t Worth Much. A ‘Theory,’ However…

“Once stamped with the imprimatur of a ‘theory,’ they demand to be taken seriously, no matter how flimsy they may be.”

8. The Filmmaker Karyn Kusama Explores the Many Dimensions of Women’s Rage

“Over five films, Kusama has used genre — the sports movie, sci-fi/fantasy, horror, the paranoid thriller and now the L.A. noir — to tell difficult stories about grief and trauma and what it takes to survive them.”

9. After More Than Two Decades of Work, a New Hebrew Bible to Rival the King James

“Of today’s popular versions, most have been commissioned by religious authorities and executed by committee, designed for the utilitarian needs of their congregants — or more likely of their leaders. They make little effort to represent the artistry of either the Hebrew or the English languages, much less of both at once, as Alter tries to do.”

Sunday 12.16.2018 New York Times Digest

1. Is Geotagging on Instagram Ruining Natural Wonders?

“Conservationists are concerned that photographers who geotag their precise locations are putting fragile ecosystems and wild animals at risk. As a defense, they are asking tourists to stop.”

2. Trail Blazers’ Game-Day Posters Are Often First Shot Against Opponents

“For each home game since the start of last season, the Blazers have commissioned an artist from the Portland area to design a 12-inch-by-18-inch game-day poster, basically in the style of old rock concert posters. Each includes the date of the game and the opponent, but the artwork is the star attraction.”

3. Forget the Suburbs, It’s Country or Bust

“Former city people might find themselves chopping wood (even owning multiple axes), growing some of their own food, heating their homes with wood stoves or learning to spot signs of wildlife, like the marks a buck makes when it rubs its antlers against a tree. At parties, they say, people talk about swimming holes and nature hikes rather than what they do for a living, and gathering around a firepit is as commonplace as a Manhattan power lunch.”

4. Is Environmentalism Just for Rich People?

“The well-off aren’t the only ones who care about climate change and the environment. Yet in many of today’s capitalist democracies, class and status resentments, fostered by rampant inequality and whipped up by opportunistic politicians, have developed to such an extent that issues like the environment that affect everyone are increasingly seen through the lens of group conflict and partisan struggle.”

5. Internet Church Isn’t Really Church

“Live-streaming church services is nothing new, and churches have been making and selling recordings of their sermons ever since the advent of cassette tapes. The intention behind live-streaming services — to make church, and its attendant benefits of community, prayer and worship, available to everyone with a smartphone — is a good one. But it presumes that God is primarily present to us one on one, as individuals, rather than as a community of believers. This is not what the Bible says.”

6. The Pedestrian Strikes Back

“Cities and their streets are about people, not cars, and all urban design should think first about the only transit equipment that comes factory-standard for the average human being — our feet.”

7. I Got Rejected 101 Times

“Writing jobs, script contests, auditions, magazine pitches, comedy festivals — the turndowns piled up. I’d convinced myself that this experiment would shield me from the pain of individual rejections, and guess what? It didn’t.”

8. How to Be More Resilient

“It seems resilience is related to brain connectivity.”

9. Survival of the Sneakiest

“The biological world also offers a panoply of cases in which a seemingly winning tactic — often involving high levels of aggression — is paradoxically undone by its own success, resulting in a balance between the assertive and the downright meek.”

10. Are You Ready for the Financial Crisis of 2019?

“Here are five popular doom-and-gloom scenarios.”

10. Checking In? No Thanks. I’m Just Here to Use the Wi-Fi.

“In the past handful of years, hotels have started to create lobbies and common spaces that are a destination in themselves for both guests and locals.”

11. Who’s Living in a ‘Bubble’?

“It’s obvious that Americans live in social bubbles — living and talking in circles divided by economics, race, ideology, geography, taste and so on. The problem arises as soon as you try to differentiate those that constitute real ‘bubbles’ — which is to say, self-reinforcing spheres of blindness or irrationality — from those that might just as easily be called ‘cultures’ or ‘communities,’ groups of people who share experiences and convictions.”

12. What Happens When Facebook Goes the Way of Myspace?

“Your Myspace profile might be mostly gone, but Myspace’s profile of you may have been haunting you, through targeted ads around the web, ever since.”

Sunday 12.9.2018 New York Times Digest

1. What Straight-A Students Get Wrong

“Getting straight A’s requires conformity.”

2. The Woman Who Outruns the Men, 200 Miles at a Time

“We know that men are simply bigger and have more muscle mass and are more powerful and faster … This is about stamina, and stamina is some combination of yes, strength, but also psychological will. It begs the question, is there something going on for women perhaps given our very long evolutionary history as mammals who spent a long time gestating and then giving birth, that gives us a psychological edge in extremely long-term endurance events?”

3. A Low-Cost Fix for Africa’s Silent Killer

“Governments in impoverished countries lack the finance to attack threats to public health, and many are riddled with corruption…. Philanthropists and international aid organizations play key roles in areas such as immunizing children. But turning plans for basic services into mass-market realities may require the potent incentives of capitalism. It is a notion that has provoked the creation of many businesses, most of them failures.”

4. Lean In’s Sheryl Sandberg Problem

“It was always going to be tricky to have a feminist movement led by a billionaire corporate executive.”

5. When Answering the Phone Exposes You to Fraud

“A recent examination of 50 billion mobile phone calls … found that the number of fraudulent calls in early 2018 had soared to 30 percent of all calls.”

6. Hate Amazon? Try Living Without It

“It’s hard to care about the big picture when you’re simply putting one foot in front of the other. Because of seemingly remote forces — an inaccessible elder care system, insufficient health coverage, stagnant wages, long work hours — those of us who see corporate monopolies as detrimental to this country nevertheless rely on them for anything from dish soap to our paychecks.”

7. End the Innovation Obsession

“We are told that innovation is the most important force in our economy, the one thing we must get right or be left behind. But that fear of missing out has led us to foolishly embrace the false trappings of innovation over truly innovative ideas that may be simpler and ultimately more effective.”

8. Rediscovering My Daughter Through Instagram

“Social media has been blamed for ruining our democracy, shortening our children’s attention spans and undermining the fabric of society. But through it, I was able to be with Paulina out in the world again, to see what she sees, to virtually stand beside her and witness the people and places she moves through, in nearly real time. Not in a parent-policing role, but in a wonderful-world sort of way.”

9. Is Listening to a Book the Same Thing as Reading It?

“Audiobooks won’t replace print because we use them differently.”

10. Megan Fox on Becoming a Real-Life Indiana Jones

“I’ve always been really been passionate about ancient peoples and ancient religions and ancient magic practices, not knowing what to do with it.”

11. These Men Are Waiting to Share Some Feelings With You

“Men, who are less likely than women to seek out individual therapy, are increasingly looking for outlets in this fraught cultural moment of political acrimony, widespread economic instability and major societal reckoning over their behavior.”

12. Live-Streaming Your Broke Self for Rent Money

“Mr. Hill is part of an emerging category of micro-influencers who have discovered there is a paying audience that wants to watch them go about their day-to-day lives. Many have been able to make money on Patreon, where people can sell subscriptions for their content, whether it be about comics, travel or nothing at all.”

13. Orbiting, Another Thing for Online Daters to Worry About

“Distant methods of digital observation — likes, views, etc. — are what binds the orbiter and the orbited.”

14. Why Are We Suddenly Surrounded by ‘Grift’?

“Grafters are stolid and conventional, lining their pockets and then quietly retreating to one of their several homes. Grifters are the ones with flair and ambition, who seem to delight in the con itself — the cleverness of the scheme, the smooth ease with which the marks were gulled.”

15. New Sentences: From ‘The Comic Book Story of Professional Wrestling’

“To keep kayfabe is a devotion to reality so extreme that it circles all the way back to artifice, or maybe vice versa. It is to insist that your best friend is your mortal enemy, that the blow that missed your face by five inches actually shattered your nose. It is to surf the crest of the mystical wave between being and pretending.”

16. It’s Time to Study Whether Eating Particular Diets Can Help Heal Us

“We are stuck with our diets because our ancestors ate this way, because food tastes good or because agribusiness has persuaded us about dietary compositions. Unlike most medicines, whose effects we sift, measure and scrutinize, often using the most rigorous clinical trials, human diets — the other set of molecules we put into our bodies — have gone relatively unexamined.”

17. Even a Little Weight Training May Cut the Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke

“The risk of experiencing these events was roughly 50 percent lower for those who lifted weights occasionally, compared with those who never did — even when they were not doing the recommended endurance exercise.”

18. Letter of Recommendation: Rage Against the Machine

“Today, rap-rock is derided as a goofy grotesque, thanks mostly to lesser acts that came after Rage, aping their aggression, jettisoning their political convictions and outselling them in the process. But in Rage’s efforts to distill the spirit of forebears as dissimilar as EPMD and Bruce Springsteen, they perfected a novel sound.”

Sunday 12.2.2018 New York Times Digest

1. The Most Wonderful Smelling Time of the Year

“No other sense is as direct as smell. No other sense is as ancient. Smell bypasses the neural processing centers that mediate all other senses. The aroma of fir trees flies me directly into specific wordless memories: childhood holidays, hand-sawn woodwork and my feet tramping through wet forests.”

2. To Help Prevent the Next Big Wildfire, Let the Forest Burn

“Policymakers and citizens alike must abandon the idea that trees are always worth saving and that fire is always a threat. Instead, they should permit modest, ecologically necessary wildfires to burn.”

3. Should We Contact Isolated Tribes?

“How do they want to live? Can outsiders presume they don’t want contact without communicating with them? Where does their hostility come from?”

4. The $25 Nap Is Worth It

“In a gig economy, the ability to take a nap is a huge advantage. “

5. What the Movies Taught Me About Being a Woman

“Movies teach us all sorts of things: how to aspire, who to fantasize about (all those princes will come), how to smoke, dress, walk into a room (always like Bette Davis). They teach us who to love and how, as well as the ostensible necessity of sacrificing love along with careers. They also teach us that showering, babysitting, being in underground parking lots or simply being female might get you killed. There isn’t a causal relationship between viewer behavior and the screen. There doesn’t have to be. Because movies get into our bodies, making us howl and weep, while their narrative and visual patterns, their ideas and ideologies leave their imprint.”

6. And the Beat Goes On

“It’s a whole culture.”

7. Nice Shirt. I Know How You Voted.

“Clothing preferences were a key metric for Cambridge Analytica, whose business was constructing and selling voter profiles drawn from Facebook data.”

8. Do You Know What You’re Breathing?

“Installed on a porch, a console table or hooked to a backpack, these small, sleek and increasingly inexpensive devices measure hyper-local air quality. They are marketed to the discerning and alarmed consumer. Some have begun to self-identify as ‘breathers.’”

9. New & Noteworthy Books

“The basic argument is that people with choices are less likely to seek improvements; they just head for the exits.”

10. Imagining What Happens When the Robots Take the Wheel

“Schwartz figures that autonomous vehicles, or A.V.s, will arrive in huge numbers in the decades ahead, bringing cheaper mobility options, improved safety, reduced pollution thanks to the electric motors they will favor, but also profound ethical dilemmas — namely, the restaging of the conflict between walking and driving.”

11. Letter of Recommendation: Jazz on European TV

“In the late ’50s and 1960s, television was spreading rapidly throughout Europe. Producers needed content, and it happened that American jazz musicians like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong had been touring the Continent for decades, often playing to audiences better prepared to celebrate black artistry than those in the United States. The new stations — most of them state-owned — would present performances by jazz’s defining greats as major cultural events. Collectively they created a documentary record like no other: dozens of expertly staged and photographed concerts by heroic figures, captured at close range.”

12. The Radicalization of Adam McKay

“Throughout the film, Cheney is depicted as a fearsomely capable stalker of prey; a recurring motif concerns his passion for fly fishing, which McKay described to me as crucial to understanding him. He hired a fly fisherman as a consultant. ‘You can’t believe the level of patience and detail that’s involved — lifting up the rocks to see what kinds of bugs are underneath so you know what kind of lure to use; watching the drift, the way the sun’s hitting it so you know what illusion to create with your lure. And that’s the story with Dick Cheney. Meticulous detail and tremendous patience.’”

13. The Insect Apocalypse Is Here

“The world never feels fallen, because we grow accustomed to the fall.”

14. How the Myth of the Hedonistic Artist Lost Its Allure

“Artists, even the hedonistic ones, are fundamentally, one might say excessively, ascetic.”

15. Why Is Japan Still So Attached to Paper?

“Paper has a long history all over the world, but it is to Japan something like what wine is to the French — a national obsession and point of pride. It remains, despite every innovation since, the central material of Japanese culture.”