Thursday, July 27, 2017

What Michiko Kakutani Talked About When She Talked About Books

“Oh, my God, right, your book’s reviewed this week. You must be so excited!”

That’s Carrie Bradshaw’s friend Stanford Blatch. And he is, Sex and the City’s newly christened book author informs him, incorrect.

“More like terrified,” Carrie tells him. “Michiko Kakutani. She’s the Times’s book critic.” Carrie adds: “She’s brilliant, and she’s really tough.”

Brilliant and really tough is, even when refracted through Sex and the City’s kaleidoscopic caricature of New York City, an extremely apt description of Kakutani, the woman who, for 38 years, has reviewed books, toughly and brilliantly, for the city’s—and the nation’s—paper of record. On Thursday, the Pulitzer-winner announced her retirement from the Times, the latest high-profile journalist to take one of the buyouts the paper has been offering to its staffers. The Books desk at the paper will now be led by Parul Sehgal, Dwight Garner, and Jennifer Senior, with regular contributions from Janet Maslin. The group, a Times press release announced, will oversee the desk as it “expands its coverage, reaching out to new audiences while continuing to provide the high standard of authoritative literary criticism our readers have depended on for decades.”

That criticism has been authoritative in large part because of Kakutani. She hasn’t been, over these past several decades, merely a critic; she has been a critic who has elevated the art form she has criticized. In a media environment that sometimes treats books as fusty, dusty things—as distractions, as indulgences, academic and isolated from the world’s more pressing problems—Kakutani has insisted on the urgency of books. She has understood that if a good newspaper is a nation talking to itself, then a good book review, published within such a paper, would have a similar conversational effect. Books, she has insisted, are their own form of civic discourse. We marginalize them at our peril.

Kakutani found an eager market for that message—so much so that the book critic became, against so many odds, a pop-culture phenomenon. It wasn’t just Sex and the City, after all, with its book-specific plot lines, that has celebrated her impact on the world. Kakutani has also been mentioned in The OC. And in Girls. She has been the subject of satire. And of fan fiction. And she has—perhaps the greatest tribute of all, for a woman who wields words like weapons—been made into a verb. (“Kakuntanied,” verbal adj.: to fall victim to “the poison pen of America’s most powerful literary critic.”)

by Megan Garber, The Atlantic |  Read more:
Image: Hannah Thomson, Vanity Fair

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Quitting Economy

In the early 1990s, career advice in the United States changed. A new social philosophy, neoliberalism, was transforming society, including the nature of employment, and career counsellors and business writers had to respond. The Soviet Union had recently collapsed, and much as communist thinkers had tried to apply Marxist ideas to every aspect of life, triumphant US economic intellectuals raced to implement the ultra-individualist ideals of Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and other members of the Mont Pelerin Society, far and wide. In doing so for work, they developed a metaphor – that every person should think of herself as a business, the CEO of Me, Inc. The metaphor took off, and has had profound implications for how workplaces are run, how people understand their jobs, and how they plan careers, which increasingly revolve around quitting.

Hayek (1899­-1992) was an influential Austrian economist who operated from the core conviction that markets provided the best means to order the world. Today, many people share this conviction, and that is in part because of the influence of Hayek and his cohort. At the time that Hayek and his circle began making their arguments, it was an eccentric and minority position. For Hayek and the Mount Pelerin group, the centralised economic planning that characterised both communism and fascism was a recipe for disaster. Hayek held that humans are too flawed to successfully undertake the planning of a complex modern economy. A single human being, or even group of human beings, could never competently handle the informational complexities of modern economic systems. Given humans’ limitations in the face of modern economic complexity, freeing the market to organise large-scale production and distribution was the best possible course.(...)

Predictably, saying that ‘the market is the best way to organise or determine value’ overlooks many sorts of life dilemmas. Hayek did understand that his model of making the market so foundational would require a specific kind of person, a new kind of person. But he never developed an effective model for making complicated decisions such as deciding whom to hire for a job opening, or how to fashion a career over a lifetime. Others, the Nobel Prize-winner Gary Becker for example, who coined the idea of human capital, had to come up with concrete models for how people should, in market terms, understand everyday interactions. Inspired by Becker in adopting the market idiom, business writers began to talk about how people need to think about investing in themselves, and viewing themselves as an asset whose value only the market could effectively determine. Over time, a whole body of literature emerged advocating that people should view themselves as a business – a bundle of skills, assets, qualities, experiences and relationships to be managed and continually enhanced.

The change that saw business writers, career counsellors and others adopting the view that individual employees, or potential employees, should think of themselves as businesses occurred at the same time that the way the value of a company was assessed also changed. Not so long ago, business people thought that companies provided a wide variety of benefits to a large number of constituents – to upper management, to employees, to the local community, as well as to shareholders. Many of these benefits were long-term.

But as market value overtook other measures of a company’s value, maximising the short-term interests of shareholders began to override other concerns, other relationships. Quarterly earnings reports and stock prices became even more important, the sole measures of success. How companies treated employees changed, and has not changed back. A recent illustration of the ethos came when American Airlines, having decided that its current levels of compensation were not competitive, announced an increase to its staff salaries. The company was, in fact, funnelling money to workers instead of to its shareholders. Wall Street’s reaction was immediate: American Airlines’ stock price plummeted.

In general, to keep stock prices high, companies not only have to pay their employees as little as possible, they must also have as temporary a workforce as their particular business can allow. The more expendable the workforce, the easier it is to expand and contract in response to short-term demands. These are market and shareholder metrics. Their dominance diminished commitment to employees, and all other commitments but to shareholders, as much as the particular industry requirements of production allow. With companies so organised, the idea of loyalty receded.

Companies now needed to free themselves as much as possible of long-term obligations, such as pensions and other worker incentives. Employees who work long, and in many cases, intense hours to finish short-term projects, became more valuable. While companies rarely say so explicitly, in practice they often want employees who can be let go easily and with little fuss, employees who do not expect long-term commitments from their employer. But, like employment, loyalty is a two-way street – making jobs short-term, commitment-free enterprises leads to workers who view temporary work contracts as also desirable. You start hiring job-quitters.

The CEO of Me, Inc is a job-quitter for a good reason – the business world has come to agree with Hayek that market value is the best measure of value. As a consequence, a career means a string of jobs at different companies. So workers respond in kind, thinking about how to shape their career in a world where you can expect so little from employers. In a society where market rules rule, the only way for an employee to know her value is to look for another job and, if she finds one, usually to quit.

If you are a white-collar worker, it is simply rational to view yourself first and foremost as a job quitter – someone who takes a job for a certain amount of time when the best outcome is that you quit for another job (and the worst is that you get laid off). So how does work change when everyone is trying to become a quitter? First of all, in the society of perpetual job searches, different criteria make a job good or not. Good jobs used to be ones with a good salary, benefits, location, hours, boss, co-workers, and a clear path towards promotion. Now, a good job is one that prepares you for your next job, almost always with another company.

Your job might be a space to learn skills that you can use in the future. Or, it might be a job with a company that has a good-enough reputation that other companies are keen to hire away its employees. On the other hand, it isn’t as good a job if everything you learn there is too specific to that company, if you aren’t learning easily transferrable skills. It isn’t a good job if it enmeshes you in local regulatory schemes and keeps you tied to a particular location. And it isn’t a good job if you have to work such long hours that you never have time to look for the next job. In short, a job becomes a good job if it will lead to another job, likely with another company or organisation. You start choosing a job for how good it will be for you to quit it.

by Ilana Gershon, Aeon | Read more:
Image:Rob Howard/GS

England’s Mental Health Experiment: No-Cost Talk Therapy

England is in the midst of a unique national experiment, the world’s most ambitious effort to treat depression, anxiety and other common mental illnesses.

The rapidly growing initiative, which has gotten little publicity outside the country, offers virtually open-ended talk therapy free of charge at clinics throughout the country: in remote farming villages, industrial suburbs, isolated immigrant communities and high-end enclaves. The goal is to eventually create a system of primary care for mental health not just for England but for all of Britain.

At a time when many nations are debating large-scale reforms to mental health care, researchers and policy makers are looking hard at England’s experience, sizing up both its popularity and its limitations. Mental health care systems vary widely across the Western world, but none have gone nearly so far to provide open-ended access to talk therapies backed by hard evidence. Experts say the English program is the first broad real-world test of treatments that have been studied mostly in carefully controlled lab conditions.

The demand in the first several years has been so strong it has strained the program’s resources. According to the latest figures, the program now screens nearly a million people a year, and the number of adults in England who have recently received some mental health treatment has jumped to one in three from one in four and is expected to continue to grow. Mental health professionals also say the program has gone a long way to shrink the stigma of psychotherapy in a nation culturally steeped in stoicism.

“You now actually hear young people say, ‘I might go and get some therapy for this,’” said Dr. Tim Kendall, the clinical director for mental health for the National Health Service. “You’d never, ever hear people in this country say that out in public before.” (...)

Dr. Clark, in his university office, said: “If someone has a broken leg, he or she immediately gets treatment. If the person has a broken soul, they usually do not.”

The program began three years later, in 2008, with $40 million from Gordon Brown’s Labour government. It set up 35 clinics covering about a fifth of England and trained 1,000 working therapists, social workers, graduates in psychology and others. The program has continued to expand through three governments, both ideologically left and right leaning, with a current budget of about $500 million that is expected to double over the coming few years. (...)

The biggest challenges may be those created by runaway demand. Therapists are booked solid; some are juggling 25 clients at a time, and the line to get in the door is long, creating the same complaints about waiting lists that the National Health Service has for many medical services and procedures. The average wait is 31 days for a course of therapy, typically shorter for the online variety and longer for face-to-face treatment.

by Benedict Carey, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Andrew Testa

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


Henrique de Franca, Adventures in Solitude
via:

Arlo Guthrie

Naked Truths

By the time I went home, I’d seen a hundred soft dicks, hanging from men taking walks in the woods, hanging from men eating chocolate éclairs, resting like thumbs upon beanbag chairs, and hanging from grandpas and 11-year-old boys. By then I could say I’d grown bored of all the breasts — the mosquito-bite boobs and the honkin’ big naturals, the mastectomy scars and the ingenious bolt-on racks. My only real shock was how fast I inured to the sight of an ass that hung elegant like drapes. As it turns out, anything beautiful or grotesque can become boring with enough exposure. I saw zero public boners, and heard two public farts. If I had not been there, naked myself, I might now say that nudity is not a big deal.

I traveled to the Eastern Naturist Gathering in June, clothed and nervous, by way of rented Hyundai. I was sent there not to leer at naked bodies, but to see if I could prove, by way of contradiction, what we accomplish when we choose to wear clothes. The festival was hosted by the Naturist Society, a club for family-friendly nude recreation. I was allowed to attend as a writer so long as I agreed not to name where it was held: at a rented overnight camp, out of sight from any highway.

I hadn’t planned on being nervous. I have enough invested in the idea of myself as a “laid-back person” to want to enjoy a week of nude recreation. If I have the standard amount of body anxiety for a 25-year-old white woman in America, then I have always been able to set it aside for as least as long as the time limit in a sauna. My hang-ups have always seemed more theoretical than practical.

Even so, in the week before I left, I was haunted by a nightmare of arriving at the camp only to be summoned as the first to undress. As I parked my car by a man-made pond, I worried that maybe I should have done more research. Who goes to a weeklong clothing-optional retreat: Burning Men? Doulas? Buyers of those shrink-wrapped bricks of German rye bread? In the catalog of libertines, some types are more tolerable than others. If I wasn’t going to struggle with nudity, then I was definitely going to struggle with organized nudity. I might be a nudist, but I’ve never been a joiner.

Inside the camp, there were no nudists to be seen. I wheeled my suitcase along an asphalt path and called out “hello” up the stairs of a bunkhouse. A woman appeared in a T-shirt and shorts.

“I’m here for the thing,” I said, uncertain whether she might be too.

Before she could answer, a man turned the corner, wearing a suit of the emperor’s new clothes. His unsheathed penis nodded along as he told me that check-in was just up the hill.

The check-in nudist wore mirrored shades and a supernatural, contiguous tan. He handed me a folder with the schedule of events, then pulled on his shorts, I guess for my comfort. We got in his golf cart and he drove me to my cabin. Dinner would start at 5:30 in the mess hall. He told me to wear whatever I wanted and to take as much time as I needed warming up.

Back home, I’d struggled to pack for the trip. The packing list suggested sunscreen, as well as three separate towels for “beach, butt, and shower.” It did not list any clothing. It seemed absurd — and maybe even terroristically-suspicious — to board a cross-country flight without any luggage. I ended up packing for a normal, clothed vacation. What kind of shoe goes best with stark naked? I didn’t know. I brought four pairs. To dinner, I wore Birkenstocks and nothing but a T-shirt. (...)

In my normal life, I’m a bad dresser, maybe by choice. I wear a lot of men’s shirts and practical shoes because I hope this rejection of fashion might be read as a sign of my politics or intelligence. Of course, such deliberate choice-making is exactly what fashion is, but that’s the joy. It feels good to make a context for my own body. If I can’t control how people will treat me, then at least I can suggest how I want to be seen.

When you are naked, you only have one outfit. If you want to be seen differently, you have to change your situation. A naked woman in a doctor’s office means something different from a naked woman in the upstairs bedroom of a frat house. Perhaps in a post-everything world, our bodies wouldn’t matter; naturism comes pretty close to that ideal. At camp, I barely heard anyone talk about his or her body. The ethos was more body-neutral than body-posi, but I still missed clothes. Without their powers, my personality and body language had to pick up a lot of slack. Every interaction felt tiring.

by Jamie Lauren Keiles, Racked |  Read more:
Image: Spencer Grant/Getty Images

The Dock


[ed. Reminds me of Juicero. One has to wonder: Why?]

Hooked

Author Maia Szalavitz first injected cocaine in the mid-1980s at the age of twenty. “My mind was rapidly overcome by a crystalline euphoria,” she writes, “a bliss that was surprisingly satisfying.” She’d recently been suspended from Columbia University in New York City for dealing drugs, and within weeks of her first injection she was doing “speedballs,” an intravenous combination of cocaine and heroin.

That fall she was arrested by plainclothes narcotics agents for possession of more than two kilos of cocaine. Two years later, while out on bail, she chose to get treatment, and she completed a twenty-eight-day inpatient rehab program in 1988. Over the next four years, while she attended twelve-step meetings and made court appearances, she received her undergraduate degree in psychology from Brooklyn College and freelanced for The Village Voice and Spin.

The charges against Szalavitz, which carried a fifteen-year minimum sentence, were eventually dropped. She acknowledges that her status as a privileged white woman contributed to this outcome and writes about feeling “obligated to do all I can to make sure that others are able to be treated with similar mercy.”

Today the fifty-two-year-old is a columnist for Vice and freelancer for such publications as Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Scientific American, specializing in neuroscience and addiction-related issues. Her “detour,” as she calls it, through the world of drug addiction has allowed her to cover the topic with empathy and the insight of firsthand experience.


Cooper: How do you define addiction?

Szalavitz: I define it as a compulsive behavior that continues despite negative consequences. This is also the definition used by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. A negative consequence could be anything from falling down drunk, to losing a job, to going to jail. People usually respond to negative consequences by changing their behavior, but when addiction is involved, they are more likely to try to avoid making the connection between the drug use and the consequences.

Now, in order to succeed in life, you need to be able to persist despite negative consequences in many situations. I couldn’t survive as a writer, for example, if I weren’t able to deal with rejection. It’s only when the behavior becomes compulsive and divorced from reality that it’s a problem.

It’s also true that if there are no negative consequences, there’s no addiction. You might say, “I’m addicted to tv,” but unless you’re losing your job and your wife and your cat as a result of your tvwatching, it’s not an addiction.

Frankly, I don’t care if people are engaging in some kind of compulsive behavior, even if it involves drugs, as long as it’s not doing them or someone else harm.

Cooper: Even heroin?

Szalavitz: Sure. If you’re a rich person with no responsibilities and an infinite clean supply and a spouse who doesn’t mind, you probably would not be considered addicted under this definition. Of course, I’ve never encountered anyone like that in real life. Most people who use heroin every day — or other opioids like morphine, oxycodone, and opium — are unable to rein in their use when they need to, and that’s a negative consequence in itself. (...)

Cooper: Is recovery sometimes a matter of trading a harmful addiction for a less harmful, more socially acceptable one, like smoking?

Szalavitz: There are certainly situations where somebody replaces compulsive heroin use with, say, compulsive running. If this compulsive running is doing less harm, then you’re at least better off. If it’s doing no harm, you have achieved recovery.

People often refer to the “high” they get from activities like running or sky diving. We eventually have to wrestle with the fact that human beings will always want to get high. Every culture has intoxicants. Either we can recognize this and make available the least-harmful substances in the least-harmful settings, or we can go on destroying people’s lives and creating cartels in Central and South America by continuing prohibition. The war on drugs is not going to solve the problem. If it were, the problem would no longer exist. (...)

Cooper: The term “self-medicating” gets thrown around a lot. What’s your feeling about it?

Szalavitz: It’s an apt description of many addictions. If you are coping well in life, have no major problems, and can connect socially with others, you probably won’t become addicted, even if you discover a drug you enjoy. There are rare cases in which somebody has such a genetic predisposition for addiction to, say, alcohol that just one drink means trouble. But most people who experience euphoria from a drug do not go on to sacrifice their job or their marriage or their kids or everything they’ve worked for to keep taking it. It’s typically when your life is going badly and you don’t have anything to lose that a euphoric experience becomes incredibly appealing.

Addiction isn’t only about euphoria, though. What heroin really did for me was make me feel safe and comfortable and let me stop thinking everybody hated me. Today I get that same effect from Prozac. The euphoria was nice, but what really hooked me was just being able to feel ok. It was a classic case of self-medication.

A Harvard professor named Edward Khantzian developed the theory of self-medication, and for many years it was brushed aside because people insisted addiction was caused by genetics, even though they couldn’t explain how genes played a role. The self-medication idea became popular among people trying to treat alcoholism. There’s a school of thought that says alcoholism is caused by a vicious cycle: people drink to excess, get depressed about the consequences of their drinking, and then self-medicate their depression with more alcohol. Of course, that assumes everything was fine until you started drinking to excess. Maybe that happens sometimes, but the more logical explanation is that you’re anxious or depressed or unhappy in one of ten million ways, and the drug makes you feel good, so you continue taking it to the point that it makes you feel bad again. (...)

The current opioid problem presents a much greater danger than crack. Overdosing on crack is rare, but the death rate from opioid addiction is horrifying. It’s not just the drug that causes the problem. Only about a third of the people who try powerful opioids find them appealing, and only 10 to 20 percent become addicted. So there are people who love opioids but do not become addicted to them. It’s when your life is extremely stressful and you don’t have other ways to cope that heroin becomes attractive.

Cooper: Is that why poorer people are at a higher risk for addiction?

Szalavitz: Yes, if you’re poor, you tend to be under more stress. Also, when you develop an addiction, you’re likely to lose your job and end up poor.

We shouldn’t forget that middle-class people are at risk for addiction, too. And if you are extremely wealthy, you have an increased risk — perhaps because you have so much unstructured time. Rich people have unstructured time if they don’t have to work, and poor people have it if they don’t have a job. Too much idleness is also bad for someone with a mental illness, and about half of people with an addiction have a mental illness that exacerbates it.

by Arnie Cooper, The Sun |  Read more:
Image: uncredited

Using Your Phone to Scan Pictures of Prints

Q. Do photo-scanning apps for phones really do much more besides take a picture of the picture you want to scan?

A. Some smartphone apps that are designed specifically for scanning or capturing digital versions of photographic prints can do a bit more than just take a picture of the picture. When searching for a portable scanning program, read its listed set of features on its app store page — tools like edge detection, perspective correction and color enhancement can make a battered print look much better after its digital conversion.Photo

Google PhotoScan, which was released last year for Android and iOS gadgets, is one free app with a lot of tools for turning your photo prints into decent digital copies; for a visual introduction to the software, a demonstration video is available on YouTube. To scan a picture, you move the camera over several areas of the print as the app guides you. PhotoScan then merges all of the parts and removes any glare from the light in the room. The combined image is straightened, cropped and color-enhanced to make it look as good as possible. You can save it locally, or if you use Google Photos, you can automatically back up your PhotoScan files to the cloud.

Other photo-scanning apps to check out include Photomyne, which has free basic and $5 versions for Android and iOS devices and can capture multiple images at once. Apps to convert documents as well as photos include TurboScan (for Android and iOS) and CamScanner, which offers versions for Android, iOS and Windows Phone.

by J.D. Biersdorfer, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: NY Times

Eat Drink Man Woman


Opening cooking scene - "Eat Drink Man Woman" (1994)

Monday, July 24, 2017

What’ll It Be for the New York Diner?

There’s a story that a few of the wistful regulars from my old diner, Joe Jr.’s, which used to occupy a narrow little space in the Village on the southeast corner of Sixth Avenue and 12th Street, still like to tell about the time Louie the waiter died of a heart attack. Like many vanished coffee shops, diners, and luncheonettes around the city, Joe’s was a loose, convivial club for the people who frequented the place. I would see the movie director John Waters at the counter, dressed in his neatly pressed suits, sipping coffee in a fastidious, mannered way. Isaac Mizrahi was a regular during his pre-TV days, and if my addled memory is correct, so was that great chronicler of big-city eccentrics, the New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell, who used to drop by now and then, wearing his gray fedora.

Louie was the indispensable front-of-the-house man at Joe Jr.’s, a formidable maître d’ figure who, like Sirio Maccioni during the heyday of Le Cirque, knew the quirks of all the regulars and assigned everyone to his or her proper place. He knew that I preferred to sit at either end of the counter for my solitary afternoon BLTs (with extra mayo) and that my youngest daughter, Penelope, liked her usual chicken soup (in a bowl, extra crackers) any time of the day or night. He kept order when drunks would stagger in off the street, and he had a knack for calming down the more unconventional Village regulars, like “the Tattoo Lady,” whose face was covered in a pattern of intricate tattoos, and another regular who had a habit, when she was overwhelmed by the cares of the world, of screaming out her normal order — “Eight coffees, light and sweet!” — at the top of her lungs.

When Louie died, many of the regulars at Joe’s were so shaken that they traveled out to the wake to pay their respects. When they arrived at the funeral home in Queens, the restaurant’s staff — short-order cooks, waitresses with their beehive hairdos — were sitting before the open casket dressed in all black. They had solemn looks on their faces, but as their familiar customers filed in, the mood in the room brightened. “They began to whisper to each other. ‘There goes Mr. Whiskey Down, Two Sides of Bacon’; ‘There’s Mrs. Scrambled Eggs, Bagel-Toasted’; ‘There’s Mr. BLT No Mayo,’ ” one of the devoted regulars who made the trip recalls. “Joe’s was a funny kind of dysfunctional family. I felt so safe there. I couldn’t have had a better time dining at Le Pavillon.”

Joe Jr.’s closed in the summer of 2009, with a farewell note hastily tacked up in the window explaining that the restaurant had lost its lease and, after more than 30 years in business, they were saying good-bye. Like Henri Soulé’s famous French restaurant, it was replaced, in time, by a more fashionable version of itself: a café serving Brazilian coffee, where a new generation of headphone-wearing habitués crowd the uncomfortable wood chairs, peering silently into their laptops, sipping four-dollar coffee from biodegradable paper cups. For a while, the Platts tried to find another place in our little neighborhood to go for our family breakfasts, but the dwindling number of old-time diners and coffee shops were too crowded or too anonymous or too far away. When my daughters want a bowl of chicken soup, these days, they get it at the Pret a Manger down the street, and although I pass the now-svelte Mizrahi on the street sometimes, I’ve never seen John Waters or the Tattoo Lady again.

Like most mass-extinction events, the Massive Diner, Coffee Shop, and Greasy Spoon Die-Off has been unfolding slowly around us for decades, in plain sight. According to a much-fretted-over Crain’s report from a couple of years back, the city’s Department of Health lists around 400 restaurants with the words diner and coffee in their name, a number that experts say is down from a thousand restaurants a generation ago. (Many nouveau coffee shops don’t have coffee in the name.) Like the old Automats and cafeterias of the ’50s and ’60s, and a generation of classic Jewish delis before that, diners are in decline for many reasons: skyrocketing rents and land values; ever-rising food prices; the spread of a more expedient, highbrow and lowbrow coffee culture; the gentle, inexorable aging of a whole generation of neighborhood “regulars”; the difficulty of keeping an ancient, sprawling, ten-page menu in tune with the changing tastes of the times; and the challenges of passing on a family business to a new generation of proprietors, many of whom have the benefit of a college education, and might prefer frittering their days away in barista bars to breaking eggs over a hot stove.

Among members of this comfort-food-obsessed, single-origin-bean generation, it’s become fashionable to mourn the passing of this old diner culture. In the past few years, the closings have spread, from Manhattan (the famous Cafe Edison in the Theater District, La Taza de Oro in Chelsea, the Lyric Diner in Gramercy Park), into the outer-boroughs (the Del Rio Diner in Gravesend, the El Greco in Sheepshead Bay), and lamentations in the food press and on the blogs have reached a fever pitch. But in a world filled with a dizzying numbers of choices — an array of options on everything from $25 chef burgers, to how you like your Ethiopian coffee dripped and what shade of almond milk you’d like to pour in it, to what kind of artisanal pork you desire on your haute breakfast sandwich — the diner has become more of a symbol and a curiosity than a regular place to eat. “I grew up on iceberg lettuce, but this new generation knows that iceberg is the butt of all lettuces,” says Griffin Hansbury, who writes under the pseudonym Jeremiah Moss, and whose forthcoming book, Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul, chronicles these slowly disappearing institutions. “For me, the diner is a very democratic place,” he says. But in this new, more moneyed era where it’s fashionable to say that everyone’s a restaurant critic, and arugula replaced iceberg as the green of choice long ago, this new class of eaters favors what he diplomatically calls a “more curated dining experience.”

by Adam Platt, Grub Street |  Read more:
Image: Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine

Sunday, July 23, 2017


photo: markk

Class Acts


The back nine of the Open Championship was a lot of things, but at one point, it was a bit of a mess. When Jordan Spieth pushed his drive on the 13th hole wide right and into the fescue, it initiated a 30-minute escapade that saw him search for his ball, take an unplayable lie, and then venture as far back as the practice area to take his drop. There was a fair amount of arm waving, and eventually even some yelling between Spieth and caddie Michael Greller as they tried to figure out their next shot.

Meanwhile, throughout the whole thing, Matt Kuchar kneeled in the fairway and waited.

When Spieth accepted the claret jug as the Champion Golfer of the Year, he classily rolled through a list of people to thank, from Greller, to his manager Jay Danzi, and his swing coach Cameron McCormick. But the most poignant moment was when Spieth turned to Kuchar, the guy who patiently waited for the situation to resolve, and who might have seen some of his momentum stalled in the process.

"Matt, I really enjoyed battling with you buddy," Spieth said on the 18th green at Royal Birkdale. "Obviously it could have went to either one of us, I got the good breaks today. What a great champion Matt Kuchar is, and what a class act. I took about 20 minutes to play one of my shots today, and Matt took it in stride, smiled, and...there's not many people who would have done that. And it speaks to the man you are, and you set a great example for all of us."

As sporting moments go, it was a welcome gesture from Spieth, and almost as impressive as his five-under par stretch to close.

by Sam Weinman, Golf Digest | Read more:
Image: Andrew Matthews - PA Images via Getty
[ed. See also: True Grit - British Open 2017: Jordan Spieth wins 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale]

Oh, Elon. Building Infrastructure Doesn't Work Like That

Is this … is this really happening?

On Wednesday morning, Elon Musk made a strange announcement on Twitter: His Boring Company (yes, that's what it's called) had received “verbal government approval” to build an underground hyperloop, he said. The maglev-powered train thing would pass through New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore before terminating in good old swampy Washington, DC. All in twenty-nine minutes.

It sounded momentous—but “verbal government approval” isn’t a thing. A White House spokesperson said the administration had conducted “positive conversations” with Musk and Boring Company executives, but declined to comment beyond that.

Musk also acknowledged the project has a ways to go. “A verbal yes is obviously not the same as a formal, written yes,” Musk wrote in a Twitter direct message to WIRED. "It will probably take another four to six months to get formal approval, assuming this receives support from the general public.”

Bad news, Elon, my friend: The White House doesn’t have much power when it comes to rubber stamping gigantic, multi-state infrastructure projects.

“It means effectively nothing,” says Adie Tomer, who studies metropolitan infrastructure at the Brookings Institution. “The federal government owns some land, but they don’t own the Northeast corridor land, and they don’t own the right-of-way.” Sure, having presidential backing isn’t bad—but it is far, far from the ballgame.

Even Musk's four- to six-month timeline seriously stretches it. Because here's what it actually takes to get approval to build gigantic, multi-billion dollar, multi-state infrastructure projects in the United States of America:

(Spoiler: Something nearing an act of God.)

by AArian Marshall, Wired |  Read more:
Image: Hyperloop One
[ed. Some people believe God's already in the White House (including it seems, the present occupant).]