Questionable Value of Authenticity

In the 1970s, the cultural critic Lionel Trilling encouraged us to take seriously the distinction between sincerity and authenticity. Sincerity, he said, requires us to act and really be the way that we present ourselves to others. Authenticity involves finding and expressing the true inner self and judging all relationships in terms of it.

Authenticity now dominates our way of viewing ourselves and our relationships, with baleful consequences. Within sensitive individuals it breeds doubt; between people it promotes distrust; within groups it enhances group-think in the endless quest to be one with the group’s true soul; and between groups it is the inner source of identity politics.

It also undermines good government. James Nolan, in his book “The Therapeutic State,” has shown how the emphasis on the primacy of the self has penetrated major areas of government: emotivist arguments trump reasoned discourse in Congressional hearings and criminal justice; and in public education, self-esteem vies with basic literacy in evaluating students. The cult of authenticity partly accounts for our poor choice of leaders. We prefer leaders who feel our pain, or born-again frat boys who claim that they can stare into the empty eyes of an ex-K.G.B. agent and see inside his soul.

Our Overrated Inner Self
Orlando Patterson, Dec. 26, 2006
NYTIMES

Snippets of life living alone during Coronavirus – NY TIMES

Claire Manship belted songs out the window. Ketaki Chowkhani began barking at a stray puppy. Blake Mitchell performed in drag.

As millions of people grapple with isolation in a pandemic, those who live alone face a particular kind of solitude.

More people live alone now than at any other time in history, a seismic shift from even a half-century ago, and one fueled largely by women’s economic rise.

Being alone and being lonely are not the same thing, of course, and many people who live by themselves spend little time alone.

Until, perhaps, a pandemic hits.

Weeks or months into the stay-at-home orders worldwide, we wanted to know how solo dwellers were faring. What were they doing to keep themselves occupied? What did they most long for? What did they feel liberated to live without?

More than 2,000 readers shared their stories and their photos. Here are some of them.

Jessica Bennett, Daniel Jones and Anya Strzemien
Alone.

It’s a relief or a nightmare, irritating and liberating, and already, for many, interminable. This is living alone in a pandemic.

Other People’s Book Collections

Bibliophiles do not approach bookshelves lightly. A stranger’s collection is to us a window to their soul. We peruse with judgment, sometimes admiration and occasionally repulsion (Ayn Rand?!). With celebrities now frequently speaking on television in front of their home libraries, a voyeuristic pleasure presents itself: Are they actually really like us?

Gal Beckerman, NYTIMES
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/30/books/celebrity-bookshelves-tv-coronavirus.html#commentsContainer

From the comments:
My brother-in-law once found a complete set of the works of Anthony Trollope in excellent condition.
The price seemed a little high, so he declined. The next day, he changed his mind and returned, only to find that the collection had been purchased by a lady who needed “Three yards of red books.”

Keeping Your Mental Health Up in Hard Times

“One of the keys to becoming more resilient is to practice compassion both toward ourselves as well as toward others,” Ms. Marston said. “One of the keys to doing so is to interrupt recurring cycles of negative inner dialogue.”

When we find ourselves cycling through negative thoughts that don’t go anywhere, it’s important to take a step back to disrupt the cycle of anxiety, Ms. Marston said. “This can include stopping and focusing on our breath rather than on our thoughts, changing our physical environment to help create distance from our initial mental space, or having a conversation with someone we trust to get a fresh perspective.

Dr. Sarah Kate McGowan, an assistant clinical professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, suggested coming up with coping statements to help you get through dark moments. This might be something like, “I can take this one day at a time” or “This is frightening, and I can handle it.” You can even write these statements on index cards to refer to when you find yourself back in the negativity loop, she said.”

Kristin Wong, NY TIMES
How to Stay Optimistic When Everything Seems Wrong

California Poverty Highest in Nation

Mr. Newsom campaigned on a promise to usher in reforms that would lead to the construction of 3.5 million housing units by 2025. That output would be more than quadruple the current rate, and the governor has started referring to it as a “stretch goal.”

California is not only well behind that pace, but the number of housing permits has actually turned downward — hovering around 100,000 units in 2019 — despite a strong economy and a median home value, $556,000, that is more than twice the national figure.

It is hard to overstate the threat posed to the state’s economy and prosperity. Housing costs are the primary reason that California’s poverty rate, 18.2 percent, is the highest of any state when adjusted for its cost of living, despite a thriving economy that has led to strong income growth and record-low unemployment.

California, Mired in a Housing Crisis, Rejects an Effort to Ease It
A lawmaker’s push for denser development near transit, overriding local zoning, was thwarted by a diverse group of legislative foes.
Conor Dougherty, NYTIMES

Heaven and Hell are Within You

An old monk on Mount Athos in Greece once told me that people rejoice in the thought of hell to the precise degree that they harbor hell within themselves. By which he meant, I believe, that heaven and hell alike are both within us all, in varying degrees, and that, for some, the idea of hell is the treasury of their most secret, most cherished hopes — the hope of being proved right when so many were wrong, of being admired when so many are despised, of being envied when so many have been scorned.

And as Jesus said (Matthew 6:21), “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

David Bentley Hart, NY Times

Your Favorite Internet Astrologer Wrote a Book

In March of this year, she told me, I will begin my Saturn return, an astrological period in a person’s life that initially occurs between the ages of 27 and 29, when Saturn returns to the planetary position it occupied when you were born, as measured in part through astrological charts.

Saturn returns have a reputation for being chaotic and messy, but they are, more accurately, a time of immense change, however disruptive. Still, every time I drop a glass or miss a bus, I think: this is it, the stars and planets have begun to test me.

My return is concentrated in the fourth house of my chart, Ms. Nicholas said, which is related to parents, home and foundations, and should last until this fall.

Inasmuch as astrology is a chicken-and-egg scenario — will I experience changes in my relationship with my parents and in my home because of Saturn or because I’m 28 and my lease is almost up, who is to say? — Ms. Nicholas’s words still covered me in a sheen of being known.

And being known, or at least, being treated as knowable and worth knowing, is the most comforting thing in the universe.

Jazmine Hughes, NYTIMES

Trolls – NY TIMES from 2008

In the late 1980s, Internet users adopted the word “troll” to denote someone who intentionally disrupts online communities. Early trolling was relatively innocuous, taking place inside of small, single-topic Usenet groups. The trolls employed what the M.I.T. professor Judith Donath calls a “pseudo-naïve” tactic, asking stupid questions and seeing who would rise to the bait. The game was to find out who would see through this stereotypical newbie behavior, and who would fall for it. As one guide to trolldom puts it, “If you don’t fall for the joke, you get to be in on it.”

Today the Internet is much more than esoteric discussion forums. It is a mass medium for defining who we are to ourselves and to others. Teenagers groom their MySpace profiles as intensely as their hair; escapists clock 50-hour weeks in virtual worlds, accumulating gold for their online avatars. Anyone seeking work or love can expect to be Googled. As our emotional investment in the Internet has grown, the stakes for trolling — for provoking strangers online — have risen. Trolling has evolved from ironic solo skit to vicious group hunt.

“Lulz” is how trolls keep score. A corruption of “LOL” or “laugh out loud,” “lulz” means the joy of disrupting another’s emotional equilibrium. “Lulz is watching someone lose their mind at their computer 2,000 miles away while you chat with friends and laugh,” said one ex-troll who, like many people I contacted, refused to disclose his legal identity.

MATTATHIAS SCHWARTZ, NYTIMES

Hardcover fiction best sellers, December 18, 2019

https://www.nytimes.com/books/best-sellers/hardcover-fiction/

WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING
by Delia Owens
In a quiet town on the North Carolina coast in 1969, a young woman who survived alone in the marsh becomes a murder suspect.

THE GUARDIANS
by John Grisham
Cullen Post, a lawyer and Episcopal minister, antagonizes some ruthless killers when he takes on a wrongful conviction case.

CRISS CROSS
by James Patterson
The 27th book in the Alex Cross series. Copycat crimes make the detective question whether an innocent man was executed.

THE INSTITUTE
by Stephen King
Children with special talents are abducted and sequestered in an institution where the sinister staff seeks to extract their gifts through harsh methods.

A MINUTE TO MIDNIGHT
by David Baldacci
When Atlee Pine returns to her hometown to investigate her sister’s kidnapping from 30 years ago, she winds up tracking a potential serial killer.

THE DUTCH HOUSE
by Ann Patchett
A sibling relationship is impacted when the family goes from poverty to wealth and back again over the course of many decades.

BLUE MOON
by Lee Child
Jack Reacher gets caught up in a turf war between Ukrainian and Albanian gangs.

TWISTED TWENTY-SIX
by Janet Evanovich
The 26th book in the Stephanie Plum series. A New Jersey gangster’s associates go after a bounty hunter’s widowed grandmother.

THE TESTAMENTS
by Margaret Atwood
In a sequel to “The Handmaid’s Tale,” old secrets bring three women together as the Republic of Gilead’s theocratic regime shows signs of decay.

OLIVE, AGAIN
by Elizabeth Strout
In a follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Olive Kitteridge,” new relationships, including a second marriage, are encountered in a seaside town in Maine.

The 10 Most Influential Films of the Decade (and 20 Other Favorites) – The New York Times

‘The Avengers’ (2012)

Sequels weren’t new and neither were long, crowded, noisy superhero spectacles when this juggernaut landed. But “The Avengers,” released after Disney’s acquisition of Marvel Studios, was nonetheless a big industry bang: It heralded the dominance of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where we all now live whether we like it or not.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/24/movies/best-movies-2010s-decade.html

Interview with Pete Townshend – NY Times

I have spent 55 years working in rock. I remain in familiar territory. I’ve always regarded the rock-star phenomenon with immense disdain. I’ve had my moments, which have been gloriously recorded and exalted — but brief — when I’ve felt: I’m going to try and do this job. I’m going to try to be a proper rock star. Then I would do it, and it wouldn’t work. I was counterfeit. There are very few people truly authentic to the cause: David Byrne. Mick Jagger. Neil Young. Joni Mitchell. Deborah Harry.

NYTIMES

Your Consumer Rating and History

As consumers, we all have “secret scores”: hidden ratings that determine how long each of us waits on hold when calling a business, whether we can return items at a store, and what type of service we receive. A low score sends you to the back of the queue; high scores get you elite treatment.

Every so often, journalists lament these systems’ inaccessibility. They’re “largely invisible to the public,” The New York Times wrote in 2012. “Most people have no inkling they even exist,” The Wall Street Journal said in 2018. Most recently, in April, The Journal’s Christopher Mims looked at a company called Sift, whose proprietary scoring system tracks 16,000 factors for companies like Airbnb and OkCupid. “Sift judges whether or not you can be trusted,” he wrote, “yet there’s no file with your name that it can produce upon request.”

As of this summer, though, Sift does have a file on you, which it can produce upon request. I got mine, and I found it shocking: More than 400 pages long, it contained all the messages I’d ever sent to hosts on Airbnb; years of Yelp delivery orders; a log of every time I’d opened the Coinbase app on my iPhone. Many entries included detailed information about the device I used to do these things, including my IP address at the time.

Sift knew, for example, that I’d used my iPhone to order chicken tikka masala, vegetable samosas and garlic naan on a Saturday night in April three years ago. It knew I used my Apple laptop to sign into Coinbase in January 2017 to change my password. Sift knew about a nightmare Thanksgiving I had in California’s wine country, as captured in my messages to the Airbnb host of a rental called “Cloud 9.” 

I Got Access to My Secret Consumer Score. Now You Can Get Yours, Too.
Kashmir Hill
NY Times

How a Tuxedoed Sommelier Wound Up Homeless in California – The New York Times

California, the country’s wealthiest and most populous state, also has the most homeless, an unremitting crisis that has confounded the state’s political leaders for decades and exposed one of the most extreme manifestations of economic inequality gripping the country.

Tent encampments — Oakland city officials count 90 of them — are now as much a part of the landscape as the bars and restaurants that cater to the city’s rising affluence. Many Americans are one medical emergency, one layoff, one family disaster away from bankruptcy or losing the roofs over their heads.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/28/us/homeless-san-francisco.html

I was driving around Downtown Denver earlier today and drove past three people sleeping on the street, a few blocks from the ballpark. They didn’t have much baggage – no tents or sleeping bags, and one of them was in a large electric wheelchair. You see a lot of homeless people in Denver so I might not have registered these three, but that I had read this article earlier in the day, and I can’t see how someone survives being homeless in an electric wheelchair.

McNamara’s War

“Beyond loyalty, McNamara persuaded himself — as did other internal skeptics such as Undersecretary of State George Ball — that he could better influence policy by staying put. Moreover, he wasn’t absolutely sure in his bleak diagnosis. Maybe, just maybe, things would turn out well after all, or at least stabilize sufficiently to be handed off to the next administration, preserving not only Johnson’s historical credibility but also his own. As Leslie H. Gelb, himself a veteran of McNamara’s Pentagon (and later a member of The Times editorial board), has written, “It is almost superhuman to expect one responsible for waging war” to fundamentally rethink its merits and then to act on the basis of that rethinking. “And so doubts simply float in the air without being translated into policy.””

From the NY Times.