Thoughts around the Sunday NYT

I had more time than usual to plumb the NY Times this morning, so I’ll use that to put some thoughts down on what I found interesting or worth continuing to think about, etc. Some of my NYT habits have changed and some are a little embarassingly pedestrian, but I really do love that paper. I think it was while I was a post-doc that I really discovered it and contrasting it with the Chicago papers (there were 2 at that time) and the Detroit papers (there were 2 at that time), it was just so manifest that the writing was superior. I’m not talking about the opinions, just the writing. I grew up with the Washington Post (1970s and 1980s) but haven’t read it enough as an adult to compare. My pattern today with the NYT is to 1) go through Sports (gagh, but it’s a habit I won’t let go of). 2) Go through the Review section 3) Preserve the Book Review – as it’s my go-to for the rest of the week, 4) Look at what’s on the cover of the magazine issue 5) At least skim through the front section (international news) 6) Set aside other sections as time allows.

There were a bunch of interesting things today – current events about the shutdown, the editorial coming out with a full throat engagement with the threats from anti-vaxxers, and an interesting opinion piece about the role of rich people within progressive and liberal circles. The latter was one I wanted to debate and would like to come back to it at some point. But the first one I thought about was one on the topic of ‘fake news’ and the readiness with which it is engaged.

The NYT usually has one article in the op-ed section that is written by researchers of one flavor or another. They have an embarassingly similar way of starting out. “Problem X is important today. Could it have to do with Y or Z? Our research done recently shows …”. I know that this is the thrust of most research articles, but it’s jarring to see it in a non-scientific format and feels very plastic and in the interest of excessive self-promotion. Despite my own academic and research background, I cringe at these. Despite that, today’s was mostly interesting. The premise of today’s research article is that there is sense of an increasing willingness of people to accept fake news – information put into social media which is at best incorrect and atĀ  worse a lie – and it would be beneficial to know why. The authors assert that there are two formulations into understanding this: 1) It’s due to greater tribal/partisan sensibilities and people will rationalize against facts to buttress their own associations; and 2) It’s due to people simply not opting to put in the effort to think about things, especially when they are broadcast in sensationalist bursts which is a feature of our era (think twitter). The article was pretty cool into what ways you can measureĀ  these things: there’s a test known in psychological and behavioral circles which asserts falsehoods carefully chosen so that individuals who don’t think about them very hard will give wrong answers. It can thus provide a kind of measurement of how prone an individual is to go with ‘their gut’. They gave this example: in a race, you pass the 2nd place person. What place are you in now? Gut response tends to say ‘1st’ but the answer after thought is clearly ‘2nd’.

So, it was a nice read, not too didactic but lays out measures, premises, ways of thinking about the problem. The end is a little weak where they try to talk about how to reconcile the ‘two camps’ with what they clearly see as definitive results showing the latter. They fall into the tendency of drawing conclusions without having quantitative backing: effect A clearly exists is extrapolated into ‘effect a is important perhaps even mostly important’ into ‘effect A needs to be the prime driver in how we understand X’. That was at the end of the article and maybe I was getting analytically lazy though!


Moving from one universe into another and Rachel Cusk

Among the many pools of thought that I’ve thought about in Rachel Cusk’s ‘Outlines’ is the idea that a couple entering into ‘familyhood’ really becomes an isolated, frozen entity that is a different universe from the outside world and how odd it is when you ‘re-enter’ reality, so-to-speak. I feel pieces of this coming as our children start to amble out into the world. It’s going to be a little drawn out and maybe never gets ‘there’, but it’s odd. Sometimes I worry that we (myself and my spouse) feel aimless but that feeling is balanced by times when I feel a weird freedom that we can choose to do lots of things – go live in Portland for example! Travel, etc. I do find myself measuring that up against how much time we might have.

Really, no thoughts in a year?

Looks like my last blog entry (of the 5 so far) was in January. So much for discipline about exploring this! It was a year like many others with lots of focus on what’s happening with the kids but starting to give some thought to our lives headed back to a duet. I feel like I did get in a larger amount of reading than usual this year and I’m pretty happy about that. I’d like to keep the thinking process as vibrant as I can. Another year of being a pretty crappy son and sibling though. Not proud about that.


What should I write about? Work? Missed chances at the work I want? Love? Feelings that are love but not love? (where is our Linnaeus for Love?) Music? Children? Broken Families? Vertigo? Why my question is always what I want and how selfish that seems?

I read (need a writing on the variations between reading and skimming. This was a 7 with 10 meaning ‘read, digest, contemplate’ and 1 means look at the section/chapter titles) an article in the NYRB on memory that got me wondering why the particulars of what I do remember. I have a recurring/persistent memory of Gerbil (Jamil) from my god-forsaken fraternity days and a conversation about what we really want. He advocated (as people in the 1980’s did) that everything came down to what you as the individual want for yourself. Charity and Love were sought because they made you feel good about you. I cannot deny that this is logically impossible (as I admitted at the time). But I don’t think it is reality. I chalk that up to faith. The best definition of faith is something that comes in that moment when you know truth but don’t have a definitive argument on your side.


Other Cultures

Wondering if the focus that we have on other peoples sometimes has less to do with miss-seeing them than it does having to do with thinking about it as another possibility that we missed. If only I ..


Autumn…go away

Writing of any kind is always biased toward the kind of mood that produces it. Kind of a tautology. So my 1st ‘sincere’ post here, had a brief thought triggered by weather and a reflective mood. That’s my immediate temptation here as well. It’s the first of September but I want Summer to stay but I’m confronted with Autumn. My thoughts turn to so many Fall-ridden books. It almost makes me cry. Is it because sincerity is so intimately linked with tinctures of sadness? I wonder if the obvious fact that it is easier to critique than to contribute is related to this.


A wet, rainy blog

One of my favorite books was a translation of a Japanese book, “Wind in the Rain”. It was ‘about’ poetry, haiku specifically. It was just very prettily written and gave a kind of voyeuristic idea of beauty in a skill that I don’t have myself. Rainy, cold late Mays in the Midwest remind me of that book.