I read the Sunday New York Times, so you don’t have to: Aug. 19
Today’s coffee is Burundi. First music of the day: The Margaret Explosion.
1, “At the Philips Electronics factory on the coast of China, hundreds of workers use their hands and specialized tools to assemble electronic shavers. That is the old way,” The Times reports from Drachten, The Netherlands. “At a sister factory here in the Dutch countryside, 128 robot arms do the same work with yoga-like flexibility. Video cameras guide them through feats well beyond the capability of the most dexterous humans…. This is the future. A new wave of robots, far more adept than those now commonly used by automakers and other heavy manufacturers, are replacing workers around the world in both manufacturing and distribution.”
2, More from the Brave New World: A handful of new companies are specializing in “predictive consumer analytics,” or the e-score. “These digital scores, known broadly as consumer evaluation or buying-power scores, measure our potential value as consumers,” The Times Sunday Business section reports. Unlike your credit score, you can’t get your e-score. Algorithms calculate a consumer’s number, and “banks, credit and debit card providers, insurers and online educational institutions are using these scores to choose whom to woo on the web.”
3, A saxophonist who I’ve never heard of, Von Freeman, has died at age 88. Fame came late to Freeman. “His work had a daring elasticity, with deliberately off-kilter phrasing that made it sound like speech,” The Times writes in the Chicago tenor player’s obituary. “He cherished roughness and imperfection, although, as critics observed, he could play a ballad with the best of them. Where some listeners faulted him for playing out of tune, others praised him for exploiting a chromatic range far greater than the paltry 12 notes the Western musical scale offers. ‘Don’t tune up too much, baby,’ Mr. Freeman once told a colleague. ‘You’ll lose your soul.'”
4, Dance critic Alastair MaCaulay strips the artsy facade from provocative nudity in dance. “This June, at the climactic moment of Paquerette, an hour-long duet at the Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn (part of the Queer New York Festival),” he writes, “Cecelia Bengolea and Francois Chaignaud, after removing what few garments they had been wearing, inserted dildos up their backsides and kept them there for perhaps 10 minutes. The only dance moment of note occurred when, side by side, each held a balance on one foot while using the sole of the raised foot to hold the dildo in place.” MaCaulay calls the performance “irksomely coy, along aren’t-we-being-bold-and-don’t-you-love-us-for-it lines.”
5, Bobak Ferdowski, flight director for NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity, is the accidental Internet celebrity scientist known as “The Mohawk Guy.” One of his cultural recommendations is Thrilling Adventure Hour, a podcast which he compares to “an old-time radio show. There’s a variety of shows within the podcast. One of them takes place on Mars. ‘The Nerdist’ is also a podcast hosted by guys who have interests similar to mine – sci-fi and technology. I’m not sure what the definition of a nerd is. Historically it could have been perjorative but now I think society is more embracing of people that might have more science-y or unorthodox interests.”
6, This headline on The Times lead editorial says it all: “Truth and Lies About Medicare: Don’t Believe Most of What Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan Are saying.”
7, Also on that page, an essay by Lawrence Downes notes the approach of Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday, but laments the soft image we’re being presented of the protest singer. He writes that “under the saintly folk hero has always been an angry vigilante – a fascist-hating, Communist-sympathizing rabble-rouser who liked to eviscerate his targets, sometimes with violent imagery…. He wrote hard-hitting songs for hard-hit people.” Downes is dismayed that Republicans such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (a Bruce Springsteen fan who is also an enthusiastic union buster) and Paul Ryan (a Rage Against the Machine fan who believes in cutting humanitarian services while escalating military spending) are apparently not listening to the words that castigate their positions. “It’s hard to be a troubadour with dangerous ideas,” Downes writes, “if people refuse to be challenged or offended by them.”
8, In the magazine, professional book critic Dwight Garner explains why it’s important for critics to be mean. So that we can start arguments, and get to the truth of the matter: Is this thing any good? Garner refers to an essay by Jacob Silverman on the web site Slate, which condemns Twitter as a “mutual admiration society” for writers, a world in which “all new books are wonderful and that every writer is every other writer’s biggest fan.” The biggest problem I have with Garner’s essay is, his best idea is actually someone else’s idea. Got anything new for us, sir?