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Brilliance from the NYT with Comments of My Own

I've been collecting brilliant things from the New York Times and thinking I would post them one at a time but, as usual, have fallen behind and besides, I felt it was inappropriate to just post someone else’s words with none of my own. However, I’ve gotten past that and now realize that it’s still an important part of sharing. I also discover by saving these that they fall into several categories that reveal what really matters to me: one, wisdom about writing; two, conditions that create joy and health; three, politics. Enjoy!

“The Secret of Effective Motivation”, New York Times, Sunday, July 6, 2014
“There are two kinds of motives for engaging in any activity: internal and instrumental. If a scientist conducts research because she wants to discover important facts about the world, that’s an internal motive, since discovering facts is inherently related to the activity of research. If she conducts research because she wants to achieve scholarly renown, that’s an instrumental motive, since the relation between fame and research is not so inherent. Often, people have both internal and instrumental motives for doing what they do. What motives – internal or instrumental or both – is most conducive to success? You might suppose that a scientist motivated by a desire to discover facts and by a desire to achieve renown will do better work than a scientist motivated by just one of those desires. But…Instrumental motives are not always an asset and can actually be counterproductive to success.… Remarkably, cadets with strong internal and strong instrumental motives for attending West Point performed worse on every measure than did those with strong internal motives but weak instrumental ones.… Efforts should be made to structure activities so that instrumental consequences do not become motives. Helping people focus on the meaning and impact of their work, rather than on, say, the financial returns it will bring, may be the best way to improve not only the quality of their work but also – counter-intuitive though it may seem – their financial success. Encourage people to do something for its own sake, not for its benefits.”

“The Other Side of Boredom” by Mary Mann, from the New York Times, Sunday, April 19, 2015 page 6
“Astoundingly, others actively seek boredom out. “You have to sit around so much doing nothing,” Gertrude Stein wrote on developing creative genius. F Scott Fitzgerald thought boredom was necessary for writing: “you’ve got to go by or past or through boredom, as through a filter, before the clear product emerges.” The poet Mary Ruefle speaks of the “vital necessity of wasting time, of loafing and doing nothing.” Two recent studies lend scholarly weight to such claims: People who have been bored demonstrate increased creativity, and are better at associative thinking than those who have just been relaxing.”

“Content and its Discontents,” by Tim Wu, New York Times Book Review, Sunday, July 20, 2014, pg. 20
review of “The Peoples Platform: Taking Back Power in the Digital Age” by Astra Taylor

“Free culture, like cheap food, incurs hidden costs,” Taylor writes. Instead of serving as the great equalizer, the web has created an abhorrent cultural feudalism. The creative masses connect, create and labor, while Google, Facebook and Amazon collect the cash. Taylor’s thesis is simply stated. The pre-Internet cultural industry, populated mainly by exploitative conglomerates, was far from perfect, but at least the ancient regime felt some need to cultivate cultural institutions, and to pay for talent at all levels. Along came the web, which swept away hierarchies – as well as paychecks, leaving behind creators of all kinds only the chance to be fleetingly “Internet famous.” And anyhow, she says, the web never really threatened to overthrow the old media’s upper echelons, whether defined as superstars, like Beyoncé, big broadcast television shows or Hollywood studios. Instead, it was the cultural industry’s middle class that have been wiped out and replaced by new cultural plantations ruled over by the West Coast aggregators...Taylor believes the classless aura of the web masks an unfair power structure… The web has reduced professional creators to begging for scraps of attention from a spoiled public, and forced creators to be their own brand. “The People’s Platform” has the flavor of a “Roger and Me” for the American cultural industries, and it will resonate with those in the creative classes who have seen their lives made harder by the web: writers of serious nonfiction, musicians, playwrights, novelists and investigative journalists… The uncomfortable fact that Taylor does not highlight is that it is non-careerists as much as aggregators who are doing the damage she describes… If Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon truly believe they’re better than the old guard, let’s see it.”

“Words Per Minute”, essay by Graham Swift, New York Times Book Review Sunday, June 10, 2012
“All novelists must form their personal pacts in some way with the slowness of their craft. There are some who demand of themselves a “rate of production,” for whom it’s a matter of pride to complete, say, a book every year. But I think most novelists, after writing their first two or three, take philosophical stock of the fact that in an average lifetime they will produce a finite and not so large number of novels and that the point of being a novelist is not to see how many you can write or how quickly you can do it.… It can be dismaying, all the same, for a novelist to compare the slowness of the writing with the speed of the reading. Novels are read in a matter of days, even hours. A writer may labor for weeks over a particular passage that will have its effect on the reader for an instant – and that effect may be subliminal or barely noticed. The vibrations of thought and feeling that a single sentence in its context can release in the reader may be too rapid for measurement. “It leapt off the page” is what we say of a happy reading experience...A good novel is like a welcome pause in the flow of our existence, a great novel is forever revisitable… The skeptical non-reader says “I have no time to read,” and deems the pace of life no longer able to accommodate the apparently laggard process of reading books. We have developed a wealth of technologies that are supposed to save us time for leisurely pursuits, but for some this has only made such pursuits seem ponderous and archaic. “Saving time” has made us slaves to speed… But the total, absorbed experience of a novel actually removes us from the tyranny of our sense of time. It’s like a little life within life, obeying its own permissive laws of narrative physics… As a form, the novel has this wonderful elasticity and unrestricted velocity, yet it is also unrushed and un-rushing. However much actual time a reader brings to it, it is entirely amenable and cooperative. It will always be patiently there. I’m not disheartened by the thought that what takes me years to write may occupy a reader for just a few hours. To have made, perhaps, a benign intrusion into someone else’s life for even such a short duration seems to me quite a feat of communication, and if that communication becomes for readers not just a means of passing those hours, but a time-suspending experience that stays with them well after they closed the book and that they might one day wish to return to, then that’s as much as any novelist can hope for.”


“Our Cosmic Selves” by Ray Jayawardhana, in the New York Times Sunday, April 5, 2015 page 12
“The iron in our blood, the calcium in our bones and the oxygen we breathe are the physical remains – ashes, if you will – of stars that lived and died long ago.” OK, I totally love that.

“All is Awesome” by Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times Magazine March 29, 2015 page 26
“Dark moods are bad for your health. Scientists have known for decades that a wide variety of unpleasant emotions, like shame, depression and anxiety, are linked to greater rates of the ills like heart disease, inflammation, cancer and premature death. Conversely, positive feelings have been shown to be good for you… A new study singles out one surprising emotion as a potential medicine: awe. This goes with another study that heartened me re: being hard-wired for variety. The need for variety and the continual creation of awe: sounds like a great combo.

“Is the Environment a Moral Cause?” By Robb Willer, New York Times, Sunday, March 1, 2015
Those of us in marketing, especially those of us working on messaging and what I believe they are now calling the storytelling and/or narratives, might be very interested in this article:
“While the number of Republicans who say global warming is a serious problem has reached high levels, there remains a very large gap in moral engagement with the issue. We found that conservatives were less likely than liberals to describe environmental efforts in moral terms.… People think quite differently when they are morally engaged with an issue. In such cases people are more likely to eschew a sober cost-benefit analysis, opting instead to take action because it is the right thing to do. Put simply, we’re more likely to contribute to a cause when we feel ethically compelled to… Moral concerns more unique to conservatives like patriotism, respect for authority, sanctity or purity rarely appeared in the environmental appeals we studied… This research also suggests an intriguing possibility: that pro-environmental messages specifically targeting conservative values could close the moral gap and persuade conservatives to join the environmental cause. To assess this, we conducted a final study in which we constructed a pro-environmental message based in moral purity this message emphasized the need to protect natural habitats from “desecration” so that our children can experience the “uncontaminated purity and value of nature.”.. The conservatives presented with the purity message reported significantly greater support for pro-environmental legislation than the other two [test] groups – indeed, they were as supportive as a group of liberals we also surveyed… To win over more of the public, environmentalists must look beyond the arguments that they themselves have found convincing. The next wave of moral arguments for environmental reform will need to look very different from the last, if they are to be maximally effective.”

Review of “Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security” by Sarah Chayes, in the New York Times, Sunday, February 22, 2015, pg. 20
“Chayes’s Themes of State makes a strong case that acute corruption causes not only social breakdown but also violent extremism. She calls this a “basic fact,” showing that where there is poor governance – specifically, no appeal to the rule of law and no protected right of property – people begin a search for spiritual purity that puts them on a path to radicalization… This is an important book that should be required reading for officials in foreign service, and for those working in commerce or the military. This story will interest the non-specialist reader too, though the balance of exciting narrative, academic discourse and policy- wonk-speak will unsettle some.” [I’m not sure I would agree that the right of property is inherent to good governance if what they mean is land and money. Yes, the rule of law but I would say a protective right of freedom. A mother whose daughter is about to be sold into slavery is more concerned about her daughter’s freedom than the integrity of her house.]


#Jess Wells, #New York Times,