The New Yorker: May 20, 2013

22 May

A lot of athletes talk about overcoming adversity. It’s pretty much the standard template through which they view themselves. If the Heat win the NBA title this year, you can be assured that LeBron James will mention all the adversity the team overcame. The whole thing has gotten to the point of laughable bullshit. But not here at TPY. Readers, I have truly and legitimately overcome adversity to bring you this week’s eagerly anticipated New Yorker recap.

What was this adversity? Just about the most adverse thing that could happen to the magazine recap writer: I lost my copy of the magazine. Maybe lost isn’t the right word. I know exactly where it is. In the dumpster at the Vietnamese deli where I left it on Monday. Or maybe it’s still on the table at the deli. Who knows. The point is, I had to read much of this week’s issue online and at the library. I persevered. I showed both the heart and will of a champion. And here are my thoughts about last week’s New Yorker.

May 20, 2013

This was one of the magazine’s occasional theme issues. “The innovators issue”. I’m not a huge fan of this concept. It generally entails having all the articles vaguely about the same topic and there are five or six short pieces on the theme by guest writers. Those are sometimes interesting, but are usually too short to make much of an impact. My biggest complaint about TNY is that it’s become formulaic in a lot of ways, and the theme issues are often the most formulaic of all. I read In Cold Blood recently. It was originally serialized in four parts in TNY. Those are four pretty long parts. Hard to imagine them doing something like that today. Just as one example. So my advice: scrap the theme weeks and do something actually different or unusual.

Talk of the Town
Nothing too interesting this week. James Surowiecki made an appearance. The Financial Page is the only thing I read anymore on that topic. He’s good.

Seems like sort of a waste to have Susan Orlean contribute a throwaway thing about treadmill desks. When I saw her name in the Table of Contents, I was hoping for something substantive and long. Oh well. Treadmill desks are an innovation or something I guess. A not-very-interesting one.

The best piece of the week was Ian Frazier on packaging materials made out of mushrooms. This is apparently a thing and it was fascinating to read about. I always confuse Ian Frazier with Ian Parker. Ian is one of those names that’s uncommon enough to be memorable, which is a curse when you have two contributors named Ian because they become difficult to tell apart. I don’t think the problem would be as severe if they were named Joe or something.

Anytime I read anything about online security, I become more and more convinced we’re headed toward some kind of hacker-induced global catastrophe. I don’t know if it’s possible to write about the topic without sounding like a doomsayer, but it must be hard because there are a lot of doomsayers out there. One of the reasons I try to keep my online profile as low as possible. That’s probably not much help to me in the upcoming catastrophe but at least it makes me feel like I’m doing something proactive.

The kite-powered wind energy piece was forgettable except for the fact that the company being profiled is headquartered in Alameda. On the decommissioned Navy base there. Sounds like they set up shop in some existing buildings. That whole site needs to be redeveloped. PRIME real estate. It would make an awesome park. A world-famous kind of park. Bay views etc. What landscape architect wouldn’t want a crack? Get cracking, Alameda.

Incredible civic opportunity

Incredible civic opportunity

I really enjoyed Nathan Heller on MOOCs. A MOOC is a massive open online course. These are all the rage at places like Harvard. A lot of inchoate opportunities and problems in the whole thing. It’ll be interesting to see where it is in five years. One issue Mr. Heller raised was the gap between elite universities and non-selective universities, and how MOOCs offered by elite universities relate to that gap. As an alumnus of one of the elites, it’s hard to think of students at Sacramento State or wherever claiming the same education as me. It requires putting away the snobbery I feel is my birthright. I say that mostly as a joke. I do think the MOOC concept is great, but I don’t know how it fits into an actual university curriculum. A few years ago I went through a Yale game theory course on Academic Earth. There was no grading or homework or anything, I just watched the lectures at my leisure. It was great just as a topic that interested me. I don’t think I would have done it if I had had to do reading or take tests etc.

Reading about new trends in dementia care is depressing. I’m glad someone’s working hard to improve dementia care I suppose.

I did not enjoy this week’s fiction. Sometimes TNY stories start slow and take a couple pages to grab me. This one never did. Not much there. Maybe it just went over my head. That’s always my fear. My guess is the magazine didn’t love this story, was sitting on it, and ran it this week because it had a tenuous connection to the theme.

One thing I sometimes skip is TV reviews because I’m chronically behind on TV and I want to avoid spoilers. So I kind of skimmed the thing about Mad Men. Didn’t seem to say anything new, honestly.

A Critic at Large is usually a highlight. This week’s article about empathy and society was interesting. They always have something interesting in that spot.

Always exciting to see Anthony Lane’s name in the Table of Contents. Reading his pans is always fun. The new Star Trek movie this week. I wonder if he decides to write about bad movies on his own or if TNY assigns them because they know he’s good at it. Some good thoughts about Stories We Tell. I agree with his overall assessment there, but some of his smaller points kind of lost me. That was an unusual movie. Definitely recommended.

Nothing notable in the theme week pieces. Gary Shteyngart and Mindy Kaling had the best ones. They always get big names for these. TNY has pull. They could be doing so much more with said big names. Not a great week for cartoons. The Napoleon one on page 102 made me laugh. That one was actually terrific.

Caption contest entry
“If you push a stroller instead of a rock you can feel smug instead of frustrated.”

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