Cookie-Hoarder in Paradise: The Mysteries of the New York Times Travel Section

With summer winding down, time is running out to plan your vacation.  The New York Times travel section can help.  Or it could, if you ever looked at it.  You might never have perused the pages of this section, even if you’ve been a subscriber for years.  With its hundreds of thousands of words a day, even dedicated readers don’t have time to explore the obscurer corners of the publication.  And after all, this is a newspaper that can turn shopping for a stool into an excruciating exercise in status-symbol posturing.  One might naturally be reluctant to find out just how snobbish they can get when the subject is Thai yoga retreats or fine dining in Paris.

The Travel section does offer some helpful, informative pieces, written from a neutral perspective and designed to help the typical traveler find her way.  But this format is difficult for a jaded journalist to pull off, lacking as it does in personality or narrative interest.  And the periodical format’s hunger for novelty makes it inevitable that some scribes would package their experiences as news.  Furthermore, world-weary professional travellers can sometimes lose touch with the mindset of overworked provincials.  Thus the matter-of-fact articles are often overwhelmed by those that try to juice up their subject with trend-piece glamour, or drag it down with angsty moaning and luxury-problem griping.   So, in this, the first in a (very occasional) series on the lesser-read sections of the Times, we’ll explore the most common Travel pitfalls to watch out for.

Continue reading “Cookie-Hoarder in Paradise: The Mysteries of the New York Times Travel Section”

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Trend of the Week: Vegetable Angst

We’ve all heard about “first world problems,” “white whines,” dilemmas of affluence and so on.  The First World is awash in blogs, Tumblrs, and free-floating disapproval for any of its members who might voice complaints  about problems that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.  But are these gibes really fair?  Many so-called “first-world problems” are legitimate pet peeves that might annoy anyone, from Brooklyn to Bangladesh, Napa to Nairobi.  No one enjoys late trains, poor cell phone reception or defective Tic-Tacs.  And whatever your position on the socioeconomic scale, it’s human nature to comment on it.  The mockery of “luxury problems,” while well-meaning, seems a bit condescending toward the underprivileged, as well as unnecessarily dismissive of affluent problem-havers.  They’re not trying to taunt the marginalized and dispossesed.  It’s not like they’re bitching about having too much food in their kitchen, or something.

Unless they actually are.  If so, let’s nail those honkies to a cross.

Continue reading “Trend of the Week: Vegetable Angst”

Bobos in the Panopticon; or, Why Does the New York Times Hate Freedom?

American culture abounds with knee-jerk displays of patriotism.  Fourth of July fireworks, Presidents’ Day, elections, baseball games, football games, gun shows, the Country Music Awards, pep rallies, NRA conventions, even the state fair — all come with flag-waving, anthem-singing, and the implicit belief that America is the best because we have the most “freedom.”  But does this assumption comport with facts, or is it a reductive, even jingoistic oversimplification?  The naïve citizen would claim that freedom means the ability to choose the direction your life will take, or a lack of undue burdens like oppression and bigotry.  These definitions create a false binary, putting freedom in the “good” category while consigning so-called “evils” like slavery, totalitarianism, unjust laws, bigotry, poverty and lack of opportunity to the “bad” category.  That kind of black-and-white thinking might fly in kindergarten, but it simply won’t do for the sophisticated readers of the Paper of Record!  They demand nuanced, rigorous thought.

New York Times editorialists are ready to give it to them.  And for most, that can mean only one thing.  Continue reading “Bobos in the Panopticon; or, Why Does the New York Times Hate Freedom?”

Trend of the Week: Extreme Facials

Here’s a little Cosmo-style quiz.  Instead of testing your Penis Perspicacity, you’re finding out whether you have what it takes to live the New York Times Style section lifestyle!  Just think about the question, formulate your answer, then read on to find your score.

You look in the mirror, and notice your skin isn’t looking very radiant.  You want to look younger, eliminate wrinkles and clogged pores, and have softer, more supple skin than ever. What do you do?

Continue reading “Trend of the Week: Extreme Facials”

Eggs, Bugs and Joseph Conrad: An Anti-Ethicist Manifesto

The great thinkers of humanity’s past have devised many ethical systems, all purporting to tell conscientious citizens how to do the right thing.  From Islamic law and the Ten Commandments to the Golden Rule and the Yamas and Niyamas of yogic philosophy — from Utilitarianism to liberal humanism to the Categorical Imperative and even Objectivism — these codes seek to answer our deepest questions.  Is our greatest responsibility to ourselves, or others?  Individuals, or the community?  What about animals, and the environment?  Are corporations people?   Is it permissible to bring your own candy into the movie theater?  Is straying from the path of virtue the same as pigging out on pizza and fries?

Yes, the world’s tradition of moral reasoning is indeed diverse.  Put it all in a blender with some whimsical self-deprecation, add water, and you’ve got the New York Times Ethicist column.  Continue reading “Eggs, Bugs and Joseph Conrad: An Anti-Ethicist Manifesto”

Trend of the Week: Nail Polish

It’s impossible to keep up with New York Times inanity.  Every day there’s something to be incredulous about — like “truth vigilante,” “men invented the internet,” or the time David Brooks said his 12-year-old son’s “heroes include John Boehner and Tupac Shakur.”  Trying to read it all is like drinking from a fire hose, never mind producing comprehensive blog posts.  To make a greater dent in the backlog, I am launching the “Trend of the Week” series.  Each week, I will explore a recent (or not-so-recent) craze presented to us by the Paper of Record.

Today, we examine “Once Staid, Nail Polish Becomes Fashion Accessory,” by Style section colossus Ruth La Ferla.  Continue reading “Trend of the Week: Nail Polish”

How to Be Cool

Picture an educated, culturally literate member of the upper middle class.  Someone who’s in touch with art, cuisine, music, literature.  This person has a professional job and lives in an urban center.  Overall, her or his lot in life is a fortunate one.  But this person isn’t getting any younger.  The carefree undergraduate days of doing drugs and staying up until the dawn are over — five, ten, maybe even twenty-five years in the past.  This person could slide gracefully into obsolescence and let the younger generation have their outlandish trends, but that option isn’t too appealing.  After all, in Today’s Globally Connected World of Social Media, each vicissitude of taste is on display, vulnerable to critique by people who are skinnier and go to more parties.  Any evidence of lameness will be immediately noted and remembered forever.  This person feels painfully exposed!  In these circumstances, keeping up to date feels essential — even as it becomes more unattainable with each Pitchfork Music Festival that goes by.

Does this sound familiar?  Yes, New York Times reader, it’s a description of you!  Or so the typical New York Times culture writer appears to believe.  Maybe it isn’t.  But it’s definitely a description of the typical New York Times culture writer.    And these authors’ thoughts on the issues of relevance, timeliness and hipness are instructive.  Because they are offered up to the gaze of millions of readers, their struggles for cool are those of the average social media user, writ large.  In the case of these beleaguered scribes (though hopefully not the rest of us), the result is a hideous vicious cycle of self-conscious navel-gazing, ironic quipping, defensive posturing, and counterintuitive trend-prognisticating designed to make the writer feel ahead of the curve.

Hence all the articles about “New Speakeasy in Bushwick” and “Meditation is the New Botox” and whatnot.  This discourse’s ostensible purpose is to help us understand the trending topics of today, so we can feel like the stylish young things we once were.  But cultural phenomena are ephemeral, appearing and disappearing like the wind.  And no one really cares about a new line of cruelty-free fountain pen ink or artisanal baking soda, anyway.  Paying attention to the pieces’ actual subject matter does us no good.   If we wish to grasp the essence of New York Timesian cool, we must get beyond the minutia to the “deep structure” that underlies it.

Continue reading “How to Be Cool”