The Eighteenth Best Email We Wrote This Past Weekend
The Eighteenth Best Email We Wrote This Past Weekend: HMM WEEKLY PREMIUM for May 21, 2019
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LAST WEEK ON HMM DAILY
The Final Update: Game of F•R•I•E•N•D•S
A New Memory
I was in the middle of working on something or other when a desktop alert jumped up on my screen.
I despise alerts and everything they represent. I'm guilty enough of fracturing my own attention and misapplying my own priorities; the idea of granting multiple other parties the power to jump in front of my ever-moving eyeballs seems like complete self-annihilation. I can't understand why anyone puts up with any of them, except on the phone for incoming messages—real messages, not somebody typing something in Slack. I disable them everywhere I can.
It had never occurred to me, however, to disable the alerts for the Photos application. It had never occurred to me that the Photos application would have alerts. Photos, was, as I understood it, entirely unidirectional and receptive. It existed for me to put my photos into it. If anything was happening in there, I was the one making it happen.
And yet! The Macintosh operating system had other ideas. While I was doing what I thought I needed to be doing, it was rifling through my photo archive, trying to automatically generate content that I might be interested in seeing. Perhaps, the AI decided, what I most wanted was to be reminded of what I had been doing three thousand one hundred and twenty-five days ago.
(If you want to know how many days ago some arbitrary date was, I just now realized, you can simply type "days since [DATE]" into Google.)
"You have a new memory," it said as it offered me the content—a claim that was both a pernicious conceptual falsehood and, to the extent it was true, an entirely self-generated truth. "Celebrate Good Times - October 31, 2010," it added.
The Good Times it had come up with were illustrated with a photograph I'd taken of Michael Bloomberg, who was the mayor of New York City 3,125 days ago, standing in front of a rendering of uncanny people walking through a proposed do-nothing decorative concourse underneath the post office building on Eighth Avenue, where (I remembered) officials were breaking ground for a meaningless expansion of Penn Station. The event was not, to the best of my recollection, a Good Time, although it was a part of the reporting for a New York Times op-ed piece that I ended up being happy to have co-written. By the time it was finished and published, in November of that year, I was on a cruise ship with expensive internet access and no shipboard newspapers, and my attempts to find a newspaper ashore were a humbling reminder of how limited an accomplishment it is to publish a major-newspaper op-ed, but that was not part of the memory the operating system had constructed for me. Just Mayor Bloomberg and, when I clicked through, my firstborn child—at the time, my only child—wearing a fleece Halloween costume that made him either a dragon or a dinosaur. Dragosaur, we'd ended up calling it, since neither possibility had been completely persuasive on its own.
I only saw the costume photo today, when I chose to go into the Photos app to see what was going on. There was a whole stack of Memories waiting for me, assembled by the AI as it kept trying to see what might get me to engage with my own archive. A mass demonstration in Tian'anmen Square on May 19, 2008, to mourn the victims of the Sichuan earthquake. A trip to Hong Kong in December of that year, labeled "Back in the Day." A friend's 2005 wedding at Scientology headquarters in Washington, D.C. Ice floating by on the Hudson in the polar vortex in 2014, and my younger son playing with the chain of the window shade that same day. "Portraits of..." that younger child, with the ellipses representing the AI's desire to get me to tell it his name. To that end, it showed me a grid of photographs of faces it guessed might be him—including his face and his brother's face, gathered separately from a single photograph of them together, in the hopes they might be the same person. If I told the computer they were, what new memories might I end up with?
PUBLISHED TODAY: THE QUEEN
How well do you know what you know from reading the news? More than six years ago, while writing a column for Slate in the final days of the Mitt Romney campaign, I had a moment of doubt about a fact. I was writing about Republicans history of using "welfare" as racial code, and I remembered that Ronald Reagan had campaigned against a notorious Cadillac-driving "welfare queen"—but was the actual person Reagan had been talking about black? A quick Google search led to a deeper Google Books search, where a back issue of Jet reported that the woman in question, Linda Taylor, was "said to be able to change from Black to white to Latin with a mere change of a wig."
I wrote the piece so it didn't need to bring in Taylor and her unsettled ethnicity. But I shared the Jet story with my editor, Josh Levin. It would be a good long-term project for someone at Slate, I told him. Then, because I am lazy, I forgot all about it.
A little more than a year later, Josh had written 20,000 words about Linda Taylor, aka Connie Walker, "aka Linda Bennett...aka Linda Jones, aka Connie Jarvis." The person who was supposed to symbolize why regular people couldn't be trusted with welfare, he learned, had been an extraordinary criminal, one who'd left a winding trail of theft, fraud, baby-kidnapping, and quite possibly murder around the country, across the years, and back and forth over the color line. Today, Little, Brown is publishing The Queen, his book-length account of Taylor's grim and sensational life and career. The effort to pin her down, fact by fact, led him through archives and on multi-state reporting trips to talk to the people who'd dealt with her, indexed through 11 pages of bibliography and 50 pages of endnotes. That's what it took to straighten out the story of a woman who lied to everyone, and a country in the habit of lying to itself.
NINETEEN FOLKTALES: A SERIES
Illustration by Jim Cooke
17. The Osprey's Fortune
An osprey, stooping low over the river one day, caught sight of a large and unusually brilliant silver-blue fish right at the surface. With a quick plunge, she struck the water and locked her talons around the fish's body. Wings beating heavily, she rose skyward with her bulky and wriggling prize.
As they cleared the treetops and the sun flashed on the fish, it bent its head around to plead with its captor. "I am no ordinary fish," the fish said. "If you set me loose, I will grant you a wish, any wish you like."
"I am a fish hawk," said the osprey. "What I want is fish, fresh fish-meat to feed on. What could or should I wish for beyond that?"
"What about health?" said the fish. "What about fine weather, or assurances your children will thrive? What about a nest built not of sticks but of snug, dry masonry, secure against storms and cool in the heat?"
"Fish," said the osprey, as they rose still higher. "Fish is what I desire, and fish is what I have."
"All the fish you could eat," said the fish. "Other fish. This could be yours."
The osprey slowed her ascent. "How do I know you have the power to deliver any of this?"
"Look below," said the fish, flipping a fin to indicate the water. Where it gestured, a school of fish broke the surface. The osprey could see even from a height that they were plump and slow-moving.
"Every time you pass over the waters," the fish said, "your dinner will rise to meet you, for as long as I live."
The osprey pondered the offer. She could feel through her toes that this fish was firm and healthy, unquestionably delicious to eat. But there were the other fish below, in abundance.
"Very well," she said, and glided back down toward the river. Her talons opened, and the fish plunged back toward the water—only to be caught, a yard or two above the surface, by an eagle that had been lurking nearby, waiting for a chance to pilfer a meal. The eagle laughed and snapped its beak down on the brilliant fish's spine, and the other fish in the water sank out of view.
We present here for your (and our) continued amusement, delectation, and possible irritation select recipes for archaic but reproducible sandwiches, hand-picked from The Up-To-Date Sandwich Book: 400 Ways to Make a Sandwich, published in 1909 and now in the public domain. Pretty sure we have finally run out of sardine recipes. Before we get to this week's sandwiches, here is an excerpt from the foreword.
The first requisite in the preparation of good sandwiches is to have perfect bread in suitable condition. Either white, brown, rye, or entire wheat bread may be used, but it should be of close, even texture and at least one day old.
French rolls may be used for picnics and out-of-door luncheons. Remove from the top of each roll a piece of the crust the size of a silver dollar, and with a spoon take out the centre. Fill the space with highly seasoned chopped meat, fish, lobster, or crab, replace lid, wrap in tissue paper, and serve with pickles or olives.
For very small, dainty sandwiches to be served at afternoon teas or luncheons, the bread may be baked at home in pound baking powder cans. These should only be half filled, and then allowed to rise before baking. You then have a round slice without crust.
Cream four ounces of butter, add gradually for ounces of brown sugar, four ounces of fine flour, four eggs one by one, a squeeze of lemon juice or a tablespoonful of rose water, and lastly a teaspoonful of baking powder. When thoroughly mixed, bake in shallow tins. Whip up till perfectly thick a quarter of a pint of cream, spread this on half the strips and cover with the other sandwich-fashion. Ice these sandwiches over with chocolate icing.
CHINESE NUT SANDWICH
Stone two cups of Chinese nuts, moisten with three tablespoonfuls of thick cream, sweetened with a little honey; spread on slices of lightly buttered white bread. Cover with another slice and cut in squares..
Lightly butter slices of white bread; cover half of them with thin slices of the white meat of roasted chicken; put over this a thin layer of dill pickles; cover with another slice of buttered bread, trim off the crusts, cut in triangles, and serve on a lettuce leaf.
Slice a mild sweet onion and lay in salted ice water for a half-hour. Mix with a good mayonnaise dressing, and place slices of onion between well buttered slices of Boston brown bread cut thin.
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