After a busy week of news — elections, Supreme Court arguments, the World Series and, alas, a never-ending pandemic — today’s newsletter is going to try something different. My colleagues and I will tell you about six stories that we can’t stop thinking about and that you may have missed this week.
They are a mix of long and short, from The Times and not. If you have a little time, we recommend reading any that intrigue you. If you don’t, we hope you enjoy our curation. We think that the stories capture some of the undercurrents of American life right now.
And have a good weekend. I’ll see you in your inbox on Monday.
Airlines have canceled thousands of flights. Lines at stores — especially drugstores — have grown. Restaurants no longer carry some items, like physical menus.
The quality of many services has deteriorated since the start of the pandemic — a problem that the NPR show “Planet Money” has labeled “skimpflation.” This deterioration, in turn, is feeding Americans’ dissatisfaction with the state of the economy, as well as with life in general and with President Biden’s performance, as Helaine Olen explained in The Washington Post.
“Americans, as I am forever fond of pointing out, view civic life through the role of consumer,” Olen wrote. “We don’t encounter the government every day (or at least don’t believe we do), but we do shop and use in-person services almost constantly. And compared to the past, American consumption is getting both increasingly expensive and, well, decreasingly nice.”
When will the situation return to normal? Nobody knows. The answer will help determine the national mood during next year’s midterm campaign.
Rabbis questioning Israel
An extraordinary open letter appeared in a public Google Doc this spring. It was signed by 93 students at Jewish seminaries — representing nearly one-fifth of all students at the U.S. schools where they were studying — and it was harshly critical of Israel.
The back story of that letter and the movement behind it is the subject of a Times Magazine article by Marc Tracy. The movement’s members are young, progressive Jews who are rethinking their support for Israel and who ground their arguments in Jewish texts.
They still represent a minority of American Jews; most support a Jewish state, even if they have criticisms of Israeli policy. But Marc’s exploration of these young rabbis — complete with a visit to a part-kibbutz, part-summer camp in Connecticut — gets at a larger tension in the country today: In one area after another, a new generation of progressives believes that their predecessors were too accepting of injustice.
If you don’t yet have an opinion about Dormzilla, you may need one.
Charlie Munger, a billionaire and longtime deputy to Warren Buffett, donated $200 million to the University of California, Santa Barbara, several years ago with some specific conditions. The gift would pay for a new dorm — on a campus with too little housing — that would be named for Munger and that Munger (who is not an architect) would design.
The 11-story building was projected to house 4,500 students. About 94 percent of the units would have no access to natural light or fresh air. After a Los Angeles architect on a university advisory committee resigned in protest, the story of Dormzilla, as The Santa Barbara Independent calls it, went national. It was a tale of generational inequality and billionaire hubris.
Or was it? In New York magazine, Choire Sicha argued that Dormzilla is actually a solution to some of our problems. We need more housing density and fewer spaces that go unused for large chunks of the day. Nobody can look out of a window while they’re asleep.
Día de los Muertos
An annual holiday to honor the dead — begun in Mexico and known as Día de los Muertos — took place early this week. A typical celebration revolves around an ofrenda, an offering that includes a photograph of the deceased person.
The Los Angeles Times suggested that readers submit a digital ofrenda and published the hundreds of responses that it received. Together, they are a poignant statement about a year with far too much illness and death.
The Daylight Saving fight
On Saturday night, Americans will set their clocks back one hour, but there is a growing movement against the annual fall-back tradition.
It favors permanent daylight saving time, which would lead to lighter winter afternoons and darker winter mornings. The Times’s Argument podcast hosted an expert who said that the change would reduce rush-hour vehicle accidents and energy usage. (A bipartisan group of senators has proposed a bill along these lines, and Senator Patty Murray of Washington gave a speech yesterday making the case for it.)
Josh Barro of Insider has made the other side of the argument, writing that the sun shouldn’t rise after 8 a.m. in December — and that when the U.S. tried permanent daylight saving time during the 1970s energy crisis, people hated it. Barro’s message: Feel free to keep whining, but turn back your clocks.
Books in the city
“Even in the busiest of places, if you have a good book, you can retreat into solitude,” my colleague Anika Burgess writes. “And when you live in a city like New York, a book can be even more than a story at your fingertips. It can also be a respite, an escape, a sanctuary, a diversion and a travel companion.”
As part of its 125th anniversary celebration, The Times Book Review published photos of people sneaking some reading time around New York. You can see a couple of the photos in today’s newsletter and find the whole wonderful collection here.
THE LATEST NEWS
Other Big Stories
More than 40 countries pledged to abandon coal power. The U.S., China and India were not among them.
California proposed math guidelines that de-emphasize calculus, reject the idea of naturally gifted children and build a connection to social justice. A fierce debate followed.
The University of Florida has barred several professors from testifying against the state on topics including mask mandates and voting rights.
Government forces in Ethiopia’s capital are rounding up Tigrayans, members of the same ethnic group as the rebels who are closing in.
The A.N.C., South Africa’s governing party, had its worst election since the end of apartheid.
To win elections defined by culture war, Democrats need a positive moral vision, says David Brooks.
Margaret Renkl just turned 60. She feels 22.
Maybe it’s time to get rid of election polls, the pollster Patrick Murray, who misjudged the New Jersey governor’s race, writes in The Star-Ledger.
Are we in the metaverse yet?
What is the future of the internet? If you ask many leaders in tech, it’s the metaverse. In its simplest form, the term — coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash” — describes an online universe that people can share together, one where the internet and emerging technologies are even more enmeshed in our lives.
Though the concept sounds very sci-fi, glimpses of that future already exist. In video games like Roblox and Animal Crossing, players can build their own worlds and visit one another’s. Virtual and augmented reality are also related to the metaverse — there are tens of millions of virtual-reality headsets in circulation, mostly for gaming. If you own an NFT or cryptocurrency, that’s also a part of the metaversal experience, John Herrman and Kellen Browning wrote in July.
The tech world is invested in the metaverse’s potential for “social connection, experimentation, entertainment and, crucially, profit,” they write. Last week, Facebook rebranded as Meta.
“For now, talk of the metaverse is mainly a branding exercise: an attempt to unify, under one conceptual banner, a bunch of things that are already taking shape online,” Herrman wrote this week. — Sanam Yar, a Morning writer