Sunday read: The information-industrial Googleplex

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It says pretty much everything you need to know about Google that its name became a verb for Internet search within a few years of its founding — even if the company itself would rather you save it for when you use its engine.

But the company’s friendly ubiquity sometimes hides its dominance. As The New York Times observes in an op-ed, Google has an 88 percent market share in search advertising. And to think that people used to complain about Ma Bell.

Maybe, in fact, Google is a little too dominant. It’s not just that SEO (search-engine optimization) has become an actual job, mainly spent tweaking pages so they can rank high in Google search; it’s that Google, which promised to democratize information, has bigfooted actual information gatherers.

That’s the subject of today’s Sunday read: “How Google eats a business whole,” by Adrianne Jeffries.

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Sunday read: A woman with a story to tell

Image from ESPN

My friend Jessica Ravitz Cherof has a knack for telling richly human stories — the kind where uncertainty and shades of gray suggest the depth, and variety, of hard-earned experience.

Among her wonderful pieces are one on Aesha, an Afghan woman whose face was disfigured by violence; and a look at spiritual struggles, which found as many questions as answers when she went off to Rishikesh, India, to face some of her own.

Her most recent story, about a breast cancer survivor, is my Sunday read.

Paulette Leaphart gained a modicum of fame for announcing she was going to walk from her home in Mississippi to Washington, D.C., topless, to raise awareness for breast cancer. Leaphart had had a double mastectomy and was catnip to many journalists looking for a feel-good story. Who could argue with such heroics?

Jessica, too, thought Leaphart had a wonderful story and accompanied her in North Carolina for a day to gather background.

But Leaphart wasn’t quite what she seemed. As Jessica wrote:

Some stories land on a journalist’s plate like manna from heaven. They’re perfect morsels you can’t wait to share. Others arrive a mess of ingredients with no recipe to follow. This one started the first way and finished the other.

As Jessica dug into Leaphart’s personal history, the feel-good story turned into something more … well, let’s say awkward. Was Leaphart whom she said she was? Yes — and no.

I’m not going to spoil it for you. Just be prepared for surprises.

You can find “The Naked Truth” here.

Sunday read: An eye on the time

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I love watches. I love the fact that some minuscule gears, springs and rotors can be arranged to tell time to within seconds every 24 hours. I love the designs, though I tend to favor minimalism over the dinner plate-sized wrist weights that have gained favor in recent years. I don’t care that my phone, my pedometer and my tablet all display the time in easy-to-read numbers. I look at my analog wrist.

In this I have something in common with author Gary Shteyngart, he of “Absurdistan,” “Super Sad True Love Story” and “Little Failure” fame. (Gary, I’m linking to your publisher’s page because your own appears to be down. Update, 11:24 a.m.: It’s back up.)

In a recent New Yorker article, Shteyngart confesses his own fascination with watches. He started with a cheap Casio, progressed to a Seiko and Fossil, and then mentions the day in 2016 he walked out of a New York Tourneau store with a $4,000 Nomos on his wrist.

His story is my Sunday read.

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Sunday reads: Chuck


Some stories about the death and life of Chuck Berry, the man who helped start a revolution:

And if you aren’t in the mood to read, well, just listen. Nobody said it better than Charles Anderson Edward Berry.

Sunday read: One day, LaGuardia will not suck

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I hate flying into New York’s LaGuardia Airport, and I’m not alone: It’s the poster child of overcrowded, dilapidated airports. As Joe Biden noted a few years ago, “If I blindfolded you and took you to LaGuardia Airport in New York, you would think, ‘I must be in some third-world country.’ ”

To which he added, after his audience started laughing, “I’m not joking.”

I imagine he also wouldn’t joke about Newark, where last summer I sat at a gate with fans — fans! — blowing warm, humid air around because the air conditioning wasn’t working properly.

OK, so New York’s airports are shameful. What about O’Hare? LAX? DFW? They’ve all managed to add some bells and whistles, but they’re still not as sleek as their counterparts in Europe and Asia. (Though, at least, you can take public transit to some of them — which is the norm overseas. How nice it was to land at Amsterdam’s Schiphol many years ago and board a train into the city. Another demerit for you, New York.)

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Sunday read: This story made me barking mad

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As you’ve probably noticed from the occasional photos of my cats, I’m an animal lover.

My family had dogs and cats when I was growing up, and upon getting my first solo apartment, I went out and adopted Queenie (1995-2014), who was soon followed by Thelonious (1996-2000, probably of a kitty version of Marfan’s syndrome), and now I’ve got Gillespie (1999- ), Oscar (2007- ) and Mulligan (2013- ).

If I had more patience and time, there would be dogs, too. Just that I always felt that I spent so much time at work that it wouldn’t be fair to the dog. Short of feeding and scooping, the cats can mostly take care of themselves. (And you know what they say: You own dogs, but cats own you.)

Three of my five cats were adopted from shelters; the other two were being given away by acquaintances and needed a home. (Need your own furball? If you’re in the Atlanta area, please visit PAWS. They’re wonderful. I’ll also put in a good word for the fine people at the Humane Society of Huron Valley near Ann Arbor, Michigan.) Nothing against people who buy purebreds in pet stores or from breeders if they can afford them, but there are so many animals who are waiting for a human friend in shelters, and you can have them for the cost of shots and tags.

Which is why this article in Bloomberg Businessweek made me angry. It’s my Sunday read.

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Belated Sunday read: What’s everyone clicking on?

Image from for the three people — including me — who a) actually read physical newspapers and b) own an elaborate pen.

Whoops! I didn’t have a Sunday read prepared this morning. So let’s just go to the vox populi and see what the Internets are yammering about. Here are the most-read stories on a variety of sites:

The Atlantic: I Was a Muslim in Trump’s White House. Rumana Ahmed talks about what it was like to be one of many enemies of the people — even as she tried to bring down those other enemies, the ones from other countries threatening America, as a National Security Council staffer. Chilling paragraph:

The climate in 2016 felt like it did just after 9/11. What made it worse was that this fear and hatred were being fueled by Americans in positions of power. Fifth-grade students at a local Sunday school where I volunteered shared stories of being bullied by classmates and teachers, feeling like they didn’t belong here anymore, and asked if they might get kicked out of this country if Trump won. I was almost hit by a car by a white man laughing as he drove by in a Costco parking lot, and on another occasion was followed out of the metro by a man screaming profanities: “Fuck you! Fuck Islam! Trump will send you back!”

The New York Times: Trump Intensifies His Attacks on Journalists and Condemns F.B.I. ‘Leakers.’ One wonders who’s calling all those journalists and saying outrageous things. Perhaps it’s John Barron?

Slate: Fox News Interviews Fake Expert on Sweden to Warn About Immigration Threat. Apparently a guest on Bill O’Reilly’s show wasn’t really a “Swedish Defense and National Security Adviser.”

Rolling Stone: Bill Paxton, Versatile ‘Big Love,’ ‘Twister’ Actor, Dead at 61. Paxton was great in pretty much anything he was in. Let’s also give shout-outs to “One False Move” and the underrated “Apollo 13,” the latter — in my view — Ron Howard’s best movie.

BBC: Warren Buffett upbeat on US business growth. The Oracle of Omaha praised “a tide of talented and ambitious immigrants” and said “babies born in America today are the luckiest crop in history” in his annual letter.

Also in the news: the death of Judge Joseph Wapner, the Mardi Gras parade accident in New Orleans (the driver of the runaway pickup truck had a blood-alcohol level of .232), and the Oscars.

Your regularly scheduled Sunday read will return next week.

Sunday read: The little graffiti that started the great big Syrian civil war

Image from Reuters via al Jazeera.

Power tends to corrupt, Lord Acton is credited with saying, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So it’s been for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, who was supposed to be a mild-mannered, London-trained ophthalmologist but has proven to be at least as ruthless as his father, Hafez al-Assad.

That’s been particularly apparent during Syria’s civil war, during which al-Assad has presided over the destruction of his country, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and a refugee crisis that has shaken the world. Yet he holds on to power thanks to what an Atlantic writer called “the devil’s endgame.”

And the whole thing started with one scrawled line: “It’s your turn, Doctor Bashar al-Assad.”

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Sunday read: The rise and fall of Mitch Ryder


I really enjoy the articles on Music Aficionado, which features a lot of material on classic acts and occasional obscurities, sometimes from unusual angles.

And also about subjects I hadn’t given much thought about. Like Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels.

For a couple years in the mid-’60s, Ryder was huge, known for manic, headlong versions of pop music chestnuts. (“Devil with the Blue Dress On” is the best example.) Suddenly the hits ended as suddenly as they began. I’d simply assumed that Ryder, like a lot of blazing singles acts, burned out when the trends turned to album-length releases and the move to psychedelia in 1967-68.

The truth is more complicated than that. It involves Bob Crewe — yes, of Four Seasons fame — a concert featuring Cream and the Who, and an LP that’s apparently truly awful.

It’s my Sunday read. You can enjoy it while listening to this:

That will wake you up.

You can find “What Happened to Mitch Ryder?” here.

Sunday read: Ne’er the twain shall meet?

Image from Mapio.
I’m a city boy: Born in New York, raised in New Orleans, a resident of Atlanta for the last half of my life. The smallest place I ever lived for longer than a summer was Ann Arbor, Michigan, a sizable college town. I love cities: I love their vitality, their diversity, their amazing infrastructure. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever lived in a municipality smaller than 100,000 people. (I’m not counting suburbs; living in Mamaroneck, N.Y., is still very much living in New York City’s orbit.)

So I have almost no common ground with the residents of Connersville, Indiana.

Connersville is a town of about 13,500 in east-central Indiana. It’s perhaps 70 miles but a world away from Indianapolis, the state capital and center of a metro area of more than 1.7 million. Eight hundred fifty thousand live in the city itself. If I were living in Indiana, I’d definitely live in Indianapolis. (And I’d probably drive to Chicago regularly.)

I’m not alone. The United States has become very much an urban-rural country, with a chasm of an urban-rural divide. As noted in a recent Atlantic article, “America’s Great Divergence,” Hillary Clinton won 88 of the 100 most populous counties in the U.S.

That, of course, was not enough to win the presidency. Donald Trump overwhelmingly won rural America; 72 percent of Fayette County, where Connersville is the county seat, voted for him.

“America’s Great Divergence” is my Sunday read.

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