Mental Yoga Sunday / 5 Favorite Long Form Reads This Week / Issue No. 20

See, I was nine years old when I saw Elvis on ‘Ed Sullivan’, and I had to get a guitar the next day. I stood in front of my mirror with that guitar on...and I knew then that’s what has been missing.
— Bruce Springsteen
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I like the world but I hate the noise of it all, and sometimes clarity comes in the form of a quiet day and words on a page. This Sunday's edition we're doing a little Mental Yoga stretching our thoughts around things like Bruce on Broadway, Germany's definition of success and happiness, the originator of the hot chicken craze, Puerto Rico's dire straits and its fight for statehood and the great Kate McKinnon really not wanting to discuss her personal life. Embrace the muzzling of all the chatter.

"It started at the White House. On Jan. 12, in the last weeks of the Obama administration, Mr. Springsteen played an acoustic concert in the East Room as the Obama family’s parting gift for about 250 staffers. For Mr. Springsteen, who takes every performance seriously, it was a moment of reckoning. He carefully assembled a set list spanning his career; he illuminated the songs with spoken stories and memories echoing “Born to Run,” the autobiography he published in 2016.

“There was a lot of storytelling, which goes back to our early days at the Bottom Line when you were in front of a couple of hundred people,” Mr. Springsteen said in an interview at his home studio in Colts Neck, N.J., recalling the Greenwich Village club where his shows in summer 1975became a sensation. “It worked in a very, very intimate setting.”

Heading home from Washington, Mr. Springsteen and his wife, Patti Scialfa, and his manager, Jon Landau, thought more people should experience a performance like that. “The way he combines the spoken words with the songs he’s chosen to do sounds like a very simple thing,” Mr. Landau said. “But it’s a real piece of performance art.”" - Read Full Story

"If Silicon Valley ever formed a political party, it might look a lot like the current iteration of Germany’s Free Democrats, or FDP. In the 2017 election cycle, the FDP offered a platform that reads like what Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg would come up with if they decided to disrupt Rand Paul. Its primary aspirations include creating a startup-friendly economy, digitizing Germany’s monolithic reams of bureaucratic paperwork (no small feat), and, yes, radically reduce income taxes, which currently top off at 45% for the highest earners.

The platform has propelled the party back from the dead. Having been kicked out of the Germany’s parliament, or Bundestag, in 2013, the FDP came roaring back with 10% of the vote in Sunday’s election.

To some, this might suggest that a cultural shift is afoot in Germany. After all, the FDP’s leader, a magnetic 38-year-old named Christian Lindner, has openly expressed a desire to shake things up. In an August interview with the Economist, in which he called Germany’s economy “a prosperity hallucination,” Lindner also explained that in his country, “entrepreneurship has long been undervalued … and societies that are prepared to be more daring and have efficient capital markets have overtaken us on this.” Germans could be “world leaders” in the new economy, he said, “but we have to want it.

But that’s the thing: The vast majority of Germans don’t want it. For progressive and even centrist Germans, the startup-style definition of Erfolg (or “success”) is utterly incompatible with their values—which do not center on individual wealth, recognition, or even careers. Though the FDP’s showing was meteoric compared with recent years, Germany’s cultural mores—which include a vehement defense of the country’s robust social safety net, largely credited for the relatively quick recovery from last decade’s recession—mean it is largely inoculated from the bootstrap fever that has long gripped the US." - Read Full Story

"The deepening humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico reveals a disaster response that is categorically different from the actions taken in the wake of hurricanes that struck the continental U.S. recently. While Fuentes praised the efforts of the president, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, he outlined several needs that may not be in the offing.

"Short term—like, tomorrow—Puerto Rico needs a waiver on the Jones Act, so we can start bringing stuff in without the imposition of the Jones Act," Fuentes said on Tuesday, before the Department of Homeland Security delivered a no verdict. "Hospitals are running with generators. Frozen-food warehouses are running on generators. They need to get diesel if we want to keep that food."

Next, Congress will take up the issue of a hurricane relief package for Puerto Rico. Or maybe not: Politico reports that a formal funding request is still weeks away, as the devastation in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands is so widespread that an assessment cannot be made. Still, Congress passed a major hurricane relief package just six days after Hurricane Harvey struck Texas. And the government relaxed the Jones Act to deal with the Exxon Valdez oil spill—an ecological tragedy, but far from a humanitarian catastrophe.

Puerto Rico will have no real say in whatever decision Congress makes. The stakes could not be higher: One estimate pegs hurricane damages at more than $72 billion. Maria came just a month after Puerto Rico declared a soft bankruptcy in May—following a debt crisis that Fuentes and other critics say was spurred in large part by Puerto Rico's inequitable standing vis-à-vis the rest of the country. It's possible that the damages wrought by Maria could even exceed the debt that ruined the island financially." - Read Full Story

"Kate arrives on time to the minute. I’m early, so I have a chance to observe her as she enters. She’s dressed down. Movie stars are typically dressed down for these occasions. (Another reason they’re deceptive: people come costumed as though it’s playtime, not work.) But Kate isn’t dressed movie-star down, i.e., the kind of down that’s flattering to the figure and still involves the application of a not inconsiderable amount of makeup, i.e., a stylist-approved, camera-ready kind of down. Kate’s dressed real-person down, i.e., badly: oversize T-shirt and pants that aren’t quite sweat but close enough; sneakered feet; face cosmetics-free; hair in a ponytail, or, rather, what would be a ponytail if she hadn’t failed to tug the hair all the way through the elastic, leaving it in a sort of ponytail-bun limbo.

As quickly as I’m struck by how un-vain she is, I’m struck by how much she has to be vain about. She’s very pretty: small-bodied and full-lipped with cat eyes—pale blue and almond-shaped and slanting—tawny skin and hair, dimples she can twitch into existence without even smiling. She’s 33 but appears younger, a few years out of college. I’d watched hours of footage of her in preparation for this encounter yet had somehow missed her great good looks. Not that she photographs poorly. It’s just that in most scenes she’s impersonating a woman far, far older than she (Debette Goldry, legend of the silver screen, a fictional creation) or a woman far older (the all-too-real Betsy DeVos) or a man (Robert Durst) or a boy-man (Justin Bieber). And her face is rarely in repose. She’s often stretching it in some crazy, rubbery way, thrusting out her jaw, baring her teeth." - Read Full Story


Burned Out (

"The first time I went to Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, I was 12 years old, and I didn’t even eat the chicken. My dad, though, ordered his “hot” — one of six heat levels spicy enough to force beads of sweat from one’s brow onto the table, one soft drop at a time. While he ate, he remarked that the heat radiating from the plate didn’t just linger in the air or settle on your lips, it sat with you for days afterward. As the old ceiling fans helicoptered above, I sat silently in the pew-like booth, flirting with some fries that had absorbed a whisper of heat from sharing the same cast-iron skillet as the chicken, but never mustering the courage to take a bite.

My dad, undeterred, took me and my sister back again and again over the years. Eventually, we learned to sweat together, and I saw that the world was much bigger than home: Prince’s was a visit to “the other side of the tracks,” 30 minutes from the mostly white suburb where I grew up. My hometown, just north of Nashville, was the kind of place where the most thrilling food was a cheese-smothered appetizer at O’Charley’s and where, when I’d try to explain hot chicken to friends at school, they would ask with a bewildered look if I meant buffalo chicken. Looking back, I realize now that Prince’s was one of the few places we’d go and see people who looked like us." - Read Full Story