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ALARMS AND DIVERSIONS FOR THE THINKING PERSON

Forum File

Saturday, May 4, 2013 - 12:01 am

The reading list

“In the days before the Internet, eating at an unknown restaurant meant relying on a clutch of quick and dirty heuristics. The presence of many truck drivers or cops at a lonely diner supposedly vouchsafed its quality (though it may simply have been the only option around). For 'ethnic' food, there was the classic benchmark: 'We were the only non-[insert ethnicity] people in there.' Or you could spend anxious minutes on the sidewalk, under the watchful gaze of the host, reading curling, yellowed reviews, wondering if what held in 1987 was still true today. In an information-poor environment, you sometimes simply went with your gut (and left clutching it).

“Today, via Yelp (or TripAdvisor or Amazon, or any Web site teeming with 'user-generated content'), you are often troubled by the reverse problem: too much information. As I navigate a Yelp entry to simply determine whether a place is worth my money, I find myself battered between polar extremes of experience: One meal was 'to die for,' another 'pretty lame.' Drifting into narrow currents of individual proclivity (writing about a curry joint where I had recently lunched, one reviewer noted that 'the place had really good energy, very Spiritual [sic], which is very important to me'), I eventually capsize in a sea of confusion. I either quit the place altogether or, by the time I arrive, am weighed down by a certain exhaustion of expectation, as if I had already consumed the experience and was now simply going through the motions.”

“What I find most striking is that, having begun the process of looking for reviews of the restaurant, I find myself reviewing the reviewers. The use of the word 'awesome' … is a red flag.”

– From “Star Wars” at wilsonquarterly.com

A quiz

What is the largest cell in the human body?

Wisdom of the ages

“Too often man handles life as he does the bad weather. He whiles away the time as he waits for it to stop.” – Alfred Polgar

Current wisdom

“I think the real response will be once he gets a job.” – Brooklyn Nets player Jerry Stackhouse, a friend of Jason Collins, who hopes to sign with a new team as a free agent after acknowledging he is gay.

Quiz answer

The female egg – it's the only one visible to the naked eye.

Snob words

cull (kuhl), v. – to choose, select, pick, as in: “The editorial writer decided not to do a piece on the politician's speech since he could not cull any sense from it.”

Today in history

On this date in 1626, Indians sold Manhattan Island for $24 in cloth and buttons; should have had a real estate agent.

Now you know

More than 65 million men from 30 countries fought in WWI. Nearly 10 million died.