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Saturday, April 18, 2020
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Suggestions for your senses,
every Saturday at 9 a.m.
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Good morning. 

This week, we (try to) cheer up with Reasons to Be Cheerful co-editor Will Doig, get our green thumbs going with Garden Plan Pro, trade in cocktails for Colorado-crafted CBD drops from Dram Apothecary, get reflective with an exclusive classical music playlist from architect (and once child-prodigy accordionist) Daniel Libeskind, and travel around the world ... with “destination soaps.”

On our At a Distance podcast, we talk with Tobias Rees, a director at the Berggruen Institute in Los Angeles; Long Now Foundation executive director Alexander Rose; Esquire magazine food and drinks editor Jeff Gordinier; New Standard Institute founder and director Maxine Bédat; and Donatien Grau of the Museé d’Orsay in Paris.

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See
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Cheer Leader
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Courtesy Reasons to Be Cheerful
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Will Doig, co-editor of the online magazine Reasons to Be Cheerful—founded and launched by David Byrne, with a focus on “solutions-oriented” stories—tells us why a dose of positivity can be a potent salve and a welcome tonic during an unrelenting news cycle. 

Reasons to Be Cheerful started as a personal project of David Byrne’s, before expanding and launching more formally as a magazine last year under his nonprofit, the Arbutus Foundation. Would you say this was a reaction to the 2016 election, or to the polarized news cycle more generally? 

I don’t know that he would say it was directly in response to the election, though there may have been an element of that. It basically started when David himself created a website, called it Reasons to Be Cheerful, and started writing stories about positive news that he was hearing and reading about. I think he just felt that, you know, the world is a crazy place. I’ve heard him describe it almost as this self-therapy project, and some of his friends and people he knew were writing for it, too. At a certain point, he decided he wanted it to become more of an online magazine for public consumption, and so, a year ago, he hired Christine [McLaren, the other co-editor] and me to help with that, and we relaunched the site in August. For all of us working on it, it’s been a really stabilizing experience during a destabilizing time.

What makes a story or topic right for RTBC? 

It’s a good question, because I do think that sometimes it’s easy to have a misconception of what we’re trying to do: It’s about good news. Then we’ve got a goofy name, and maybe this might just be another website with kitten videos. [Laughs] But what we try to deliver to readers is basically journalism that focuses on tangible progress, on problems that are out there in the world. [Mainstream] media focuses mostly on the problem, and we try to focus mostly on the solutions to those problems. Our criteria for stories [are] pretty strict, in that they are all about solutions that currently exist and have been implemented—not just good ideas, not just things that make you happy, but stories of actual progress in systemic solutions.

By focusing on solutions, I think that you can actually affect positive change and inspire people to be part of that change. Whereas, if you just focus on problems, there can be a dispiriting nature to it. I think all of us feel that, in a way, it’s very easy to have your perception of the world be warped by all of the information that’s out there—all the media, as well as the social media. You just start to think that everything’s terrible. Our stance is that things aren’t all terrible. There are good things happening out there as well, and to completely ignore them actually paints somewhat of an inaccurate picture.

RTBC covers a range of beats: climate change, culture, economy, education, tech, and more. What have been some of your most-read stories?

Two of our most popular stories were just published, about the current coronavirus crisis. One was a story that we ran a few weeks ago, about Taiwan’s response to the crisis, and how [that country] has had pretty substantial success at dealing with this situation, looking at what their outcome has been, and also why the country in particular has had so much success. And it turned out that it’s about how Taiwan views its political system. Here in the U.S., we tend to get really kind of sentimental about democracy—it’s all about the history and the pageantry—and Taiwan has a much more pragmatic view of democracy, which is: This needs to deliver concrete results for us, or else it’s not working. That kind of attitude—that kind of political system—comes in handy when you have a national emergency.

Another was from our Viewpoint series, which is for David’s occasional essays that are a bit different from our reported pieces. It was his take on what’s going on right now—and I’m a bit hesitant to try and summarize it because it’s his take, and I don’t want to describe it wrong, but I would encourage people to read it. It’s been the most popular piece we've ever run. 

It seems we’re all actively seeking reasons to be cheerful, these days more than ever. How has the pandemic affected or fueled the way you view and shape your coverage?

In one sense, we’re providing news about legitimate solutions that are happening right now, and that, a lot of the time, are flying under the radar. In fact, we’re in the process of putting together a story series that will be specifically about solutions implemented during this pandemic—not to the virus itself, but to various long-standing problems that we’ve never been able to get to the finish line for whatever reason, political, economic, or otherwise. But the crisis now has created an opening to implement solutions that never had a chance before. Things like relocalizing industry and universal basic income are being looked at seriously; a lot of climate change and urbanism solutions are being looked at, and so forth.

Another thing that I think we’re providing during this crisis would hopefully be a sense that we are all in this together, moving through it in a way that is hopeful, because I think that seeing solutions can make people feel encouraged that we can figure out a way and work together. 

What are some ways, on a personal level, that you’re trying to keep cheerful through this crisis?

This is a horrible time for pretty much everybody, and there’s not a lot of ways to put a happy spin on what’s happening—nor should we. It’s not that kind of time. I guess what I’m trying to focus on is that this is going to be an incredibly transformative experience. I truly believe that our world will never be the same after this, and my hope is that it will actually change for the better. I know that sounds a little Pollyanna-ish, of course, but I actually could see it happening. I certainly don’t think that things will go back to the way they were. And I think there are a lot of ways that things will actually get better in ways that are probably completely impossible for us to imagine now, because they’ll be so different, but I can foresee it happening.

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Touch
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Going Green
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Photo: Andrew Zuckerman
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The prospect of starting a home garden might conjure some Thoreauvian notion of going “back to the land” or returning to a now-forgotten analog way of living. That doesn’t necessarily need to be the case. To nurture a budding green thumb, there are now more accessible digital and smart-home tools than ever, and we’re obsessed. Two weeks ago in the newsletter, we highlighted the Edn smart garden; another we recommend—an especially aesthetically pleasing option—is the SproutsIO system. There’s also a user-friendly mobile app for this new reality: Made by a team of British developers, Garden Plan Pro offers an update to the classic Farmers’ Almanac, with a detailed glossary of plants and flowers along with their peak seasonal ranges and the ideal plantings to pair them with. A planner allows you to mock up a layout-and-grow schedule into a calendar to visually track your progress. With all sorts of suggestions, from how to best space your plantings, to reminders as to when to harvest and rotate your crops, it’s like the modern farmer’s little black book and SimCity rolled into one. Siri, let’s get gardening.

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Taste
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Cocktail Cure
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Courtesy Dram Apothecary
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Daytime drinking is on the up—hey, it’s 5 p.m. somewhere (not that we can keep track of time these days, though the #HandMarkingTime Stories on our @slowdown.tv Instagram at least help us remember which day of the month it is). But if you prefer not to risk getting a hangover, or weakening your immunity, there are other ways to imbibe and unwind without getting tipsy. Indulging in a sparkling drink spiked with adaptogens and a bit of CBD (that’s the calming, relaxing counterpart to marijuana’s THC—it won’t get you high) feels like a sigh of relief in a can. The Colorado-based Dram Apothecary makes a version of the increasingly popular drink in a range of flavors, such as cardamom and black tea, using CBD extracted from organic local hemp. The company also offers botanical bitters (our favorite is Wild Mountain Sage) and switchels, as well as a set of CBD tinctures that you can either drop directly on your tongue, or add to any drink or recipe you like—responsibly, of course.

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Hear
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Classical Studies
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Photo: Stefan Ruiz
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The prolific Polish-American architect and artist Daniel Libeskind—renowned for his bold-faced projects, such as the Jewish Museum in Berlin and the Denver Art Museum—finds great inspiration and creative kinship in music. A lesser-known fact: He was a regularly performing accordion prodigy for much of his childhood. Here, he shares with us a playlist of classical pieces that are helping him navigate this tumultuous time.

Chaconne in G Minor,” Tomaso Antonio Vitali (performed by Jascha Heifetz)
“The height of virtuosity and depth of emotion.”

Waltz no. 4 in F Major, Op. 34 No. 3,” Frédéric Chopin (performed by Dinu Lipatti)
“Aristocracy of the piano and intellectual delicacy.”

Invention no. 13 in A Minor, BWV 784,” Johann Sebastian Bach (performed by Glenn Gould)
“Transcendental playing, and Bach’s medium.”

3 Etudes in Concert, S. 144: No. 3 in D-Flat Major ‘Un sospiro,’” Franz Liszt (performed by Daniil Trifonov)
“Freshness, lucidity, and unsentimental romanticism.”

3 Gymnopédies: No. 3, Lent et grave,” Erik Satie (arranged by Barker & Balsam for Trumpet and Jazz Orchestra, performed by Alison Balsom and the Guy Barker Orchestra)
“Satie and jazz with a haunting atmosphere.”

Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night), Op. 4: IV. Sehr breit und langsam,” Arnold Schoenberg (performed by Isabelle Faust)
“Gorgeous playing, full of wisdom.”

Tangos: III. Tenebroso,” Marcelo Bratke (performed by Ernesto Nazareth and Darius Milhaud)
“Joyful dynamism, and a window into Brazil.”

Tambourin,” Jean-Philippe Rameau (performed by Vikingur Olafsson)
“Echoes of Gould, with mellow warmth.”

Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35, TH 59: 3. Finale. Allegro vivacissimo,” Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (performed by Daniel Lozakovich, National Philharmonic Orchestra of Russia, Vladimir Spivakov)
“Perfect Russian exuberance and youthful vigor.”

Piano Sonata No. 7 in B-Flat Major, Op. 83: III. Precipitato,” Sergei Prokofiev (performed by Alexander Melnikov)
“Transparent playing, with careful rage.”

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Smell
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Nose Trip
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Courtesy Claus Porto
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As most of us remain stuck indoors, the spring days passing us by, inching toward summer and conjuring attendant escapist daydreams of afternoons spent lazing on beaches and in parks, we’re finding ourselves drawn to scents that evoke luscious memories of vacations past (and those we hope to take). More than those of our other four senses, olfactory memories imprint themselves in our minds—a fact that, thankfully, we can use to imbue a special touch to our daily hand-washing or bathing routines. Lather up with Claus Porto’s handsomely wrapped and scented soaps and let your mind wander to Portugal. Or head over to Positano by way of a bottle of Eau d’Italie shower gel. Famously stocked at the spectacular, immaculate Le Sirenuse hotel, it captures the salty-citrus musk of Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Cleaning up with this beautiful green Scändic farmer soap made with stone-ground grits and geranium, patchouli, and lemongrass essential oils, meanwhile, has us imagining an endless summer day in the Norwegian countryside‚ where the sun barely sets for much of June and July. We also love Binu Binu’s marble-swirled Korean Kiln Sauna Soap. Made with pine, activated charcoal, and red clay, it transports us directly to a long, relaxing day on South Korea’s Jeju Island.

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Until next week...

Today’s email was written by Aileen Kwun.

Editor: Spencer Bailey
Creative Director: Andrew Zuckerman
Producer: Mike Lala
Copy Editor: Mimi Hannon

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