The Boston Citgo sign, all 3,600 square LED feet of which has served as the backdrop to Red Sox games since 1965, is now officially a "pending landmark."

Spanish Surrealist Salvador Dalí spent much of the 1940s in the U.S., avoiding World War II and its aftermath. He was a well-known fixture on the art scene in Monterey, Calif. — and that's where the largest collection of Dalí's work on the West Coast is now open to the public.

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The middle of summer is when the surprises in publishing turn up. I'm talking about those quietly commanding books that publishers tend to put out now, because fall and winter are focused on big books by established authors. Which brings us to The Dream Life of Astronauts, by Patrick Ryan, a very funny and touching collection of nine short stories that take place in the 1960s and '70s around Cape Canaveral, Fla.

When the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union last month, the seaside town of Port Talbot in Wales eagerly went along with the move. Brexit was approved by some 57 percent of the town's residents.

Now some of them are wondering if they made the wrong decision.

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Solar Impulse 2 has landed in Cairo, completing the penultimate leg of its attempt to circumnavigate the globe using only the power of the sun.

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President Obama is challenging Americans to have an honest and open-hearted conversation about race and law enforcement. But even as he sits down at the White House with police and civil rights activists, Obama is mindful of the limits of that approach.

"I've seen how inadequate words can be in bringing about lasting change," the president said Tuesday at a memorial service for five law officers killed last week in Dallas. "I've seen how inadequate my own words have been."

Mice watching Orson Welles movies may help scientists explain human consciousness.

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The FBI says it is giving up on the D.B. Cooper investigation, 45 years after the mysterious hijacker parachuted into the night with $200,000 in a briefcase, becoming an instant folk figure.

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This is the first in a series of essays concerning our collective future. The goal is to bring forth some of the main issues humanity faces today, as we move forward to uncertain times. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, we will consider two kinds of threats: those due to natural disasters and those that are man-made. The idea is to expose some of the dangers and possible mechanisms that have been proposed to deal with these issues. My intention is not to offer a detailed analysis for each threat — but to invite reflection and, hopefully, action.

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Missing Out: On The Uses Of Dissatisfaction

Jan 22, 2013
Originally published on January 23, 2013 11:11 am

From Malcolm Gladwell to the Freakonomics guys to (discredited) science writer Jonah Lehrer, writers these past few years have flooded bookstores with popular nonfiction titles that purport to tell us how we think. But something has been lost amid the recent vogue for cognitive science and behavioral economics. What about the human part of human behavior — the dreams and desires that set us apart from animals and computers? Are we just assemblages of neurons and chemicals?

Adam Phillips, a prolific British writer and psychoanalyst, is one of the few prominent voices in the social sciences who defends a more abstract, mysterious human mind against the certainties of biology and cognitive science. In previous books he has wrestled with the virtues of monogamy, with the meaning of promises and with the fate of kindness in the modern world.

In Missing Out, his slightly messy but deeply humane new book, he turns to dissatisfaction: How do we cope with not having what we desire, or not being who we want to be? Although dissatisfaction may cause us pain, Phillips concedes, we shouldn't think of it as a weakness to be overcome. It's a natural part of human existence, and one that can ultimately provide us pleasure if we let it. "We may need to think of ourselves as always living a double life," Phillips writes, "the one we wish for and the one that we practice; the one that never happens and the one that keeps happening."

In a series of five essays, on themes ranging from the uses of frustration to the pleasures of misunderstanding, he shows us how to negotiate the tension between who we are and what we crave. (A sixth essay, on madness in the theater, is listed as an "appendix" but has almost nothing to do with the remainder of the book; perhaps it's here to pad out a publication of under 200 pages.) For citizens of the U.S. and other rich nations, "affluence has allowed more people than ever before to think of their lives in terms of choices and options." And modern media have rendered these other possible lives tantalizingly visible. That should and can be a source of pleasure, but it also wears us down.

Our desires exceed our abilities to satisfy them. That's just life. Yet too often we berate ourselves for not fulfilling our fantasies. Phillips argues that, contrary to the old Freudian tradition that adults have to moderate their desires and come to terms with disappointment, we should embrace frustration as a window into our true selves. Of course some frustrations are unhealthy. (I'm never going to be a tennis pro or a ballet dancer, and it's high time I accept it.) Just as often, though, dissatisfaction teaches us what we really want. We dream of a perfect meal or perfect vacation or perfect lover, only to find that the real world disappoints. But disappointment allows us to learn from experience, to think about our desires, and eventually to find satisfaction in something between what we desire and what we get. "We prefer our satisfactions without their requisite frustrations," he writes, but "it is only from our sense of frustration that we get a clue about the possibilities of satisfaction."

Although Phillips is a practicing child psychologist, he doesn't rely on case studies to make his arguments. In most of Missing Out, he sounds much more like a literary critic than a shrink, drawing examples from novelists like Graham Greene, from poets like John Ashbery or Philip Larkin and, in particular, from Shakespeare. He spends pages dissecting King Lear and even more time on Othello, a play that's all about how people react when they want something they can't have. Othello himself, with his self-destructive need for certainty about his wife's fidelity, is Phillips' ultimate tragic hero. (As a psychoanalyst, Phillips' bardolatry is understandable; according to the literary critic Harold Bloom, whom Phillips cites in this book, Freud was just "a prose version of Shakespeare.")

For readers of a more scientific bent, Phillips' frequent appeals to literature may seem out of place. His style, too — full of head-scratching paradoxes and qualified propositions (couched in phrases like "we might wonder" or "we might even say") — can sometimes be so fluid that it's difficult to pin down exactly what the writer believes. Yet Missing Out isn't supposed to be a scientific treatise on the architecture of the brain. It's a meditation on who we are that forgoes easy answers in favor of better questions. Because Phillips believes that, for imperfect, desiring creatures like us, the easy answers may be the most harmful ones. To avoid slipping into anger or revenge, he concludes, "We need ... to have better — more interesting, more enlivening, more satisfying — conversations about our frustrations." His book is a very good place to start.

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