1/13/2008 New York Times Digest

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1. “The Moral Instinct”

“According to Noam Chomsky, we are born with a ‘universal grammar’ that forces us to analyze speech in terms of its grammatical structure, with no conscious awareness of the rules in play. By analogy, we are born with a universal moral grammar that forces us to analyze human action in terms of its moral structure, with just as little awareness.”

2. “The Afterlife of Cellphones”

“Gillott estimates 50 to 60 percent of phones are replaced ‘because people get tired of the design.’ Otherwise, consumers want a new feature — even, it seems, if there’s no real need for it; according to M:Metrics, 82 percent of those with Internet-enabled phones do not go online. Steven Herbst, a psychology researcher at Motorola, told me: ‘All that pressure to have the latest — something that people will be impressed by — is compounded by the fact that all of a sudden somebody is doing something with their mobile phone that you can’t do.’ In other words, it’s because we’ve made phones such deep and indispensable extensions of ourselves that we dump them so quickly. Who can bear seeing himself as even slightly outdated or incapable?”

3. “Great Adaptations”

“Mass-market adaptations make Great Books go bad. Or so conventional wisdom would have it. But every so often, plundering and pillaging a canonical text for the sake of entertainment gives it the kiss of life. Take Beowulf and Paradise Lost. The unpalatable truth is that both originals are now virtually unreadable. Beowulf is written in Old English, an inflected Germanic tongue that looks a lot less like our language than one would hope. As for Milton’s epic, it’s in ‘normal’ English, but its blank verse is so densely learned, so syntactically complicated and philosophically obscure, that it’s almost never read outside college courses. Even Samuel Johnson, writing 100 years after Milton, said: ‘Paradise Lost is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is.’”

4. “Coaches Wanted in the Game of Life”

“Life coaches are like personal trainers for the psyche, and their ranks are growing. Many Americans want to go ‘from good to great,’ and they’re looking to life coaches to get them there, said Carol Kauffman, assistant clinical professor at Harvard Medical School, and co-founder and director of Harvard’s Coaching and Positive Psychology Initiative. Many coaches, like Ms. Driscoll, are accredited by a coaching organization. But no degrees or credentials are required to begin working as a life coach. There is also no federal or state oversight of the industry.”

5. “From 10 Hours a Week, $10 Million a Year”

“Markus Frind, a 29-year-old Web entrepreneur, has not read the best seller The 4-Hour Workweek — in fact, he had not heard of it when asked last week — but his face could go on the book’s cover. He developed software for his online dating site, Plenty of Fish, that operates almost completely on autopilot, leaving Mr. Frind plenty of free time. On average, he puts in about a 10-hour workweek.”

6. “A Million Miles vs. a Few More Smiles”

“Having cut services, reduced routes and crammed planes full, and having steadily eroded benefits associated with frequent-flier programs, airlines may have alienated their best customers.”

7. “Sex and the Teenage Girl”

“Pregnancy robs a teenager of her girlhood. This stark fact is one reason girls used to be so carefully guarded and protected — in a system that at once limited their horizons and safeguarded them from devastating consequences. The feminist historian Joan Jacobs Brumberg has written that ‘however prudish and “uptight” the Victorians were, our ancestors had a deep commitment to girls.’

“We, too, have a deep commitment to girls, and ours centers not on protecting their chastity, but on supporting their ability to compete with boys, to be free — perhaps for the first time in history — from the restraints that kept women from achieving on the same level. Now we have to ask ourselves this question: Does the full enfranchisement of girls depend on their being sexually liberated? And if it does, can we somehow change or diminish among the very young the trauma of pregnancy, the occasional result of even safe sex?”

8. “36 Hours in Hollywood”

“Many a native Angeleno knows not of Barnsdall Art Park (4800 Hollywood Boulevard, 323-644-6269; www.barnsdallartpark.com), a public space donated to the city by the eccentric Aline Barnsdall in 1927. Beyond having one of the best views of the Hollywood sign and grass upon which to sit (a rare thing in Los Angeles), the site is home to the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, a theater and the Hollyhock House, Frank Lloyd Wright’s first Los Angeles project.”

9. “A Bookworm’s Holiday”

“A bleak winter weekend is a great time to haunt the city’s libraries, when they seem to serve almost as much as museums and performance halls as repositories of the written word.”

10. “The French President’s Lover”

“Because model is so often used as a synonym for moron, few have stopped to consider that, in pure résumé terms, Ms. Bruni may be better equipped than many for a gig at Élysée Palace. For starters, she is a stepdaughter of an Italian tire magnate and classical composer, Alberto Bruni Tedeschi, who is married to her mother, Marisa Borini, a concert pianist. She is rich and well educated (in France, where her family moved in the 1970s to escape a wave of kidnappings in Italy) and speaks three languages.”

11. “Tough Guys for Tough Times”

“The leading action symbols of the Reagan era — with all their excess, jingoism and good vs. evil bombast — have returned, as outsize and obvious as they were in the decade of stonewash. Yet as stars of prime-time hits and feature films (not to mention Republican mascots), these actors are still as ripped and imposing as they were 20 years ago, and they continue to carry an undeniable authority with fans old and new.

“Indeed, at a time when the country is faced with a new tangle of problems, the return of the ’80s action hero suggests that some Americans, particularly men, are looking to revel in the vestigial pleasures of older times and seemingly simpler ways. (Witness the popularity of the best-selling Dangerous Book for Boys, a celebration of the traditional rugged joys of boyhood.)”

One response to “1/13/2008 New York Times Digest

  1. Pingback: Rambo (IV) « Submitted For Your Perusal

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