2/3/2008 New York Times Digest

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1. “Perfection Is Afterthought, Some Perfect Examples Say”

“‘There is no perfect season,’ said John Wooden, who coached the U.C.L.A. basketball teams that once won 88 consecutive games. ‘You can have a season where you win all your games. But that is far from perfect. The other teams you played scored points and your team made mistakes. Maybe a lucky bounce actually won you a game or two. No, winning doesn’t make you perfect.’”

2. “The French President Weds in a Low-Key Ceremony”

“She has called herself ‘a tamer of men’ and described monogamy as boring. But on Saturday morning, only three months after their first meeting, the super-model-turned-pop-singer Carla Bruni and the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, were married in a small, 20-minute civil ceremony at the Élysée Palace.”

3. “No Body Left Untoned Preparing For Carnival”

“Women, especially, put heavy pressure on themselves to measure up on the samba stage and in the bacchanal block parties that began winding through this city of six million people on Saturday. Sun-worshiping and visible tan lines are mandatory. Some even turn to plastic surgery for pre-Carnival adjustments.”

4. “A Fine Romance, My Friend, This Is”

“When you think of, say, Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn — or even Doris Day and Rock Hudson — you recall the emotional combat of two strong-willed, independent individuals ending in mutual conquest. Love, in those old pictures, was a dangerous and noble sport that required skill and cunning as well as commitment. It required movie stars whose physical appeal was matched by verbal dexterity and a vital sense of idiosyncrasy. They were not real of course: Who ever met anyone like C. K. Dexter Haven and Tracy Lord, the central pair in The Philadelphia Story? They were better.”

5. “Forever Hunky: Ageless Action Figures”

“One of the many qualities of Howard Hawks’s 1959 western Rio Bravo is that it serves as the perfect illustration of the Four Ages of the Movie Star. First comes the rebellious young adult (Ricky Nelson, as a cocky gunfighter) who evolves into the conflicted middle-aged professional (Dean Martin, as the deputy with a drinking problem), who turn into the trustworthy elder statesman (John Wayne, as the self-sufficient sheriff), who eventually gives way to the lovable old coot (Walter Brennan as, well, the lovable old coot).”

6. “Playing It Safe in Las Vegas”

“Las Vegas is a city where stars can avoid the aggressive breed of stalker photographers who shadow their public events in Los Angeles and New York. At the very least, stars exert more control over their exposure. Ensconced in the protective resorts, and guarded by private security teams, the stars find the celebrity news media in Las Vegas far less invasive.”

7. “Detox for the Camera. Doctor’s Order!”

“An easy rapport with television cameras and celebrity also-rans is not part of the job description for the typical doctor. But with his soap-opera looks and cool-dad aura, Dr. Pinsky, 49, has been famous in his own right for 25 years, all while navigating a precarious balance of professionalism and salaciousness.”

8. “Log On. Tune Out.”

“There is a variety of Luddite cultural pessimist who sees the Internet as inherently trivial, a gigantic nonevent in the history of man. Most Net naysayers are in that camp, but Siegel isn’t one of them. In that sense, he agrees with the Net’s boosters and hucksters. He thinks that ‘the Internet is possibly the most radical transformation of private and public life in the history of humankind.’ The trouble is that ‘from the way it is publicly discussed, you would think that this gigantic jolt to the status quo had all the consequences of buying a new car.’ Siegel’s mission is to make his readers think about the negative effects of the Internet — its destructive impact on our culture, on our polity and, perhaps most important, on our sense of ourselves.”

9. “Without Metaphor”

“In fact, Sontag’s confrontation with her own ordinariness is the most intriguing element of Rieff’s story. For a woman who had always believed in her own exceptionality, who had defined herself by her will to be different, to rise above, the terrifying democracy of illness is one of its most painful aspects. Throughout her final illness, she tells Rieff,’This time, for the first time in my life, I don’t feel special.’ In the most profound and affecting passages of the book, Rieff questions whether, on some level, his mother thought that she was too special to die. He investigates the line between hubris and bravery, grandiosity and vitality. Do we ever truly accept that we will die? Is there a part of the mind, especially for someone as ambitious, as avid, as Sontag, that refuses to believe in its own extinction?”

10. “Waiting for It”

“‘It’s not the technology that’s the problem; it’s the humans that are the problem,’ said Jonathan Karp.”

11. “My Wired Youth”

“The way things worked out, Internet addiction nearly laid me to waste. At 11, I pretended I was 18 and tried to pass off Raquel Welch’s measurements as my own, having copied them from TV Guide. For years, I dated, studied, endured heartbreak and hazing and crossed and double-crossed everyone in a mysterious online netherworld called Xcaliber. By the time I turned 13, I was confident I knew every single person online. Xcaliber taught me to type, talk to adults, experiment with fantastic personas and new idioms, spot lechers by their online styles and avoid ideologues who post in all caps.”

12. “Much About History”

“I’m a history professor — my period is 1500-1800 — with an M.A. student who wants to pursue a doctorate. While she is smart and capable, she is very religious, subscribing to the “young earth” theory that the world is only 6,000 years old. I am to work with her for a year and then recommend her to Ph.D. programs. Must I do so if I find her views incongruent with those of historians?”

13. “Clean Look”

“And while once there was a thing called Tide, a visit to Tide.com finds 39 different kinds of Tide: Coldwater Tide, Tide With a Touch of Downy, Tide With Bleach, Tide With Bleach Alternative, Tide With Febreze, floral scents, ‘mountain’ scents and original scent. Recent eco-conscious variations include concentrated Tide and Tide for use with ‘high efficiency’ appliances. All that’s missing are sugar free-and menthol. While this responds to consumer demand for variety, it brings certain challenges to the iconic power that is one of Tide’s marketplace strengths: namely, balancing that recognizable design with the idea of a range of choices.”

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