3.30.2008 New York Times Digest

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1. “Ode to an Onion Ring, and Other Fast Food in the Slower Lane”

“Why then should I have an intrinsic preference for fast-food restaurants whose franchises number in the hundreds or thousands rather than the tens of thousands? It might be because their smaller sizes make them more amenable to culinary innovation — a burger served with an onion ring on the patty; a menu that offers three different kinds of fries, or chicken and tacos at the same time.

“Or maybe it’s because these restaurants strike the right balance between familiarity and the possibility of unpredictability.”

2. “Edison …Wasn’t He the Guy Who Invented Everything?”

“The reality is that the ‘Aha’ moments of industrial creation are preceded by critical moments far less heralded. Behind and beside every big-name inventor are typically lots of others whom history forgot, or never knew. And it’s unusual that an innovation is created in a vacuum (including the vacuum, which itself claims several progenitors).”

3. “Sisters in Idiosyncrasy”

“Much the way Hollywood people have shuttled between Los Angeles and Manhattan for decades, or academics commute on the Acela between Morningside Heights and Cambridge, Mass., there is a young, earnest population that is beating a path between artsy, gentrifying neighborhoods in Brooklyn and their counterparts in the Bay Area, especially East Oakland and the area south of Market Street in San Francisco, or SoMa.”

4. “Why Blog? Reason No. 92: Book Deal”

“And then on March 20 Random House announces that it has purchased the rights to a book by the blog’s founder, Christian Lander, an Internet copy writer. The price, according to a source familiar with the deal but not authorized to discuss the total, was about $300,000, a sum that many in the publishing and blogging communities believe is an astronomical amount for a book spawned from a blog, written by a previously unpublished author.”

5. “Gatekeepers to the Art World”

“In the money-frenzied, celebrity-stoked sprawl that has become the New York gallery world over the last five years, the pittance-paying job of front desk assistant (a k a receptionist, gallerina, gallery girl) has become hungrily sought as an entree into the commercial, rather than creative, side of the business. From this modest, occasionally humiliating rung, women can indeed ascend. They have become dealers, curators and, increasingly, art consiglieri — advisers to corporate and private collectors.”

6. “The Bold and the Bad and the Bumpy Nights”

“But on the occasion of her centennial, it’s worth remembering Davis as she was in her prime, in the 1930s and ’40s, when she commanded the screen with something subtler and more mysterious than the fierce, simple will that carried her through the mostly grim jobs of work that followed. (Though the will was there from the start, and her formidable technique never wholly deserted her.) In her heyday, as the reigning female star at Warner Brothers, she was as electrifying as Marlon Brando in the ’50s: volatile, sexy, challenging, fearlessly inventive. She looked moviegoers straight in the eye and dared them to look away.”

7. “Alleys for Cool Cats”

“In the tradition of a city whose literary legacy includes both the Beats and Sam Spade, those out-of-the-way addresses also include hipster bars and Zagat-rated speakeasies like Bix, an alley-front favorite whose Jazz Age ethos includes tuxedo jackets and torch songs.

“Indeed, unlike many cities that have built over or ignored their old service streets, San Francisco has embraced them, with tourist-friendly spots like Belden Lane downtown, which is home to a row of restaurants specializing in everything from Spanish food (B44) to vodka (Voda).”

8. “Sexual Advances”

“Roach belongs to a particular strain of science writer; she’s interested less in scientific subjects than in the ways scientists study their subjects — less, in this case, in sex per se than in the laboratory dissection of sex. She delights in medical euphemism and scholarly jargon; you can hear her titter as she rolls out terms like ‘vaginal photoplethysmograph probe,’ ‘nocturnal penile tumescence monitoring’ and ‘vaginocavernosus reflex.’”

9. “Who’s a Good Boy?”

” Sutherland … says that the most important lesson she learned from studying animal trainers was that whether you’re training a hyena to pirouette or a husband to stop speeding, the best results come when you reward behaviors you like and ignore ones you don’t.”

10. “Frankly, My Dear …”

“This breathtakingly trashy biography does not skimp on sordid anecdotes.”

11. “It’s Not You, It’s Your Books”

“Let’s face it — this may be a gender issue. Brainy women are probably more sensitive to literary deal breakers than are brainy men. (Rare is the guy who’d throw a pretty girl out of bed for revealing her imperfect taste in books.) After all, women read more, especially when it comes to fiction. ‘It’s really great if you find a guy that reads, period,’ said Beverly West, an author of Bibliotherapy: The Girl’s Guide to Books for Every Phase of Our Lives. Jessa Crispin, a blogger at the literary site Bookslut.com, agrees. ‘Most of my friends and men in my life are nonreaders,’ she said, but ‘now that you mention it, if I went over to a man’s house and there were those books about life’s lessons learned from dogs, I would probably keep my clothes on.’”

12. “Show Stopper”

“I’m not technically a tight lacer. It’s a fetish, in which you wear extremely tight corsets all the time. I don’t sleep in my corsets, and I’m not obsessed with obtaining the world’s smallest waist. My waist is around 18 inches.”

13. “The Case for Fitting In”

“Lab-based research supposedly furnished slam-dunk evidence that, as the social psychologist Solomon Asch put it, ‘the social process is polluted’ by ‘the dominance of conformity.’ That research, though, was rooted in its time and place: The United States in the aftermath of World War II, when psychologists and sociologists focused on the conformity that made millions give in to totalitarian regimes.

“Lately, however, some researchers have been dissenting from the textbook version. Where an earlier generation saw only a contemptible urge to go along, revisionists see normal people balancing their self-respect against their equally valuable respect for other people, and for human relationships.”

14. “Students of Virginity”

“The Ivy League’s abstinence clubs began emerging several years ago about the same time as student sex blogs, sex columns and, at Harvard and Yale, student sex magazines. Those involved, however, say that the most important catalyst was university-sponsored safe-sex education, which they saw as institutional encouragement of promiscuity.”

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