11.8.2009 New York Times Digest

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1. “Happy Days”

America’s can-do optimism has hardened into a suffocating culture of positivity that bears little relation to genuine hope or happiness.

2. “Jay-Z’s Bid for King of the Hill”

“The Jay-Z/Sinatra link isn’t so far-fetched. Both grew up on the poor fringes of New York — Sinatra in Hoboken, Jay-Z in the Marcy projects in Brooklyn — and made A-number-one through mastery of craft, business smarts and exploitation of their own hyper-masculine poise. Theirs is the story of the bad boy made very, very good, who breezes stylishly through high society with an impossibly glamorous woman on his arm, yet never loses his street-smart edge.”

3. “Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Two-Part Harmonies”

“As he saw it, the human mind tends to organize thought and culture around binary opposites, and to try to resolve the resulting tension through the creative act of mythmaking.”

4. “Ballet’s Mean Streets”

“Some movies you have to watch whenever they’re on. One of those, for me, is The Red Shoes.”

5. “Fight Club Fight Goes On”

“Joseph Campbell has that great idea about mythologies, that a myth functions best when it’s transparent, when people see through the story to themselves.”

6. “Short Cuts”

“The résumé that led him to M*A*S*H included duty as an Army pilot during World War II; the better part of a decade spent grinding out industrial films in his native Kansas City, Mo.; and close to another 10 years shooting episodic television shows like Combat! and Bonanza. After his breakthrough — the movie Pauline Kael hyperbolized as ‘the best American war comedy since sound came in’ — Aljean Harmetz captured the contradiction neatly in The New York Times: ‘At 46, Robert Altman is Hollywood’s newest 26-year-old genius.’ But it’s hard waiting those extra 20 years for someone to call you a wunderkind. By then, the enfant terrible was no enfant (he had six of his own), but having accumulated half a lifetime’s worth of resentment about being locked out of the movie business, he was fully capable of living up to the second half of the label when things didn’t go his way.”

7. “The Critic’s Critic”

“Johnson, at 26, arrived in London without money and with only his more than considerable wit, learning, judgment and astonishing energy. He worked at literary odd jobs and only gradually raised himself out of Grub Street. Breakthrough commenced with A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), after which Johnson was famous enough to remain solvent, and sociable enough to keep himself from his terrible fear of solitude. He knew his balance to be perilous, and he feared madness.”

8. “Heavy Lifting”

“Wrestling isn’t fake. It’s predetermined. So what?”

9. “Is Technology Dumbing Down Japanese?”

“The Japanese language is being transformed by blogs, e-mail and keitai shosetsu, or cellphone novels. Americans may fret over the ways digital communications encourage sloppy grammar and spelling, but in Japan these changes are much more wrenching. A vertically written language seems to be becoming increasingly horizontal. Novels are being written and read on little screens. People have gotten so used to typing on computers that they can no longer write characters by hand. And English words continue to infiltrate the language.”

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