12.25.2011 New York Times Digest


1. “Dennis Ritchie, b. 1941”

“A programmer’s need to explore, freely and openly, is powerful. That is what I and others like me understood the first time we opened The C Programming Language and were magnetically drawn into the world Dennis Ritchie created. We were closer to the machines, yes, but also interconnected. We had the sense of being asked to join a heady conversation in which what could be said was limited by only talent, energy and imagination.”

2. “The Book of Books: What Literature Owes the Bible”

“A number of the great works of Western literature address themselves very directly to questions that arise within Christianity. They answer to the same impulse to put flesh on Scripture and doctrine, to test them by means of dramatic imagination, that is visible in the old paintings of the Annunciation or the road to Damascus. How is the violence and corruption of a beloved city to be understood as part of an eternal cosmic order? What would be the consequences for the story of the expulsion from Eden, if the fall were understood as divine providence? What if Job’s challenge to God’s justice had not been overawed and silenced by the wild glory of creation? How would a society within (always) notional Christendom respond to the presence of a truly innocent and guileless man? Dante created his great image of divine intent, justice and grace as the architecture of time and being. Milton explored the ancient, and Calvinist, teaching that the first sin was a felix culpa, a fortunate fall, and providential because it prepared the way for the world’s ultimate reconciliation to God. So his Satan is glorious, and the hell prepared for his minions is strikingly tolerable. What to say about Melville?”

3. “Before Recruiting in Ivy League, Applying Some Math”

“While the Academic Index, referred to as the A.I., is a routine part of life in an Ivy League athletic department, outside those offices, it is frequently treated like the most furtive of secret fraternity handshakes. The specifics on how the Academic Index is calculated or how it is evaluated from university to university are not made public. The formula for calculating individual A.I. numbers is not available on the league Web site or in any other official public forum – even if there are dozens of such calculators listed online (nearly all of them inaccurate).”

4. “Bourbon’s All-American Roar”

“Bourbon is one product America still makes better than anyone else.”

5. “Leadership Lessons From the Shackleton Expedition”

“Real leaders, wrote the novelist David Foster Wallace, are people who ‘help us overcome the limitations of our own individual laziness and selfishness and weakness and fear and get us to do better, harder things than we can get ourselves to do on our own.'”

6. “Publishers vs. Libraries: An E-Book Tug of War”

“Worried that people will click to borrow an e-book from a library rather than click to buy it, almost all major publishers in the United States now block libraries’ access to the e-book form of either all of their titles or their most recently published ones.”

7. “Is It Bigger Than a Breadbox?”

“No man wants to wear a watch smaller than a woman has on.”

8. “Challenging Hip-Hop’s Masculine Ideal”

“How long will it be until some blonde – or any white woman – rises to fame through hip-hop?”

9. “Rye Is Back, With Flavors of Americana”

“At the time of his death, in 1799, George Washington’s estate was the largest producer of whiskey in the country, turning out 11,000 gallons a year.”

10. “Why We Lie”

“Trivers calls deceit a ‘deep feature’ of life, even a necessity, given genes’ brutal struggle to prevail. Anglerfish lure prey by dangling “bait” in front of their jaws, edible butterflies deter predators by adopting the coloring of poisonous species. Possums play possum, cowbirds and cuckoos avoid the hassle of raising offspring by laying their eggs in other birds’ nests. Even viruses and bacteria employ subterfuge to sneak past a host’s immune systems. The complexity of organisms, Trivers suggests, stems at least in part from a primordial arms race between deceit and deceit-detection.”

11. “Paul Nelson: Bad Boy Rock Critic”

“The mythic American hero is a man, almost always womanless, who has somehow been trapped in that curious nether­world between comic innocence and tragic experience; unable or unwilling to make a choice, he can at best (or worst) embrace either adjective, neither noun. He has known happiness once, lost it, and now nothing will help.”

12. “The Enlightenment’s True Radicals”

“Israel traces the lineage of this Radical Enlightenment to Baruch Spinoza, the 17th-century philosopher who serves here as the father of all atheists and ‘one substance’ materialists who rejected the suspiciously spiritualist dualism of mind and body.”

13. “Their Noonday Demons, and Ours”

“These days, when we try to get a fix on our wasted time, we use labels that run from the psychological (distraction, ‘mind-wandering’ or ‘top-down processing deficit’) to the medical (A.D.H.D., hypoglycemia) to the ethical (laziness, poor work habits). But perhaps ‘acedia’ is the label we need. After all, it afflicted those whose pursuits prefigured the routines of many workers in the postindustrial economy. Acedia’s sufferers were engaged in solitary, sedentary, cerebral effort toward a clear final goal – but a goal that could be reached only by crossing an open, empty field with few signposts. The empty field is the monk’s day of spiritual contemplation in a cell besieged by the demon acedia – or your afternoon in a coffee shop with tiptop Wi-Fi.”

14. “Nate Dogg, b. 1969”

“These days, singers drizzling R & B syrup over incongruous lyrics are a familiar, even hackneyed comedic premise. But Nate Dogg never seemed to be joking.”

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