08.12.2012 New York Times Digest

1. “Dead Again

“Every generation rewrites the book’s epitaph; all that changes is the whodunit.”

2. “It’s Alive!

“We are not so much entering a brave new universe as continuing an established tradition.”

3. “In Ill Doctor, a Surprise Reflection of Who Picks Assisted Suicide

“They are overwhelmingly white, well educated and financially comfortable. And they are making the choice not because they are in pain but because they want to have the same control over their deaths that they have had over their lives.”

4. “A Mutual Fund Master, Too Worried to Rest

“My only regret about money is that I don’t have more to give away.”

5. “How Big Data Became So Big

“Big Data is a shorthand label that typically means applying the tools of artificial intelligence, like machine learning, to vast new troves of data beyond that captured in standard databases. The new data sources include Web-browsing data trails, social network communications, sensor data and surveillance data.”

6. “The Power of Music, Tapped in a Cubicle

“People’s minds tend to wander, ‘and we know that a wandering mind is unhappy,’ Dr. Sood said. ‘Most of that time, we are focusing on the imperfections of life.’ Music can bring us back to the present moment.”

7. “War Wounds

“For every soldier killed in war this year, about 25 veterans now take their own lives.”

8. “The Anxious Idiot

“I am now coming to understand that anyone, even the most neurotic of souls, can lessen and even elude anxiety, so long as he heeds a simple dictum: Don’t be an idiot.”

9. “Beware the Nocebo Effect

“When a patient anticipates a pill’s possible side effects, he can suffer them even if the pill is fake.”

10. “Trust: Ill-Advised in a Digital Age

“We unknowingly pledge allegiance to the companies we do business with.”

11. “Old Love

“The new element in our relationship, if I look only at myself, is having been purged of most of my selfishness and egocentricity. She had no need for such cleansing. I no longer ask myself whether everything has been arranged as I would wish it to be. I have a new goal: making sure that the wishes of the Lady in Question have been fulfilled, that I have done all I can to make her laugh or smile. My study is to be attentive, to please and to praise.”

12. “Hundred-Year Forecast: Drought” and “The Long, Dry History of the West

“Most frightening is that this extreme event could become the new normal.”

13. “Meet the Beatles, Again

“When the Beatles recorded their playlists, did they record them on voice memo?”

14. “German Austerity’s Lutheran Core

“We should read much deeper into Germany’s incomparably rich history, and in particular the indelible mark left by Martin Luther and the ‘mighty fortress’ he built with his strain of Protestantism.”

15. “John Cage Recital? Take the A Train

“I had just heard an exquisitely turned, energetic performance of Schubert’s String Quintet in C at a church in Greenwich Village, and Cage could not have been further from my thoughts. Nor did the crowded subway car bring him to mind at first. But I noticed that it was unusually noisy. Typically, most of the noise you hear comes from the subway itself: its din drowns out conversations, and people tend to stare at their feet, or at whatever they are reading, and listen to their portable music players. But this Tuesday evening just about all the people were talking, and working hard to drown out both the subway and the chats taking place around them. I would normally have tuned all this out, but instead I sat back, closed my eyes and did what Cage so often recommended: I listened. I made no effort to separate the strands of conversation or to focus on what people were saying. I was simply grabbed by the sheer mass of sound, human and mechanical. It sounded intensely musical to me, noisy as it was, and once I began hearing it that way, I couldn’t stop.”

16. “From the Future, a Subtle Spark of Recognition

“What will our relationships with devices and software look like in the future?”

17. “Oh, Bruce, What Teeth You Have

Jaws remains a wildly disparate collection of elements, incorporating literary references to Melville (Moby-Dick) and Ibsen (An Enemy of the People), stylistic devices from Hitchcock (including a re-creation of the famous Vertigo zoom-in, dolly-out shot) and a dose of comedy that, as Pauline Kael noted, owes a lot to Woody Allen’s wisecracking schlemiels. (‘You’re going to need a bigger boat.’) It’s a film that begins as a sort of underwater slasher movie, setting up themes that would be developed by Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980). It’s the specter of unregulated female sexuality, in the form of a drunk college student out for a midnight nude swim, that summons violent death from the deep. (And Bruce remains the ultimate Freudian nightmare, both vagina dentata and punishing phallus.)”

18. “Oh, I Wouldn’t Do That, Would I?

“In the middle of a bad day Sandra (Ann Dowd), the harried manager of a fast-food franchise, receives a phone call from a man claiming to be a police officer. He accuses an employee named Becky (Dreama Walker) of theft and instructs Sandra to subject the pretty teenager to a series of humiliations: detain her in the stock room, confiscate her belongings, conduct a strip search and on and on. As the title suggests, at each step of this increasingly elaborate and unnerving hoax, Sandra and Becky do what they are told.”

19. “Just Wait Until Your Mother Gets Home

“For the creative, freelance, D.I.Y.-type guy, being a stay-at-home dad feels like a form of rebellion, like living off the macho grid and showing people that you are not tied to your father’s notion of what men should do on weekdays.”

20. “Streams of Consciousness

“We may have made heretofore unimaginable technological advances since the dawn of modern civilization, but we remain creatures full of confusion and longing and pain.”

21. “Trading Places

“Cities like Chicago, New York and Philadelphia, he argues, are ‘gradually coming to resemble’ European cities like Vienna or Paris in the 19th century, when the well-to-do lived in the center city and the working classes lived in the suburban rings around the downtown.”

22. “I Mean It

“The exaltation of the inner voice ushered a new kind of person onto the historical stage, the modern individual. It also accompanied the end of the traditional social order: with capitalist expansion, upward mobility and the anonymity of cities came new public spaces like salons where you were likely to encounter people you didn’t know. New forms of concealment became fashionable (wigs, rouge, fans, manners), and social life, bogged down by ‘byzantine rules,’ had become an ‘elaborate lie.’ Knowing whether someone was bona fide – the real thing – newly mattered.”

23. “Is Michigan State Really Better Than Yale?

“Successful business schools have become major businesses themselves.”

24. “The Secret to Solar Power

“We’re killing people in foreign lands in order to extract 200-million-year-old sunlight.”

25. “Are You Worth More Dead Than Alive?

“Life insurance is designed to benefit the living, a spouse or heirs, not those who perish. But Fiedler, who owns a firm called Innovative Settlements, knew that a life-insurance policy is an asset that can be resold to a friend or stranger just as a car, boat or house can. In a transaction known as a viatical settlement (for terminally ill patients) or a life settlement (for everyone else), the person selling his insurance gets an immediate cash payment. The buyer, in exchange, is named as the beneficiary and pays the premiums until the insured person dies. Life no longer afforded Robles a traditional way to make money, but to the right investor, Fiedler advised, his imminent death was worth a great deal.”

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