Sunday 1.6.2013 New York Times Digest

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1. The Blessings of Atheism

“It is primarily in the face of suffering, whether the tragedy is individual or collective, that I am forcefully reminded of what atheism has to offer.”

2. Their Apps Track You. Will Congress Track Them?

“Smartphones and mobile apps that can continuously record and share people’s precise movements. At issue is whether consumers are unwittingly acquiescing to pervasive tracking just for the sake of having mobile amenities like calendar, game or weather apps.”

3. Knowing Every Breath You Take

“If you had told me that I would someday be training employees of corporate America to apply contemplative practices to help them become more successful, I would have said you’d been standing too long in India’s hot noonday sun.”

4. Relocation Therapy

“Legions swear by retail therapy as a way of dealing with a bad day at the office, a bad hair day or a really bad number on the bathroom scale. But people who are going through more substantial life crises — the death of a loved one, illness, divorce, a messy breakup — may be able to work through the pain with the aid of real estate therapy. A new home, after all, can be much more than a change of address.”

5. The Myth of Universal Love

“One of the more deeply engrained assumptions of Western liberalism is that we humans can indefinitely increase our capacity to care for others, that we can, with the right effort and dedication, extend our care to wider and wider circles until we envelop the whole species within our ethical regard. It is an inspiring thought. But I’m rather doubtful.”

6. More Guns = More Killing

“There is no evidence that having more guns reduces crime. None at all.”

7. Why Do Stars Think It’s O.K. To Sell Soda?

“Seemingly, no celebrities turn down endorsement deals for ethical reasons.”

8. Diary of a Creep

“In the social coefficient that is Western civilization, we’re always in sore need of a lowest common denominator. That category has been occupied by a staple of outsiders, everyone from African slaves to gays to convicts, and it may just be the creep’s turn.”

9. A Motherboard Walks Into a Bar …

“As verbal interaction between humans and computers becomes more prominent in daily life — from Siri, Apple’s voice-activated assistant technology, to speech-based search engines to fully automated call centers — demand has grown for ‘social computers’ that can communicate with humans in a natural way. Teaching computers to grapple with humor is a key part of this equation.”

10. Fool Me Once: Spike Brings Back a Reality ‘Classic’

“Can he get past absurd tasks like trying to defuse a bomb based on instructions from a ‘deaf girl’ whom he can’t understand? Can he accept a cast of characters that includes a former nude model, an ex-con, an absurdly muscled dude with a secret, a young woman with a hypercompetitive streak and, wildest of all, a down-on-his luck actor named Lorenzo Lamas, played by Lorenzo Lamas?”

11. Unmarried Spouses Have a Way With Words

“What to call two people who act as if they are married but are not.”

12. Zosia Mamet Is Still Getting Used to Being Your New Best Friend

“If I were not an actress, I would be a pirate.”

13. George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You’ll Read This Year

“His stories are set in what might be described as a just slightly futuristic America or, maybe better, present-day America, where, because of the exigencies of capitalism, things have gotten a little weird. These initial stories often take place in theme parks gone to seed or soul-withering exurban office strips, but the stories themselves are overflowing with vitality; they are sometimes very dark but they are also very, very funny. The characters speak in a strange new language — a kind of heightened bureaucratese, or a passively received vernacular that is built around self-improvement clichés (‘It made me livid and twice that night I had to step into a closet and perform my Hatred Abatement Breathing’) — and this lends them the feeling of allegory, though they are something else too, that’s harder to place.”

14. ‘Be Wrong as Fast as You Can’

“Ideas, in a sense, are overrated. Of course, you need good ones, but at this point in our supersaturated culture, precious few are so novel that nobody else has ever thought of them before. It’s really about where you take the idea, and how committed you are to solving the endless problems that come up in the execution.”

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