Sunday 02.17.2013 New York Times Digest

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1. Why We Love Beautiful Things

“Natural fractals — irregular, self-similar geometry — occur virtually everywhere in nature: in coastlines and riverways, in snowflakes and leaf veins, even in our own lungs. In recent years, physicists have found that people invariably prefer a certain mathematical density of fractals — not too thick, not too sparse. The theory is that this particular pattern echoes the shapes of trees, specifically the acacia, on the African savanna, the place stored in our genetic memory from the cradle of the human race. To paraphrase one biologist, beauty is in the genes of the beholder — home is where the genome is.”

2. In China, Families Bet It All on College for Their Children

“Many families in the West sacrifice to put their children through school, saving for college educations that they hope will lead to a better life. Few efforts can compare with the heavy financial burden that millions of lower-income Chinese parents now endure as they push their children to obtain as much education as possible.”

3. Vindication for Entrepreneurs Watching Sky: Yes, It Can Fall

“Wouldn’t it be silly if we got wiped out because we weren’t looking?”

4. Colleges Become Major Front in Fight Over Carrying Guns

“Though guns remain banned from most state colleges, pro-gun forces, in a series of high-decibel legal and political battles, have made inroads on the issue in a handful of states, most recently Colorado.”

5. Online Battle Over Sacred Scrolls, Real-World Consequences

“A typical e-mail message or blog post has an Internet protocol address that identifies the computer used to create it. Using simple software that identified the I.P. addresses, he traced the e-mails and blog posts of 82 aliases to the same few computers. Beneath one of Mr. Golb’s pseudonymous comments, he posted a message, using the pseudonym Raphael Joel, a combination of Mr. Golb’s first name and his brother’s. The message was: We know who you are.”

6. Age and Size Stand Out, but So Does Talent

“He can do stuff that Chris Paul and Derrick Rose can’t.”

7. If You’re Collecting Our Data, You Ought to Protect It

“Negligence by employees and contractors has been a more common cause of corporate data breaches in the United States than malicious attacks.”

8. In the Quest for Love, Costs vs. Benefits

“Forces of supply and demand indeed loom large in the implicit market for romance.”

9. Why Gender Equality Stalled

“For more than two decades the demands and hours of work have been intensifying. Yet progress in adopting family-friendly work practices and social policies has proceeded at a glacial pace.”

10. Equal Opportunity, Our National Myth

“Today, the United States has less equality of opportunity than almost any other advanced industrial country.”

11. Doctors Who Don’t Speak Out

“Questioning the status quo in medicine is not easy.”

12. The Health Benefits That Cut Your Pay

“Let’s give every American health insurance, but only for truly rare, major and unpredictable illnesses. In other words, let’s cover everyone but not everything. It would take a generation to transition fully to such a system, but eventually the most routine and expected medical treatments, from checkups and minor illnesses all the way to common chronic conditions and expected end-of-life care, would be funded from our individual health savings; only the most major needs — for example, cancer, stroke and trauma — would be paid out of insurance.”

13. The Essay, an Exercise in Doubt

“The essay’s job is to track consciousness; if you are fully aware of your mind you will find your thoughts doubling back, registering little peeps of ambivalence or disbelief.”

14. My Life With Boxes

“Why do I need boxes? Because I am always on the move. I am a writer, and I am not alone in moving between places because the sun is shining more warmly elsewhere — or because, as a person who values and saves paper(s), I have neglected to divest myself of the many extraneous things that could lighten my load, like shoes I bought in the ’80s and the remains of a shrink-wrapped cube of boxes of paper clips I’ve rarely used because manuscripts are now submitted electronically.”

15. Going With the Flow

“The Dutch are starting to let the water in. They are contriving to live with nature, rather than fight (what will inevitably be, they have come to realize) a losing battle.”

16. Still Too Good, Too Bad or Invisible

“Are black characters given a real back story and real-world motivations? Are they agents of their own destiny or just foils for white characters? Are they too noble to be real? Are they too ghetto to be flesh and blood? Do any of these characters point to a way forward?”

17. Creating Hipsturbia

“We’re bringing Brooklyn with us.”

18. When the New You Carries a Fresh Identity, Too

“Divorce can be an opportunity to create an entirely different surname that speaks to the woman you have become.”

19. Apostolic Transgression

“His quarrel is not with priests but with the specious notion of the priesthood.”

20. Tammy Duckworth’s Deadly Hot Cocoa

“They were just giving me a hard time, because I served hot cocoa. Do you know what? That hot cocoa got my pilots and crew chiefs warm faster, my crews took off faster and they were more deadly.”

21. Do Illegal Immigrants Actually Hurt the U.S. Economy?

“Undocumented workers do not compete with skilled laborers — instead, they complement them. Economies, as Adam Smith argued in Wealth of Nations, work best when workers become specialized and divide up tasks among themselves. Pedro Chan’s ability to take care of routine tasks on a work site allows carpenters and electricians to focus on what they do best. In states with more undocumented immigrants, Peri said, skilled workers made more money and worked more hours; the economy’s productivity grew. From 1990 to 2007, undocumented workers increased legal workers’ pay in complementary jobs by up to 10 percent.”

21. Who Made That Toothbrush?

“As late as the 1920s, many Americans did not brush their teeth.”

23. Can the Republicans Be Saved From Obsolescence?

“They were playing chess while we were playing checkers.”

24. How Napoleon Chagnon Became Our Most Controversial Anthropologist

“Violence may be the principal driving force behind the evolution of culture.”

25. Hope in a Bottle

“Traditionally, working-class men wore cologne to turn their backs on the reality of labor and perspiration, to conceal it. Those toxic lotions smelled of denial and freedom from work. And that was another of the differences of the sexes: women wanted scents that spoke of a higher reality, a more perfect one, but one that spoke to their true conditions. Men wanted to sniff on themselves a complete (if temporary) conquering of reality. A Friday-night victory. Maybe that explains why women waft possibility and men, even today, with many of their secrets, waft anxiety.”

26. The Real Lee Radziwill

“In a world of passing celebrity, Lee Radziwill, 79, possesses a timeless aura that radiates nowness. Her bang up-to-date personal style, her laid-back — to say pared down would be to demean its ordered luxury — apartment in Paris (‘the favorite of any home I’ve ever had’), in this, her favored city, shows how subtly she has lived, lives now, without the attendant glare of past pomp and present self-glorification that others crave. She is utterly content, and it shows. What she is not is casual. She regulates her life by standards inbuilt by experience, by nurturing her friendships, by staying true, by her irony, by her humor — all qualities that show she is the real deal. That past sorrows and joys have merged into an elegance that permeates her presence, that ‘something in the air’ that indicates class and courage and composure. Though she now rigorously guards her privacy, her free spirit surfaces easily, and her thoughts come crystal clear. A figure of her time, our history, Lee is her own harbinger for an iconic future. Ours, and hers.”

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