Sunday 04.07.2013 New York Times Digest


1. Prize-Writing

“Tolstoy thought monetary prizes were a threat to an artist’s integrity, and would have refused the Nobel even if the Swedish Academy had been able to overcome its distaste for his politics. George Bernard Shaw thought it was a waste to award a prize to writers who were commercially successful, and gave his Nobel money away … Twenty-eight years ago, William Gass argued on this very page that literary prizes, and the Pulitzer in particular, were the enemies of quality and artistic ambition. Prizes not only encouraged writers to aim for the dead level of mediocrity, they acted as an advance guard for the forces of establishment reactionism — wielding money instead of guns: ‘Someone always foots the bill, of course, and when the outcome doesn’t smartly show the feet, they are inclined to squeak,’ he wrote, ‘to meddle, or to withdraw their moral and monetary support.’ It took 20 years for the Swedish Academy to unshackle itself from Alfred Nobel’s literary sensibilities. But that wasn’t good enough for Jean-Paul Sartre, who declined the Nobel Prize in 1964 because he didn’t want his work to become ‘institutionalized’ … The English novelist John Berger turned his 1972 acceptance speech for the Booker Prize into a denunciation of the sponsors for what he said was the ruthless exploitation of Caribbean sugar growers. He would be donating half the prize money to the British Black Panthers, he informed the audience.”

2. In History Departments, It’s Up With Capitalism

“I like to call it ‘history from below, all the way to the top.’”

3. As Workload Overwhelms, Cars Are Set to Intervene

“The study of driver workload management — some would point to the irony in this reaction to a situation partly created by automakers themselves — is progressing alongside the efforts of the planners who dream up new generations of infotainment features.”

4. Wearing a Badge, and a Video Camera

“Some police departments are using miniaturized video cameras and their microphones to capture, in full detail, officers’ interactions with civilians. The cameras are so small that they can be attached to a collar, a cap or even to the side of an officer’s sunglasses. High-capacity battery packs can last for an extended shift. And all of the videos are uploaded automatically to a central server that serves as a kind of digital evidence locker.”

5. Getting Serious About a Texas-Size Drought

“Water traditionally has been mostly a state or local issue because communities draw supplies from nearby rivers or aquifers. But increasingly it is becoming a national one. Economies will rise and fall on the availability of water, whose price is inexorably marching upward.”

6. Wars on Drugs

“There has been a giant, 682 percent increase in the number of psychoactive drugs — antipsychotics, sedatives, stimulants and mood stabilizers — prescribed to our troops between 2005 and 2011. That’s right. A nearly 700 percent increase — despite a steady reduction in combat troop levels since 2008.”

7. The Secrets of Princeton

“The days of noblesse oblige are long behind us, so our elite’s entire claim to legitimacy rests on theories of equal opportunity and upward mobility, and the promise that “merit” correlates with talents and deserts. That the actual practice of meritocracy mostly involves a strenuous quest to avoid any kind of downward mobility, for oneself or for one’s kids, is something every upper-class American understands deep in his or her highly educated bones.”

8. Engineering Serendipity

“Silicon Valley is obsessed with serendipity, the reigning buzzword at last month’s South by Southwest Interactive Festival. The term, coined by the British aristocrat Horace Walpole in a 1754 letter, long referred to a fortunate accidental discovery. Today serendipity is regarded as close kin to creativity — the mysterious means by which new ideas enter the world. But are hallway collisions really the best way to stoke innovation?”

9. The Joke’s on Louis C.K.

“There’s people that say: ‘It’s not fair. You have all that stuff.’ I wasn’t born with it. It was a horrible process to get to this. It took me my whole life. If you’re new at this — and by ‘new at it,’ I mean 15 years in, or even 20 — you’re just starting to get traction. Young musicians believe they should be able to throw a band together and be famous, and anything that’s in their way is unfair and evil. What are you, in your 20s, you picked up a guitar? Give it a minute.”

10. Appily Ever After: A Smartphone Shrink

“A proliferation of psychology smartphone apps — with names like BreakkUp, iStress and myinstantCOACH — purports to help us live happier, less anxious lives. As Mark McGonigle, a therapist in Kansas City, Mo., who invented the app Fix a Fight, puts it: ‘Electronic devices don’t have to drive us apart. They can bring us together.’”

11. Planet of the Ape

“No one from the Western world, as far as we know, had laid eyes on a kangaroo until 1770. Emus, orangutans and Komodo dragons came as surprises. The earliest scientific description of a dinosaur, based on mystifying new fossils, appeared only in 1824. But the most provocative of zoological novelties was the gorilla, a Victorian sensation, for two reasons: because it was presented (falsely) as a menacing, aggressive behemoth and because it seemed, in delicious paradox, much too similar to humans for comfort. The gorilla’s very existence suggested — at just the time Charles Darwin was also suggesting — heretical ideas about the origin and nature of mankind.”

12. Isabel Allende: By the Book

“Magic realism is not a literary trick for me. I accept that the world is a very mysterious place.”

13. The Messenger and the Message

“Despite the orthodox Muslim insistence that Muhammad, while possessed of human failings, is irreproachable, some of his actions are deeply troubling.”

14. Yes, Healthful Fast Food Is Possible. But Edible?

“There’s now a market for a fast-food chain that’s not only healthful itself, but vegetarian-friendly, sustainable and even humane. And, this being fast food: cheap.”

15. The Proper Way to Eat a Pig

“What better way to learn about the ethics of your meat than to slaughter and butcher it yourself?”



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