Sunday 04.14.2013 New York Times Digest

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1. Hacktivists as Gadflies

“Around 400 B.C., Socrates was brought to trial on charges of corrupting the youth of Athens and ‘impiety.’ Presumably, however, people believed then as we do now, that Socrates’ real crime was being too clever and, not insignificantly, a royal pain to those in power or, as Plato put it, a gadfly. Just as a gadfly is an insect that could sting a horse and prod it into action, so too could Socrates sting the state. He challenged the moral values of his contemporaries and refused to go along with unjust demands of tyrants, often obstructing their plans when he could. Socrates thought his service to Athens should have earned him free dinners for life. He was given a cup of hemlock instead. We have had gadflies among us ever since, but one contemporary breed in particular has come in for a rough time of late: the ‘hacktivist.’”

2. The Furtive Tax

“The federal tax system has become overwhelmingly skewed to burden work.”

3. The Power of Talking to Your Baby

“Children whose families were on welfare heard about 600 words per hour. Working-class children heard 1,200 words per hour, and children from professional families heard 2,100 words. By age 3, a poor child would have heard 30 million fewer words in his home environment than a child from a professional family. And the disparity mattered: the greater the number of words children heard from their parents or caregivers before they were 3, the higher their IQ and the better they did in school. TV talk not only didn’t help, it was detrimental.”

4. Think Those Chemicals Have Been Tested?

“Hazardous chemicals have become so ubiquitous that scientists now talk about babies being born pre-polluted, sometimes with hundreds of synthetic chemicals showing up in their blood.”

5. Muses in Motion, Captured on Camera

“It hardly needs to be said that few films make women the center of their narrative these days, but also rare are films in which characters openly question themselves and the world. Not only does Mr. Malick, via his roving camera and copious use of whispered voice-over, make women central; in each film, Mr. Malick, along with the ace cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, also forges a tricky path between objectifying and personifying the female protagonist, visually venerating them while also getting inside their heads.”

6. The Woman With 1 Billion Clicks, Jenna Marbles

“She is a D.I.Y. digital entertainer who conceives of, stars in, shoots, edits and uploads her own videos — often in a single day. Her videos are a highly shareable cocktail of comedy, sex appeal, puppies and social commentary, laced with profanity. She skillfully juggles Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube to build a deeply loyal connection with fans who find her eminently easy to relate to. The result is more than a million views every single day and more money than she had ever seen before in her life. She may be unique, but she is no viral-video fluke. To a younger generation who spends more time on YouTube than TV, Jenna Marbles already embodies the future of celebrity.”

7. What God Wants

“Andrew Freeman decides to move to Sweden at 26 in a last-ditch effort to turn himself straight. ‘I thought if there’s ever a place to find a beautiful woman, it’s Sweden,’ he tells Chu. ‘Then I got there and I thought … this isn’t helping anything. Sweden has beautiful men!’”

8. Voices Inside Their Heads

“It’s the man who doesn’t change his voice according to his audience who seems scary, locked inside his own assumptions.”

9. Struggling to Stay Afloat

“Only 500 or so of the 4,000-plus colleges and universities in the United States seem to have stable enough finances to be truly safe.”

10. Trimming the Ivy

“The biggest single factor in the increasing cost to students has been the states cutting back on their funding for higher ed.”

11. Data Science: The Numbers of Our Lives

“In the last few years, dozens of programs under a variety of names have sprung up in response to the excitement about Big Data, not to mention the six-figure salaries for some recent graduates.”

12. Geek Appeal: New York vs. Seattle

“New York and Seattle are already sparring over which will be the next hotbed, beyond Silicon Valley, for educating these analysts of the future.”

13. When Home Is a Campus Parking Lot

“If you put a man in a country club, he’ll feel the need for a yacht. But if you drop him in the wilderness, his desires will be only those essential to his survival.”

14. Tobacco That’s So Brooklyn but Made in Belgium

“Part of the experience with any tobacco is the relationship it affords with time. Smoking provides punctuation marks to life. It pauses the careening jumble of events to carve out moments of stillness. To some degree, this is true of all smoking. I am as likely as anyone to wince at the sight of a dozen office workers huddled in a wintry alley, but there is something to be said for the experience of stopping and stepping away. There is no similar ritual in the daily habits of most nonsmokers, and the pipe is especially suited to the task: there is the crumbling of tobacco, the packing of the bowl, the careful nurture of the flame, the false light and first tamp and so on, tooling and tending the bowl as the ember gently falls.”

15. The Benz Whisperers

“I’ve heard people say somebody should make a car that will last forever. Mercedes did that 40 years ago.”

16. A Book by its Covers

“Today his trove is not only one of the world’s most complete collections but also an illuminating cross section of 83 years of book design.”

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