Sunday 06.02.2013 New York Times Digest

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1. Sleep Studies

“It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.”

2. This Man Is Not a Cyborg. Yet.

“He never seems ruffled, no matter what question you ask. Even if you ask the obvious one, which he has encountered more than a few times since 2011, when he started ‘this project,’ as he sometimes calls it. Namely: Are you insane?”

3. The Banality of ‘Don’t Be Evil’

“Google, which started out as an expression of independent Californian graduate student culture — a decent, humane and playful culture — has, as it encountered the big, bad world, thrown its lot in with traditional Washington power elements, from the State Department to the National Security Agency.”

4. When It May Not Pay to Be Famous

It would be dangerous for persons trained only in the law to constitute themselves the final judges of the worth of pictorial illustrations.’

5. Schools Are Not Cool

“It’s absurd to talk about inculcating 21st-century skills in classrooms that resemble 19th-century sweatshops.”

6. Whither the Hatchet Job?

“Hardly any American publication wants to be negative.”

7. The Myth of Gatsby’s Suffering Middle Class

“Then, as now, Americans preferred Gatsby, seeing in the figure not just falsehood, but also the possibility that they, too, might become rich. Fitzgerald’s book itself, as opposed to the film, also offers such a possibility. Carraway, the narrator, does not hate Jay Gatsby, but comes to see him as the only hero of the story.”

8. ‘Hamlet’ Meets ‘The Hangover’

“Aeschylus, or the father of tragedy, said his dramas were ‘but slices cut off from the great banquet of Homer’s poems.’ He didn’t write one play about what happened when Agamemnon returned home from the Trojan War. He wrote three: ‘Agamemnon,’ ‘The Libation Bearers’ and ‘The Eumenides,’ known collectively as ‘The Oresteia.’ It seems ‘The Oresteia,’ one of history’s great works of art, was a franchise. Sophocles wrote more than 100 plays and won an estimated 24 dramatic competitions. He is credited with formal innovations, like adding a third actor, but he relied on recycled plotlines. In modern terminology, his ‘Electra’ was something between a spinoff and a reboot. Electra, Agamemnon’s daughter, was a character in ‘The Oresteia.’ Not to be left out, Euripides, the third of the three great Athenian tragedians, wrote an Electra play too. That is not so different from Christopher Nolan’s deciding to take on Batman after Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher did.”

9. The Triumph of the Working Mother

“At all income levels, stay-at-home mothers report more sadness, anger, and episodes of diagnosed depression than their employed counterparts.”

10. Techs and the City

“Across the country, municipalities are buying ever more complicated technological ‘solutions’ for urban life. But higher tech is not always essential tech. Cities could instead be making savvier investments in cheaper technology that may work better to stoke civic involvement than the more complicated, expensive products being peddled by information-technology developers.”

11. Does Great Literature Make Us Better?

“We measure the effectiveness of drugs and other medical interventions by thin margins of success that would not be visible without sophisticated statistical techniques; why assume literature’s effectiveness should be any different?”

12. A Streetcorner Serenade for the Public Plaza

“As more and more educated Americans, especially younger ones, are looking to move downtown, seeking alternatives to suburbs and cars, they’re reframing the demand for public space. They want elbow room and creative sites, cooked up by the community or, like the plaza program, developed from a democratic mix of top-down and bottom-up governance.”

13. More Than Just a Social Butterfly

“It is a long, zigzagging tale, full of ambition, happenstance, heartbreak and summer camp.”

14. Avoiding Jokers’ Remorse

“Knowing who we can tease and what we can tease them about is a complicated business. It’s a tap dance on a crystal ball that’s cloudy with good intentions.”

15. Baby Names That Shout Out ‘I Am …’

“Baby naming has become an industry — with paid consultants, books, Web sites brimming with trend data, and academic studies exploring correlations between baby names and future success. The once-simple task of coming up with a monogram for the baby blanket has evolved into a high-stakes exercise in personal ‘branding.’ And so many prospective parents feel paralyzed, trying to find the elusive name that is exotic yet not bizarre, classic yet not pompous, on trend but not trendy.”

16. Let’s Play: Making Travel a Game

“Thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones and big data, gamification is now prevalent in practically every industry.”

17. Walter Mosley: By the Book

“I am one of those rare writers (at least I believe this to be true) who do not equate reading and writing in any kind of direct way. I know for a fact that the father of the Western tradition of the novel, Homer, was illiterate. Many of the storytellers and poets of the West were not schooled in letters. The founder of one of the world’s great religions, Siddhartha Gautama Buddha, created a religion in an environment where no one wrote. The scriptures had to be submitted to memory only to be written down long after.”

18. Don’t Be Disgusting

“Della Casa’s message is: Don’t be disgusting. Pretty much everything that comes out of a bodily orifice meets his definition of disgusting — so much so that the mere sight of someone washing his hands would upset people, as their minds would leap to the function that had necessitated that cleansing. Spittle is not the only unpleasant thing emerging from the mouth, he warns. People who recount their dreams or brag about their children or sing off key are also offensive. Other unfortunately surviving etiquette problems he mentions include checking mail when in company, monitoring what others are eating, grooming in public and joking about disabilities.”

19. What I Read That Summer

“Still, you got to fight — so I fought. Every lunch break I sat on the deck overlooking the scrap yard and read me some Toni Morrison.”

20. Pop Life

“Nobody deserves an in-depth critical study more, and the author of Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness? ought to be the perfect man for the job. But somewhere along the way this book developed a bad case of Buried Lede Syndrome.”

21. Such Small Portions

“Judaism is a religion, even if many Jewish humorists don’t practice it, and its Scripture sometimes expresses an outlook that is saturated with paradoxes. Insofar as these contradictions are the seeds of Jewish fun-making, there is perhaps some validity to the idea of a theologically Jewish style of humor, even if that style is not of any special interest to psychologists.”

22. Sacred Hoopster

“He cites the Grateful Dead and William James, Thelonious Monk and Abraham Maslow. He tells us that he deliberately touched his nemesis Pat Riley, then the Knicks coach, before a crucial playoff game in order to ‘count coup,’ as the Lakota do. He compares his third Lakers championship season to Ivan Goncharov’s 1859 novel Oblomov. In the space of a page, he toggles from psychotherapy to Native American customs to Christianity to Buddhism and back to ‘two recent studies published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.’”

23. Literary Excursions

“Addicted, as we are, to comfort, utterly intolerant of boredom and feeling entitled to traipse about the globe, we have all but killed off the adventurer-memoirist.”

24. Can I Use the Same Paper for Multiple College Courses?

“The more I think this over, the more I find myself agreeing with your position.”

25. The Death and Life of Chicago

“The government failed us. The market failed us. Harvard, Yale and the University of Chicago failed us. Our government — the government — doesn’t belong to us. Forget them; they forgot us. We need to solve our problems ourselves.”

26. The Hollywood Fast Life of Stalker Sarah

“Most celebrity photographers yearn to catch a star at their most defenseless, but Sarah tends to think of them as friends.”

27. Want to Save Civilization? Get in Line

“Curse lines all you like, but we would be doomed without them.”

28. The Joylessness of Sex on TV

“What’s striking about the current depiction is how much of it just isn’t sexy — how much of it is divorced from any real sense of eroticism or desire. The audience, at home in bed in need of diversion, is betrayed. What they get instead is sex that is transactional, utilitarian — the end product of a kind of twisted careerism. Is this the sex we deserve? Possibly it is — at a time of such relentless obsession on work-family “balance,” an obsession that leaves little cultural room to think about more pleasurable kinds of human engagement.”

29. Miuccia Prada’s Circle of Influence

“I am trying to work out which images of the female I want to analyze. I’m not really interested in clothes or style.”

30. Deeda Blair’s Elegance of Conviction

“It is only when you have come to know Deeda rather well that you can see that her fashion and science are not in opposition, that her glamorous side and her rigorous side fit together neatly. She doesn’t buy all new clothes every season; she intuits what clothes will look good for decades, buys sparingly and wears them accordingly. In her apartment, she pairs a delicious sofa designed for her by Billy Baldwin with Louis XVI chairs and a Jansen table. That confident restraint is echoed in her refusal to believe that new discoveries in science necessarily outclass old ones. ‘Real elegance is having convictions,’ Deeda said to me.”

31. Innovative and Frighteningly Accomplished—and Not Even 30

“The number of people in their mid-20s disrupting entire industries, taking on jobs usually reserved for people twice their age and doing it in the glare of millions of social media “followers” seems to be growing almost exponentially.”

32. Bernard-Henri Lévy on Art and Philosophy

“Philosophers can tell you about your work, and aspects of it you don’t know. They can see things much faster than artists because artists work from the subconscious, from a place beyond words. Philosophers kind of give order to art.”

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