Sunday 06.23.2013 New York Times Digest


1. How to Daydream

“There is nothing wrong with spending vast quantities of time fantasizing about imaginary realities far away from the cheerless hardships of modern life. The problem is that people are daydreaming incorrectly.”

2. When Cars Assume Ethnic Identities

“In a time of heightened sensitivity over stereotypes, years after ethnic, racial and gender labeling has been largely erased from sports teams, products and services, Jeep is reviving an American Indian model name. Why?”

3. Data Security Is a Classroom Worry, Too

“As school districts rush to adopt learning-management systems, some privacy advocates warn that educators may be embracing the bells and whistles before mastering fundamentals like data security and privacy.”

4. Emerging Markets, Hitting a Wall

“In some countries, there may be a de facto “rule by consent” from abroad – if, for instance, you are an African working in a Chinese-owned mine and living in a company town, while receiving your vaccines from a Western nonprofit organization.”

5. Marriage, the Job

“In film and television, work and wedded bliss are now synonymous: the harder marriage is, the more romantic it seems.”

6. Hitchcock, Finding His Voice in Silents

“The single most consistent – and striking – stylistic element in these films is Hitchcock’s vigorous use of what might be called the confrontational close-up, in which an actor looks directly into the camera’s lens and addresses the audience as if it were another performer in the scene. These moments of forced subjectivity – we are, almost literally, put in the place of a character in the film – occur in contexts as benign as a simple conversation and as menacing as an attempted rape. Beyond their immediate dramatic purpose, what you feel in these shots is Hitchcock’s eagerness to implicate the viewer in the action, to shake us out of the comfortable position of the detached voyeur and plunge us into the exigencies of the moment. It is here that Hitchcock, so often mischaracterized as a sadistic manipulator, reveals his deep humanism. He insists that we feel the compulsion of the killer, the passion of the adulterer, the irrational shame of the unfairly accused, before we make an easy moral judgment and push them away.”

7. Molly: Pure, but Not So Simple

“MDMA has found a new following in a generation of conscientious professionals who have never been to a rave and who are known for making careful choices in regard to their food, coffee and clothing. Much as marijuana enthusiasts of an earlier generation sang the virtues of Mary Jane, they argue that Molly (the name is thought to derive from ‘molecule’) feels natural and basically harmless.”

8. An Advice Book by a 28-Year-Old? Not Quite

“I’d almost rather they use heroin with clean needles than smoke.”

9. Happier Spending

“Ironically, some of the coolest innovations of the past decades may be undermining our happiness.”

10. Where Did Our ‘Inalienable Rights’ Go?

“Information that is gathered and managed in secret is a potent weapon – and the temptation to use it in political combat or the pursuit of crimes far removed from terrorism can be irresistible.”

11. Movies of the Future

“The title character in Cervantes’s 17th-century satire, Don Quixote, went tilting at windmills, for example, because he had immersed himself in the practice of reading. ‘He read all night from sundown to dawn, and all day from sunup to dusk until with virtually no sleep and so much reading he dried out his brain and lost his sanity.’ Quixote’s endearing madness suggests the degree to which art in general and reading in particular might literally derange one’s faculties.”

12. Young and Isolated

“These are people bouncing from one temporary job to the next; dropping out of college because they can’t figure out financial aid forms or fulfill their major requirements; relying on credit cards for medical emergencies; and avoiding romantic commitments because they can take care of only themselves. Increasingly disconnected from institutions of work, family and community, they grow up by learning that counting on others will only hurt them in the end. Adulthood is not simply being delayed but dramatically reimagined along lines of trust, dignity and connection and obligation to others.”

13. Social Networking in the 1600s

“Critics worried that coffeehouses were keeping people from productive work.”

14. The Decline and Fall of the English Major

“Studying the humanities should be like standing among colleagues and students on the open deck of a ship moving along the endless coastline of human experience. Instead, now it feels as though people have retreated to tiny cabins in the bowels of the ship, from which they peep out on a small fragment of what may be a coastline or a fog bank or the back of a spouting whale.”

15. There’s a Fly in My Tweets

“The millions of people posting to sites like Twitter and Facebook can be viewed as a vast organic sensor network, providing a real-time stream of data about the social, biological and physical worlds. While people use social media to build and maintain their social ties, the ‘data exhaust’ of their postings can be analyzed to provide an enormous range of information at a population scale.”

16. The Disestablishment of Marriage

“Marriage is no longer the central institution that organizes people’s lives.”

17. Bless the Borrowers

“The United States financial meltdown was mostly a product of market excesses, not those of government. Two, austerity in the midst of crisis – as Europe increasingly seems to be reckoning – makes no sense.”

18. Natural Lawyer

“Though a devoted Roman Catholic, George is not preaching religious dogma in these essays. Following the natural-law tradition, he relies on reason and science (the very tools that liberals, he posits, wrongly believe are always in their corner) to uncover immutable human nature. Certainly his starting premise – ‘Each human being possesses a profound, inherent and equal dignity’ and is ‘an end in himself’ – won’t raise atheistic or liberal hackles. Nor will the logic that this premise leads to: infanticide, slavery, segregation and eugenics, all of which deny human dignity, are immoral. But that’s about where agreement will end.”

19. Annus Mirabilis

“It was in 1979 that the twin forces of markets and religion, discounted for so long, came back with a vengeance.”

20. Illiberal Arts

“Institutions are rarely murdered. They meet their end by suicide.… They die because they have outlived their usefulness, or fail to do the work that the world wants done.”

21. Natural Born Killers

“On the whole he makes a good case that certain genetic, neurological and physiological factors do predict violent behavior.”

22. Solitary Decider

“John le Carré’s latest novel, A Delicate Truth, falls onto the extended list after four weeks on the hardcover fiction list. But its story – about a young government functionary resolved to expose unsavory state secrets – feels timelier than ever in the wake of revelations that the National Security Agency has been monitoring the cellphone and Internet use of ordinary Americans. Sales of George Orwell’s 1984 have reportedly been on the rise since that story broke, but Edward Snowden, the ex-N.S.A. contractor who leaked details of the government’s program, puts me more in mind of le Carré’s protagonist, Toby Bell, who’s described as ‘the most feared creature of our contemporary world: a solitary decider.’ Writing about the novel in The New York Review of Books earlier this month, Fintan O’Toole seemed almost to anticipate the Snowden case. Le Carré’s ‘old traitors,’ he wrote, ‘betray the state because they are, by nature, deceitful. These new ones betray it because they are, by nature, honest.’ Elsewhere, O’Toole offers a succinct thesis statement that’s enough to make you wonder if Snowden has read the book, or at least the review: ‘In order to be a patriot, the novel suggests, it is necessary to betray the state.’”

23. Data You Can Believe In

“The campaign recruited the best young minds in the booming fields of analytics and behavioral science and placed them in a room they called ‘the cave’ for up to 16 hours a day over the course of roughly 16 months. After the election, when the technology wizards finally came out, they had not only helped produce a victory that defied a couple of historical predictors; they also developed a host of highly effective marketing techniques that were either entirely new or had never been tried on such a grand scale.”

24. My Kids Are Obsessed With Technology, and It’s All My Fault

“The school system, without meaning to, is subverting my parenting, in particular my fitful efforts to regulate my children’s exposure to screens.”


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