Sunday 10.13.2013 New York Times Digest

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1. All Is Fair in Love and Twitter

“Genesis stories tend to take on an outsize significance in Silicon Valley. Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College, traveled the world, dated Joan Baez and helped create a revolutionary computing company. Mark Zuckerberg wrote the initial code for Facebook while ranking the attractiveness of girls in his Harvard dorm room. In the Valley, these tales are called ‘the Creation Myth’ because, while based on a true story, they exclude all the turmoil and occasional back stabbing that comes with founding a tech company. And while all origin stories contain some exaggerations, Twitter’s is cobbled together from an uncommon number of them.”

2. The Soaring Cost of a Simple Breath

“Unlike other countries, where the government directly or indirectly sets an allowed national wholesale price for each drug, the United States leaves prices to market competition among pharmaceutical companies, including generic drug makers. But competition is often a mirage in today’s health care arena — a surprising number of lifesaving drugs are made by only one manufacturer — and businesses often successfully blunt market forces.”

3. From the Start, Signs of Trouble at Health Portal

“For the past 12 days, a system costing more than $400 million and billed as a one-stop click-and-go hub for citizens seeking health insurance has thwarted the efforts of millions to simply log in.”

4. Online Application Woes Make Students Anxious and Put Colleges Behind Schedule

“It’s been a nightmare.”

5. In a Mood? Call Center Agents Can Tell

“We record and mine every single call, every single word and phrase.”

6. Seeking a Staredown With Google Glass

“Spurred by the coming of Google Glass, a handful of companies are joining the nascent market to float e-mail, text messages and the Internet in front of people as they ride their bicycles, buy groceries or pretend to be paying attention at meetings.”

7. A Surprising Case Against Foreign Aid

“Professor Deaton makes the case that foreign aid is antidemocratic because it frees local leaders from having to obtain the consent of the governed.”

8. Selling a Hoarder’s Home: The Trouble With Stuff

“Real estate brokers are expected to play an active role in the buying and selling of a home. They help set the purchase price and guide their clients through bidding wars and co-op board applications. But these days, some brokers are finding themselves in new territory, shepherding the sale of a hoarder’s home.”

9. City of Water

“For centuries, New Yorkers pumped and tossed and slipped pretty much everything into the water that surrounded them: raw sewage, tons of used film, all the PCBs that made a Superfund site out of the Gowanus Canal. During the American Revolution, more than 11,000 prisoners died of disease and starvation on rotting British prison ships in Wallabout Bay. Their corpses were tossed into the river, and for years their skeletons would wash up on the shore.”

10. Sunday Dialogue: Too Tethered to Tests?

“Nearly a century ago John Dewey framed an essential mission for public education in his 1916 book, Democracy and Education. He understood that time for personal reflection and the importance of students’ making vital connections between their lives in school and the world in which they lived were the foundation for imaginative and innovative schooling. It is now our responsibility to shove the commercial bullies out the schoolhouse door and restore genuine power to teachers whose craft is most laudable when students are actively engaged in the construction of knowledge that serves them in real life, and not the achievement of a test score.”

11. College’s Identity Crisis

“Although our lurch from one crisis to the next — the Syria debate, the government shutdown — often obscures all other matters, one of the most important issues in American life right now is higher education’s identity crisis, its soul-searching about what it should accomplish, whom it should serve and how it must or mustn’t be tweaked.”

12. Schottenfreude

“Below is a selection of proposed new German words for the human condition.”

13. The End of the Nation-State?

“A quick scan across the world reveals that where growth and innovation have been most successful, a hybrid public-private, domestic-foreign nexus lies beneath the miracle. These aren’t states; they’re ‘para-states’ — or, in one common parlance, ‘special economic zones.'”

14. Shrinking Hours

“During the summer of 1910, Gustav Mahler, in a state of deep depression, sought Freud’s help. He was having heart problems and had learned that his wife, Alma, was having an affair with Walter Gropius, a much younger man with a promising career as an architect. Freud and Mahler met in Leiden, where, during the course of some four hours, Freud conducted a peripatetic psychoanalytic consultation as he and Mahler walked leisurely through the streets and along the canals of the city. Mahler telegraphed Alma the next morning to say ‘Feeling cheerful. Interesting discussion.’ Following the consultation, Mahler apparently recovered his sexual potency and reconciled with Alma, though he died a year later.”

15. Is Music the Key to Success?

“Consider the qualities these high achievers say music has sharpened: collaboration, creativity, discipline and the capacity to reconcile conflicting ideas. All are qualities notably absent from public life. Music may not make you a genius, or rich, or even a better person. But it helps train you to think differently, to process different points of view — and most important, to take pleasure in listening.”

16. Evolution and Bad Boyfriends

“You think your daughter’s boyfriend isn’t good enough? It may be evolution’s fault.”

17. Turning Education Upside Down

“Online courses can make high-quality education available to anyone for the price of an Internet connection, they also have the potential to displace humans, with all that implies for teachers and students.”

18. The Sun-Dried Kid

“I’m interested in that thing that happens where there’s a breaking point for some people and not for others. You go through such hardship, things that are almost impossibly difficult, and there’s no sign that it’s going to get any better, and that’s the point when people quit. But some don’t.”

19. An Essentially American Narrative

“There’s a uniquely American exuberance for violence or an exuberance for getting ahead in the world and making a name for themselves. I’m talking about the sort of plantation class that fought for the entrenchment of the slave system. That’s not something that can be overlooked when you think about the mythology of what it means to be an American, that one can become a self-made man if one is white and male and able.”

20. Tim Gunn: A Lifetime of Making It Work

“There are many ways you can establish your own path. The reason I love my catch phrase, ‘Make it work,’ is because it is not just about what is happening in the workroom, it is about life. Taking the existing conditions, the things we have available to us, and rallying them to ascend to a place of success.”

21. At Ralph’s Restaurant, an All-American in Paris

The place, a 17th-century town house that looks like fancy French stables on the inside, is full nearly every night with Parisians who’ve become obsessed with elements of contemporary American foodie culture, like artisanal cocktails, brunch and Brooklyn.

22. Kerouac’s Mexico

“Mazatlán is one of the many places that the Beats used to bolster the idea of Mexico as the destination for debauched recreation and self-discovery. Hollywood headed south first (Errol Flynn and John Wayne vacationed along Mexico’s Pacific coast), but Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, who moved to Mexico City in 1949 to avoid a drug charge in New Orleans, laid down in literature a charmingly simple notion of the country that has endured.”

23. Killing Giants

“As always, Gladwell’s sweep is breathtaking, and thought-provoking. What it is not, however, is entirely convincing.”

24. No Faith in Progress

“To Franzen’s credit, this volume makes plain that behind Kraus the palatable cafe wit was Kraus the apocalyptic prophet standing, as he thought, on a volcano’s edge.”

25. Earth Control

“Weisman raises the example of the passenger pigeon. During the 19th century it was one of the most abundant birds on earth, with as many as five billion in America alone. The passenger pigeon went extinct in 1914, but it was doomed long before then, even as it still numbered in the millions, since its habitat and food supply had already dwindled beyond sustenance level.”

26. New Chapter, Old Story

“He makes a strong case that anti-Semitism is a unique prejudice, in its staying power, in its ability to shape-shift, in the unlikely coalitions that spring up to advance its message (left-leaning Western gay activists aligning with gay-persecuting Muslim fundamentalists, say). Anti-Semitism is also rare in its ability to make otherwise smart people believe fantastical and idiotic things. No other religious or ethnic group has ever been blamed for both capitalism and Communism simultaneously, for example.”

27. The Final Insult in the Bush-Cheney Marriage

“Cheney was unquestionably the most influential vice president in American history, but that influence was in large part a function of his deference, as much as any overt exertion of power. Because he had no aspiration to ever run for president himself, he was able to focus on making Bush’s presidency successful — though on terms that he helped define.”

28. Nicolas Jaar Tests the Limits of Dance Music

Jaar’s gift is for combining floor-filling club music and so-called difficult sounds: a techno beat with a loop of what seems to be Ethiopian jazz; a soulful bass line overlaid with light industrial glitches.

29. Why Don’t We Dance Anymore?

“Communal dancing today is mostly designed for the young. Could the rapid appropriation and eventual destruction of every novel dance move be to blame for this?”

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