Sunday 12.22.2013 New York Times Digest

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1. Thank You for Hacking Me

“I refuse to feel victimized by this. It has been a huge hassle, and frightening, but there is a consolation here: the knowledge that my ‘vital items’ definitely are not missing and never were. What is truly vital, and what I hope never to lose, are friends who would come to my aid at a moment’s notice. As I would to theirs.”

2. When the Right to Bear Arms Includes the Mentally Ill

“Gun rights advocates worry that seizure laws will ensnare law-abiding citizens who pose no threat … At the same time, mental health professionals worry that new seizure laws might stigmatize many people who have no greater propensity for violence than the broader population. They also fear that the laws will discourage people who need help from seeking treatment, while doing little to deter gun violence. Research has shown, however, that people with serious mental illnesses, like schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder, do pose an increased risk of violence.”

3. Spike in Harm to Liver Is Tied to Dietary Aids

“Dietary supplements account for nearly 20 percent of drug-related liver injuries that turn up in hospitals.”

4. What I Discovered on My Flash Drive

“I’ve mostly owned rusted-out Jeeps and Volvos, the nondescript Carhartts and Levi’s of the automotive world. I’ve long assured myself that I don’t really care what I drive. But then I put Hattie, my daughter, into the Aventador’s passenger seat and we roared home along the roads of rural western New Jersey, where we live. At the tap of the gas pedal, the landscape turned into a smear. So this is what a 691-horsepower engine feels like. The sensation was akin to (as another writer has put it) horizontal bungee jumping. Here’s an itch, I recall thinking, I could get used to scratching.”

5. Into the Bitcoin Mines

“Today, all of the machines dedicated to mining Bitcoin have a computing power about 4,500 times the capacity of the United States government’s mightiest supercomputer.”

6. Master of His Virtual Domain

“To those of us raised in the world before social media, it is a given that the ‘real’ world is the one in which you sit in traffic on your way to pick up the dry cleaning. Our connection to this world is the chief measure of our sanity. But if we’re honest about it, reality is hardly so simple now. When a guy like George Yao can plow through an anesthetizing day of mortgage regulations only to return at night to a digital fraternity where he is loved and celebrated, with friends who share his daily experience, who’s to say which is real and which is illusory? If a game can make you famous, if it can yield genuine friendships and even a new career, then why shouldn’t it become, at least for a time, the epicenter of your life?”

7. Health Care’s Road to Ruin

“The Affordable Care Act generally requires patients to be responsible for more of their bills — copays and deductibles — so they will become more price-savvy medical consumers. But the deck is stacked against them in a system where doctors and hospitals are not required or expected to provide upfront pricing.”

8. Virtual Reality, Real Spies

“I hope for the comedy, I fear the tragedy, I anticipate the modernist play, I suspect the horror. Possibly in the future you’ll no longer be permitted to be who you think you are, or even who you’re pretending to be: You will be who they say you are, based on your data-mined, snooped-upon online presence. You’ll be stuck with that definition of yourself. You won’t be able to take off the mask.”

9. The New Face of Chinese Propaganda

“Some of these legends of filial sacrifice verge on the extreme. One tells of a poor man who was prepared to kill his young son so that his starving mother would have more to eat. (The man starts to dig a grave in which to bury his son, and instead finds a pot of gold, the reward for his virtue.) Another relates the story of a man so worried about his father’s health that he secretly tastes the old man’s feces. (The sweet taste confirms that the father was gravely ill. The son prays that his life be taken instead of his father’s, and both men live.)”

10. I Found Myself in a Dark Wood

“Dante’s words gave me the language to understand my own profound sense of displacement. More important, it transformed this anguished state into a beautiful image.”

11. Triumph of the English Major

“Somehow our culture has persuaded itself that the naked quest for financial gain, often through the devising and trading, on monstrous amounts of (very low interest) borrowed money, of what Warren Buffett has called instruments of mass destruction, is a more urgent and honorable calling than the passionate pursuit of truth and beauty.”

12. How to Monetize Your Closet

“For those at the cutting edge of this trend, durable goods are viewed as temporal objects to enjoy and pass on rather than ‘belongings.’ Personally, I no longer feel like I ‘own’ anything. I enjoy my consumer goods for a day, a week or a year, take good care of them because I assume they’ll go on to have another life with someone else, then share or sell whatever I’m tired of. I get access to goods and services that would typically be beyond my means, without accumulating a ton of stuff.”

13. Good Poor, Bad Poor

“When a million Irish died during the Great Famine of the 1850s, many in the English aristocracy said the peasants deserved to starve because their families were too big and indolent. The British baronet overseeing food relief felt that the famine was God’s judgment, and an excellent way to get rid of surplus population. His argument on relief was the same one used by Rand Paul.”

14. Sex and Drugs and I.P.O.’s

“Using Stratton Oakmont as a proxy for Wall Street is not such a stretch. The brokers (or traders in the case of Goldman) are, at bottom, salesmen. As the saying goes, ‘Stocks are sold, not bought.'”

15. Ho, Ho, Ho? Oh, No, No, No!

“Major American denominations such as Baptists, Quakers, Methodists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists either ignored or discouraged celebrating Christmas until the late 19th century.”

16. Uh-Oh: George Clooney Is Drooling Again

“Naming dogs after celebrities isn’t a new thing. Even celebrities have named their dogs after other celebrities. Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner named their Labrador Martha Stewart, or when 50 Cent and Eva Longoria named their respective dogs Oprah. What’s new is using the names as a marketing strategy. It is part of an evolution at shelters to find alternatives to euthanizing animals.”

17. The High Priest of Horology

“It’s really all about the depth of your knowledge more than the depth of your wallet. There’s a new kind of consumer out there, where a vintage Ford Bronco worth $35,000 beats any Ferrari on the road, because it demonstrates a certain reach and individuality in their taste.”

18. Norman Rockwell, the Storyteller

“An artist so clearly branded as Rockwell (Boy Scouts, front porches, homely rectitude) is bound to contain contradictions, but then so does everyone. Rockwell used Dexedrine at one point as a stimulant. He and his wife once sailed to England to abort a pregnancy. He went regularly to psychiatrists in Stockbridge. He was a New Yorker who made himself over into a New Englander, a workaholic who exhausted himself painting images of a leisurely way of life. What matters is the work.”

19. Schlesinger’s Syllabus

Schlesinger wrote to recommend “books I think Americans should read to achieve ‘cultural literacy’ about our own nation.” Here’s his list:

  • Essays, by Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Speeches and Writings, by Abraham Lincoln
  • Democracy in America, by Alexis de Tocqueville
  • The American Commonwealth, by James Bryce
  • The Irony of American History, by Reinhold Niebuhr
  • The Shock of Recognition, edited by Edmund Wilson
  • An American Dilemma, by Gunnar Myrdal
  • The Promise of American Life, by Herbert Croly
  • Pragmatism, by William James
  • The Education of Henry Adams, by Henry Adams
  • The American Language, by H. L. Mencken

20. Write, Write, Write

“This year — which still has a few days to go — I’ve written one full novel, two screenplays and notes on countless Hollywood scripts penned by others, polished and rewritten six novels, and (this one floors even me) scribbled over 900 pages of outlines for my upcoming novels. Each outline requires at least three drafts. If anything, I’ve written way too much.”

21. Neil deGrasse Tyson: By the Book

“I have multiple shelves of books and tracts on religion and religious philosophy, as well as on pseudoscience and general fringe thinking. I’m perennially intrigued how people who lead largely evidence-based lives can, in a belief-based part of their mind, be certain that an invisible, divine entity created an entire universe just for us, or that the government is stockpiling space aliens in a secret desert location. I find this reading to be invaluable in my efforts to communicate with all those who, while invoking these views, might fear or reject the methods, tools and tenets of science.”

22. A Law Unto Himself

“The lobby of the Idanha Hotel in Boise, Idaho, was the scene of great excitement in the spring and summer of 1907. There, most mornings, sat a large man with a luxurious, curled mustache, smoking cigars and loudly holding forth, surrounded by newspaper reporters and gawping onlookers. Behind him, guarding against the threat of assassination, stood a former cowboy, armed with a Colt .45 and a 20-inch blade hidden inside a walking stick.”

23. A Cockeyed Optimist

“By the most meaningful measures — how long we live, how healthy and happy we are, how much we know — life has never been better. Just as important, it is continuing to improve.”

24. Reigning Heavyweight

“In a way, this book belongs to the very declinist genre it aims to debunk.”

25. Bob Dylan: Musician or Poet?

“Creative activity at a certain level renders genre categorization moot.”

26. Mireille Guiliano On Aging With French Dignity

“Oh, no, I give cheap tips. The cheapest one is water. Drinking enough water does wonders for skin. That’s a thing that Americans have still not learned. I still get mail about my first book from people saying, ‘I did three things — drink more water, take a walk every day and eat yogurt — and my skin is different and my hair is different, I feel different.’ But of course.”

27. EBay’s Strategy for Taking On Amazon

“Online commerce currently accounts for only about 6 percent of all commerce in the United States. We still buy more than 90 percent of everything we purchase offline, often by handing over money or swiping a credit card in exchange for the goods we want. But the proliferation of smartphones and tablets has increasingly led to the use of digital technology to help us make those purchases, and it’s in that convergence that eBay sees its opportunity.”

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