Sunday 6.22.2014 New York Times Digest


1. The Descent

“Competitive freediving, Nestor quickly makes clear, is a ridiculous sport. Divers hold their breath and see how low they can go without suffering grievous harm. Top divers submerge for more than three minutes and reach depths below 300 feet, where pressure causes human lungs to ‘shrink to the size of two baseballs,’ Nestor writes. At first intrigued, Nestor quickly becomes disgusted as one diver after another surfaces with blood pouring from their noses, or dragged unconscious by rescue divers or in cardiac arrest. (In November, The New York Times ignited a public discussion of journalistic ethics with a photo of bulging-eyed Nicholas Mevoli moments after he emerged from a freedive record attempt and just before he blacked out and died.) When practiced outside the ­structure of competition and the reckless chasing of depth records, however, freediving can be practical, even beautiful.”

2. Baptism by Fire

“You never forget it. Not your first fire. To a firefighter, the first fire is like a police officer’s first collar, a lawyer’s first jury trial, a fisherman’s first tuna. It becomes chiseled into your memory in big block letters, rolled out and dusted off for a lifetime of reminiscence. Ask a firefighter about his first fire. Details pour out. It was at 78th and York, in the ductwork of a Chinese restaurant. It was on Woodhaven Boulevard in Elmhurst, a man fell asleep with his cigarette burning. It was a chemistry lab of a school, a pizza parlor, a laundromat. It was Macon Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant, top floor of a brownstone, backup man on the hose. The captain took a picture, probie at his first fire, and it sits in a frame at home.”

3. Seeing Sons’ Violent Potential, but Finding Little Help or Hope

“Shootings in places like Isla Vista, Calif., and Newtown, Conn., have turned a spotlight on the mental health system, and particularly how it handles young, troubled males with an aggressive streak. About one in 100 teenagers fits this category.”

4. Unblinking Eyes Track Employees

“Advanced technological tools are beginning to make it possible to measure and monitor employees as never before, with the promise of fundamentally changing how we work — along with raising concerns about privacy and the specter of unchecked surveillance in the workplace.”

5. A Job Seeker’s Desperate Choice

“The night before the interview, she put the children to bed at her parents’ house and went to a Walmart parking lot, where she spent hours scrounging up recyclable cans and asking passers-by for gas money, to make sure she had enough for the 35-mile drive to the interview. Her parents would be at work the next day, so she had arranged to leave the boys at a babysitter’s house, she said. But when she arrived, she said, no one answered the door.”

6. Held Captive by Flawed Credit Reports

“Inaccuracies often show up in consumers’ credit reports, and these errors have real consequences, like increasing borrowing costs or barring people from financing a home or renting an apartment. And once an error is found, getting it fixed can take months of exasperating work.”

7. Espousing Equality, but Embracing a Hierarchy

“Hierarchies are a form of structure that we embrace for comfort in a chaotic world.”

8. Streaming Eagles

“Maybe we latch on to the species we’ve willfully not destroyed as proof of our compassion, and as living props with which to demonstrate that compassion again and again. Maybe it just feels good to know they’re still out there, in some safe-seeming corner of the wilderness. And maybe that’s why we’ve pointed a bunch of webcams at them: so we can check in whenever we want and keep watch.”

9. Two-Parent Households Can Be Lethal

“Women experiencing domestic abuse are told by our culture that being a good mother means marrying the father of her children and supporting a relationship between them.”

10. Hacker Tactic: Holding Data Hostage

“When the enemy is relaxed, make them toil; when full, make them starve; when settled, make them move.”

11. Fear Not the Coming of the Robots

“Call it automation, call it robots, or call it technology; it all comes down to the concept of producing more with fewer workers. Far from being a scary prospect, that’s a good thing.”

12. Why Are We Importing Our Own Fish?

“While a majority of the seafood Americans eat is foreign, a third of what Americans catch is sold to foreigners.”

13. Gaming the Poor

“The casinos’ method is to induce low-income gamblers to make a huge number of small bets per visit, to visit the casino several times per month, or even per week, and to sustain this pattern over a period of years. The key to executing this method is the slot machine.”

14. Was This Student Dangerous?

“I remember the student’s response to my carefully scripted question about a possible plan to harm himself or others: ‘If I were going to pull a Virginia Tech or a Columbine,’ he said, ‘I wouldn’t tell you about it, would I?’”

15. But I Want to Do Your Homework

“Therein lies the big honking problem of helping with homework. First, you are conveying to your kids that they can’t make it without Mom and Dad’s help. (Though in my case, I managed to convey to my son that if he took Mom’s help again, he was likely to flunk out of middle school.) But more important, you are sending the unmistakable and not so subtle message that it’s better to be right than smart.”

16. The Corporate Daddy

“It’s a sad day when we have to look to corporations for education, health care and basic ways to boost the middle class. Most advanced nations do those things for their people. We used to — witness the G.I. Bill, which helped millions of returning soldiers get a lift to a better life. But you go to war against the income gap with the system you have, and ours is currently broken. By default, we have no choice but to lean on our corporate overlords.”

17. Our Moral Tongue

“When people are presented with the trolley problem in a foreign language, they are more willing to sacrifice one person to save five than when they are presented with the dilemma in their native tongue.”

18. A War to End All Innocence

“World War I remains embedded in the popular consciousness. Publicized in its day as ‘the war to end all wars,’ it has instead become the war to which all subsequent wars, and much else in modern life, seem to refer. Words and phrases once specifically associated with the experience of combat on the Western Front are still part of the common language. We barely recognize ‘in the trenches,’ ‘no man’s land’ or ‘over the top’ as figures of speech, much less as images that evoke what was once a novel form of organized mass death. And we seldom notice that our collective understanding of what has happened in foxholes, jungles, mountains and deserts far removed in space and time from the sandbags and barbed wire of France and Belgium is filtered through the blood, smoke and misery of those earlier engagements.”

19. Telling Folk Heroes From Monsters

“Woe to the once-hallowed trickster. In ancient mythologies, the riddler-thief and agent of change held a position of prestige. Now, we don’t know what to do with him. In our two Americas, we do black and white, either/or, with us or against us. The trickster is in between, both and neither, a character on the fringes.”

20. But Can They Write Fashion Code?

“We all went to a Kanye concert once and we were on the subway and somebody asked, ‘Are you guys a cult?’”

21. John Waters on Hitchhiking Across America

“Picking up a hitchhiker is as much an adventure as it is to hitchhike. It’s a risk on both sides.”

22. Has the Electronic Image Supplanted the Written Word?

“If Gutenberg’s printing press marks a sea change in the history of human consciousness (for McLuhan, not necessarily a positive one, since he’s not above extolling the exoticized ‘tribal’ immediacy of preliterate cultures), what happens when we all become our own instantaneous Gutenbergs?”

23. It’s Official: The Boomerang Kids Won’t Leave

“Sleeping in a twin bed under some old Avril Lavigne posters is not a sign of giving up; it’s an economic plan.”

24. Richard Linklater’s Leading Boy

“Time is actually the lead character in the film.”


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