Sunday 8.17.2014 New York Times Digest

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1. Playing Soldier in the Suburbs

“In the name of local preparedness, Washington has been bestowing antiterror grants and Pentagon surplus on communities barely touched by major crime, let alone by terrorism. Tanks and aircraft, helmets and armor, guns and grenade launchers have flowed to police departments from Des Moines (home of two $180,000 bomb-disarming robots) to Keene, N.H. (population 23,000, murder rate infinitesimal and the proud custodian of an armored BearCat).”

2. Deep Tensions Rise to Surface After Ferguson Shooting

“As African-Americans moved into the city and whites moved out, real estate agents and city leaders, in a pattern familiar elsewhere in the country, conspired to keep blacks out of the suburbs through the use of zoning ordinances and restrictive covenants. But by the 1970s, some of those barriers had started to fall, and whites moved even farther away from the city. These days, Ferguson is like many of the suburbs around St. Louis, inner-ring towns that accommodated white flight decades ago but that are now largely black. And yet they retain a white power structure.”

3. In Push to Shorten Games, There’s No Time to Waste

“Attention spans are getting shorter while games are getting longer.”

4. In the Sharing Economy, Workers Find Both Freedom and Uncertainty

“In the promising parlance of the sharing economy, whose sites and apps connect people seeking services with sellers of those services, Ms. Guidry is a microentrepreneur. That is, an independent contractor who earns money by providing her skills, time or property to consumers in search of a lift, a room to sleep in, a dry-cleaning pickup, a chef, an organizer of closets.”

5. Authenticity, Repurposed, in a Mason Jar

“Until several years ago, the simple Mason jar was more likely to be found in the nooks of grandmothers’ pantries than on retailers’ shelves. It was salvaged from near extinction by businesses eager for a homespun aesthetic in a sturdy, affordable package — many of them hoping to lure the millennials who have fetishized the jars in photographs on Instagram and Pinterest.”

6. Download: Nadya Tolokonnikova

“I also listen to Doris Day. My father played for me when I was a child. ‘Que Sera, Sera.’ Whatever will be, will be. Yesterday we listened all day to Marilyn Monroe’s ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.’ It’s about conceptual femininity and I like to think about it and reflect on it.”

7. The Disappearing Volunteer Firefighter

“What was once an iconic part of American life is losing its allure, in part because the work — some would say the calling — is a lot less fun than it used to be.”

8. Playing the Numbers in Digital Dating

“What if it turns out that relying on algorithms doesn’t make dating less chaotic, but more so, in a whole new way? What if, instead of finding our way to a partner, following certain algorithms leads us only further away?”

9. Teaching Is Not a Business

“The process of teaching and learning is an intimate act that neither computers nor markets can hope to replicate.”

10. The Obituary Lottery

“It is a cruel thing, this wheel of obituary fortune. You can never be assured that your passage to eternal bliss will get the attention it deserves.”

11. Should We Teach Plato in Gym Class?

“The training of the body is directly related to the development of a fundamental aspect of the human psyche: what Plato, that pre-eminent teacher of teaching, called thymos. In English we don’t have a word for this concept, but it encompasses both bravery and the urge for glory. Perhaps the closest we have is ‘spiritedness,’ as in ‘a spirited competitor.’ Plato knew that thymos is a marvelous quality that needs to be developed and strengthened, especially in those who represent the community as soldiers. But Plato also knew that thymos can be dangerous. The spirited part of the soul can take control and turn what would have been an admirable man or woman into a beast.”

12. The Wisdom of the Exile

“Uprooting is a devastating blow because you have to separate yourself overnight from something that, for as long as you can remember, has been an important part of your identity. In a sense, you are your culture, customs, language, country, your family, your lovers. Yet exile, should you survive it, can be the greatest of philosophical gifts, a blessing in disguise. In fact, philosophers, too, should be uprooted. At least once in their lives. They should be exiled, displaced, deported — that should be part of their training. For when your old world goes down it also takes with it all your assumptions, commonplaces, prejudices and preconceived ideas.”

13. Pioneer in France and on the Frontier

“Here, as in Paris Blues, Mr. Poitier embodies historical memory. His understated empathy for the Garner and Andersson characters is the film’s tacit reminder that ours is a nation stained by the sins of slavery and ethnic cleansing. Duel at Diablo is another reminder: The demise of the Hollywood western eliminated a genre that once served as an arena where popular artists debated the nature of the national past.”

14. Generation Nice

“Why this microscopic attention paid to a generation whose oldest members are only now entering the prime of their adult lives? One answer is that millennials, the first people to come of age in the 21st century, with its dizzying rate of technological change, have been forced to invent new ways of navigating it.”

15. A Makeover for the Hijab, via Instagram

“Muslim women in their 20s and 30s are making their own mark on hijab culture, while propagating it in a way particular to the ‘selfie generation’: by posting pictures and videos of themselves on various social media sites.”

16. Them Dames

“The story is a thoughtful meditation on female identity and whether the not-so-simple art of murder can ever be defended as a moral necessity. It is a story about stories, the myths we have to create in order to keep putting one foot in front of the other.”

17. In the Rearview Mirror

“The car birthed or fostered not only highways, motels, drive-through restaurants and drive-in movies, municipal parking garages and innovations in home architecture to accommodate the one-car garage, but also mail-order businesses, holidays, campgrounds, ski resorts and destinations like Vermont, which was ‘a quiet, remote backwater until the car and its highway came along.’”

18. How to Monetize Your Cat

“Just kinda go with it.”

19. The Rise of Beefcake Yoga

“The curious Venn diagram overlap of battered war vets, couch potatoes and former wrestlers was not lost on anybody in Page’s camp. Jake Roberts, in some sense, was its center point — an athlete who had taken a severe physical beating and had also given up on himself. When Page heard that his old friend was squirreled away in Gainesville, smoking crack and boozing, he decided that he wanted to help him.”

20. Inside the Dark, Lucrative World of Consumer Debt Collection

“Siegel struck out on his own, investing in distressed consumer debt — basically buying up the right to collect unpaid credit-card bills. When debtors stop paying those bills, the banks regard the balances as assets for 180 days. After that, they are of questionable worth. So banks ‘charge off’ the accounts, taking a loss, and other creditors act similarly. These huge, routine sell-offs have created a vast market for unpaid debts — not just credit-card debts but also auto loans, medical loans, gym fees, payday loans, overdue cellphone tabs, old utility bills, delinquent book-club accounts. The scale is breathtaking. From 2006 to 2009, for example, the nation’s top nine debt buyers purchased almost 90 million consumer accounts with more than $140 billion in ‘face value.’ And they bought at a steep discount. On average, they paid just 4.5 cents on the dollar. These debt buyers collect what they can and then sell the remaining accounts to other buyers, and so on. Those who trade in such debt call it ‘paper.’”

21. Should You Fear the Pizzly Bear?

“The creation story … begins during European colonization, when the Eastern wolf was hunted and poisoned out of existence in its native Northeast. A remnant population … migrated to Canada. At the same time, coyotes, native to the Great Plains, began pushing eastward and mated with the refugee wolves. Their descendants in turn bred with coyotes and dogs. The result has been a creature with enough strength to hunt the abundant woodland deer, which it followed into the recovering Eastern forests. Coywolves, or Eastern coyotes … have since pushed south to Virginia and east to Newfoundland. The Eastern coyote is a study in the balancing act required to survive as a medium-size predator in a landscape full of people. It can be as much as 40 percent larger than the Western coyote, with powerful wolflike jaws; it has also inherited the wolf’s more social nature, which allows for pack hunting. (In 2009, a pack of Eastern coyotes attacked and killed a 19-year-old Canadian folk singer named Taylor Mitchell in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.) But it shares with coyotes, some 2,000 of which live within Chicago’s city limits, a remarkable ability to thrive in humanized landscapes.”

22. A Mother’s Journey Through the Unnerving Universe of ‘Unboxing’ Videos

“Unboxing is not so much a craze anymore as a genre — a manifestation of a new world of consumer expression.”

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