Sunday 12.14.2014 New York Times Digest

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1. Abundance Without Attachment

“Call it the Christmas Conundrum. We are supposed to revel in gift-giving and generosity, yet the season’s lavishness and commercialization leave many people cold. The underlying contradiction runs throughout modern life. On one hand, we naturally seek and rejoice in prosperity. On the other hand, success in this endeavor is often marred by a materialism we find repellent and alienating.”

2. For Jihadists, Denmark Tries Rehabilitation

“Mohammed, a 25-year-old resident of Somali descent who asked to be identified only by his first name, illustrates how counseling can dissuade at least some young Muslims from extremism. He said he never planned to fight in Syria but did intend to abandon his studies and move to Pakistan after falling in with a group of young radicals who offered friendship and comfort after the death of his mother and a dispute with his high school principal.”

3. Why U.S. Women Are Leaving Jobs Behind

“As recently as 1990, the United States had one of the top employment rates in the world for women, but it has now fallen behind many European countries. After climbing for six decades, the percentage of women in the American work force peaked in 1999, at 74 percent for women between 25 and 54. It has fallen since, to 69 percent today.”

4. Some of the Rich Collect Art. Others Collect Passports.

“Wealthy investors from around the world are increasingly shopping for visas or citizenship in other countries, hoping for a personal hedge against their own volatile governments or economies.”

5. What People Buy Where

“The average household in the nation spends approximately $5,000 per year on conspicuous items, but that spending is expressed in varying ways. In 2012 in Dallas, curtains, draperies, decorative pillows, lamps and floor coverings accounted, in part, for above-average conspicuous spending. In Boston, it was fancy wine in restaurants and bars. And in Phoenix, residents spend above the national average on their pets.”

6. Where Tech Giants Protect Privacy

“Across the globe, countries are looking toward Europe for cues on how best to protect their citizens’ privacy.”

7. The Imitation of Marriage

“We may have a culture in which the working class is encouraged to imitate what are sold as key upper-class values — sexual permissiveness and self-fashioning, spirituality and emotivism — when really the upper class is also held together by a kind of secret traditionalism, without whose binding power family life ends up coming apart even faster.”

8. Is It Bad Enough Yet?

“The police killing unarmed civilians. Horrifying income inequality. Rotting infrastructure and an unsafe ‘safety net.’ An inability to respond to climate, public health and environmental threats. A food system that causes disease. An occasionally dysfunctional and even cruel government. A sizable segment of the population excluded from work and subject to near-random incarceration.”

9. The Cult of the Bulletproof Coffee Diet

“It seems these days everyone is a coffee evangelist, but there are perhaps no proselytizers more fervent than those of Bulletproof coffee, a creation of the technology entrepreneur and biohacker Dave Asprey.”

10. The Rapid Decline of the Movie Quotation

“Greed, for lack of a better word, isn’t always good: it results in sequel-ready franchises with less reliance on nuanced English dialogue and more on eye candy.”

11. Jill Lepore’s Secret History of Wonder Woman

“Wonder Woman first appeared in December 1941, wearing a bustier, high-heeled red boots and an American flag. To her readers, many grappling with the shock of Pearl Harbor, she promised to ‘avenge … injustice’ and ‘protect’ America. She came well armed. Her arsenal included a magic power girdle, bullet-deflecting bracelets, a telepathic radio, an invisible airplane, a lasso that forced the truth from anyone it touched and a merry band of scantily clad students from a women’s college.”

12. Fields of Blood, by Karen Armstrong

“Violence almost always originates with the state and spills over to religion, rather than vice versa.”

13. A Country Called Childhood, by Jay Griffiths

“Griffiths believes that we force very young children into too much independence at a time when all they want is intimacy (she particularly deplores Ferberization, or controlled crying), and that we then exert too much control over older children who yearn only for freedom (she is dismayed by standardized testing). She questions the hierarchical nature of most adult-child relations, and demonstrates that in many cultures and across much of history, children have been given a much broader right of self-determination. She is fanatical about the importance of the great outdoors, and believes that all children need the kith of woods, sea and sky. She laments the enclosures movement of the 15th to 19th centuries that eliminated most common agricultural rights.Concerned that so many children today require treatment for psychological ills, she proposes space and freedom as the cure.She makes an eloquent, loosely Marxist argument that children’s play has been overtaken by commercial interests, so that imagination gets upstaged by sophistry. She objects to the way the nuclear family excludes the wider penumbra of people who stand to love any child, describing all the advantages of a “well villaged” child who may belong “to the street or the commons as much as to the home.” She lauds the idea of childhood as a quest that is precious regardless of its destination. And she regrets the fact that too many children are cut off from their daemon — their true calling — by a dreary pragmatism and a rigid, unresponsive education system. She argues from the hard left of common freedoms and from the hard right of reactionary nostalgia.”

14. The Power Broker, 40 Years Later

“Working on The Power Broker — researching it, writing it — took me seven years, and when I finished I was sure I never wanted to see it again.”

15. Exercising a Fat Dog (and Yourself)

“Being told one’s pet is dangerously overweight might provide the impetus that gets an owner moving.”

16. A Brief History of Kissing in Movies

“Cinema may not have invented kissing, but I suspect that over the course of the 20th century, movies helped make it more essential. What is undeniable is that movies — Hollywood movies especially, but far from exclusively — made kissing more visible. They established a glamorous iconography and an elegant choreography for an experience that, in real life, is frequently sloppy, clumsy and less than perfectly graceful.”

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