Sunday 01.04.2015 New York Times Digest

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1. How My Mom Got Hacked

“In addition to being criminals, these peddlers of ransomware are clearly businesspeople, skillfully appropriating all the tools of e-commerce. From branding … to determining what they can extort … these operators are … part of ‘a very mature, well-oiled capitalist machine.’”

2. The Economics (and Nostalgia) of Dead Malls

“With income inequality continuing to widen, high-end malls are thriving, even as stolid retail chains like Sears, Kmart and J. C. Penney falter, taking the middle- and working-class malls they anchored with them.”

3. N.F.L. Coaches Now Reach for Next Level: College

“In college, the head coach frequently has more power than the star quarterback, the athletic director, the university president, even the governor.”

4. Her Task: Weaning White House Off Floppy Disks.

“Ms. Smith, 50, an M.I.T.-trained mechanical engineer and former Google executive, is working hard to bring her Silicon Valley sensibility to the Obama administration.”

5. Dying in the E.R., and on TV Without His Family’s Consent

“No one in the Chanko family had given ‘NY Med’ permission to film Mr. Chanko’s treatment at the hospital or to broadcast the moments leading up to his death.”

6. Racial Bias, Even When We Have Good Intentions

“Good intentions do not guarantee immunity.”

7. If You Want to Meet That Deadline, Play a Trick on Your Mind

“Research into procrastination has noted that people have much less concern about their future selves than their present selves — and are willing to sell their future selves down the river for the sake of present ease. But when the present marches into the future, and we are confronted with the work that our past selves refused to do, we pay the price in unmet deadlines, all-nighters and general torment.”

8. Playing Dumb on Climate Change

“Even as scientists consciously rejected religion as a basis of natural knowledge, they held on to certain cultural presumptions about what kind of person had access to reliable knowledge. One of these presumptions involved the value of ascetic practices. Nowadays scientists do not live monastic lives, but they do practice a form of self-denial, denying themselves the right to believe anything that has not passed very high intellectual hurdles.”

9. Healthy Body, Unhealthy Mind

“We run and run in search of contentment, Pascal wrote in his Pensées, and so ensure we’ll never be settled or content. We mindlessly race away from the one place where happiness is to be found.”

10. Is Life Better in America’s Red States?

“For a middle-class person , the American dream of a big house with a backyard and a couple of cars is much more achievable in low-tax Arizona than in deep-blue Massachusetts.”

11. Suicides Spread Through a Brazilian Tribe

“Indigenous peoples suffer the greatest suicide risk among cultural or ethnic groups worldwide. Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men ages 25 to 29 have a suicide rate four times higher than the general population in that same age group in Australia, according to the country’s Department of Health. In the United States, suicide is the second leading cause of death, behind accidents, for American Indian and Alaska Native men ages 15 to 34, and is two and a half times higher than the national average for that age group, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.”

12. China’s Crime-Free Crime Films

“Welcome to the world of screenwriting for China, where crime stories are crime free, ghost tales have no ghosts and crooked politicians can’t be crooked.”

13. Resolving to Create a New You

“Instead of looking outward to find the value that determines what you should do, you can look inward to what you can stand behind, commit to, resolve to throw yourself behind. By committing to an option, you can confer value on it.”

14. The Liberation of Growing Old

“The historians Thomas R. Cole and David Hackett Fischer have documented how, at the start of the 19th century, the idea of aging as part of the human condition, with its inevitable limits, increasingly gave way to a conception of old age as a biomedical problem to which there might be a scientific solution. What was lost was a sense of the life span, with each stage having value and meaning.”

15. Radical Islam, Nihilist Rage

“A religion is defined not just by its holy texts but also by how believers interpret those texts — that is, by its practices. The ways in which believers act out their faith define that faith. The fact that Islamist extremists practice their religion in a manner abhorrent to liberals does not make that practice less real.”

15. The Paradox of the Free-Market Liberal

“There are often decisive forces compelling those with a conservative personality to be economically left wing.”

16. The Unending Anxiety of an ICYMI World

“ICYMI makes staying connected feel like a constant game of catch-up, like finding things at a slower pace warrants some kind of disclaimer.”

17. The Selfie Stick Takes Manhattan

“In a culture where technological advances are often used to help humans connect more deeply to their own narcissism, this is an important innovation.”

18. A Prairie Prologue in Nebraska

“Never used for farmland, the Sand Hills are said to be one of the most unique grasslands in the world and the largest, intact native grasslands in North America.”

19. Patton Oswalt: By the Book

“I hate the term ‘guilty pleasure.’ If I take pleasure in something there is no reason for me to experience guilt. Especially if it hurts no one else.”

20. Loitering, Essays by Charles D’Ambrosio

“The presentation of himself as a damaged outsider, barely holding on, ups the dramatic ante, though it does seem at odds with the accomplished, balanced, commanding prose D’Ambrosio appears able to muster with every sentence — not to mention his prestigious awards and teaching stints. But he certainly has cause to feel damaged, as we learn from his family history: One brother committed suicide; another brother, schizophrenic, jumped off the Aurora Bridge but lived. His ‘monstrous’ father, a professor of finance, stopped communicating with his seven children, gave all of his money to the Roman Catholic Church and ended up a crackpot.”

21. Citizen Coke, by Bartow J. Elmore

“Coke was the brainchild of John Stith Pemberton, a broke, morphine-addicted pharmacist in Atlanta who advertised it as a ‘brain tonic.’ ‘Just add a few squirts of carbonated water,’ he instructed the salesmen hawking the syrup in 1886. A century later, those squirts have gushed into a tidal wave. Over 79 billion gallons of water are required annually to dilute Coke syrup, and an additional eight trillion gallons are needed for other aspects of production, including the manufacturing of bottles. In 2012, Coke used more water than close to a quarter of the world’s population.”

22. A Tale of Two Plantations, by Richard S. Dunn

“In the Caribbean, white masters treated the slaves like ‘disposable cogs in a machine,’ working them to death on sugar plantations and then replacing them with fresh stock from Africa. In the United States, white masters treated their slaves like the machine itself — a breeding machine.”

23. Empire of Cotton, by Sven Beckert

“The 18th century certainly belonged to sugar. The race to cultivate it in the West Indies was, in the words of the French Enlightenment writer Guillaume-Thomas de Raynal, ‘the principal cause of the rapid movement which stirs the Universe.’ In the 20th century and beyond, the commodity has been oil: determining events from the Allied partitioning of the Middle East after World War I to Hitler’s drive for Balkan and Caspian wells to the forging of our own fateful ties to the regimes of the Persian Gulf. In his important new book, the Harvard historian Sven Beckert makes the case that in the 19th century what most stirred the universe was cotton.”

24. Empire’s Crossroads, by Carrie Gibson

“Europeans met with resistance in the Caribbean, and Gibson debunks yet another myth of the naïve native welcoming the white man. She also points out that geography and climate were major forces on the side of the natives, deterring the conquest of the islands: volcanoes, hurricanes, suffocating weather, swampy terrain, not to mention all sorts of insects, like the malaria-carrying mosquito … Jamaica is hilly, so many Africans and Amerindians were able to escape slavery by hiding in caves in the hills. The density of the forest in Dominica, observable on the route from the airport to the capital, allowed many Kalinago people to survive, undetected among the thick trees.”

25. The Split-Screen Marriage

“In our lives, we sync calendars, share photo streams and believe ourselves to be just a few app installations away from banishing loneliness altogether. In our art, though, we stew in mutual incomprehension, turning every queen-size bed into the set for a miniature Rashomon. These stories are a warning bubbling up from our collective unconscious about something we’d rather forget: that we might not know one another nearly so well as we think. In the era of family Fitbit competitions, tales of irreconcilable narration are our spine chillers.”

26. Inside a Chinese Test-Prep Factory

“Nothing consumes the lives of Chinese families more than the ever-­looming prospect of the gaokao. The exam — there are two versions, one focused on science, the other on humanities — is the modern incarnation of the imperial keju, generally regarded as the world’s first standardized test. For more than 1,300 years, into the early 20th century, the keju funneled young men into China’s civil service. Today, more than nine million students take the gaokao each year (fewer than 3.5 million, combined, take the SAT and the ACT). But the pressure to start memorizing and regurgitating facts weighs on Chinese students from the moment they enter elementary school. Even at the liberal bilingual kindergarten my sons attended in Beijing, Chinese parents pushed their 5-year-olds to learn multiplication tables and proper Chinese and English syntax, lest their children fall behind their peers in first grade. ‘To be honest,’ one of my Chinese friends, a new mother, told me, ‘the gaokao race really begins at birth.’”

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