Sunday 02.01.2015 New York Times Digest

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1. Reading in Transit

“Gerritsen comes to New York for two weeks three times a year and spent 13 weeks shooting straphangers for the project. No e-readers were allowed.”

2. $3 Tip on a $4 Cup of Coffee? Gratuities Grow, Automatically

“There are records of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson giving tips to their slaves.”

3. At Your Service: Information Sleuth at the New York Public Library

“Mr. Boylan has fielded questions from surgeons who called while performing operations.”

4. Climate Change’s Bottom Line

“Shifts in weather over the next few decades will most likely cost American companies hundreds of billions of dollars, and they have no choice but to adapt.”

5. Dying Shouldn’t Be So Brutal

“Dying is not easy, but it needn’t be this hard.”

6. The Vaccine Lunacy

“In 2004, there were just 37 reported cases of measles in the United States. In 2014, there were 644.”

7. Closing the Math Gap for Boys

“After just a single year in Chicago’s intensive tutoring and mentoring program, known as Match, participants ended up as much as two years ahead of students in a control group who didn’t get this help.”

8. Lights Out in Nigeria

“The inverter’s batteries charge while there is light, storing energy that can be used later, but therein lies the problem: The device requires electricity to be able to give electricity. And it is fragile, helpless in the face of the water pump and microwave. Finally, I buy a second generator, a small, noisy machine, inelegant and scrappy. It uses petrol, which is cheaper than diesel, and can power lights and fans and freezers but only one air-conditioner, and so I move my writing desk from my study to my bedroom, to consolidate cool air.”

9. The Only Baby Book You’ll Ever Need

“Professor Lancy, who teaches at Utah State University, has pored over the anthropology literature to collect insights from a range of culture types, along with primate studies, history and his own fieldwork in seven countries. He’s not explicitly writing for parents. Yet through factoids and analysis, he demonstrates something that American parents desperately need to hear: Children are raised in all sorts of ways, and they all turn out just fine.”

10. Was Abolitionism a Failure?

“In 1860 the premier antislavery newspaper, The Liberator, had a circulation of under 3,000, in a nation of 31 million.”

11. The Death of the Dinosaurs

“Few are ready to demote the role of the dinosaurs’ asteroid, which created a crater larger than any found in the half-billion-year history of animal life. Some experts still contend that it was the lone killer. But many now lean toward a one-two punch of a planet weakened by volcanoes and then crippled by the asteroid. Or vice versa.”

12. The Myth of the Harmless Wrong

“The notion of ‘harmless wrongs’ or ‘victimless crimes’ is more complicated that you might think. Although logically possible, victimless crimes are psychologically rare. Perceptually speaking, if you see something as wrong, you almost certainly see it as harmful. The absence of victims occurs only in the absence of immorality.”

13. David Adam’s The Man Who Couldn’t Stop

“Obsessive-compulsive disorder can make people do weird things. The mathematician Kurt Gödel was so afraid of tainted food that he would eat only portions his wife tasted first; after she became too ill to do this, he starved to death.”

14. Gateway to Freedom, by Eric Foner

“It may seem difficult to believe that slave owners and hired slave catchers prowled the streets of Manhattan before the Civil War, openly carrying whips, pistols and manacles in order to reclaim their ‘property,’ but such was the case.”

15. They Eat Horses, Don’t They? by Piu Marie Eatwell

“We glean insights that help make sense of one of the most perplexing French paradoxes: the fact that, despite guaranteeing workers a stunning 40 days of paid vacation per year and with its citizens spending an astounding 15.3 hours per day on ‘leisure and personal care,’ France also ranks fifth among nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in worker productivity. This particular form of cultural exceptionalism, Eatwell suggests, putting forward an argument from the economist Olivier Passet, is probably because of the exceedingly high unemployment rates among France’s oldest and youngest potential workers, an absence that artificially inflates productivity figures.”

16. A Theory of the Drone, by Grégoire Chamayou

“May not governments start using their killer drones not just in wars waged against foreigners in faraway countries but also at home, against their own citizens?”

17. Is Being a Writer a Job or a Calling?

“There is something dreary about wanting writing to be a real job. The sense of inner purpose, so often unmentionable in a society enamored of professionalization, distinguishes a writer from a hack. Emily Dickinson didn’t turn her calling into a job, and neither did Franz Kafka, or Fernando Pessoa, or Wallace Stevens, or any of the millions of writers who have never earned a penny for their thoughts. A defrocked priest forever remains a priest, and a writer — independent of publication or readership or ‘career’ — is always a writer. Independent, even of writing. Writing, after all, is something one does. A writer is something one is.”

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