Sunday 03.08.2015 New York Times Digest


1. The Cost of Paying Attention

“Attention is a resource; a person has only so much of it. And yet we’ve auctioned off more and more of our public space to private commercial interests, with their constant demands on us to look at the products on display or simply absorb some bit of corporate messaging. Lately, our self-appointed disrupters have opened up a new frontier of capitalism, complete with its own frontier ethic: to boldly dig up and monetize every bit of private head space by appropriating our collective attention. In the process, we’ve sacrificed silence — the condition of not being addressed. And just as clean air makes it possible to breathe, silence makes it possible to think.”

2. A Former College Lineman Now on the Streets, Looking for Answers, and Help

“It’s my brain that keeps me from being a productive member of society. I’m physically very strong, but I’m mentally so weak. Something is wrong with me. I don’t know what it is, but I used to be normal, you know? I’m confident — well, I’m pretty sure — that football had something to do with it.”

3. On the Case at Mount Sinai, It’s Dr. Data

“Mr. Hammerbacher, 32, is on the faculty of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, despite the fact that he has no academic training in medicine or biology. He is there because the school has begun an ambitious, well-funded initiative to apply data science to medicine.”

4. The Feel-Good Gene

“For the first time, scientists have demonstrated that a genetic variation in the brain makes some people inherently less anxious, and more able to forget fearful and unpleasant experiences. This lucky genetic mutation produces higher levels of anandamide — the so-called bliss molecule and our own natural marijuana — in our brains.”

5. Here’s What Will Truly Change Higher Education: Online Degrees That Are Seen as Official

“The failure of MOOCs to disrupt higher education has nothing to do with the quality of the courses themselves, many of which are quite good and getting better. Colleges are holding technology at bay because the only thing MOOCs provide is access to world-class professors at an unbeatable price. What they don’t offer are official college degrees, the kind that can get you a job. And that, it turns out, is mostly what college students are paying for. Now information technology is poised to transform college degrees. When that happens, the economic foundations beneath the academy will truly begin to tremble.”

6. America Needs Its Own Emojis

“The Japanese vocabulary is most notable for what it fails to offer Americans.”

7. If an Algorithm Wrote This, How Would You Even Know?

“These days, a shocking amount of what we’re reading is created not by humans, but by computer algorithms.”

8. The Case for Old Ideas

“The assumption, deeply ingrained in our intelligentsia, that everything depends on finding the most modern and ‘scientific’ alternative to older verities has been tested repeatedly — with mostly dire results.”

9. Revenge Movies Offer Mythic Middle-Aged Protectors

“When we meet him, the former assassin, former C.I.A. agent or former cop is haunted by a horrible misstep in his past, and racking himself with guilt from which he will never recover. He drinks, or has given it up. And his haunted stasis is broken only by mission; it is only when in mode, on a killing spree to retrieve his honor (and the innocent girl), that he is really at home.”

10. Black Comedians in South Africa Put Power in the Punch Lines

“The road to a comedy renaissance in South Africa was rocky, to say the least. For decades, comedy was the white man’s domain — blacks who made incendiary jokes in public were liable to be arrested.”

11. For Some in Transgender Community, It’s Never Too Late to Make a Change

“Coming out as transgender is not easy for anyone. But the issues are particularly thorny for those trying to reconfigure a central tenet of identity decades after building an adult life with family and career.”

12. Erik Larson’s Dead Wake, About the Lusitania

“Few tales in history are more haunting, more tangled with investigatory mazes or more fraught with toxic secrets than that of the final voyage of the Lusitania, one of the colossal tragedies of maritime history. It’s the other Titanic, the story of a mighty ship sunk not by the grandeur of nature but by the grimness of man. On May 7, 1915, the four-funneled, 787-foot Cunard superliner, on a run from New York to Liverpool, encountered a German submarine, the U-20, about 11 miles off the coast of Ireland. The U-boat’s captain, Walther Schwieger, was pleased to discover that the passenger steamer had no naval escort. Following his government’s new policy of unrestricted warfare, Schwieger fired a single torpedo into her hull. Less than half a minute later, a second explosion shuddered from somewhere deep within the bowels of the vessel, and she listed precariously to starboard. The Lusitania sank in just 18 minutes. Nearly 1,200 people, including 128 Americans, died with it. The casualties included the millionaire Alfred Vanderbilt, the Broadway impresario Charles Frohman and the noted art collector Hugh Lane, who was thought to be carrying sealed lead tubes containing paintings by Rembrandt and Monet.”

13. Kazuo Ishiguro: By the Book

“Given the centrality of the frontier myth in America’s collective memory, I’ve long been puzzled by the reluctance of the U.S. literary community to embrace this genre more wholeheartedly. I sense nervousness, evasion and self-consciousness whenever the topic comes up in polite circles. Is it just that the western seems to be owned so much by the cinema? Or is there a deeper unease about the territory it inevitably occupies?”

14. The ‘Loser Edit’ That Awaits Us All

“The loser edit has become a limber metaphor for exploring our own real-world failures. Fate doles out ideas for subplots — fire her, dump him, all species of mortification — and we eagerly run with them, cutting loser narratives for friends and enemies, the people we have demoted to the status of mere character. Everybody’s setbacks or degradations have been foreshadowed if we look hard enough at the old tape. We arrange the sequences, borrowing from cultural narratives of disgrace, sifting through the available footage with a bit of hindsight — and in turn, we endure our own loser edits when we stumble.”

15. How the Army Jacket Became a Staple of Civilian Garb

“Proving immune to the seasonal cycles of designer fashion, retaining currency with elites despite its presence in bargain bins, losing no prestige with youth even as their elders try the same look, the army soldier’s green jacket has developed a status on par with that of the gold miner’s bluejeans with which it pairs so well.”

16. Letter of Recommendation: LaCroix Sparkling Water

“To the extent it has a brand identity, LaCroix is for people who might not be perfect but are proud of their lifestyle choices every day.”

17. How to Drive a Getaway Car

“Vary the routes you take to work, your children’s school, the gym. Predictability makes for easy surveillance, and, as Farrer tells his students, ‘routine movements are the riskiest.’ Keep the windows up and the doors locked. To facilitate speedy exits, back into parking spots. Wait for a well-lit public place before pulling over, especially if it’s for a fender bender. Never tailgate: ‘Give yourself space to maneuver,’ says Farrer, whose courses include instruction on how to ram through roadblocks, drive in reverse in a slalom pattern to dodge bullets and skid 180 degrees in what’s called a ‘bootlegger’s turn.’”

18. Is Most of Our DNA Garbage?

“Why does an onion carry around so much more genetic material than a human? Or why, for that matter, do the broad-footed salamander (65.5 billion bases), the African lungfish (132 billion) and the Paris japonica flower (149 billion)? These organisms don’t appear to be more complex than we are, so Gregory rejects the idea that they’re accomplishing more with all their extra DNA. Instead, he champions an idea first developed in the 1970s but still startling today: that the size of an animal’s or plant’s genome has essentially no relationship to its complexity, because a vast majority of its DNA is — to put it bluntly — junk.”

19. Hooking Up

“With every passing season, the gap between hip-hop and fashion shrinks just a bit more.”

20. Vanity Clause

“Over-grooming is now a mode of hysteria common to every other man I know, and it isn’t attractive. I believe it feeds off a larger anxiety in the culture, the obligation to self-invent, the demand for constant increase, and it has made the men of my generation into emotional shadows of their former selves.”

21. The Unknown Notebooks of Jean-Michel Basquiat

“He kept his notebooks like a poet would, rather than like his tagging peers, whose notebooks often consisted of endless elaborations on a single tag. Even so, the words aren’t just written; they are sketched. The letters are shapely; their placement on the page matters. (By contrast, the addresses and phone numbers here and there are scrawled.) Basquiat was always a poet and a painter simultaneously, by instinct.”

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