Sunday 7.19.2015 New York Times Digest

1. A Long Hardwood Journey

“One of the most successful public school coaches in New York City, he places emphasis less on athleticism than on chesslike analysis, film study and team play. He digs deep into the psyches of his players, to the point that some talk of him — to his discomfort — as being akin to a father. No Fannie Lou player has gone on to play college basketball at a top-tier program. But in this poor and working-class corner of the South Bronx, Skelton’s teams have amassed a 100 percent graduation rate and a formidable winning tradition. Last year, Fannie Lou, a small school of 386 students, came within a missed shot of a city championship. The previous year, Fannie Lou went 29-4 and won the championship.”

2. Stowaways and Crimes Aboard a Scofflaw Ship

“No one is required to report violent crimes committed in international waters.”

3. The Long, Strange Trip to Pluto, and How NASA Nearly Missed It

“The rest of the long cruise was mostly uneventful. Flinging a spacecraft to a rendezvous at the edge of the solar system is indeed rocket science, but not groundbreaking rocket science. The equations — the basic laws of Isaac Newton — are the same ones that were used decades ago.”

4. U.S. vs. Hackers: Still Lopsided Despite Years of Warnings and a Recent Push

“Many government agencies have demonstrated little commitment to making cybersecurity a priority.”

5. My Digital Cemetery

“The convenient-by-design act of deleting the name of a dead friend with a simple tap or click can feel like overtly participating in removing that person from the world.”

6. How the West Overcounts Its Water Supplies

“Leaders in California and Arizona acknowledge that their states have failed to adequately account for overlapping supplies of surface water and groundwater. And it’s not hard to appreciate why: Doing the water math properly would mean facing the fact that there is even less water available than residents have been led to believe. Acting on that grim jolt of reality would mean changing laws governing traditional water rights or forcing farmers and cities to accept even more dramatic cuts than they already face.”

7. The Revolt Against Tourism

“Outraged by tourists’ boorish and disrespectful behavior, and responding to the complaints of their constituents, local officials around the world have begun to crack down on tourism, and the tourism industry.”

8. Psychiatry’s Identity Crisis

“Despite a vast investment in basic neuroscience research and its rich intellectual promise, we have little to show for it on the treatment front.”

9. If World Leaders Can Skip Deadlines, Why Can’t I?

“If deadlines can be missed so easily, what is the point of having them at all?”

10. The Dangers of Happiness

“As we rush to make happiness the ultimate aim both for ourselves and society at large, we might want to recall some of the wonderfully rich and depressingly contradictory history of the concept.”

11. The Anxious Americans

“Americans are a pretty anxious people. Nearly one in five of us — 18 percent — has an anxiety disorder. We spend over $2 billion a year on anti-anxiety medications. College students are often described as more stressed than ever before. There are many explanations for these nerves: a bad job market, less cohesive communities, the constant self-comparison that is social media. In 2002 the World Mental Health Survey found that Americans were the most anxious people in the 14 countries studied, with more clinically significant levels of anxiety than people in Nigeria, Lebanon and Ukraine.”

12. At Comic-Con, Bring Out Your Fantasy and Fuel the Culture

“In other eras and societies — the Great Depression, the Soviet Union — long lines signify scarcity or oppression. In the Bizarro World that is 21st-century America, it’s the opposite: Long lines are signs of abundance and hedonism. Much can be learned about a civilization from studying its queuing habits, and Comic-Con surpasses even the Disney theme parks in the sophistication of its crowd management and the variety of its arrangements.”

13. The Weather Experiment, by Peter Moore

“The decision is one of the most second-guessed in the history of meteorology. It is also one of the most fateful, and not only for the terrifying finale that saw the Royal Charter bashed onto the rocks, all but 41 of its passengers crushed or drowned, many weighted down by the gold in their pockets.”

14. Big Science, by Michael Hiltzik

“Lawrence’s greatest contribution … was not building any specific cyclotron — a task often delegated to others — but creating the infrastructure that made them possible. His was less a scientific than a managerial genius. He learned how to feed the ambitions of wealthy and powerful patrons. To university administrators he promised prestige, to biologists medical isotopes, to industrialists new materials and energy sources, to philanthropists glory.”

15. In Search of Sir Thomas Browne, by Hugh Aldersey-Williams

“The all-time standard-bearer for the mandarin style has to be Sir Thomas Browne. This 17th-century English physician and philosopher, living in provincial isolation from literary London, managed to cultivate the most sonorous organ-voice in the history of English prose. At a time when the prevailing plain style was growing dull and insipid (John Locke is an example), it was Browne who showed the way to new possibilities of Ciceronian splendor. In doing so, he became a prolific contributor of novel words to the English language. Among his 784 credited neologisms are ‘electricity,’ ‘hallucination,’ ‘medical,’ ‘ferocious,’ ‘deductive’ and ‘swaggy.’ (Other coinages failed to take: like ‘retromingent,’ for urinating backward.)”

16. What Are the Consequences of Our Cultural Obsession With Newness?

“We can dissent with something of the curmudgeonly spirit of Thoreau railing against the ‘improved means to an unimproved end’ represented by the allure of the new. We shouldn’t reject the new by any means, but we can cultivate greater indifference to it. We can choose from both the new and the old, with the knowledge that work, thought and love are required to give meaning to what we hold in our hands.”

17. How ‘Privilege’ Became a Provocation

“Most of us already occupy some kind of visible social identity, but for those who have imagined themselves to be free agents, the notion of possessing privilege calls them back to their bodies in a way that feels new and unpleasant. It conflicts with a number of cherished American ideals of self-­invention and self-­reliance, meritocracy and quick fixes — and lends itself to no obvious action, which is perhaps why the ritual of ‘confessing’ to your privilege, or getting someone else to, has accumulated the meaning it has. It’s the fumbling hope that acknowledging privilege could offer some temporary absolution for having it.”

18. Hiding From Animals

“What you see from hides is supposed to be true reality: animals behaving perfectly naturally because they do not know they are being observed. But turning yourself into a pair of eyes in a darkened box distances you from the all-encompassing landscape around the hide, reinforcing a divide between human and natural worlds, encouraging us to think that animals and plants should be looked at, not interacted with. Sometimes the window in front of me resembles nothing so much as a television screen.”

19. How Hip-Hop Is Becoming the Oldies

“Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac should never be played back to back (it might call to mind their deadly feud), and a Biggie song should never be played before or after ‘I’ll Be Missing You,’ the tribute song Puff Daddy recorded after Biggie was killed. Michaels also won’t play Outkast next to Ludacris — it just feels weird.”

20. You Just Got Out of Prison. Now What?

“The job started as a simple delivery service, to carry some of these discombobulated bodies from one place to another. In late 2013, the director of the Three Strikes Project, Michael Romano, contacted a nonprofit called the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, which has built up a close community of formerly incarcerated people in Los Angeles. (Romano, who is also an A.R.C. board member, is a friend of mine.) Romano asked if A.R.C. could dispatch one of its members to pick up third-strikers and drive them to their housing near the Staples Center in Los Angeles. A.R.C. recommended Carlos, a dependable young man just three years out of prison himself, who — most important — also had his own car and a credit card to front money for gas. Carlos was hired, for $12 an hour, to fetch an old man named Terry Critton from a prison in Chino. On the way back, Critton asked if Carlos wouldn’t mind stopping at Amoeba Records, so he could look at jazz LPs — he’d been a big collector. They wound up spending almost two hours in the store, just looking. Then, Critton wanted a patty melt, so Carlos found a place called Flooky’s, where they ordered two and caught the end of a Dodgers game. It was extraordinary: All day, Carlos could see this man coming back to life. He wanted to do more pickups, and he wanted to get his friend Roby involved.”

21. Power in Numbers

“In 2015 there will be more than 1,500 gatherings branded as hackathons.”

22. The Happiness Project

“Walt Disney spent part of his childhood in Marceline, Mo., a railroad town and former prairie, 120 miles northeast of Kansas City. Its central street in the early 1900s, when Disney was a child, became a model for an idea of American happiness, and a version of it, Main Street, U.S.A., is the first thing you come across in Disneyland Park in California. Before he became king of the irresistible falsehood, Walt Disney was merely a child, and in his works we might understand what Freud viewed as the foolishness of American democracy. The Disney view of happiness — embodied in a perfect street, a cast of animals, a fairy-tale castle, a bunch of rides — might be foolish but it is also attuned to the habits of modern yearning. Freud was for bringing illusions to an end, whereas Walt Disney was for bringing them to fruition, and, in those two views of human progress, we might argue that Disney’s was the more forgiving of the human condition. In the world of Disney, we feel homesick for a home that never really existed, yet everything we care about, whether being loved or feeling right or having fun or looking good, stems from a set of narcissistic compulsions that Disney embraced and built to graphic completion. That is his contribution, and, however foolish, however impossible in the end, it gives life to the notion that happiness is a creation, something made rather than inherited, a beautiful, necessary lie.”

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