Sunday 10.11.2015 New York Times Digest


1. Silicon Valley’s Most Elusive Beast

“In Renaissance Europe, a unicorn horn, known as an ‘alicorn,’ was a must-have accessory for any well-appointed cathedral, monastery or palace. According to Odell Shepard’s Lore of the Unicorn, Queen Elizabeth I kept such a horn in her royal wardrobe. Pope Clement VII had one, too, which he ‘richly adorned with gold.’ The unicorn was a revered symbol of Christ, and its horn was believed to possess magical properties. The outlandish prices paid for alicorns — usually narwhal tusks — in the 16th and 17th centuries convey a sense of their assumed potency: One horn could be worth more than 10 times its weight in gold, and Queen Elizabeth was said to have one as valuable as a castle.”

2. A Student Loan System Stacked Against the Borrower

“Even though the economy and labor market have improved, student loan borrowers are experiencing high distress levels compared with borrowers with other types of consumer debt, the government report found. More than one in four student loan borrowers are delinquent or in default on their obligations.”

3. The Student Who Stood Up for Privacy

“Mr. Schrems sent Facebook a formal request to see all of the data the company had collected about him, which he has the right to do under European law. After a couple of weeks and about a dozen emails, he received a CD by mail with more than 1,200 pages of information — every ‘poke,’ friend request and invitation (and response) he had sent since setting up an account in 2008. Most of it was no surprise, but he was shocked to see that Facebook had retained information he had deleted — and was no longer visible online — including the complete text of a private chat with a friend who had been hospitalized for psychological problems.”

4. An Alpine Antidote to Working Weekends

“Americans live to work — it’s culturally ingrained. If we’re not busy, we’re not worthy. No matter how much I try to challenge American work mores, I don’t seem to make much progress.”

5. Why Can’t We Sit Still Anymore?

“Sitting has gone from something responsible and orderly to something borderline unseemly.”

6. What Really Keeps Women Out of Tech

“Studies show that the public’s image of a scientist hasn’t changed since the 1950s.”

7. Will You Ever Be Able to Upload Your Brain?

“We all find our own solutions to the problem death poses. For the foreseeable future, bringing your mind back to life will not be one of them.”

8. Deforestation and Drought

“Drought is usually thought of as a natural disaster beyond human control. But as researchers peer deeper into the Earth’s changing bioclimate — the vastly complex global interplay between living organisms and climatic forces — they are better appreciating the crucial role that deforestation plays.”

9. Ronda Rousey’s Next Fight: Body Image in Hollywood

“I swear to God, if anyone calls me fat one more time in my life, I’m going to kill them.”

10. Found on Facebook: Empathy

“Empathy, their study suggests, can be dispensed and felt virtually, though in-person empathy — a hug, for instance, as opposed to a Facebook ‘like’ — has six times the impact on feelings of social support.”

11. Strangers Drowning, by Larissa MacFarquhar

Strangers Drowning is a journey through the ‘am I doing enough’ world of ambitious altruism and ascetic selflessness.”

12. Other People’s Money, by John Kay

“Kay writes like an anthropologist: The roots of finance’s dysfunction, he says, are cultural.”

13. How the Other Half Banks, by Mehrsa Baradaran

“Poverty is expensive, even for those who aren’t debt-laden. The average family earning $25,000 a year but without a bank account spends about $2,400 a year — more than it spends on food — on financial transactions. Even those who manage to open regular bank accounts face disproportionately large fees and harsh penalties for small overdrafts.”

14. Pastrami on Rye, by Ted Merwin

“Somewhere during the course of the mid-20th century, the deli replaced the synagogue as the most likely center of Jewish things.”

15. Shooting a Lion

“Trophy photographs seem to most of us an anachronistic display of imperial masculinity and colonial appropriation, and the outrage that followed the death of Cecil the lion demonstrated our keen desire to distance ourselves from everything these photographs evoke. But the way safaris work in our culture makes me wonder about that distancing. Safaris offer close-up, once-in-a-lifetime views of animals in the wild — but at the same time they are deeply embedded in colonial iconography and in structural inequality.”

16. Letter of Recommendation: Vin Scully

“You can listen to Scully for hours and never hear a familiar platitude or a half­baked thought. His technique, however, is rather simple. He describes the action in front of him just as he encounters it. His demeanor is jovial, neighborly — Mr. Rogers goes to Chavez Ravine. He quotes Dylan Thomas and offers old-fashioned homilies about the weather (Scully still refers to a breeze as a ‘zephyr’). He coos over children and leads viewers, his ‘friends,’ through stories about everything from the time he went ice-skating with Jackie Robinson to the time he dreamed of being chased by a giant clam (he had just shared an Italian dinner with Tommy Lasorda, you see). In his voice, you can hear traces of radio plays, New York’s prewar slums, Broadway — a lifetime of experience spent in what, in its more romantic era, was called show business.”

17. The Year We Obsessed Over Identity

“There’s a sense of fluidity and permissiveness and a smashing of binaries. We’re all becoming one another. Well, we are. And we’re not.”

18. The Passion of Nicki Minaj

“The fact that you feel upset about me speaking on something that affects black women makes me feel like you have some big balls. You’re in videos with black men, and you’re bringing out black women on your stages, but you don’t want to know how black women feel about something that’s so important? Come on, you can’t want the good without the bad. If you want to enjoy our culture and our lifestyle, bond with us, dance with us, have fun with us, twerk with us, rap with us, then you should also want to know what affects us, what is bothering us, what we feel is unfair to us. You shouldn’t not want to know that.”

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