Sunday 11.22.2015 New York Times Digest

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1. Red, Reich and Blue: Building the World of The Man in the High Castle

“What if Hitler had won?”

2. Turn Off Your Devices? Sometimes Plays Turn Them On

“Theaters, of course, spend a lot of time warning audience members to shut off their cellphones, sometimes to no avail. But onstage, mobile communication has become so integral to contemporary theater that a Tony-winning sound designer, Robert Kaplowitz, collaborated with a programmer, Jay Konopka, to design an app that makes iPhones ring or beep, or both, on cue. Next: figuring out how to make phones light up on cue, so that they cast a lifelike glow on actors.”

3. In California, Stingy Water Users Are Fined in Drought, While the Rich Soak

“‘We wash clothes once a week. We flush every third time. Sometimes we go to the laundromat because we’re afraid.’ Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the city’s superrich have been able to keep multiple pools filled. Neighborhoods like Bel Air are verdant, as if the drought were happening somewhere else.”

4. Vocal Strain Poses Long-Term Risks for Coaches. Anyone Have a Lozenge?

“College basketball coaches do more yelling than coaches in almost any other sport, and they do it whether the players are a few feet away or at the other end of the court.”

5. Not So Fast, 1 Percent Whippersnappers

“Over the last 20 years, the wealthy have broadly been getting older at a faster rate than the rest of the population.”

6. Why Are Student Protesters So Fearful?

“Rumbling under the surface of some recent protests is something besides indignation: an assumption of grave vulnerability. The victims too often present themselves as weak, in need of protection. Administrators are held, like helicopter parents, wholly responsible. To a veteran of movements of the ’60s like myself, this is strikingly strange.”

7. Stopping WhatsApp Won’t Stop Terrorists

“Law enforcement agencies can’t weaken encryption for terrorists without weakening it for everyone. And making it easier for malicious hackers and foreign governments to spy on us is not a good idea.”

8. Are Good Doctors Bad for Your Health?

“One thing patients can do is ask four simple questions when doctors are proposing an intervention, whether an X-ray, genetic test or surgery. First, what difference will it make? Will the test results change our approach to treatment? Second, how much improvement in terms of prolongation of life, reduction in risk of a heart attack or other problem is the treatment actually going to make? Third, how likely and severe are the side effects? And fourth, is the hospital a teaching hospital? The JAMA Internal Medicine study found that mortality was higher overall at nonteaching hospitals.”

9. Coney Island: The Cyclone! The Hot Dogs! The Art!

“Unlike world’s fairs, which were largely meant to educate and elevate, the early parks at Coney — Luna, Steeplechase and Dreamland — were accessible attractions. Instead of installations on the progress of technology, there were dancing dwarves and deep-fried clams.”

10. Why Snapping Is the New Clapping

“In a culture ruled by the instant feedback loop of retweets, likes and hearts, the snap (and by “snap” we mean the old-fashioned act of brushing the thumb and middle finger against one another in an effort to make a popping sound) is more often being used as a quiet signal of agreement or appreciation in conferences, university auditoriums, poetry slams and even at dinner tables.”

11. Mary Beard’s SPQR and Tom Holland’s Dynasty

“Long after the Republic had fallen, when some crusty senators were moaning about foreigners taking over the city, the emperor Claudius reminded them that Rome had always been open to immigrants and that if they had any sense, they should allow more of those rude and hairy Gauls into the Senate. By contrast, in Athens, even the great Pericles was obsessed by the need to tighten up the qualifications for citizenship to those who could boast of two Athenian parents. Rome prevailed, Athens did not.”

12. Augustine: Conversions to Confessions, by Robin Lane Fox

“The most absorbing and rewarding chapters are those devoted to Augustine’s intellectual quest and, in particular, the ones about Manichaeism. Fox gives the clearest short exposition of Mani’s bizarre doctrines that I have ever read, no easy task given that his visions involved things like divine messengers who appear as beautiful naked girls, causing demons caught in the zodiac to ejaculate into the sea, producing monsters. But he also explains plausibly why someone like Augustine might have been attracted to this teeming myth. Christians could never explain adequately why God permitted evil. Mani claimed that evil was never created, it was always there, even before God.”

13. Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World, by Tim Whitmarsh

“The major thesis of Tim Whitmarsh’s excellent Battling the Gods is that atheism … isn’t a product of the modern age but rather reaches back to early Western intellectual tradition in the ancient Greek world.”

14. Custer’s Trials, by T. J. Stiles

“He was a West Point graduate (although he was last in his class, a position now known as the ‘goat’), a hero in the Civil War, a brigadier general at just 23 and a major general at 24. He tried, and failed, to be a Wall Street tycoon in the same league as John Jacob Astor and a writer of the renown of Mark Twain. He fought for the North but identified with the South. He was kind to his black servant, a recently freed teenage girl, but often harsh with his own men. As many loathed as loved him, begrudgingly admiring his courage while openly ridiculing his vanity.”

15. These United States, by Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore and Thomas J. Sugrue

“This admirably ambitious book seeks to distill a generation’s worth of scholarship into a fresh history of ‘the long 20th century’ from the 1890s to the present — the epoch triumphally heralded by Henry Luce in 1941 as the ‘American century.’”

16. Aural Sex

“Audio recordings of erotic fiction are a booming business. Long-haul truck drivers — who buy audiobook CDs at travel centers on the road — are just some of the enthusiastic listeners. The explosion of sex-infused books (much of it self-published) and the popularity of MP3 downloads have combined to produce a vast universe of fictional aural sex. The books range from fantasy romance with rose petals on the bed to raunchier fare with lots of rough sex.”

17. What Early Job Later Informed Your Work as a Writer?

“In the past 15 years, I’ve worked as a juice barista, a Gap clerk, an assistant to an asylum lawyer and then to an Emerson scholar and then to a mean­spirited self-help guru; I’ve worked as an office temp, an SAT tutor, an innkeeper, a medical actor, and a teacher at six different universities. The fantasy that ‘making it’ as a writer will render other jobs financially unnecessary is usually just that — a fantasy.”

18. The Women of Hollywood Speak Out

“Hollywood’s toxic brew of fear and sexism has kept women even more confined than those in legendary male bastions like Silicon Valley, where 10.8 percent of executive officers are women; corporate America, where about 16 percent of executive officers at S.&P. 100 companies are women; and Congress, where 20 percent of the House and Senate are women.”

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