Sunday 11.29.2015 New York Times Digest


1. Addicted to Distraction

“Addiction is the relentless pull to a substance or an activity that becomes so compulsive it ultimately interferes with everyday life. By that definition, nearly everyone I know is addicted in some measure to the Internet. It has arguably replaced work itself as our most socially sanctioned addiction.”

2. Black Artists and the March Into the Museum

“After decades of spotty acquisitions, undernourished scholarship and token exhibitions, American museums are rewriting the history of 20th-century art to include black artists in a more visible and meaningful way than ever before, playing historical catch-up at full tilt, followed by collectors who are rushing to find the most significant works before they are out of reach.”

3. Student Debt in America: Lend With a Smile, Collect With a Fist

“Of the 43.3 million borrowers with outstanding federal student loans, 1.8 percent, or 779,000 people, owe $150,000 or more. And 346,000 owe more than $200,000.”

4. Chinese Cash Floods U.S. Real Estate Market

“In London, Chinese investors are purchasing high-end apartments in wealthy neighborhoods and big skyscrapers in the financial district. In Canada, they are paying $1 million for modest Vancouver bungalows. In Australia, a Chinese sovereign wealth fund bought nine office towers, one of the biggest real estate transactions in that nation’s history. In the United States, the home-buying spree began on the coasts, where Chinese buyers snapped up luxury condos in Manhattan and McMansions in Silicon Valley, pushing up home values in big cities. It is now spreading to the middle of the country, where prices are more modest and have room to run.”

5. Digital Culture, Meet Analog Fever

“Just a couple of years ago bits seemed so unstoppable. Does the recent vogue for the physical suggest a decisive backlash — a regression in the direction of wax cylinders and stone tablets? It does not. What’s going on instead is more interesting than that, or than mere nostalgia or even some strain of reactionary Luddism. It turns out that while the digital often comes close to crushing its analog precedents, that process can do something curious to its putative victims: underscore their virtues, elevate their status and transform the formerly workaday into something rarefied, special, even luxurious.”

6. What Comes Out in the Wash

“Ask most people about the problem of waste plastics in the environment and they will talk about plastic bags caught in trees and the vast slicks of plastic trash found in remote areas of the Atlantic and Pacific. But the most menacing plastic waste problem is less visible and not so well publicized. It’s the tiny fibers, less than one millimeter wide, that come from our clothes when we launder them.”

7. Contaminating Our Bodies With Everyday Products

“Endocrine disrupters are found in pesticides, plastics, shampoos and cosmetics, cash register receipts, food can linings, flame retardants and countless other products.”

8. The Complete Works of Primo Levi

“Unlike almost everyone else who wrote about science in the 20th century, Levi never imagined that science was ­value-free. Just as human beings were moral or immoral, so, in his eyes, were chemical elements and compounds: ‘Sodium is a degenerate metal,’  ’chlorides in general are riffraff,’ cerium ‘belongs to the equivocal and heretical family of the rare earth elements.’ Morality, as Levi understood it, is not a set of rules or laws imposed by some divine power beyond ordinary reality; it is integral to reality, a matter of fact, not of opinion. In both the Lager and the laboratory, to lose sight of morality was to lose sight of what is real.”

9. Workshops of Empire, by Eric Bennett

“Sponsored by foundations dedicated to defeating Communism, creative-­writing programs during the postwar period taught aspiring authors certain rules of propriety. Good literature, students learned, contains ‘sensations, not doctrines; ­experiences, not dogmas; memories, not philosophies.’ The goal, according to Bennett, was to discourage the abstract theorizing and systematic social critiques to which the radical literature of the 1930s had been prone, in favor of a focus on the personal, the concrete and the individual.”

10. Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs, by Lisa Randall

“If correct, Randall’s theory would require us to radically reappraise some of our most fundamental assumptions about the universe and our own existence. Sixty-­six million years ago, according to her dark-matter disk model, a tiny twitch caused by an invisible force in the far reaches of the cosmos hurled a comet three times the width of Manhattan toward Earth at least 700 times the speed of a car on a freeway. The collision produced the most powerful earthquake of all time and released energy a billion times that of an atomic bomb, heating the atmosphere into an incandescent furnace that killed three-quarters of Earthlings. No creature heavier than 55 pounds, or about the size of a Dalmatian, survived. The death of the dinosaurs made possible the subsequent rise of mammalian dominance, without which you and I would not have evolved to ponder the perplexities of the cosmos.”

11. The Evolution of Everything, by Matt Ridley

“The idea is simple, yet to many people disturbing: Society evolves, as does the world in general, largely in a way neither we nor whatever God we conjure up has any real control over. This isn’t true of everything, but it’s true of far more than we care to believe. Highways are designed; traffic happens. Buildings are constructed; cities happen. Battles are strategized, troops mobilized, weapons deployed, but defeat or victory happens. ‘I want to … get you to see past the illusion of design,’ Ridley writes, ‘to see the emergent, unplanned, inexorable and beautiful process of change that lies underneath.’”

12. Is It Still Possible to Be a Public Intellectual?

“Comedy is the most immediate and swiftly exchanged currency online, and it’s unsurprising that the people who use it to advance ideas are the ones with the most viral opinions.”

13. The Winter Hat Trick

“The person in the winter hat wants to show pride but not pomposity and is not always sure how to achieve that, the relevant rule book having been shredded.”

14. Letter of Recommendation: Kitchen Timer

“As more of my activities fell under my timer’s gaze, I began to notice something interesting: My inner sense of time had, thanks to years of not having its work checked, become deeply warped. Five minutes on the Internet, as measured by my timer, would pass in what seemed to me about 35 seconds. A timed hour of research would seem to take between three and four hours. My timer was a crisp metal yardstick laid down in the fog of my temporal intuitions.”

15. How to Navigate By the Stars

“Determine north by finding the North Star, which does not set when you’re north of the Equator. As seafarers have done for millenniums, you can determine about how many miles north of the Equator you are by measuring the distance between the North Star and the horizon. To do this, stretch out your arm. For most, one fist equals approximately 10 degrees; latitudinal degrees each represent about 69 miles. The farther north you go, the higher the star looks in the sky. South of the Equator, you won’t see the North Star but must rely on a constellation called the Southern Cross to help you find south.”

16. The Serial Swatter

“She didn’t know how to make the harassment stop. And she was just one victim among many. Obnoxious had swatted multiple women across North America and would swat many more in the months to come, as part of one of the most disturbing crime sprees in Internet history.”

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