Sunday 12.20.2015 New York Times Digest

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1. Walmart Can’t Escape Clutter. Can You?

“The aspirational spaces we all long for in our homes — clean, uncluttered, perhaps with a few white phalaenopsis orchids sprinkled around — are completely at odds with the stores we shop in.”

2. Norway Offers Migrants a Lesson in How to Treat Women

“With more than a million asylum seekers arriving in Europe this year, an increasing number of politicians and also some migrant activists now favor offering coaching in European sexual norms and social codes.”

3. A Term as Enigmatic as How to Escape a Slump

“Since appearing as a term in horse racing more than a century ago, ‘untracked’ has gained common usage in sports to describe climbing out of a slump or a rut. Some language experts believe ‘get untracked’ is a mishearing of ‘get on track.’ Such misinterpretations, and reshaped meanings that can still make sense, are known by linguists as eggcorns, a reference to the way some people pronounce ‘acorn.’”

4. Three Reasons for Those Hefty College Tuition Bills

“After 30 years as an educator, I am convinced that the ideal experience for a student is a small class that fosters personal interaction with a dedicated instructor. In other words, best practice remains the approach that Socrates used to teach Plato 2,500 years ago. But because society over all is now richer, today’s Socrates expects a reasonably high standard of living, and that implies hefty tuition.”

5. My Career Choice: All of the Above

“When I was in college, I struggled to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Politics? Academia? F.B.I.? Military? Journalism? Each sounded interesting, even exciting, but every time I came close to choosing a career, I’d start to feel claustrophobic. It was then that I made myself a two-part promise: I’d go only into a field I could easily exit, and I would stay in that field for only as long as it brought me joy.”

6. Political Party Meltdown

“Both major parties now had their own liberal and conservative wings, creating what were in effect four major parties and a national legislature full of ever-shifting coalitions, usually across party lines. This arrangement defied pretty much every civics textbook, every political theorist’s idea of how government should function. It was also when our national government began to work. From roughly 1900 to 1990, when this ‘four-party system’ was in existence, the United States emerged as the world’s leading power and reached its economic zenith. We fought and won two world wars and the Cold War; built a social welfare state; established a stable national banking system; won the vote, and then equal rights for women, African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans; rebuilt Europe; constructed a formidable national infrastructure; instituted environmental safeguards and preserved millions of miles of wilderness; and generally created the freest, most prosperous, major multicultural nation the world has ever seen.”

7. The Soft Power of Militant Jihad

“The world of radical Islam is not just death and destruction. It also encompasses fashion, music, poetry, dream interpretation. In short, jihadism offers its adherents a rich cultural universe in which they can immerse themselves.”

8. Why Do I Have to Call This App ‘Julie’?

“These products, representing new technological possibilities, play into old stereotypes about what gender is best suited for administrative work.”

9. Anger: An American History

“Well before Japanese internment camps, before the Know-Nothing Party, before the Alien and Sedition Acts, New England drew its identity from threats to public safety. We manned the nation’s watchtowers before we were even a nation.”

10. Bright Lights, Big Predators

“Welcome to the future of urban living. Predators are turning up in cities everywhere, and living among us mostly without incident. Big, scary predators, at that. Wolves now live next door to Rome’s main airport, and around Hadrian’s Villa, just outside the city. A mountain lion roams the Hollywood Hills and has his own Facebook page. Coyotes have turned all of Chicago into their territory. Great white sharks, attracted by booming seal populations, cruise Cape Cod beaches with renewed frequency. And in a kind of urban predator twofer, a photographer in Vero Beach, Fla., recently snapped a bobcat grabbing a shark out of the surf.”

11. The One Question You Should Ask About Every New Job

“When it comes to landing a good job, many people focus on the role. Although finding the right title, position and salary is important, there’s another consideration that matters just as much: culture. The culture of a workplace — an organization’s values, norms and practices — has a huge impact on our happiness and success.”

12. ‘Run, Hide, Fight’ Is Not How Our Brains Work

“Why do we freeze? It’s part of a predatory defense system that is wired to keep the organism alive. Not only do we do it, but so do other mammals and other vertebrates. Even invertebrates — like flies — freeze. If you are freezing, you are less likely to be detected if the predator is far away, and if the predator is close by, you can postpone the attack (movement by the prey is a trigger for attack).”

13. When Hospital Paperwork Crowds Out Hospital Care

“Computer documentation in health care is notoriously inefficient and unwieldy, but an even more serious problem is that it has morphed into more than an account of our work; it has replaced the work itself.”

14. Streaming TV Isn’t Just a New Way to Watch. It’s a New Genre.

“Streaming shows — by which here I mean the original series that Netflix, Amazon and their ilk release all at once, in full seasons — are more than simply TV series as we’ve known them. They’re becoming a distinct genre all their own, whose conventions and aesthetics we’re just starting to figure out.”

15. The Novel’s Evil Tongue

“To choose to live without gossip is to scorn storytelling.”

16. Beyond Measure: Rescuing an Overscheduled, Overtested, Underestimated Generation

“High grades, high test scores and admission to one of the nation’s elite colleges have long been embraced as symbols of excellence and, by extension, successful parenting. Abeles suggests that pursuit of this narrow form of success is actually harming children and families, and distorting our educational institutions. Her book is bound to be controversial, particularly to the education establishment — university presidents, the testing industry and the policy makers who support them.”

17. A Just and Generous Nation: Abraham Lincoln and the Fight for American Opportunity

“The first part of A Just and Generous Nation is a historical argument that Lincoln fought the Civil War “in pursuit of economic opportunity for the widest possible circle of hardworking Americans,” a goal that required the destruction of slavery. The second part is a survey of America’s political and economic history since Lincoln’s death, in which subsequent American presidents are judged by whether they have promoted his ideals or betrayed them.”

18. All Things Being Unequal

“If your focus is on how your income stacks up against that of everyone else, you are allowing other people’s possessions to shape your sense of what you need and want. You are, in effect, alienated from yourself. Frankfurt also suggests that intellectuals, in devoting their attention to ratios of wealth, neglect a less precise but more pressing investigation: What is enough for a good life? What, for that matter, is a good life?”

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