Sunday 8.28.2016 New York Times Digest


1. Do You Believe in God, or Is That a Software Glitch?

“When you divide the brain into bitty bits and make millions of calculations according to a bunch of inferences, there are abundant opportunities for error, particularly when you are relying on software to do much of the work. This was made glaringly apparent back in 2009, when a graduate student conducted an fM.R.I. scan of a dead salmon and found neural activity in its brain when it was shown photographs of humans in social situations. Again, it was a salmon. And it was dead.”

2. What University of Texas Campus Is Saying About Concealed Guns

“The question now is how do those abstract ideas play out — for students trying to get through organic chemistry or meet a professor after class, professors who want to introduce critical thinking and intellectual exploration without fear, and administrators walking a tightrope with the Legislature. Here are the thoughts of four members of this campus.”

3. From Bikinis to Burkinis, Regulating What Women Wear

“What is it about women’s swimwear and more generally women’s attire that over and over in history has attracted controversy and impelled societies to legislate or regulate women’s choices?”

4. Grandmaster Flash Beats Back Time

“For a city in distress, hip-hop was an embodiment of disorder and a creative response to it. Even the performers did not see much future in the music beyond their local parks and rec centers, or the mix tapes they sold to peers. There were no instruments and no singing, and the musical accompaniment came from others’ recordings — how could anyone make records out of that?”

5. G.E., the 124-Year-Old Software Start-Up

“Their marching orders are to try to adapt the digital wizardry and hurry-up habits of Silicon Valley to G.E.’s world of industrial manufacturing.”

6. Packing Technology Into the Timeless Barrel

“The United States is now the largest market for wine barrels. Domestic whiskey production is up 41 percent in the last decade — and, thanks to a quirk in federal law, almost every drop has to be aged in a new oak barrel. The demand has come on so suddenly and vertiginously that barrel prices are up 70 percent since 2012, and some cooperages have 12-month waiting lists.”

7. Trump and the Dark History of Straight Talk

“It may feel like a new phenomenon in contemporary American politics, but the ‘I just want to tell it like it is’ maneuver is a familiar one in the annals of rhetoric. It’s what Mark Antony is up to when he says to the Roman crowd in ‘Julius Caesar,’ ‘I am no orator, as Brutus is; / But, as you know me all, a plain, blunt man,’ in the midst of his ‘Friends, Romans and countrymen’ speech, one of the most cunning displays of technical rhetoric, not only in Shakespeare, but in the English language.”

8. Where Is God on the Small Screen?

Often, faith has been relegated to syrupy treatments (‘Touched by an Angel’), used as a vehicle for supernatural plots (see Fox’s ‘The Exorcist,’ coming this fall, and Cinemax’s ‘Outcast’) or ignored altogether. It’s rare to see the kind of immersive depiction that a series like ‘Greenleaf’ makes possible: religion as a way of life, a means for good and bad and struggling people to engage with existence.”

9. The Race to Save the Films We Love

“All movies are time machines, and restoration helps bring the moving-image present together with a past that is always — as prints decay, labs close and money ebbs — moving further away.”

10. Black Health Matters

“Ms. Leigh’s work is carried out in the black radical tradition, one that declares that holistic health care is not a luxury, but rather an act of resilience, survival and disobedience — a necessity.”

11. How to Raise a Mensch

“Jews come from a vertiginously long tradition of ‘questioning, yammering, challenging and disputing,’ she writes. ‘The Talmud, the compendium of Jewish law, is pretty much a bunch of dudes contradicting one another. Each page is a big box of text in the middle, and wrapped around it like a frame is lots of “Wait, you think what?”’ Encouraging such chutzpah and sharp debate from a young age has not only helped the tiny religious minority survive centuries of persecution, she argues, but also made them creative freethinkers as well as humanitarians who stand up for what’s right.”

12. Imagine Your Substitute Teacher Is Nicholson Baker. For These Kids, He Was.

“Failed schoolmasters like Thoreau and Wittgenstein further support my point, which is how lost even the most gifted person can become in a classroom full of needy kids.”

13. Overselling A.D.H.D.: A New Book Exposes Big Pharma’s Role

“No blood test or CT scan can tell you if you have the condition — the diagnosis is made by subjective clinical evaluation and screening questionnaires. This lack of any bright line between pathology and eccentricity, Schwarz argues, has allowed Big Pharma to get away with relentless expansion of the franchise.”

14. The Co-Founder of n+1 Is ‘Against Everything’

“In our dumbed-down, social-media-­driven age, Against Everything embodies a return to the pleasures of critical discourse at its most cerebral and personable.”

15. Fiction or Standardized Test? Multiple Choice Is Both

“What to do when you’re confined to a series of choices that all lead to despair?”

16. A Critical History Asks, What Does It Mean to Be Modern?

“For Smith, the ‘modernity’ of his book’s title connotes (among other things) a handful of core convictions: the value of freedom and equality; the importance of being able to think for oneself; the real possibility of universal enlightenment. Like Tocqueville, Smith worries that these liberal convictions, though superficially benign, nevertheless issue in a debased form of life that he associates with ‘low-minded materialism, moral cowardice and philistinism.’ It’s as if an expansion of popular optimism about the future, alongside an amelioration of everyday life for ordinary people, must produce, as its shadow, a supine complacency, conjoined with a lazy form of what-me-worry nihilism — a democracy of dunces.”

17. Do People Hate Poetry? According to Ben Lerner, Yes

“Lerner’s thesis is essentially as follows: Poetry ‘arises from the desire to get beyond the finite and the historical … and to reach the transcendent or divine.’ Since this can’t be done, the poet is ‘a tragic figure’ and any given poem is ‘always a record of failure.’”

18. Read It Later: A Procrastinator’s Memoir

“Committing to a demanding personal project is also very difficult because we are perfectionists and fear failure, and it is much easier just to sit around and look at baby owl videos on the internet.”

19. The Story of How Handwriting Evolved, and May Soon Die Off

“Considering its rich significance, instead of hustling handwriting off to the graveyard, perhaps what’s called for is resurrection.”

20. Memo to Parents: Back Off, and Children Learn More

“Gopnik’s title comes from her idea that modern parents too often approach their tasks like a carpenter, attempting to shape the raw material into a particular finished product. Better to be a gardener, she writes, cultivating ‘a protected and nurturing space for plants to flourish’ but realizing that the greatest beauty comes when we relinquish total control. After all, the whole point about the future is that we don’t know exactly what we’ll face there. If children are specially built to adapt and innovate, then it’s counterproductive to overschedule their time and overdetermine their interests.”

21. How Donald Trump Blew Up the ‘Gaffe’

“What Reagan understood … was that a gaffe revealed at least as much about the journalists who called attention to it as it did about the politician who uttered it. It reflected their own preoccupations and biases, which voters did not necessarily share. Ever since the late 1960s, when reporters began to take a more active role in scrutinizing presidential candidates, they had operated on the assumption that the way a candidate managed the challenges and humiliations of the campaign trail was in some way reflective of how they would perform in the White House itself — that a candidacy was a meaningful simulation of a presidency. By the 1980s, this vision of campaign reporting was toppling into solipsism. Journalists were, effectively, grading politicians on their ability to perform what everyone understood to be a largely artificial version of themselves — practicing a kind of theater criticism as much as political reporting.”

22. Turning Instagram Into a Radically Unfiltered Travel Guide

“This has become my compass, my way of navigating the world. Rather than obsessing over travel sites or print guides or bothering friends for recommendations, I check a new city or town’s location tag right before I get there and see which recent posts are most popular. What I see there is wildly unfiltered, refracted through multiple perspectives — and much more revealing than any other guide.”

23. Where the Death Penalty Still Lives

“Twenty states and the District of Columbia have abolished capital punishment. Four more have imposed a moratorium on executions. Of the 26 remaining states, only 14 handed down any death sentences last year, for a total of 50 across the country — less than half the number six years before. California, which issued more than one-quarter of last year’s death sentences, hasn’t actu­ally executed anyone since 2006. A new geography of capital punishment is taking shape, with just 2 percent of the nation’s counties now accounting for a majority of the people sitting on death row.”

24. Inside Facebook’s (Totally Insane, Unintentionally Gigantic, Hyperpartisan) Political-Media Machine

“This year, political content has become more popular all across the platform: on homegrown Facebook pages, through media companies with a growing Facebook presence and through the sharing habits of users in general. But truly Facebook-native political pages have begun to create and refine a new approach to political news: cherry-picking and reconstituting the most effective tactics and tropes from activism, advocacy and journalism into a potent new mixture. This strange new class of media organization slots seamlessly into the news feed and is especially notable in what it asks, or doesn’t ask, of its readers. The point is not to get them to click on more stories or to engage further with a brand. The point is to get them to share the post that’s right in front of them. Everything else is secondary.”

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