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The best articles from the New York Times.

In Praise of Progress

David Brooks: Unemployment is high, and there’s suffering, but global poverty is at its lowest point in human history. Afghanistan is depressing, but there are fewer wars these days than ever before, mostly because a sharp drop in civil wars. In short, everything is better, or nearly everything, and I say that as someone typing with his thumbs while getting eaten alive by mosquitoes in the back yard.Gail

Collins: Wow, the lack of power has really cheered you up. I remember just a few months ago, you were practically suicidal over the toxic politics in Washington.

Building Smarter Machines

Synthetic speech, autonomous robots, computers beating the best humans at chess and checkers. As computers grow ever smarter, a look at developments in the field of artificial intelligence.

Hints of Earth Splash a Saturnian Moon Landscape

However, if prolonged spells of 90-degree temperatures have you yearning for a refreshing icy dip, there are still plenty of bathing opportunities on Titan.

Of course the lakes there are made of liquid methane — and the 90 degrees of temperature are on the Kelvin scale, near enough to absolute zero to challenge even the most cosmically adept polar bear. The atmosphere is nitrogen and methane.

Four Ways to Kill a Climate Bill

But efforts to genetically engineer algae, which usually means to splice in genes from other organisms, worry some experts because algae play a vital role in the environment. The single-celled photosynthetic organisms produce much of the oxygen on earth and are the base of the marine food chain.

“We are not saying don’t do this,” said Gerald H. Groenewold, director of the University of North Dakota’s Energy and Environmental Research Center, who is trying to organize a study of the risks. “We say do this with the knowledge of the implications and how to safeguard what you are doing.”

The Limits of the Coded World

In one set of experiments, researchers attached sensors to the parts of monkeys’ brains responsible for visual pattern recognition. The monkeys were then taught to respond to a cue by choosing to look at one of two patterns. Computers reading the sensors were able to register the decision a fraction of a second before the monkeys’ eyes turned to the pattern. As the monkeys were not deliberating, but rather reacting to visual stimuli, researchers were able to plausibly claim that the computer could successfully predict the monkeys’ reaction. In other words, the computer was reading the monkeys’ minds and knew before they did what their decision would be.

On the Origin of Species (Annotated Text)

Darwin packed this paragraph with all of the elements of the process of natural selection. The phrasing reflects his incomparable knowledge of natural history and his revolutionary new view of nature:

“…variations useful in some way…” – the words of a lifelong collector who appreciated that individual members of a species exhibited variability.

“…the great and complex battle of life…” – unlike his predecessors who viewed nature as a peaceful, harmoniously designed landscape painting, Darwin had observed that nature was a battlefield in which there was tremendous waste and death.

“…thousands of generations?” – Darwin’s grasp of time was critical, his knowledge of geology made him confident that the planet and life were much older than people had once thought, such that there was plenty of time for the process of natural selection to play out.

—Sean B. Carroll, molecular biologist and geneticist; and an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Wisconsin.

The Errors of Our Ways (Book Review)

Schulz begins with a question that should puzzle us more than it does: Why do we love being right? After all, she writes, “unlike many of life’s other delights — chocolate, surfing, kissing — it does not enjoy any mainline access to our biochemistry: to our appetites, our adrenal glands, our limbic systems, our swoony hearts.” Indeed, as she notes, “we can’t enjoy kissing just anyone, but we can relish being right about almost anything,” including that which we’d rather be wrong about, like “the downturn in the stock market, say, or the demise of a friend’s relationship or the fact that at our spouse’s insistence, we just spent 15 minutes schlepping our suitcase in exactly the opposite direction from our hotel.”

Take Ivy (Slideshow)

Time has done little to dim the allure of “Take Ivy,” with its guileless snapshots of handsome, fit and presumably bright young lugs disporting themselves in dining halls, on the College Green at Dartmouth, along Nassau Street in Princeton and in Harvard Yard. Credit: Teruyoshi H Girl

Pop’s Lady Gaga Makeover

Furthermore, the thing that most separates Lady Gaga from the bubblegum sirens of a decade ago is that her capacity for seduction has been neutered, recontextualized. Near the end of her recent Madison Square Garden show she emerged onstage with sparklerlike contraptions on her chest and crotch, spitting out tiny, angry, smoldering bits. “You tell them I burned the place!” she shouted. It was a straightforward repudiation of hypersexualized imagery. There was nowhere to touch without getting hurt.

Plus-Size Wars

Perhaps nowhere is the cultural confusion surrounding the larger woman more pronounced than in the clothing industry’s efforts to dress her. According to a 2008 survey conducted by Mintel, a market-research firm, the most frequently worn size in America is a 14. Government statistics show that 64 percent of American women are overweight (the average woman weighs 164.7 pounds). More than one-third are obese. Yet plus-size clothing (typically size 14 and above) represents only 18 percent of total revenue in the women’s clothing industry. The correlation between obesity and low income goes some way toward explaining the discrepancy — the recession was particularly hard on this segment of the market, with sales declining 10 percent between 2008 and 2009, a drop twice that of the women’s apparel industry over all — but it doesn’t explain it entirely. That figure has been fairly constant for the past 20 years.

Everybody’s a Critic of the Critics’ Rabid Critics

But then a second round of notices tarnished that luster. David Edelstein of New York magazine, Stephanie Zacharek of Movieline.com and Armond White, the reliably oppositional critic at The New York Press, published pans that ranged from frustrated to weary to vitriolic, decrying the rush to inscribe “Inception” in the pantheon of cinematic greatness. For their efforts these and other similarly unimpressed writers were treated like advocates for national health care at a Tea Party rally, their motives, their professionalism, their morals and their sanity questioned, and not always politely. What seemed to provoke the most ire was that these critics had shown the temerity to mention what other critics had written, and to respond to the aggressive marketing and the early effusions.

Facebook Is to Power Company as …

“I worry that we’ll end up with solutions that are familiar but not correct if we start from the wrong metaphor,” she said. “And I’m not sure there is a good metaphor for Facebook.”

Married, but Sleeping Alone

Technology is an even greater intrusion. Forget the tired debate about TV in the bedroom; how about your ex’s Twitter feed? Anyone who’s around teenage girls or techy men knows someone who checks e-mail, text messages or Facebook pages after turning out the light at night and before going to the bathroom in the morning.With all this commotion, it’s no wonder the bed has become such an unappealing place to sleep. Between whining kids, buzzing BlackBerrys, stacks of unpaid bills and overturned bottles of Evian and Ambien, the bedroom has become more crowded than the kitchen. If my house is any indication (“You get up early with the kids on Monday, I’ll move the car on Tuesday”), my bed needs its own Outlook calendar.

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