Sunday, March 18, 2012

Links for the week ending 18 March 2012

In any given week, there seem to be uncountable articles about the big data, the privacy, the erosion of civil liberties, and the terrifying place where those three issues intersect. This week, those articles were mostly by men (and thus you probably don't need me to help you find them), but E.J. Graff's outraged response at The American Prospect to the Obama Administration's claim to have legal authority to kill an American citizen without judicial process is a necessary reminder of why these developments are so chilling when taken all together. A government that reads your every email AND claims for itself the right to kill you if it deems you a threat? I did not have children in the hopes that they'd live in a world straight out of a dystopian novel, President Obama. I'm just saying.

On the other hand, as Lois Beckett reports for ProPublica, an anti-foreclosure advocacy group is using Facebook ads to target employees of Freddie Mac and JPMorgan Chase, asking them to complain to their CEOs about their companies' treatment of a veteran facing eviction. Not so sure that asking people via Facebook to get themselves fired is an effective way to conduct advocacy, but maybe it's the sort of thing that will make people that much more creeped out about big data and privacy?

From 2008, Liliana Segura's piece on "stand your ground" laws at Alternet is chillingly relevant following the Treyvon Martin shooting in Florida this week. In a similar vein, Farai Chideya reminds us that individual tragedies, and the fear and compassion fatigue they engender, must not stop us from pushing to change the structural biases that make those tragedies likely.

Dahlia Lithwick at Slate writes about how the state of Virginia has stolidly refused to share with anyone — including dozens of people who may have been wrongfully convicted — the results of its years-long audit of a stockpile of biological evidence saved from old criminal cases. Some really troubling statistics about the reliability of eye-witness identification here: "of the first 250 people exonerated by DNA testing, a whopping 76 percent were misidentified by eyewitnesses."

Very long, but important article from Laurie Garrett in this month's Foreign Affairs on global funding for public health and prevention initiatives. Some jaw dropping statistics, like
The Gates Foundation, now combining the philanthropic assets of the Gates family and Warren Buffett, is responsible for 68 percent of all private giving for global health, dwarfing the efforts of even the largest public or international institutions.
And this:
Total estimated expenditures worldwide on health care in 2010, meanwhile, hit $5.3 trillion, with U.S. domestic spending accounting for nearly half of that. Even at its recent peak, the amount of money spent on the health of the world's poorest people, who suffer most of humanity's infectious and preventable diseases, represented merely .0005 percent of worldwide health spending.
We could spend the rest of the week just thinking about how the U.S. spends nearly half of the world's total expenditures on health care. Or how the world's poorest people get five-ten-thousandths of a percent of the world's health care spending. (Via Partners in Health.)

Via The Browser, a fascinating article (translated from the Croatian) by Slavenka Drakulic at Eurozine, looking at how immigration is transforming Italy after a century of emigration, and how art responds to these changes faster than politics or policies.

This week in reproductive health: Pemy Levy at Talking Points Memo recaps the spread of Blunt Amendment clones in state legislatures around the country. Rachel Benson Gold and Elizabeth Nash for the Guttmacher Policy Review take a detailed look at the passage of abortion restrictions in the states in 2011, reporting that 55% of American women now live in states that are legally hostile to abortion rights. What does that hostility look like on the ground? It looks like this devastating account by Carolyn Jones of what she was forced to go through in order to spare a dearly wanted baby an abbreviated lifetime of profound suffering.

As a break from the war on women, I recommend Lola McClure at The Hairpin, who tells you everything you ever wanted to know about IUDs. (Still legal! For now!) There are pictures. And charts. And props. Seriously. I'm pretty sure she's the best thing that ever happened to the internet.

Another knockout piece from Deborah Blum this week, "Cough Syrup, Dead Children, and the Case for Regulation." I don't think there's anyone out there today who does a better job of using past history to illuminate current political controversies. (But if there is, and I'm missing her, SEND ME LINKS, okay?)

At Good, Nona Willis Aronowitz looks at sputtering attempts to unionize Gen Y's legion of college-educated baristas, bartenders, and restaurant workers, who generally have no benefits (read: health insurance), no job security, no opportunity for advancement, and, often, not even a living wage. "The average restaurant worker made $15,000 in 2009." Yeah, you can't pay off student loans on $15,000 a year. Via @MacMcClelland, of course.

Sarah Miller at The Awl takes a very funny look at a less-than-effective anti-bullying program in a northern California school. But I also recommend the following very different take on the subject of bullying, both more upsetting and more uplifting. From Hyphen Magazine and writer Helen I. Hwang, this is a long but rewarding account of racially targeted bullying at South Philadelphia High School, and how Asian-American students successfully organized to demand change from the teachers and administrators that stood by and allowed the violence to take place.

At The Last Word on Nothing, Ann Finkbeiner coins the wonderful term, "closed-system sibling knowledge." I see it in every sibling grouping I can think of — except my own kids, oddly enough. (No, wait. Little sister allows big brother to hold all the family expertise on Pokemon. Everything else, she wants to master TOO.) Does it also apply to spouses and children? Could it also apply to countries? This sort of n="people I know" piece may not be the most convincing science ever, but it sure is fun fodder for discussion.

This may be the funniest science blog post ever. How do alligator penises work… and how many "Alligator Pie" parodies can one compose from the answers? From the inimitable @scicurious.

This, on the other hand, is the feel-good science story of the week… if you're trying to justify a post-breakup drinking bender. Christie Wilcox at Scientific American Blogs writes about how sexually rejected fruit flies consume more alcohol than their non-rejected peers. (There is no research yet to confirm or deny that sexually rejected fruit flies also consume more Ben & Jerry's than their non-rejected peers. GET ON IT, SCIENCE.)

Annalee Newitz at presents "10 Psychological States You've Never Heard Of… and When You Experienced Them." This is worth it for the terms alone. Normopathy, people. I am so using that in a sentence this week.

The Morning News is conducting a book bracketology tournament this month, only instead of Dick Vitale you get commentators judges like Edith Zimmerman, who issues perhaps the single most devastating take-down of the Important Male Writer ever made when she describes the male main characters of Eugenides's The Marriage Plot as "Muppet-Baby versions of David Foster Wallace and Eugenides himself." Can you ever look at any of their books on a shelf again without picturing foreshortened scruffy guys in hipster glasses with bonnets and pacifiers?

Finally, while we're thinking about fiction, here is a compelling, disturbing short story from Israeli Shani Boianjiu about boot camp in the IDF: "The Sound of All Girls Screaming." Via

As always, not all the links I tweeted made it to this post (nor do all the links I post make it to Twitter), so if you run out of reading material during the week, replenish at @PhantomsList. And thanks for reading!