Sunday, May 6, 2012

Links for the week ending 6 May 2012

This week PBS's Frontline finished running an investigation of the global financial crisis, "Money, Power, & Wall Street." It looks to be four of the most essential hours we could spend in front of a screen in this election year. But if you're looking for something to read rather than watch, I recommend the articles posted on the website, especially those by Azmat Khan. "Did the Fed's Emergency Lending Prop Up 'Too Big to Fail'?" she asks. She also name-checks an essential article by Suzy Khimm (who has really been on fire this week) at the Washington Post on the "Occupy wonks" who are "more likely to use a flowchart than protest signs to fight big banks."

Another important read from Suzy Khimm this week: "Why the Violence Against Women Act is a LGBT issue."

For May Day, Rebecca Solnit has a very long reflection (made even longer by the usual unnecessary Tomgram introduction, which you should certainly skip) on how our current cultural moment and the possible futures it contains are perfectly reflected in the dystopia of The Hunger Games. (Parenthetical critical aside: Ah, you know, I recommend this with reservations. I think Rebecca Solnit is one of our most essential writers, someone with whose work any educated person should be familiar. This essay certainly has the dazzling syntheses that make her writing so illuminating and valuable. But the sense of wonder her best writing contains seems to me to be increasingly replaced by a sense of, for lack of a better word, smugness. She has a right to that smugness, I suppose — see above in re: "one of our most essential writers" — but I find myself at the end of a paragraph or two practically hopping up and down with irritation even when I entirely agree with her. YMMV, of course.)

It's been absolutely weeks since I last linked to anything by Laurie Penny, but I very much liked her thoughts on what journalism is for in this era, or any era. The last paragraph in particular is wonderful:
There’s always a chance, isn’t there, that my affection for my friends and colleagues makes the best efforts of our young lives loom larger in the heart than their ultimate significance deserves. Privately, though, I doubt it. I believe in fearless journalism, and I believe that it will continue, and I have seen it change the world in the most daring and intimate ways. I am still inspired by the brave reporters and polemicists who laid the path we run on, I still look to my peers to give me courage, and I still wake up in the night dreaming of the perfect paragraph – the one yet to be written. Some day, I will get old, but I don’t think honest writing ever will.

This was a week to contemplate the incredible bravery some women must summon in order to make art. From the paper of record, so use your ten-free-clicks judiciously: Eliza Griswold in the NYT Magazine profiling women poets in Afghanistan. The stories of the poet-martyrs are wrenching; the translated poems are often stunning. (Hat tip: @paigecmorgan.)

The Nation goes for the laughs in this headline, but the story behind the imprisonment of Russia's all-female protest punk band is deadly serious: "Free Pussy Riot"

DNLee wrote a very moving piece at SciAm this week on her experiences at the intersection of Impostor Syndrome and racism. As if to prove the point that this toxic mix is not only to be found in the sciences, some racist drivel in the Chronicle of Higher Ed reminded us that it's rife in the humanities as well. I recommend this excellent response from TressieMC: "The Inferiority of Blackness as a Subject." (Another parenthetical critical aside! While I may or may not agree with the general gist of Marjorie Perloff's assessment of the state of poetry today, driven by academic jobs and their imperative to publish, I think Perloff comes dangerously close to what TressieMC describes above when she chooses a poem about a specifically black female experience as her example of What Is Wrong With Poetry Today. And I'm pretty surprised — or I shouldn't be? — that no one at the Boston Review pushed her on that before going to print with it. Seriously, there was not a single poem in the collection that she could have used to make her point effectively withOUT signaling unexamined racist bias???)

Via @ejgraff, Miriam Jordan's reporting for the Wall Street Journal about the very messy realities behind the Ethiopian adoption boom, and, by extension, international adoption more generally.

By Kate Kelland for Reuters on cancer care in African nations that have only recently made enough strides in the battle against infectious disease to allow their citizens to live long enough to get cancer. "Most of Africa's around 2000 languages have no word for cancer." Fascinating and distressing in equal measure — six oncologists in the entire nation of Ghana? My god.

The years pass and our interests change, but I'll always be your go-to person for monitoring How Freaked Out We Should Be About Bird Flu. The previously censored studies about how many mutations may be required in H5N1 to create efficient transmission among mammals began to be released this week. Here is coverage of the first of those studies from two of the giants of infectious disease journalism: Helen Branswell at the Winnipeg Free Press, and Pulitzer Prize-winner Laurie Garrett, who says the new paper "offers genuine grounds for concern." Oy.

At Wired, Maryn McKenna looks at how cheap rapid tests for detecting STDs has had an unintended consequence in that they discourage tracking of drug resistance in those diseases. (Pro tip: drug resistance in STDs is Bad. Really Bad.) And Scicurious looks at a paper which claims that a rise in STDs creates a rise in, um, foot fetishism.

Also from Scicurious this week, because I firmly believe that even non-scientists can learn to read the latest health coverage more critically the more we also read critiques like this one, on findings correlating high fat diets and depression in mice, which, she reminds us, raises more questions than it definitively answers.

Beautiful and funny piece from Kathryn Schulz in New York Magazine about internal body clocks, artificial light, and social time. "Among species, we humans are to time what Polish villagers have long been to place: unhappy subjects of multiple competing regimes." As we reach the end of our first year at the OH MY GOD IT STARTS WHEN??? middle school, I can only say a deeply heartfelt "AMEN" to all of this. (Only six more years to go. OH MY GOD.) Also from the same author, a piece about her own personal struggles with trying to reconcile an internal clock that's wildly at odds with social time.

Possibly the best wording of a Big Science Question that I have ever seen: Ann Finkbeiner asks, "What's the Matter With Gravity?"

Lovely little guest post by Whitney Barlow at The Last Word On Nothing that absolutely captures the experience of trying to shape life-as-it-happens into a neat blog narrative, life in this case being a lost hummingbird who overwintered in the shrubs in front of New York's American Museum of Natural History.

Five mind-bending facts about the DNA of plants from Daisy Yuhas at SciAm.

At The Rumpus, Aubrey Hirsch talks back to the visibility of pregnancy and the way it makes your private life public property. A universal experience, but a particular political moment:
The right is lobbying against my reproductive freedoms in all forms, at all levels, in every way they can. Some days it seems that every news article I read is an attack. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t affecting my self-worth. What’s wrong with me, I wonder, that I can’t be trusted with my own freedom?

At The Hairpin, Nicole Cliffe lays bare the brutal truth about parenting (and, honestly, life): "we want to think there's an immense barrier between us and disaster, but there isn't. Just luck." (I'd tell you about similar stories from this household, but which ones to choose? Baby LG falling off the bed onto the hardwood floor… twice? Three-year-old LG falling down our steep staircase? The time BB got a black eye and a dislocated elbow within a few days of each other? Those days, I do not miss them…)

Jane Stevens on a new approach to high-school discipline that takes as its starting point the assumption that the CDC's Adverse Childhood Experiences Study explains an awful lot of why adolescents act out in class.

From Liat Kornowski at The Atlantic: iPhones made by blind people for people are revolutionizing how they navigate everything from streets to their own clothes closets.

At The Billfold, a very strong essay by Kate Abbott about becoming a stay-at-home mom — and losing her ability to control her spending: "The Responsible Thief."

There was no way on earth I could refrain from linking to this: Elif Batuman in the New Yorker on "The Phantom Matzo Factory." You should follow Batuman on Twitter, by the way. She is hilarious.

Via @lucypigpuppet, by Abi Sutherland at Making Light, a thoughtful meditation on Minecraft and learning to live in a world of limited resources. Though I must warn you that you will have that song stuck in your head for days afterwards.

We fell down the '80s rabbit hole last weekend playing a little YouTube-based game we call "Dueling '80s Hits." In the aftermath of that game, I found this little gem of 2011 interview with former Yaz(oo) frontwoman Alison Moyet about her arc from teen punk band to international stardom. If you were a fan of Yaz in the '80s (or her solo work later), don not miss! (However, this time I must warn you that Moyet has lost a significant amount of weight and now looks disconcertingly like Greta Garbo, which, what? I did not expect that.)

Even if you haven't watched a moment of Downton Abbey (and, you will not be surprised to learn, I haven't), this essay by Francine Prose in Granta about the series' appeal is well worth a read.

And, finally, the essay to end all essays on Girls, by Roxanne Gay at The Rumpus. I could not be more impressed with the work Gay is producing these days. She is simply amazing.