Sunday, October 7, 2012

Links for the week ending 7 October 2012

Hey! Let's not talk about the debate this week! Though if anyone wants to go in on a group tweet-a-long of Follow That Bird in lieu of watching the next one, I am SO THERE, baby. In the meantime! In The New Yorker, Chrystia Freeland reports on the tender feelings of the super-rich. My personal favorite: the president and his family did not write a prompt thank-you note after being presented with a book of self-published poetry written by the billionaire's 14-year-old granddaughter. The nerve!

A pair of stories: At The Atlantic, Julia Edwards profiles the "High Priest of Runaway College Inflation (He Regrets Nothing)." At ProPublica and The Chronicle of Higher Education, Marian Wang, Beckie Supiano, and Andrea Fuller report on the ethically dubious business of federal Parent Plus college loans: "The loans are both remarkably easy to get and nearly impossible to get out from under for families who've overreached."

At Al Jazeera English, Sarah Kendzior considers the case against Aaron Swartz, who downloaded almost the entire catalog of JSTOR, and writes that "In academia, the ability to prohibit scholarship is considered more meaningful than the ability to produce it." (Repeating my usual friendly public service announcement to my Massachusetts readers: your residence in the Commonwealth entitles you to JSTOR access via an e-card to the Boston Public Library. Pass it on!)

This week California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill guaranteeing basic workplace rights — including overtime pay and meal breaks — to the state's domestic workers. At Salon, Irin Carmon looks at how "Devaluing care work — and women" became seen as a smart political move for the scions of the Democratic party.

Julianne Hing at Colorlines reports that Walmart workers walked off the job at several different locations on Thursday. Martinne Geller and Jessica Wohl for Reuters wrote about the complaints described by five Walmart employees to Wall Street analysts on Monday, with limited results. "Wal-Mart's labor practice have garnered criticism among consumers and in the press, but so far have not impacted investors." Sigh.

This seems to me like a Big Fucking Deal, as it's one of the longest-lasting legacies a president can leave: Joan Biskupic for Reuters on how President Obama has done little to counteract the successful conservative domination of the federal judiciary.

Here's one reason why the make-up of the federal judiciary matters immensely. At the ACLU's blog, Mitra Ebadolahi writes about the case of Nick George, who was denied access to his flight to California when the TSA objected to Arabic-English flashcards in his luggage.

Here's another: ""The death penalty? Give me a break. It's easy. Abortion? Absolutely easy. Nobody ever thought the Constitution prevented restrictions on abortion,' he said. 'Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years, it was criminal in every state.'" Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon on that prince among justices, Antonin Scalia.

Lots more reasons when you consider how the prison industrial complex wrings money from the poorest communities. At Colorlines, Jamilah King interviews Ava DuVernay, whose film, "Middle of Nowhere," was presented as testimony at a recent FCC hearing on the cost of phone calls from prison.

Cassie Rodenberg published some truly amazing work this week. On her Tumblr, her account of going to Rikers Island to visit an incarcerated sex worker named Beauty, whom she knows through her work documenting prostitution and addiction in the South Bronx. Then, at her column at SciAm, a powerful personal narrative about the addict she grew up with: her father.

Liz Goodwin at Yahoo! News writes about how the proprietors of Colorado's flourishing medical marijuana dispensaries fear that a state ballot initiative to decriminalize trade of small amounts of pot will end with the federal government shutting them down entirely.

From a little over a week ago, Dr. Jen Gunter asks, "do you want your own health care provider to consider their own religious or personal beliefs first before offering you medical care?" That was the way it historically worked, after all. And weren't we all healthier then? Oh, right…

Who'd have thunk it? "Free Birth Control Access Can Reduce Abortion Rate by More Than Half," by Katherine Harmon at SciAm.

While Gov. Brown was denying protections for CA domestic workers (and immigrants, and plenty of other vulnerable populations), he did sign legislation requiring doctors to inform mammography patients if they have dense breasts. Laura Newman at Patient POV asks whether "dense-breast right-to-know laws" are helpful. (Spoiler: um, no?)

This story just got worse and worse as the week wore on. An outbreak of serious (and in some cases, deadly) fungal meningitis in patients who'd received injections in the spine was traced back to contaminated methylprednisolone supplied by a compounding pharmacy in Framingham, MA. Marilynn Marchione for the AP situates the outbreak within recent drug shortages that have encouraged compounding pharmacies to make products on a larger scale.

This, however, was my personal nominee for worst story for the week. At Wired, Maryn McKenna recounts becoming (maybe) part of her story about Salmonella contamination in peanut butter. (In this household, where peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are considered food of the gods, we are thankful to have experienced nothing worse than mild illness and one missed morning school bus as a result of the contamination.)

Perhaps you don't eat peanut butter, and your week did not have enough really disgusting moments in it? Then here's a nice article about bugs in people's ears. By Karen Rowan at MyHealthNewsDaily.

Do surgical checklists really reduce post-surgical deaths by nearly fifty percent? Julia Belluz at Science-ish investigates.

Maia Szalavitz at Time on the possible reasons why a new review suggesting that ketamine is effective at providing immediate relief from depression may not result in increased clinical use of the drug.

"'Teenagers enter unsafe situations not because they are drawn to dangerous or risky situations, but rather because they aren't informed enough about the odds of the consequences of their actions.'" Eryn Brown at the Los Angeles Times covers a new study on teens and risky behavior that destroys all my comforting illusions that my own risk-averse children will be protected by their anxiety from the more hazardous situations adolescence has to offer.

"Actually I think I just have a heightened case of the human condition." Lovely essay by Ann Finkbeiner at The Last Word On Nothing about two brothers, science, religion, and the anxiety of being alive.

Long, fascinating blog post by Kimberly Gerson summing up what science currently knows about the innovation and intelligence of crows and other corvids.

Lyrical guest post by Rebecca Wragg Sykes at SciAm, about the upheavals recorded in rocks of the northwest Scottish Highlands: "Time Is Not Made to Flow in Vain: Eternity and Apocalypse in Assynt and Mars."

At Nature, Helen Thompson reports on efforts to create hybrid chestnuts that might someday withstand the fungal blight that wiped out the once-dominant tree of American eastern deciduous forests.

At the Guardian, author Jo Marchant on the resumption of diver surveys off the Greek island of Antikythera, where divers over a hundred years ago found fragments of a sophisticated clockwork machine constructed in ancient Greece.

To follow are two New York Times articles. Use your free reads (or clear your cookies) wisely, okay? Last week Stephanie Coontz wrote a very satisfying Sunday opinion piece on "The Myth of Male Decline." In this week's Magazine, Maggie Koerth-Baker writes about the historical accidents and cultural peculiarities that determine why some technologies succeed and others fail: "Why Your Car Isn't Electric."

At Mother Jones, Dashka Slater profiles the founders of iFixit: "These Guys Can Make Your iPhone Last Forever." (Well, maybe not my iPhone — I'm kind of a klutz — but for those of you who are either braver or more dextrous, this is pretty damn cool.)

Via Rebecca Hamilton (@bechamilton), a wonderful piece by Ayom Wol Dahl for South Sudan's New Times on new English words and usages being coined to describe life in that newest of republics. "I am somehow" is my new favorite sentence ever, I think.

This is what you get when a senior reporter studies for the U.S. citizenship test: "I told her that my partner wrote an entire book about the vice president and won a Pulitzer Prize for the stories. I was pretty sure about this one. A parade of constitutional scholars backed me up." Dafna Linzer at ProPublica with "How I Passed My U.S. Citizenship Test: By Keeping the Right Answers to Myself."

At Rookie, Jenny Zhang writes about techniques for dealing with racism with humor — and the limitations of this approach. Read through to the end; the opening anecdote does not wrap up triumphantly the way you expect it might.

Anne Helen Petersen at The Hairpin presents the first part of a two-part look at Gloria Swanson. Are you ready for your closeup?

I have never read any books by Seanan McGuire, but after this blistering blog post on the assumption that rape of female protagonists is realistic and even inevitable, I shall. Wow.

At Vela Magazine, "Sweat Ride through the Smog Swamp," a moving essay by Lauren Quinn about navigating the maze of Hanoi's streets — and the scars of past experience — on the back of a hired motorbike.

Finally. Gawker, of all the unlikely places, is running a personal essay every Saturday. This week's essay, by dream hampton, is a flat-out devastating account of learning audacity in the face of ever-present danger. Last week's essay on infertility by Alison Umminger, "Don't Think of Elephants," is also very much worth your time.

Oh, okay, one more: if you have 11+ minutes left to kill this week, this bit of storytelling from Lindy West about coping with her internet trolls is just wonderful.