Saturday, June 8, 2013

Links for the week ending 9 June 2013

"The arrangement with Verizon, AT&T and Sprint, the country's three largest phone companies means, that every time the majority of Americans makes a call, NSA gets a record of the location, the number called, the time of the call and the length of the conversation, according to people familiar with the matter." The news of the week, as reported first by The Guardian and The Washington Post, here summed up by Siobahn Gorman, Evan Perez, and Janet Hook at The Wall Street Journal.

"This Administration seems to have forgotten that Americans have a perfect right to keep secrets." Is there anyone better than The New Yorker's Amy Davidson at articulating the heart of the matter within a few hours of news breaking?

"Metadata, she pointed out, can be so revelatory about whom reporters talk to in order to get sensitive stories that it can make more traditional tools in leak investigations, like search warrants and subpoenas, look quaint." Jane Meyer, also at The New Yorker.

"Now that Americans know they are being subjected to wholesale interception of their communications, we need a new Church Committee to investigate and limit the NSA’s powers." At Bloomberg, Cardozo School of Law professor Susan Crawford makes the case for Congressional action about NSA overreach.

"And citizens deserve the most full-throated defense of public affairs reporting and open government we can muster." UW professor Kathleen Bartzen Culver writes about a proposal in the Wisconsin state legislature prohibiting public universities from having anything to do with the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. (Via Deborah Blum.)

Without investigative journalism, you get this: "Perhaps one of the most striking attempts to pierce and criticize the veil of censorship on Turkish media came from a quiz show host, Ali İhsan Varol, whose “Guess the Word” program airs on weeknights." From Zeynep Tufekci at her blog. (Hat tip to Jill Heather.)

"Around one, a tremendous racket broke out as people all over the city started beating on cymbals, pots, pans, and metal street signs; I saw one man looking around in vain for a stick, and then cheerfully starting to bang his head against a metal storefront shutter." The inimitable Elif Batuman describes the scene from Istanbul protests for The New Yorker.

"'We don’t force-feed right now at Gitmo,' the Marine general said. Instead, he adopted the Guantánamo euphemism that what troops down there are actually doing is 'enterally feeding' the hunger striker, a military medial [sic] term for the tube-snaking procedure." Carol Rosenberg for The Miami Herald. Also read this fascinating interview at Poynter with Rosenberg, who has been covering the Guantánamo story for twelve years. "'The only people who have been at Gitmo longer than me are the prisoners.'"

"Street after deserted street lay in ruins, windows blown out, facades crumpled and trees blackened and burnt. The dome of the local mosque was damaged by rocket fire, and the walls of a church smashed open." Mariam Karouny reports for Reuters on the capture by Syrian government forces of the border town of Qusair from rebels.

"Kalkyi was uneducated. The Chinese government shut down Tibetan-language schools in the 1990s, so she never learned how to write, and she never attended the Chinese-language schools the government opened in their place." Some seriously badass reporting from China by Reuters' Sui-Lee Wee on young Tibetan mothers who set themselves on fire to protest Chinese repression. (Via Jim Roberts.)

In a week that saw the announcement that Philadelphia will be laying off 20% of its public school teachers this summer, Rania Khalek points out: "Education privatization advocates and prison industry profiteers share the same target demographic: poor communities of color." (Via Audrey Watters.)

"Now Wall Street’s invasion of the cul-de-sac is about to enter a second phase as the money men offer income-starved retail investors new securities–REITs and bonds–backed by single-family rental homes." From Morgan Brennan at Forbes, a report on Wall Street's latest scheme to securitize everything, in this case, foreclosed homes rehabbed and placed on the rental market. What could go wrong? (Via Jo Ling Kent.)

The 50 worst charities in America devote less than 4 percent of donations raised to direct cash aid. Some charities give even less. Over a decade, one diabetes charity raised nearly $14 million and gave about $10,000 to patients. Six spent nothing at all on direct cash aid." From Kris Hundley and Kendall Taggart at, respectively, the Tampa Bay Times and The Center for Investigative Reporting, a multi-part blockbuster series about fraudulent charities that rake in cash for their owners and telemarketing solicitors. (Via Martine Powers.)

"The high price paid for colonoscopies mostly results not from top-notch patient care, according to interviews with health care experts and economists, but from business plans seeking to maximize revenue; haggling between hospitals and insurers that have no relation to the actual costs of performing the procedure; and lobbying, marketing and turf battles among specialists that increase patient fees. " From Elizabeth Rosenthal at The New York Times, inflated prices for one common medical procedure are a symptom of how utterly dysfunctional a supposedly free-market health care system is. (Old blog-buddies should carefully scan the names here to spot one of our own!)

"Brannock’s occupational therapist even baked her a footlong dragonfly cookie, colorfully frosted." On the other hand, this profile of the final marathon bombing victim released from the hospital by the Boston Globe's Bella English shows American medicine at its finest.

Can you imagine how the corporate leadership at Target would freak out if we tried this in the U.S.? "The maternity package - a gift from the government - is available to all expectant mothers. It contains bodysuits, a sleeping bag, outdoor gear, bathing products for the baby, as well as nappies, bedding and a small mattress." On how Finland has achieved one of the world's lowest infant mortality rates, by Helena Lee for the BBC.

"'The exciting thing about these results is the second we turn on the light, the animal stops doing the abnormal thing. It’s immediate,' said Ann Graybiel, a neuroscientist at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT." For The Boston Globe, Carolyn Y. Johnson reports on a new study in which scientists stopped mice from engaging in OCD behaviors with a flash of light.

"Jailing us would be cheap—generally speaking, the student-loan-debt population is already literate, so we wouldn’t need education classes, although woodshop or small engine repair would be handy." A modest proposal from Michelle Crouch at The Billfold.

"Have you always lived your life the way you Prancercise?" Still loving Jia Tolentino's interviews, this week at The Hairpin with a 61-year-old Florida woman who invented an exercise routine inspired by, you know, horses.

"Google tells me that your wife earned two master’s degrees and a doctorate, and built an impressive resume in research, conference planning and social action. Do you still think of her graduate studies as a waste of time? At The Washington Post, Phyllis Richman finally writes back to the Harvard professor who in 1961 asked her to write a letter to the admissions committee explaining "how you might plan to combine a professional life in city planning with your responsibilities to your husband and a possible future family?" (Via Virginia C. McGuire.)

"'This is Ghandi, I hope everybody here knows who Ghandi is,' one of them said, bewilderingly, at the start of a narcoleptic speech entirely free of politics or cryptography, the single message of which was: 'We're a-gonna get rich, boys.'" Maria Bustillos attends the Bitcoin 2013 conference and reports back for The Awl.

"Each of the two-dozen boats at the party had a name—Bayesian Conspiracy, Snuggly Nemo, Magic Carpet, Mini-ocracy—and each name a personality to match, conveyed by the resident boaters’ choice of drug, beverage, or degree of exhibitionism." Amazing piece by Atossa Abrahamian at n+1on the libertarian utopianism that calls itself Seasteading (also check the photo at the top, which is credited to — you guessed it — Liz Henry).

"By this rationale, to stand among the top ranks of American literature (that is, make it into the Room) you must write in a certain way, but a woman who does so engages in a form of literary transvestism that may dazzle lesser critics but is not going to pass muster with Adam Kirsch, thank you very much." Ferocious and wonderful Laura Miller piece at Salon on the (male) critical response to Rachel Kushner's novel The Flamethrowers. (Via Cheryl Strayed.)

"'Colombia, Magical Realism' was unveiled in April and will run in thirty countries. According to its website, the slogan is built onto the campaign behind 'The Answer is Colombia,' and was “conceived to pique foreign tourist’s interest in having "different", "magic", "unique" and "surprising" experiences.'" Finally, at Guernica, Nina Martyris on Colombia's new tourism campaign — and its roots in the work of its favorite son, Gabriel García Márquez. (Via Nilanjana Roy.)