Starting this week again with Rania Abouzeid. At The New Yorker: "At one point, Mohammad extended the barrel of his Kalashnikov rather than his hand to help me up the hill. Like many conservative Muslims, he would not touch a female who was not a close relative. He had done this twice before realizing there was a bullet in the chamber. " Also this, from Lebanon the previous week: "She calls herself and other refugees 'the new Palestinians'—a common refrain among Syrians in Lebanon, displaced from homes they may not return to for a while, if at all. 'Now I know what it’s like. You work a lifetime, I worked for more than twenty years to make a home. I lost it within hours. Do you think we can go back soon?'"
One more from Abouzeid, at Al Jazeera America: Talal knows his children are alive because he saw his three youngest on a video uploaded to YouTube on Aug. 12. The three-minute, 11-second clip shows the Alawite prisoners sitting along the perimeter of a roofed outdoor area. Talal did not see his eldest daughter or his wife among them."
"The U.S. government, European Union, and Australia Group should as a matter of urgency reconsider thresholds for the investigation of manufacture of nerve gas precursors, and where no legitimate peaceful use for the chemicals exists, should fully ban their export and trade." At Politico, Laurie Garrett mentions a few wee steps we outraged Western nations might take besides, you know, bombing the shit out of things.
Dude Jeff Larson has star billing here at ProPublica, but the NYT's Nicole Perlroth also has a byline, and you should read it, anyway: The agency’s success in defeating many of the privacy protections offered by encryption does not change the rules that prohibit the deliberate targeting of Americans’ e-mails or phone calls without a warrant. But it shows that the agency, which was sharply rebuked by a federal judge in 2011 for violating the rules and misleading the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, cannot necessarily be restrained by privacy technology."
"This shrouded, multimillion-dollar hunt for insider threats has suffered from critical delays in recent years and uneven implementation across agencies, the budget records show. And the spy agencies’ detection systems never noticed that Snowden was copying highly classified documents from different parts of the NSA’s networks." Carol D. Leonnig, Julie Tate, and dude Barton Gellman for The Washington Post.
A piece to, er, celebrate Labor Day. From Sarah Kliff at The Washington Post, eight eye-opening charts about how labor in the United States has changed over the decades.
"[T]he biggest problem in Mexico is not the drug cartels—they are just a symptom of the disease—and this disease is corruption. What is happening in Mexico because of corruption can happen in other places, too. If the institutions are weak and the government is involved and if people don’t say anything about it, then they will have another Mexico." At The Texas Observer, Melissa del Bosque interviews Mexican journalist Anabel Hernandez, whose book, Narcoland, will be released in English this fall. Also at The Texas Observer, del Bosque updates the story of the quarter-horse money-laundering trial.
"As far-fetched as the idea of a black-clad female Mexican avenger might seem, human rights activists in Ciudad Juarez said they wished authorities would work as hard investigating rapes on buses as they were trying to find Diana the Huntress." At the Los Angeles Times, Tracy Wilkinson and Cecilia Sanchez report. (Via Nilanjana Roy.)
"She is one of a demographic—white women who don’t graduate from high school—whose life expectancy has declined dramatically over the past 18 years. These women can now expect to die five years earlier than the generation before them. It is an unheard-of drop for a wealthy country in the age of modern medicine. " Monica Potts at The American Prospect asks, "What's Killing Poor White Women?" (Hat tip to Rachel Hartman.)
"About half of the respondents said they had laid off instructional staff and increased class sizes to absorb the cut; 46% said they put off technology purchases and 32% said their school districts put off textbook purchases in response to the cuts." At MSNBC, Suzy Khimm looks at how the sequester is slamming the nation's poorest school districts. (Via Elizabeth Lower-Basch.)
"As a self-described 'true Southern man' — and reluctant recipient of food stamps — Dustin Rigsby, a struggling mechanic, hunts deer, doves and squirrels to help feed his family. He shops for grocery bargains, cooks budget-stretching stews and limits himself to one meal a day. " At the NYT, Sheryl Gay Stolberg looks at the people who will go even hungrier if Republican plans to slash the food stamp program go through. (Via Nikole Hannah-Jones.)
"Every day, U.S. commuters are taking more than 200 million trips across deficient bridges, according to a variety of analyses, and at least 8,000 bridges across the country are both 'structurally deficient' and 'fracture critical' — engineering terms for bridges that could fail if even a single component breaks." Cheerful little article from Alana Semuels at the Los Angeles Times on the state of the nation's bridges.
"Gay marriages are illegal in Pennsylvania. But if you go to D. Bruce Hanes, you can get one anyway." Cheer up for real with Dana Liebelson's story for Mother Jones on a badass county clerk in Montgomery County, PA.
Speaking of badasses. At the NYT, Cornelia Dean profiles Dr. Eugenie C. Scott, the retiring executive director of the National Center for Science Education, which has been on the front lines of the battle to keep creationism out of public schools. (Via @pourmecoffee.)
Hang on! One more badass! This is a .pdf, but you should read it anyway. Carmen Winant's January interview at The baffler with Diana Nyad. "I am not terribly interested in this particular conversation at all, and I really don't know what it has to do with anything." (Via Sarah McCarry.)
"From the surface of Earth, the apparent sizes of the Sun and Moon in the sky are nearly equal. The Sun is almost exactly 400 times larger than the Moon, and it’s also almost exactly 400 times farther away." At Nautilus, Emily Lakdawalla wonders how many other planets might witness solar eclipses like ours.
Maybe she should ask Mallory Ortberg to answer that. At The Toast: "Another Empty, Lifeless Planet Found."
("It means a great deal to me, particularly if we are both wearing sunglasses and gesturing significantly toward the horizon, which is where the future of Africa is. Would you like sunglasses? Have some of mine." I gotta admit, you guys, that I'm feeling a little oppressed these days just THINKING about which of Mallory Ortberg's one gazillion humor pieces to link to on any given week. So here's an extra one. At The Toast, of course.)
"Called the Tamu Massif, the enormous mound dwarfs the previous record holder, Hawaii's Mauna Loa, and is only 25 percent smaller than Olympus Mons on Mars, the biggest volcano in Earth's solar system, said William Sager, lead study author and a geologist at the University of Houston." IN YOUR FACE, MARS. From Becky Oskin at LiveScience, a report about the discovery under the Pacific Ocean of the largest volcano on Earth. (Via @pourmecoffee.)
"'It's like a game of musical chairs, but with bayonets,' Watts says. 'Eagles have tremendous weaponry. And so when they fight, it can oftentimes be to the death.'" It's an eagle-eat-eagle world on the Chesapeake Bay, reports Elizabeth Shogren for NPR. (Via Ruth Graham.)
"For instance, there are over a million and a half auto-rickshaw drivers in Bangalore, but few besides Shiv Kumar, the host of a show for auto-rickshaw drivers, have ever talked in public about their health concerns in a meaningful way." Fascinating short piece by Sonia Faleiro in The New Yorker about the impact of community radio in one of India's major cities.
"The thoughts that lead the LinkedIn experience, in other words, are usually subtle advertisements for the LinkedIn experience." This is sort of shooting fish in a barrel, but still a very enjoyable takedown of LinkedIn, by Ann Friedman at The Baffler.
Takedowns, call them takedowns! Two astute and completely delightful takedowns of recent bestsellers at Bookforum. Heather Havrilesky takes on Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings: The result is a rephrasing of Langston Hughes’s immortal question 'What happens to a dream deferred?'—but sent through Louis C.K.’s White-People Problems transmogrifier. And then Mary Gaitskill, who begins, "This is not a book I would normally read; I rarely read mysteries, and the title, Gone Girl, is irritating on its face."
"Only when I got her book did I realise that Liz Jones is not Samantha Brick. Scandalised Twitter links melded them together in my lazy mind as the same person (they write for the Daily Mail, everyone hates them, both women) in spite of the huge clue that one was called Liz Jones and the other Samantha Brick. The mind has mountains and makes molehills." Finally, the very opposite of a takedown: Jenny Diski at the London Review of Books on how she read Liz Jones' autobiography and concluded, "If I didn’t already have two friends, and therefore more than I can manage, I would put in to be her best friend." And we say together: Amen.