Sunday, September 29, 2013

Links for the week ending 29 September 2013

"On that day, unless Congress were to raise the debt ceiling, the Treasury would have only $30 billion cash on hand, putting the United States on the precipice of an unprecedented default, the department said on Wednesday." History will think kindly of us for tolerating such shenanigans, I'm sure. By Annie Lowrey in the NYT.

"Republicans who once worked out legislative language with the help of Heritage's distinguished Ph.D.s felt whiplash seeing the group cheerlead for collapse. Heritage was supposed to be above politics, they grumbled. Heritage was supposed to be about serious ideas, not tactical fights. White papers, not political campaigns -- and certainly not campaigns against Republicans." If schaudenfraude makes you feel better, you may appreciate this Molly Ball piece in The Atlantic about in-fighting between the Republican party and its premier think tank.

"Do people really think that a Hillary Clinton 2016 campaign is a good idea—for the Democratic Party, our collective sanity, even for her?" Amy Davidson at The New Yorker reminding you that 2016 is not going to save our souls no matter how much we loved that BlackBerry meme.

"'I believe it is in the nation’s best interests to put all the phone records into a lockbox that we could search when the nation needs to do it, yes,' Alexander said." Ellen Nakashima at The Washington Post on Senate questioning of the director of the NSA. (Via Lois Beckett.)

"The 'extended border,' as defined by law and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, stretches 100 miles from a border crossing and authorizes agents with 'reasonable suspicion' to conduct warrantless searches." At Al Jazeera America, Michelle Garcia writes a strong piece about how drug-smuggling border enforcement and asset forfeiture have combined to make the roads of South Texas unsafe for ordinary people going about their day. (Via Melissa del Bosque.)

"Out on the street, you might have heard the excited whispers of, 'Obama is going to pay for my birth control!' issuing from the lips of many American women. You like what you hear, but is it even true? And, if it is, what does that mean for you?" Serious no-irony-whatsoever News You Can Use from Kate Hakala at Refinery29, explaining what the Affordable Care Act does — and doesn't — mean for your access to birth control. (Via Kelly Bourdet.)

"I really hope that they'll understand that these late abortion decisions are carefully made by these women. They have been thought out, wrestled with, agonized over. They are never casual. And the need for late-term abortions will never go away." Gut-punch interview at The Hairpin by Jia Tolentino with Dr. Susan Robinson, "One of the Last Four Doctors in America to Openly Provide Third-Trimester Abortions."

"Unlike nearly every other medical procedure offered in the US , egg donors take on their physical burden without knowing the risks involved — largely because the medical community has never studied them." From this summer, fascinating longread from Hyphen magazine by Teresa Chin on the demand for Asian-American egg donors — and the complete unknowns about how the procedures involved in egg donation may affect the donors' health or future fertility.

"The broader message that the Capobiancos and their legal team are sending, however, is to make an example of Dusten Brown and the Cherokee Nation." And also this interview with Meagan Hatcher-Mays on the "Baby Veronica" case at The Toast.

"The case of Quebec and the ballot mandated xenophobia that has produced the proposed charter suggests a deep and troubling move away from the principles of multiculturalism that Canada and Canadians have been so proud of." Rafia Zakaria at Al Jazeera on proposed legislation in Quebec that would forbid public employes from wearing most "religious symbols" while on the job.

"I will do this until the administration starts obeying the law and stops treating incarcerated women like cattle ejected from the realm of justice for the purpose of stoking the production of the sewing industry; until they start treating us like humans." Grim description of the conditions that have led Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot to begin a hunger strike in a Russian penal colony. At the Guardian; translated by Bela Shayevich. (Via Molly Crabapple.)

"The hurt in my community runs deep. The Islam we know and practice values the integrity of human life above all. It places a premium on compassion, and helping those less fortunate." At Quartz, a short essay about the loss of eight members of Nairobi's small Ismaili Muslim community in the terrorist attack at Westgate mall, by Neelam Verjee.

"Today, we don’t worry much about nuclear war. But it’s normal now for any American of any age to 'realize you can be shot,' in the words of the Washington Post, 'and think through how you will react to the situation.'" Sarah Goodyear at The Atlantic on the normalization of "lockdown drills" in schools across the U.S.

"But Teach for America aspires to close the achievement gap by training teachers that are significantly better than educators already in the system. Can simply being 'at least as effective as other teachers' really be cited as success?" Also at The Atlantic, recent Teach for America participant Olivia Blanchard critiques her experience after a year spent in the Atlanta public schools. (Via Audrey Watters.)

"'I don’t have the best vocabulary. I don’t have all the academic skills that I wish I had to give to her,' said Adams, a gentle young woman who dropped out of high school to work for McDonald’s. She said her home visitor, the research coordinator from Suskind’s office, encouraged her to read to her daughter, and 'maybe if I don’t know a word, just try to get through it the best I can.… It really gave me a lot of courage and a lot of strength to feel that I am teaching her.'" At the Hechinger Report, a moving look by Sara Neufeld at an experiment being run by a pediatric surgeon at the University of Chicago. (Via Jody T.)

"He scored in the 98th percentile on standardized tests and had a D average. One night after class he had to walk from the school (on 35th) to his aunt’s apartment (over 100 blocks away); by the time he arrived at the apartment, the aunt had already gone to work, so he had to sleep on the stoop until 4am. I don’t know if the program did him any good." Also from Chicago. By Erika Price at The Toast.

"I asked them how they made the transition from social-media interaction to real-world interaction. They blinked. 'You talk to them on Facebook; you do chat with them,' Melissa said." Warning: this longread on teenagers, porn, and social media by Nancy Jo Sales at Vanity Fair will induce despair.

"The research concluded that in societies where the experience of actual nature is becoming scarce, and life is increasingly virtual, the consumption of ‘green products’, especially those that evoke virtual contact with nature, can provide surrogate experiences." A short essay by Sue Thomas at Aeon which may also produce some despair — or an intense desire to download nature photos to your phone. Whichever.

"I wanted the thing that prevents her from publishing her grand theory not to be misogyny but her own perfectionism. I feel like that's a much more realistic character flaw. It's also something that holds women back from presenting their ideas in the world, often because they wait until it's perfect. It doesn't stop men from bringing forth all kinds of half-assed and ill-formed notions, but it seems to stop women." Great little interview with Elizabeth Gilbert by Maggie Caldwell at Mother Jones.

"Sure, she said, she and her family enjoy cycling. But the enjoyment, she said, is secondary; because the bicycle is a primary mode of transportation, it’s a necessity that her child learn to bike safely. 'It’s recreation for you all in America,' Saraber said. 'For us, it’s a way of life.'" By Martine Powers at The Boston Globe, a report from Boston engineering students' encounter with Dutch bicycle culture.

"Comments can be bad for science. That's why, here at, we're shutting them off." Wild cheering for this announcement by Suzanne LaBarre, which I dearly hope sparks a trend for publications no matter what their focus. (Via Rachel Hartman.)

"One day, perhaps, we will get better at discriminating and dare only to take from it what we want. Yet so much of what we find on the Internet is by happy accident. If we don’t click, what joys will we miss? It’s a new temptation, I think, and our ability to resist is very low." Trenchant short piece by Jenny Diski.

"Virginia Woolf was a hundred feet tall and menstruated knives, which was fairly unusual for Chinese women of her day." Also: "Hush, little baby, don’t say a word/Ever; your sister is talking" Mallory Ortberg. Enough said.

"So, you subscribed to The New Quandary and now it just lies around your house unread, accruing coffee rim stains? Spare yourself the monthly guilt trip. Instead of delivering The New Quandary to your home, we’ll mail your issues to locations where you are likely to read it." Catherine Sylvain at The Toast with "Thank You For Subscribing To My Literary Magazine."

"But not all writers of peculiarly enthusiastic letters to the editor are fake. I know because I spoke with four of them: two women who published glowing letters about Kerry Washington in the October 2013 issue of Vanity Fair, and two men who recently published letters in People." Finally, from Ruth Graham at The Awl, "Meet The People Who Still Write Letters To The Editor." Spoiler: those people are awesome. (I'm pretty sure the only letter to the editor I ever wrote got published because I was nine years old and wrote it on Snoopy stationery, but what a thrill it was, anyway. Maybe internet comments would be better if we had to write them on Snoopy stationery?)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Links for the week ending 22 September 2013

Let's start off a little differently this week: "Physicists have discovered a jewel-like geometric object that dramatically simplifies calculations of particle interactions and challenges the notion that space and time are fundamental components of reality." From Natalie Wolchover at the Simons Foundation, a short explanation of why something that looks like an elaborated version of Bejeweled Blitz is actually evidence for why things like space and time don't exist. (Via @pourmecoffee.)

"Cosmologists have speculated that the Universe formed from the debris ejected when a four-dimensional star collapsed into a black hole — a scenario that would help to explain why the cosmos seems to be so uniform in all directions." Or we could all be just the three-dimensional event horizon of a four-dimensional black hole, reports Zeeya Merali at Nature. (Also via @pourmecoffee.)

Now that we've got everything firmly in perspective, let's move on. "How often do whales clean their ears? Well, never. And so, year after year, their ear wax builds up, layer upon layer." Foot-long columns of whale ear wax. By Rhitu Chatterjee for NPR. (Via Melissa del Bosque.)

"Using electronic health records and mapping systems (including Google Earth) to figure out how close patients resided to livestock and crop operations, the researchers found that people who lived closer to farms that used swine manure to fertilize crops or that raised livestock were more likely to have MRSA infections than people who lived farther away." From Eryn Brown at the LA Times.

"On the windswept prairies of the Oklahoma Panhandle, the hog barns of Prestage Farms are lined up like military barracks. The 20,000-sow operation near the Texas border stands at the front lines of a months-long battle to contain a virus that has already killed some 1.3 million hogs in the United States." And the pigs aren't feeling so good, either, report Carey Gillam and P.J. Huffstutter. (Via Sarah Zhang.)

"'We can dream and this is the world we made?' he said. 'We have all these capabilities and what are we going to do? We're gonna figure out how to monetize some poor folks in the center of the country who we've convinced need to buy some shit that they don't actually.'" From "The Bacon-Wrapped Economy," by Ellen Cushing at the East Bay Express. (Via Lois Beckett.)

"A parasite that changes the brains of rats and mice so that they are attracted to cats and cat urine seems to work its magic almost right away, and continues to control the brain even after it’s gone, researchers reported on Wednesday." At NBC News, Maggie Fox reports that new research "'does not necessarily explain crazy cat ladies or why there are LOLCATS online.'" OR DOES IT? (Via Amanda Katz.)

"In 2012, National Research Council scientists were barred from discussing their work with NASA on snowflakes with journalists." From Suzanne Goldenberg at Grist, a stunning short look at government censorship of science… in Canada? (Via Deborah Blum.)

"'People think the use-by date means either the product is going to die or you're going to die if you eat it. And it's just not true. You can't tie shelf life to a date,' Labuza said." News you can use by Atossa Araxia Abrahamian at Reuters.

"A landmark study has found that stop-and-frisk policing leads to so much mistrust of cops, many young adults won’t go to cops to report violent crimes — even when they are the ones victimized." This week in You Don't Say, by Erin Durkin for the NY Daily News. (Via Christie Thompson.)

"The death of Jonathan Ferrell, 24, led civil rights groups to question the kind of training that resulted in the barrage of bullets fired against an unarmed man by a 27-year-old officer promoted two years ago from the animal control division." At the NYT, Kim Severson reports on the killing of a man wounded in a Charlotte, NC, car accident this week.

"His name is Dr. Chencho Dorji and he is Bhutan’s first psychiatrist. Four decades ago, his first patient began to lose his mind." By Jennifer Yang for the Toronto Star. (Via Sonia Faleiro.)

"This is the second time that his family has endured a random act of gun violence. In 2009, one of his sons — 14-year-old Arthur Daniels — was shot in the back. He was also running away from an armed man." From Emily Wax-Thibodeaux at The Washington Post, on the grieving family of Navy Yard massacre victim Arthur Daniels.

"'I may see this every day, I may be the chief medical officer of a very large medical center, but there is something wrong here,' said Janis Orlowski of Medstar Washington Center, which treated three other Navy Yard victims. 'I’d like you to put my trauma center out of business.'" From Suzy Khimm at MSNBC.

"Unburdened by the Boomers’ reverence for hierarchy, Gillibrand, in her refusal to bow to the will of her committee chairman or the military brass, forced the women of the Democratic caucus to choose between the remedies favored by victims’ groups or those favored by the male military leaders who have presided over a crisis that has only gotten worse over the last two decades." At RH Reality Check, Adele M. Stan writes a fascinating long analysis of how generational differences have led Senators Claire McCaskill and Kristen Gillibrand to take opposing approaches to addressing the epidemic of sexual assault in the military.

From National Geographic this week: Michele Norris reflects on what the Race Card Project has told her about "multiracial experiences—most specifically marriage, parenting, and the questions of identity for the resulting offspring." (Via Gwen Ifill.)

"In the world of education reform, Paul Vallas is a superstar. As leader of school districts in Chicago and Philadelphia, he expanded charter schools and testing. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, he replaced New Orleans’ ravaged public schools with a radical experiment in decentralized, charter-based learning." But last week voters in Bridgeport, CT, look to have thrown him out of a job, reports Molly Ball at The Atlantic.

"In the fall of 1981, second grader Mike Ryan was walking through the halls of his new school when he realized something terrible: He was the only kid without a Trapper Keeper." By Erin McCarthy at Mental Floss, the history you've been waiting for — of the Trapper Keeper. (Via Arika Okrent.)

"At Spelman College, a historically black, all-women’s college in Atlanta, about half of last year’s incoming class of some 530 students were obese or had high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, or some other chronic health condition that could be improved with exercise. Each year, Spelman was spending nearly $1 million on athletics—not for those students, but for the 4 percent of the student body that played sports." I'm an easy mark for anything called "The Case Against High-School Sports," but this piece by Amanda Ripley at The Atlantic makes some interesting points even if you're a passionate supporter of high school sports. (Via Shani O. Hilton.)

"Sandberg’s admirers would say that Lean In is using free-market beliefs to advance the cause of women’s equality. Her detractors would say (and have) that her organization is using the desire for women’s equality to advance the cause of the free market. And they would both be right." This very long Susan Faludi essay at The Baffler on capitalism and feminism has everything from Kate Losse to the Bread and Roses strike. It may take you awhile to get through, but it is definitely worth it. (Via Cam Larios.)

"I don’t subscribe to the usual moral objection to horror fiction—to wit, that it causes horrible facts. But it doesn’t follow that such fiction causes no real-life effects whatsoever. Consider the standard disclaimer that appears in the front of novels: that the events therein exist solely in the author’s imagination. That is not entirely true. Once you’ve read the book, those events exist in your imagination, too." Ah, the incomparable Kathryn Schultz reviews the latest Stephen King novel at Vulture.

"I remember once reading speculations about why creatures sleep. The one that impressed me was some scientist saying, 'It keeps the organism out of trouble.' So every once in a while I sit on the couch thinking, I’m keeping my organism out of trouble." From a couple of months ago, Thessaly La Force interviews Marilynne Robinson for VICE. (Hat tip to Jody T.)

"The Day the Man Came to Burning Man." One short, beautiful anecdote from this year's Burning Man festival, by L.J. Williamson for LA Weekly. (Via Sarah Zhang.)

"Manic Pixel Dream Girl." An amazing four-part comic presenting a portrait of the artist as a young, female gamer, by Elizabeth Simins at Cargo Collective. (Hat tip to Jill Heather.)

You guys, the royal we here at Phantom's List are in a bit of a pickle about What to Do With Mallory Ortberg. She writes SO MUCH, and we feel sheepish about becoming basically a fanclub for a single author. But on the other hand, trying to pick the best of her pieces each week? Ha ha ha ha ha ha. You choose. "Literary Trysts It Gives Me Great Joy To Think About: Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman." "The Rage of Jonathan Franzen." "A Chat With Rainbow Rowell About Love and Censorship." "A Day In the Life of a TV Antihero." Or, if you're looking for a good book to read now that you've finally gotten to the end of this post, "Americanah, Pride and Prejudice, and All of the Feels.."

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Links for the week ending 15 September 2013

"Not only were the Easons willing to take Quita, but they would gladly do so through the simple device of a power of attorney document, about 400 words long. The paper is signed by the old parents and the new guardians, and witnessed by a notary. As happened in Quita's case, no lawyers or government authorities are involved. The document is filed nowhere; it functions, in essence, as a receipt." Without question, the most bravura piece of journalism published this week was Megan Twohey's incredible (and incredibly upsetting) five-part piece for Reuters on Internet forums for informally "rehoming" children brought to the United States via international adoption.

"A principal reason Egypt is in its current political mess is that successive regimes—like regimes of poor governance everywhere—have equated shutting down the physicality of dissent with addressing this dissent." Sarah Carr at The Nation on life in Egypt after the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government.

This week in Better Living Through Chemistry, Deborah MacKenzie reports at New Scientist that U.S. Army scientists have developed a "self-sufficient mobile" unit that can destroy chemical weapons safely. Which may actually come in handy: "U.S., Russia reach agreement on seizure of Syrian chemical weapons arsenal." By Anne Gearan and Loveday Morris at The Washington Post.

"'We are coming together with only one thing in mind: Kill or be killed,' said the doctor, JoséManuel Mireles, 55, who described what is happening as an armed social movement and estimated that thousands of citizen-fighters are pursuing the gangsters into the hills. 'The only training we have is the courage we have inside.'" Stephanie McCrummen reports for The Washington Post about citizen militia groups forming in the cartel-scarred towns of Michoacan. (Via Abigail Hauslohner.)

"Correa-Cabrera said the city has no functional law enforcement authority. It doesn’t have a police department; it was dismantled by the federal government after rampant corruption was found. Hoping to curb the violence, the government sent in the military in June 2011. The soldiers can be seen around town walking or standing on top of blue trucks and holding assault rifles. Gun battles in Matamoros often erupt between the Zetas, Gulf Cartel and federal authorities, sometimes lasting several hours." From María Inés Zamudio at The Chicago Reporter, an expose about how U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement dumps deportees in the middle of war zones without any way for them to reach family or friends elsewhere in Mexico. (Via Christie Thompson.)

"Those two have been barred from release by an Obama administration executive order, as their disclosure 'could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security,' John Prados, the senior fellow at the archive who handled the FOIA queries, said of the response he got from the NSA." Different NSA, but a striking article by Carol J. Williams at The Los Angeles Times on the continued suppression of evidence in the more than 60-year-old mystery of what caused the plane crash that killed U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold. (Via Lydia Polgreen.)

By far the most common reason, given by 70-80% of men, for committing a rape was sexual entitlement — 'men’s belief that they have the right to sex, regardless of consent'. The second most common reasons are ‘for fun’ or due to ‘boredom’ followed by anger or ‘as a punishment’."In the same week that four men were convicted in India's most notorious rape and murder case, a new U.N. study finds that "Nearly a quarter of men in the Asia-Pacific region have admitted to committing rape at least once in their life."

"The sidewalk is different from the conversation. (Citizens United was in the context of political speech; nothing of the sort is going on here.) And we’re concerned about the sidewalk’s unconstrained power to rise up and make more money by picking and choosing conversations to feature." From Susan Crawford, an article on her website (that was originally a presentation airing on CSPAN) about why Verizon v. FCC is a critically important case for the future of net neutrality.

"Because the constitutional protection of the Fifth Amendment, which guarantees that 'no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself,' may not apply when it comes to biometric-based fingerprints (things that reflect who we are) as opposed to memory-based passwords and PINs (things we need to know and remember)." Marcia Hofmann writes for Wired on a slight disadvantage to the new fingerprint-unlock option being offered on high-end iPhones. (Via Kim Zetter.)

"Below, on the occasion of Titstaregate, an ode to the long tradition of boob references and booth babes at tech conferences -- a found poem composed entirely of headlines about, quotes from, and sadly-true tales of the bros who help build your Internet." Brilliant work by Megan Garber at The Atlantic. (Via Molly Ball.)

"But please allow me to register my absolute objection to giving this person one red cent of public money in order to help 'fix' anything, unless someone wants to make him write on the chalkboard 576 times that possessive 'its' has no apostrophe—'We started talking and I loved everything about the team and it’s vision'—in which case fine, or indeed, show me to the Kickstarter. " This piece by Maria Bustillos at The Awl was not written about the new "online learning specialist" my kids' school district just hired. But it could have been. [Sigh.]

"He and his classmates had been unwitting guinea pigs in what would have once sounded like a far-fetched feminist fantasy: What if Harvard Business School gave itself a gender makeover, changing its curriculum, rules and social rituals to foster female success?" Fascinating long article at the NYT by Jodi Kantor. Trigger warning for lots of stories about entitled super-rich assholes, however. (Via Emily Bazelon.)

"This fall, I begin my 25th year as a professor at Colby College, where I spent the first 12 years of my teaching life as a man, and the last 13 as a woman." Jennifer Finney Boylan reflects on her experiences in the classroom from both sides of the gender divide. At the NYT. (Via @TSZuska.)

"Teaching is not just a matter of presenting the material—I have to create a culture in which students feel empowered to learn and are motivated to do work that they find boring or terrifying. I enjoy that challenge as well as seeing students be successful." This interview of her mom by Anne Helen Petersen at The Hairpin is, uh, clearly written for an audience of people who do not have children. Fair warning: the rest of us may find it far more bittersweet than it understands itself to be.

"The math can work like this: Instead of offering, say, $12,000 to an especially needy student, a school might choose to leverage its aid by giving $3,000 discounts to four students with less need, each of whom scored high on the SAT, who together will bring in more tuition dollars than the needier student." From Marian Wang at ProPublica, a look at how public universities have increasingly turned their backs on qualified needy students.

She thought they didn't do much for their workers, despite collecting millions in dues. When LeGrand first received a text message from Zucker encouraging her to attend a unionizing meeting, her grandmother spoke up. No way should LeGrand go. She could lose her job, and then where would they be?" I am such a sucker for stories in which the pivotal moment involves persuading a stern grandmother. By the always-interesting Alana Semuel at the LA Times.

"Ayinde Grimes splits the crowd on the sidewalk as he and a friend window-shop in Georgetown one afternoon. People break a wide arc around the tall teen from Anacostia, strolling on Wisconsin Avenue with his afro bouncing and his black-power medallion swinging." Lovely lede in this piece by DeNeen L. Brown at The Washington Post about teenage boys in the aftermath of the Zimmerman verdict, negotiating the hazards of how they are publicly perceived. (Via Nikole Hannah-Jones.)

"'We tried to ignore it, but sometimes we caught ourselves repeating what history said, mumbling along, brainwashed: I am nothing. We drank too much, smoked too much, were abusive to ourselves, to each other. We were bewildered. There is a great darkness bearing down on our lives, and no one acknowledges it.'" A quote from Jesmyn Ward's newly released memoir Men We Reaped, at the NYT in an article by Laura Tillman. (Via Jamilah King.)

In related news: "These numbers suggest, quite plainly, that the people shaping the literary conversation are not reading diversely. If they are reading diversely, it’s a well-kept secret. Editors are not expanding their editorial missions. They are explicitly and directly responsible for the narrowness and whiteness of the literary conversation." Roxanne Gay at The Nation on the paltry number of reviews of books by writers of color. She'll be addressing that lack by reviewing some under-exposed books for the next two weeks, if you want to follow along.

"He was thrilled to learn that I was half-Pakistani, but on discovering that the only nationality I held was British his face fell. ‘If you had a disabled child, would you abandon it?’ he asked. ‘If not, then you should not abandon Pakistan either. It is your identity and you should have the ID card to say so.’" At Aeon, a long essay by Samira Shackle about privileged Pakistani young people struggling with issues of identity.

"But my mother’s tale is one of triumph. On the last night of her life, she rang my paternal aunt Tazeen and said 'All these years I was turned into a housewife and made useless! I should have been a writer!'" Extraordinarily moving essay by Jaya Bhattacharji Rose at Businessworld on the importance of feminist presses, in India and elsewhere. (Via Nilanjana Roy.)

"In the late 1910s, she and other reformers drafted a bill to create a nationwide network of home-visiting programs and maternal and child health clinics modeled on the programs in New York. But the American Medical Association (AMA)—backed by powerful Republicans averse to spending money on social welfare—claimed the program was tantamount to Bolshevism." It's the annual piece-by-a-woman at The New York Review of Books! So don't miss Helen Epstein's account of the public health triumphs of Sara Josephine Baker, M.D.

Two from The Boston Globe's stand-out young science reporter, Carolyn Y. Johnson. First, a long and entirely awesome interview with author Deborah Gewertz on instant noodles as "an instrument of 'capitalist provisioning' that informs our sense of where we fit in the world economically." Second, on the confirmation that the Voyager 1 spacecraft has become the first human artifact to enter interstellar space.

At the Rumpus, from Yumi Sakugawa, an ethereal and unresolved illustrated fable: "Once upon a time two planets fell out of love."

"She mostly just went to her classes, and never stumbled into anyone profoundly good-looking and secretly sensitive in the hallways. She did make some friends, eventually. They were nice." Oh, nothing, just Mallory Ortberg at The Toast quietly demolishing the past several decades of books for kids and teens.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Links for the week ending 8 September 2013

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.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Links for the week ending 1 September 2013

"'You know what we forgot to do today?' Dr. Rami told a colleague reclining on a thin mattress. 'Send the tractor to dig more graves. We'll need about 10 by tomorrow, and then another 20 or 30.'" The incomparable Rania Abouzeid is reporting from Salma in northern Syria for Al Jazeera America. You should be reading her work.

"In the central city of Homs, where government forces have made significant advances into rebel-held territory in recent months, government forces have spent the past two days vacating known military facilities and moving into civilian buildings, said Abu Emad, a resident and activist." From Liz Sly and Loveday Morris at The Washington Post.

"The scenes were reminiscent of the bombings that have plagued Iraq for years — an ominous parallel for Lebanon, which has a history of targeted political assassinations and sectarian clashes but where religiously motivated bomb attacks aimed at civilians have been rare." Also from Loveday Morris at The Washington Post, a report from the car bombings of mosques in Tripoli, Lebanon.

"They show how the NSA infiltrated the Europeans' internal computer network between New York and Washington, used US embassies abroad to intercept communications and eavesdropped on video conferences of UN diplomats. The surveillance is intensive and well-organized -- and it has little or nothing to do with counter-terrorism." From Laura Poitras and dudes Marcel Rosenbach and Holger Stark at DER SPEIGEL, reporting on what leaked NSA documents reveal about American surveillance of its allies.

"The next chapter of Manning’s story may start a discussion not about Iraq but about our prisons at home. If she were to sue for the right to treatment for her gender dysphoria, she might just win." Excellent short piece by Margaret Talbot about Chelsea Manning's prospects for treatment of gender dysphoria in the military prison system. At The New Yorker.

"Governments regard the increasingly transitory nature of populations as compromising national security—and in the twenty-first century, national security prerogatives usually win." From earlier this summer at Dissent, Atossa Araxia Abrahamian reviews a book on the history of denaturalization — stripping American citizenship — in the United States.

"We are walking off our jobs because we don't know how we are going to survive on these jobs. We're on strike because we can't afford not to strike." At the Guardian, Willietta Dukes explains why she is going on strike from her $7.85/hour job at a North Carolina Burger King. Also at the Guardian, Karen McVeigh provides more background about the fast-food workers' strike: "Clark, 47, is paid less per hour in real terms than the lowest paid US workers were half a century ago, when, on 28 August 1963, hundreds of thousands of citizens flooded into Washington for the historic march for freedom and jobs for black Americans."

" At the macro level, this means we lost an enormous amount of cognitive ability during the recession. Millions of people had less bandwidth to give to their children, or to remember to take their medication." From Emily Badger at The Atlantic, an incisive look at new research showing how the experience of poverty drains the brain's ability to perform cognitive tasks.

"The belief that shareholders come first is not codified by statute. Rather, it was introduced by a handful of free-market academics in the 1970s and then picked up by business leaders and the media until it became an oft-repeated mantra in the corporate world." Jia Lynn Yang at The Washington Post looks at how IBM has changed over the years, and finds in its corporate history an illuminating example of how American companies have decoupled themselves from any responsibility to their communities, their employees, or society as a whole.

"But worse, the financial sector no longer serves its proper purpose: to enable productive real-sector investment. The credit tightening, despite huge spreads, of the last four years offers broad evidence. Instead the industry has become a mechanism for the systematic concentration of income and wealth." From that pinko commie stronghold, the Harvard Business Review, dude Chris Meyer and Julia Kirby offer an instructive opinion on what should be important when choosing a new head of the Federal Reserve.

" At White Plains Hospital, a patient with private insurance from Aetna was charged $91 for one unit of Hospira IV that cost the hospital 86 cents, according to a hospital spokeswoman, Eliza O’Neill. Ms. O’Neill defended the markup as 'consistent with industry standards.'" Blistering piece by Nina Bernstein at the NYT, exploring the insanities of American health care pricing via the widely-varying prices levied against a single group of tourists struck by food-poisoning in upstate New York.

"Prior to telemedical abortions, there were six clinics offering abortion services in Iowa. Now nine additional clinics provide telemedical abortion services, usually in rural and underserved areas." From Kelly Bourdet at Motherboard, a look at the future of telemedicine and reproductive health — and the obstacles being thrown in its way.

"The fire is burning hotter and faster than any in modern Sierra Nevada history, firefighters say. Officials say it is the California wildfire they have warned about for years, as modern firefighting techniques have snuffed out forest fires, allowing fuel to build up on the mountain floor. 'This is it. This is the big one,' Yosemite Fire Chief Kelly Martin said." Diana Marcum, Samantha Schaefer, and dude Joseph Serna reporting on the Rim fire for the LA Times. Marcum and Schaefer have more background on the fire here.

"For nearly three decades, an earnest man named Narendra Dabholkar traveled from village to village in India, waging a personal war against the spirit world." My personal nominee for best lede of the week, from Ellen Barry at the NYT. Such quietly beautiful writing here!

"When the children of south Tel Aviv head back to school on Tuesday, kindergarteners will attend facilities that are segregated by race. The children of asylum seekers from sub-Saharan Africa will go to their kindergartens and all the other kids will go to their own." The WTF of the week, from Lisa Goldman at The Daily Beast.

"She is playing a type of black female body as a joke to challenge her audience’s perceptions of herself while leaving their perceptions of black women’s bodies firmly intact. It’s a dance between performing sexual freedom and maintaining a hierarchy of female bodies from which white women benefit materially." I am seriously too old to give a shit about anything that happens at the VMAs, but this essay by Tressie McMillan Cottom should not be missed.

"I don't think that women of any color need to be respectable to be valuable. I want feminism to be a movement that doesn't infantilize people who are already disenfranchised by assuming that the way people speak is an indication of the worth of what they're saying. We’re all women, and if we’re talking about being allies, that means working together for more than one set of causes." Trenchant essay by Mikki Kendall at xoJane on next steps for would-be allies after #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen.

"There is no lobby for the homely. How do you change a discriminatory behavior that, even though unfair, is obviously deep, hard to pin down, and largely unconscious—and affects people who would be hurt even to admit they’re in the stigmatized category?" From last week at The Boston Globe, Ruth Graham explores "beauty bias" and possible ways to diminish its power.

Speaking of beauty. From Sarah Larson at The New Yorker, an appreciation of Linda Ronstadt that's practically perfect, except for how it forgot to mention this. (Via Rebecca Jeschke.)

"The rational explanation of the sweater curse is that a handmade sweater is typically thick, elastic, and clingy: it suggests that the woman who is making it wants to surround its recipient and enclose him." Also at The New Yorker, an essay on the literary history of knitting by Alison Lurie, from a forthcoming book which we will be passing from hand to hand as soon as its released, I predict. (Via Jody T.)

"This is the key that I wish I could embody: the one that gives you a different way of reading the map or cracking the code, that opens a door in the wall you never even knew was there." Finally, at The Toast from Kate Angus, some "Thoughts About Keys." (Once you're there, poke around — I could have picked any number of pieces from The Toast this week.)