Sunday, December 22, 2013

Links for the week ending 22 December 2013

I was down for the count this week with a nasty little respiratory virus, so just a handful of non-current-events links for you today. No list next week. It will return in 2014. Happy holidays to all of you!

"The final measure of any mental disorder is usually the degree to which a person’s ability to handle everyday life—to hold down a job, keep a house and put their pants on the right way round—is affected. There are a great many reasons, right now, why it’s harder to do all those things and more, and not all of them can be explained away by chemical imbalance." Laurie Penny at The New Inquiry.

"Maybe right now you can respond, 'Who cares?' But raise your sons with the same entitled attitude, and in twenty years, in an awful lot of industries, they’ll be the ones shut out. That world is dying." Great essay by Jen Dziura at Medium called "When 'Life Hacking' Is Really White Privilege."

"As I’ve pointed out, people of my ethnicity have existed forever. So. What are we waiting for? When does it get better? Why do I have to wait? Why can’t you go faster?" Jessie-Lane Metz on "Things I Won't Do To Make Your Space Less Racist." At The Toast.

"I began with the pantry, which housed (among many, many other things) four ancient, half-eaten fruitcakes and about a thousand dead ants. The cabinets beneath the stove yielded a rusty colander, a dented Little House on the Prairie lunchbox, and, inside that, a Peanuts thermos without a lid." Also at Medium, Maud Newton on her worst Christmas, which makes me suddenly overcome with anti-nostalgia for the Christmases I spent cleaning out my mother's refrigerator.

"But if those behaviors are coping mechanisms, autistic people might engage in them not because of maltreatment, but because ordinary experience is overwhelming or even traumatic." Maia Szalavitz on Henry and Kamila Markrams' research into autism. At Matter, on Medium.

"Yes, I am tired of rape stories. I think rape stories are boring. I am sick of rape stories on CNN and sicker of rape stories on Jezebel. I would like instead to see national, televised debates and full episodes of morning radio shows and several long-form podcasts and a portion of the next State of the Union address dedicated to determining whether men should be allowed to keep their dicks." A thoughtful, angry, and honest piece from Sarah Nicole Prickett at Medium.

"How sorry I would be, if I were sure that you had been offended by the behavior and actions and also words that have transpired of late. But is it better to give an apology where none is needed, or to refrain from taking positive action in the lack of justifiable belief? Surely we must refrain from taking unnecessary action, lest we descend into anarchy and chaos." Finally, my candidate for Best Reason Not To Give Up on The Internets in 2013, Mallory Ortberg. At The Toast.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Links for the week ending 15 December 2013

Have you already read "Invisible Child," Andrea Elliott's epic five-part NYT multimedia exploration of the world of a homeless child in Brooklyn? If not, that's as far as you need to look this week. Like the nice man said, everything else is commentary.

(If you're looking for ways to help after reading, NYT Public Editor Margaret Sullivan includes the address of the Legal Aid Society fund to help Dasani and her siblings, and the email address of the woman coordinating efforts to help residents of the decrepit homeless shelter described in the piece.)

Elliott's work was the most essential, but it was not the most bravura reporting published this week. That distinction goes to the AP's West Africa bureau chief Rukmini Callimachi, on ethnic cleansing by Mali's armed forces in Timbuktu. "We found the first body almost by accident, after our car got stuck in the sand." Incredible work.

"Targeted killing and military intervention to remove Al Qaeda leaders weakens the government that needs to compete with extremist militants not just militarily, but in meeting citizens’ needs and providing legitimacy in daily life. Given that, such killings may be creating a cycle in which the government grows less effective and militants more extreme over time." If you can manage one more longread this week, this analysis of how the United States has defined war since 9/11 — and how that definition needs re-examination — is very much worth your time. By Heather Hurlburt at Democracy.

"'This isn’t the NSA asking for information,' said Markey, who is planning to introduce legislation this month to restrict law enforcement’s use of consumers’ phone data, including ensuring that tower dumps are narrowly focused. 'It’s your neighborhood police department requesting your mobile phone data. So there are serious questions about how law enforcement handles the information of innocent people swept up in these digital dragnets.'" Another week, another article about some other government entity that's surveilling you, this one by Ellen Nakashima at The Washington Post.

"Along with reading and math, when schools gag their students’ speech, they are teaching them a lesson. Children who are censored grow up to become adults who censor or who tolerate censorship." Of course, that's probably the point of those who wish to censor children, but still this essay by Sonja West at Slate on censorship in schools is worth a read.

"China may force some two dozen correspondents from The New York Times and Bloomberg News to leave the country by the end of the year, apparently in response to their investigative reports on the familial wealth of the Chinese leadership." Emily Parker at the New Republic on how Western journalists self-censor in China. (Via David Hull.)

"Facebook studies this because the more its engineers understand about self-censorship, the more precisely they can fine-tune their system to minimize self-censorship’s prevalence. This goal—designing Facebook to decrease self-censorship—is explicit in the paper." On the other hand… Jennifer Golbeck at Slate on how FB tracks what you decide not to post.

"'If I were a retired public-sector pensioner, I'd be worried today,' said Olivia Mitchell, a professor at the Wharton School of Business and the director of the Pension Research Council. Alana Semuels at the LA Times on the implications of the Detroit bankruptcy ruling for other struggling cities — and their former and current employees — around the country.

"The initiative would require most private and all public health insurance plans to offer a separate rider for an abortion. And a person would have to buy that rider before knowing if they needed an abortion. They would not be able to buy the rider after getting pregnant by any means, including rape or incest." Kathleen Gray at the Detroit Free Press on an anti-abortion law that passed the Michigan legislature this week.

"Congress’s top budget negotiators have reached an agreement that would fund the government for the next two years—this time without the partisan rancor and drama that have poisoned budget talks since 2011." This is what passes for good news these days. By Suzy Khimm for MSNBC.

"People are lining up behind a velvet rope to get their picture with the cutout, which has developed a fold in the torso and no longer stands up on its own. Hillary needs our support, or she will literally fall over." Comedy gold in this piece by Molly Ball at The Atlantic on Ready for Hillary, the super PAC.

"Ukraine stands at the very heart of Putin’s project to revive his country’s imperial reach." Short piece by Miriam Elder at BuzzFeed on why thousands of people are protesting in the Ukraine's capitol city.

"The investigation began after the Massachusetts man was found unresponsive in a car after it went off the road. There was no sign of trauma and he was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. " There are always so many candidates for Medical Freak-Out of The Week, but, as a New Englander, I gotta go with this one: Beth Daley at on the discovery that Lyme disease can cause sudden death due to heart inflammation.

"During the nursery stage, the baby elephants follow their human family, respond to tone of voice, etc. The keepers treat them only with tender loving care, as would their elephant family, because with elephants one reaps what one sows, and since they have very long memories, they must never be ill-treated in any way. Our keepers never carry even a twig." Look, I have brought you photos of baby animals! ORPHANED, TRAUMATIZED BABY ANIMALS. At National Geographic, an interview with Kenyan Daphne Sheldrick, who has made a life's work out of raising baby elephants traumatized and orphaned by poachers. (Via Maud Newton.)

"In a context in which being a man is good and being friendly is being womanly, each time a man tries to form intimate bonds with another man, he potentially loses status." Lisa Wade at Salon on masculinity's friend problem. (Via Elizabeth Gilbert.)

"Then you assemble oranges, apples and pears into pretty piles, making sure to remove the tops off a couple of each with a paring knife so that the ghosts can eat them. Apparently spirits can move through space and time but peel is impregnable." Missed this last month: Mary H.K. Choi at Aeon on a Korean picnic in a California cemetery.

Linking to this interview with Sarah McCarry at The Rumpus because we all love The Rejectionist, right, but also because maybe you'll read her description of The Saskiad (one of my very favorite novels ever) and look it up someday, which will make me very happy even though it was written by a dude.

"And the serpent – which was more subtle than all the other beasts of the field – said Seems pretty unfair there’s a WHOLE WORD you can’t use, and of the white people many nodden their heads at the rightness thereof." The peerless Mallory Ortberg at The Toast.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Links for the week ending 8 December 2013

"'Nelson Mandela, there is no one like you,' they sang, stamping their feet in unison to a praise song usually sung in joy. But in the midnight darkness, sadness tinged the melody." The NYT's excellent South Africa correspondent Lydia Polgreen situates Nelson Mandela's death at a difficult moment for the nation. For more on Mandela's life and leadership, two from The New Yorker: Nadine Gordimer, and Charlayne Hunter-Gault.

"Neither man was ever charged with a crime during a decade of detention at Guantánamo; their lawyers said each man opposed return to his homeland." Carol Rosenberg at The Miami Herald on the forced repatriation of two prisoners to the Algeria each had fled decades before.

"This is especially true in cases like Barnes’, Price said, in which prison officials decide complicated legal questions such as whether an inmate is fit to parent. 'You would never trust your child’s guardianship issues to a bureaucrat in the Bureau of Prisons,' she said. 'They have no competence or expertise in this.'" Christie Thompson at ProPublica on the stonewalling of "compassionate release" programs for nonviolent offenders with terminal illnesses or family tragedies.

"We asked Regan if she actually saw prison officials opening up McDonald’s sugar packets and pouring the sugar inside her wound. 'Yeah,' she said, adding that she was worried if it was sanitary." Investigation by Al Jazeera America into Arizona's privatized prison health care system by Abigail Leonard and dude Adam May.

"The codeine that costs $20 and the bag of IV fluid that costs $137 at California Pacific are charged at $1 and $16 at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, across town. But U.C.S.F. Medical Center charges $1,600 for an amniocentesis, which costs $687 at California Pacific." Another piece from Elisabeth Rosenthal at the NYT on the, you know, completely rational and efficient behavior of the market-based health-care system.

"Over months and years, her research into the epidemic took her across much of rural China. What she found astounded her: villages with infection rates of 20, 30, 40% or more; whole communities of AIDS orphans, zero treatment options, and little awareness of what was sickening and killing a generation of farmers." Kathleen McLaughlin at BuzzFeed on the retired OB-GYN who exposed an AIDS epidemic spread by for-profit blood donation centers. (Via Miriam Elder.)

"The risk with LA-MRSA is not that you’ll cook your food insufficiently, swallow the still-living organisms, and get a gastrointestinal illness; the risk, instead, is that the organism will spread to surfaces in your kitchen, and thence to your skin, and cause either a skin infection that is drug-resistant, or a much more serious illness." More cheerful news from Maryn McKenna, on multidrug-resistant staph on poultry in the UK.

"In the short term, I am the kind of person for whom the Obamacare mandate is a pain in the neck." Margaret Talbot writes for The New Yorker about the cancellation of her family's insurance policy — and what she hopes society is getting in return.

"The simple way to put it is that Luciano drove too fast, and may not have pulled the brakes. But he never should have been driving at all. This was his second shift of the day, only his second as an engineer ever. And he wasn’t well; this was, again, 1918, and he and his family had been hit by the Spanish-influenza pandemic. His baby had just died. He was twenty-three years old, and hadn’t been sleeping." Also at The New Yorker, a masterful Amy Davidson essay comparing last week's fatal Metro-North crash with a terrible train accident in 1918 Brooklyn.

"At her new school, Amanda told none of her first-grade classmates what she had experienced. 'I just tried to make friends and pretend that never happened,' she said. 'I still do that now.'" Meghan Hoyer at USA Today analyzes the demographics of the victims in mass killings, and finds that one-third of them are children. (Via Yamiche Alcindor.)

"But it’s becoming increasingly clear that most of sequestration will stay in place in 2014 and 2015. Restoring $60-$80 billion in funding would reverse only a fraction of the total cuts scheduled to take effect, preserving about $150 billion in cuts over the next two years." Suzy Khimm at MSNBC on "Why budget cuts are here to stay."

"The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is preparing for a scenario in which some 200,000 people leave for neighboring countries next year, factoring in long-standing concerns about security surrounding elections as the current military mission winds down. But the number could be much higher if the U.S. pulls out completely." Margherita Stancati and dude Nathan Hodge at on the possibility of a total U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. (Via Maria Abi-Habib.)

"Blackstone, on the other hand, doesn't have a problem fronting the money, given its $3.6 billion credit line arranged by Deutsche Bank. This money has allowed it to outbid families who have to secure traditional financing. It's also paved the way for the company to purchase a lot of homes very quickly, shocking local markets and driving prices up in a way that pushes even more families out of the game." Laura Gottesdiener at Mother Jones on the new overlords of single-family rental homes. What could go wrong?

"One of the few women in the group is wearing a black T-shirt and short black pants, her hair gathered in a loose, messy ponytail. A mask covers the bottom half of her face. She digs through the muddy scraps with her bare hands, heaving chunks of bamboo out of the way with strength you wouldn’t guess she had." Very moving piece by Amy Dempsey at the Toronto Star on grief and survival in the communities devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. (Via Michelle Shephard.)

"An alliance of corporations and conservative activists is mobilising to penalise homeowners who install their own solar panels – casting them as 'freeriders' – in a sweeping new offensive against renewable energy, the Guardian has learned." Suzanne Goldenberg and dude Ed Pilkington on the worst people in the entire world at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

"I felt a space in me, a wide vacuous space whose sides stretched out, up, around me. It was empty in that space, a kind of soundless empty I’d never felt before." Lauren Quinn at Vela Magazine writing about an abortion.

"Consider the case of eyeglasses. Graham Pullin, in his book 'Design Meets Disability,' shows how eyeglasses have moved culturally from being a medical aid to a fashion accessory. People who use them are getting 'assistance' in a very dependent way, but their cultural register has no stigma attached to it, the way that hearing aids still do." I'm seriously loving The Atlantic's stuff on design, accessibility, and aging, both this interview with Abler's Sara Hendren by Rebecca Rosen, and this post by Emma Green on tricycles and the untapped potential of refrigerators to help the elderly stay independent longer.

"Critics of the media circus surrounding PISA Day, like the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-oriented think tank, contend that politicians, business leaders, and journalists like to focus on PISA rankings because PISA is the test on which American students do the worst—and thus the results paint a portrait of failing American schools that are responsible for our economic woes." Smart Dana Goldstein piece at Slate on the latest hand-wringing over how American teens performed on an international reading, math, and science exam.

"And it’s fine that she’s utilitarian about it? Yeah, totally. It’s like the way you'd go to a doctor. You get more of that in Latin America, like, 'I’m Catholic, but when I’m sick or when my husband is cheating on me, I go see this other lady.' So that's why people don't claim it on the census too much. It fits in this gray area of spirituality and functional service." Jia Tolentino with another one in her interview series, this one with Santeria priest Caridad, who answers questions from readers in the comments.

Finally, two incredible (and depressing, but then you didn't come here looking for cute animal gifs) longreads. "We Are Disposable," from the Texas Observer's Melissa del Bosque, on maquiladora workers making consumer goods without any effective worker safety regulations or enforcement. And, at The American Prospect last month, "The People's Court," by Kat Aaron — a look at American poverty and inequality through the lens of Detroit's 36th District Court (via Annie Lowrey).

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Links for the week ending 1 December 2013

"They were shooting guns and canons as a celebration, which alerted us because we didn’t know who they were shooting at. So Massasoit gathered up some 90 warriors and showed up at Plymouth prepared to engage, if that was what was happening, if they were taking any of our people. They didn’t know. It was a fact-finding mission." Ramona Peters of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe talks to Gale Courey Toensing about what really happened at the first Thanksgiving. At Indian Country Today Media Network. (Via Jody T.)

"Big Friday didn’t stick, but the idea behind it did, in Philadelphia and, eventually, beyond. A few decades later, when the term came to describe a day when retailers’ ledgers shifted “into the black” for the year—a connotation also pushed by marketers—people assumed that had always been the connotation." At The New Yorker, Amy Merrick with the local roots and packaged mythology of the term "Black Friday." (Via the lovely folks at Big Blue Marble Book Store in Mt. Airy, Philadelphia.)

"One tech startup called Drawbridge claims to have found a way to link a person’s laptop and mobile device by analyzing their movements online, enabling advertisers to reach the same consumer whether they’re on their work computer or smartphone." Anne Flaherty for the AP putting rather a new twist on "He knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you're awake." Happy Orwellian Shopping Season!

"Written as an agency mission statement with broad goals, the five-page document said that existing American laws were not adequate to meet the needs of the N.S.A. to conduct broad surveillance in what it cited as 'the golden age of Sigint,' or signals intelligence." From the previous week, dude James Risen and Laura Poitras at the NYT on the N.S.A. setting expansive goals for its ability to collect data from worldwide computer networks.

"Hundreds of al-Qaeda members streamed across Iran’s borders. Many were caught and identified. The most dangerous, including Osama bin Laden’s relatives, were imprisoned. Low-level fighters were returned to their home countries - but not before Zarif secretly shared their identities, finger prints, passports and other information with the U.S. government." Dafna Linzer at MSNBC on the ten wasted years that didn't have to precede the nuclear agreement with Iran.

"Like all good revolutionaries, Michael Needham had a sterling upbringing, the kind that allows a young man to pursue ideological purity free from worry about consequence or reality." Julia Ioffe's long takedown of the Heritage Foundation wunderkind blamed (or credited, depending on your point of view) with setting that, ahem, august institution on its head.

"Members of Cairo's gay community, strongly divided along class lines, never visible, never able to publicly protest the latest police violation of its own, seek each other out in the few public venues that allow them to gather." Sarah Carr at Mada Masr on the recent bust of a gay party in Cairo, and what it reveals about culture policing in unsettled times.

"But Natalie Angier’s fascinating statistical and narrative portraits of the contemporary American household – declining birth rates; even more sharply declining marriage rates; 41 percent of babies born to unmarried parents, a fourfold increase since 1970 – offer some context for the sense of dislocation and alienation that, as much as anything else, seems to be driving the resistance to making contraception coverage, without a co-pay, a required part of employer-provided health insurance." Very smart piece by Linda Greenhouse at the NYT on the battle against contraceptive coverage as a battle against modernity. (Via Irin Carmon.)

"Pope Francis called for renewal of the Roman Catholic Church and attacked unfettered capitalism as 'a new tyranny', urging global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality in the first major work he has authored alone as pontiff. More world leaders like this guy, please. By Naomi O'Leary for Reuters. (Via Jim Roberts.)

"'It is as if with this generous gesture the sheikh is saying that we need to be tolerant of other religions as in the end we all serve one God,' Aivazyan said." Today in Rich Dude Does Something That Doesn't Suck, by Mariam Harutyunyan for AFP. (Via Erin Cunningham.)

"'Here there's not a plant that survives except hashish. It's a gift from God. Can we oppose God?' Afif asks with a laugh." War is always good news for somebody, and Syria's civil war has been great news for Lebanon's cannabis growers, reports Rana Moussaoui for AFP. (Via Sara Hussein.)

'Compared to the privations of living in Kandahar, these guys in Syria are tweeting pictures of KitKat bars and Red Bull drinks. They know they are going to die, martyr themselves for jihad, but they are saying that on the way, you might as well "have a break, have a KitKat".' Ruth Sherlock reports for The Telegraph on the snack foods of choice for today's jihadist on social media. (Via Liz Sly.)

"Now 15 months old, her son, Ryhan, shouts 'dad' when his mum opens up her computer, in anticipation of one of the Skype chats that are their only contact with Zia, 30." At the Guardian, Emma Graham-Harrison reports on American military veterans separated indefinitely from their husbands by very long waits for visas permitting the immigration of Afghani men who served U.S. military forces as translators. (Hat Tip to @sciwo.)

"The officer, equipped with scare pistol armed with blanks, an array of firecrackers, an air horn and a paintball gun, spends his nights and days herding polar bears out of town and back on to the tundra." Suzanne Goldenberg reports for the Guardian on the arrival of desperate polar bears in the remote town of Churchill, Manitoba.

"A geographical analysis reveals that about 15 times as many people in the Philippines die during the year after a typhoon than are killed outright by the storm. That could add another 78,000 to Haiyan's toll, and virtually all will be baby girls." Eye-opening piece by Debora MacKenzie for New Scientist on how gender preference surfaces in the hard economic times following the aftermath of a typhoon.

"Data for the years 2007 to 2010 show the average weight of American women 20 years and older is 166.2 pounds—greater than the weight at which emergency contraceptive pills that use levonorgestrel begin to lose their effectiveness. The average weight of non-Hispanic black women aged 20 to 39 is 186 pounds, well above the weight at which these pills are completely ineffective." Molly Redden at Mother Jones. (Unclear to me from the article whether these are absolute numbers or if they are dependent on BMI — whether a 6'1" woman weighing 176 pounds would have the same risk of failure as a 5'5" woman weighing the same, in other words. Until you see a definitive answer to that question, I suppose you'd better assume that the morning-after pill is ineffective at that weight no matter what your height.)

"If American citizens are to have any chance of speaking truth to power, they will need to have a better handle on the truth part." Essential essay by Belle Boggs at Slate on the failures of science education in the United States. (Via Jody T.)

"In a post-antibiotic era, would you mess around with power tools? Let your kid climb a tree? Have another child?" You should probably plan ahead for how you will regain your will to live after reading this Maryn McKenna piece at Medium on the post-antibiotics future.

"Moral idiocy explains the feeling I’ve always had when being hit on, that the person is talking to himself, not me; that he’s seeing only his needs in a mirror." Ann Finkbeiner at The Last Word on Nothing on sexual harassment… and Kant. (Via @sciwo.)

"There was a time when 'ally' was the antonym of 'opponent' and the synonym of 'advocate,' but more and more it appears that being an ally requires little more than a disavowal of the advocate/opponent dichotomy. If it requires anything at all, it requires only a sort of 'fine by me' indifference." Great little essay by Leigh Johnson called "Tolerance Is Not A Virtue." (Via Rhonda Armstrong.)

"Not only does the story differ markedly from Parker’s other late-career stories, but it is differently written." Galya Diment on the long-forgotten plagiarism scandal of "Lolita" — the short story Dorothy Parker published in The New Yorker not long before Nabokov's book was published. (Via Maud Newton.)

"Sure, the apartment’s rent-controlled, but the rent is controlled by another damn wizard. One month I have to pay him in rubies held in the mouth of a robin; the next I have to fight through a Minotaur maze in order to bring him the scent of freshly baked bread." Oh my god, Mallory Ortberg (here at The Toast with her contribution to the leaving-New-York-City genre) would make Dorothy Parker purple with plagiaristic desire.

"Another reason may have been that most of Kearney’s athletes were afraid to speak up. Often they were the first in their families to go to college, and if they quit the team, they would lose their scholarships, dashing not just their own hopes but those of their parents and their communities. And they didn’t see themselves winning against the brilliant, beloved Bev Kearney. 'Who would have believed us?' asked one former sprinter." Finally, a wrenching and brilliant profile of former University of Texas track-and-field coach Bev Kearney, fired for an affair with a student. By Mimi Swartz at Texas Monthly back in October. (Via The Riveter magazine.)