"As we are about to leave, we meet 13-year-old Kiffah waiting with his two little sisters to leave. He dutifully puts on a brave face, telling me 'life is fine, normal'. But then, he mentions 'a little hunger,' and suddenly bursts into tears. 'There was no bread,' he cries and then can speak no more." Wrenching. The BBC's Lyse Doucet reports from the Yarmouk refugee camp south of Damascus.
"'Now I walk—I don’t look. It took the spirit from the Old City. You think, Which is more important, the people or the rocks? Losing someone close to you, or losing the minaret of the Umayyad Mosque? For sure, the people are more important.'" Anne Barnard at National Geographic, reporting from wartime Damascus.
"China's state media called Saturday night’s knifing attack at a train station in Kunming 'China’s 9-11' and called for a crackdown on terrorism," writes Barbara Demick at the LAT yesterday, while her colleague Julie Makinen provides more information about the attack.
"Like nearly every one of her neighbors, she is locked into a bond with village money lenders — an intimate bond, and sometimes a menacing one. No sooner did they cut her husband’s body down than one of them was in her house, threatening to block the cremation unless she paid." Ellen Barry at the NYT on the relentless hounding of India's family farmers.
"They aren’t just indictments of individual projects that become moldy and structurally unsound or of the loss of funds to ultimately ineffective initiatives, but of the idea that putting such a huge volume of money into such a weak and fragmenting system can solve the problem of a future Afghanistan." Torie Rose DeGhett at Medium on what oversight reports tell us about the failure of the American project of nation-building abroad.
"The Sinaloa Cartel basically organized the drug smuggling structure in the western hemisphere back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, he says. 'The structure is already there—you don’t need Chapo Guzman. They’ll just put somebody else in his place.'" The first of three pieces on the capture of drug cartel kingpin Chapo Guzman, this one by Melissa del Bosque at The Texas Observer. See also "The Capture of El Chapo Guzman—What Happens Next?" by Laura Carlsen at the Americas Program of the Center for International Policy; and "The Kingpin at Rest," by Alma Guillermoprieto at the NYRB.
"At times like this, a dictator’s thoughts often turn to the moral behavior of others." Also at the NYRB (the blog, you understand — you already know what the paper version looks like!), this piece by Helen Epstein turns out to be more about proposing a theory towards the evolutionary usefulness of homosexuality, but its few short paragraphs demolishing the motives behind Uganda's draconian anti-gay laws are a masterpiece unto themselves.
"If Randy understood that he had doomed himself to a future trial at which there would be no presumption of innocence, he didn’t seem to care; he said he wanted everyone to know that he was speaking the truth—something he felt he owed Heather and her family. It was the legal equivalent, Cole remarked, of committing suicide in the courtroom." From Pamela Colloff at Texas Monthly, a compelling longread about justice, remorse, and and compassion in the aftermath of a teenager's rape and murder.
"I might go further. I might say that whether or not specific jurisdictions define self-defense to include a duty to retreat, and whether or not specific juries are charged to apply it, America is quickly becoming one big 'stand your ground' state, as a matter of culture if not the letter of the law." Dahlia Lithwick at Slate.
"Jordan Taylor, a black student at the State University of New York at New Paltz, shared a photo of a “colored only” sign that had been placed on a water fountain in his freshman year. Tanzina Vega at the NYT on racial tensions at American colleges.
"The fundamental brilliance of historically black colleges is that they taught the formal curriculum, the hidden curriculum, and a counter curriculum!" Excellent speech by Tressie McMillan Cottom on one segment of American higher education that receives very little attention compared to its importance.
"One of every four African-American public school students in Illinois was suspended at least once for disciplinary reasons during the 2009–10 school year, the highest rate among the 47 states examined by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies." Dear god. At Jacobin, Mariame Kaba (@prisonculture) and Erica R. Meiners on "Arresting the Carceral State."
"Gripping his backpack straps, the 17-year-old took some deep breaths. Gliding all around him were his new peers, chatting as they walked in slouchy pairs and in packs. Many of their mouths were turned up, baring teeth, which Jesse recognized as smiles, a signal that they were happy." Masterful Sabrina Rubin Erdely longread at Rolling Stone on a California police department's deliberate entrapment of a profoundly autistic teenager in a drug sting.
" What makes ROSE different is that it doesn't work with the convicted. Rather, its raids funnel hundreds of people into the criminal justice system. Denied access to lawyers, many of these people are coerced into ROSE's program without being convicted of any crime. Project ROSE may not seem constitutional, but to Roe-Sepowitz, 'rescue' is more important than rights." Molly Crabapple at VICE on an Arizona "diversion" program against area sex workers.
"A sign reading 'closed' was posted on the front door of the King City Police Department Tuesday. Powers said the police station's front office cannot remain open because so many officers were arrested." By Amy Larson at KSBW, on the profitable auto-towing scam that police in King City, CA, ran against vulnerable members of the community. (Via Suzy Khimm.)
"Who are they giving these jobs to? I just don’t know. Not me. Not yet." At the NYT, a moving statement by Adrea Pate to Motherlode's KJ Dell'Antonia about parenting while trying to find a low-wage job. (Via Irin Carmon.)
"She flipped through the pages looking for someone like her, but found nothing. Later, the nurse told her that they often treated 'genetic cases,' but the women never wrote about it in the book. Sarah understood. She hadn’t done so either, because she couldn’t imagine how to describe such anguish." Carolyn Jones at The Texas Observer chronicling the effects of Texas anti-abortion laws on one family faced with fetal abnormalities "incompatible with life." (Via Jordan Smith.)
"The devices, intended to feed nicotine addiction without the toxic tar of conventional cigarettes, have divided a normally sedate public health community that had long been united in the fight against smoking and Big Tobacco." Ha, ha, ha. Snort. At the NYT, Sabrina Tavernise on the debate over the rise of e-cigarettes.
"A small number of children in California have come down with polio-like illnesses since 2012 -- suffering paralysis in one or more limbs and other symptoms -- and physicians and public health officials do not yet know why." Your Scary Medical News of the week, from Eryn Brown at the Los Angeles Times.
"Instead of vials of blood—one for every test needed—Theranos requires only a pinprick and a drop of blood. With that they can perform hundreds of tests, from standard cholesterol checks to sophisticated genetic analyses. The results are faster, more accurate, and far cheaper than conventional methods." From the previous week at Wired, Caitlin Roper with good news for all the needle-phobic among us.
"Healthcare money has infiltrated the system. That’s not good for patients. The real yardstick is does the system do a good job for patients, but that’s not the metric we use." Fascinating interview by Trudy Lieberman at Columbia Journalism Review with Elisabeth Rosenthal, author of the NYT's excellent series on inexplicable health care charges. (Via Sarah Kliff.)
"I try to think about the results of my studies in terms of their usefulness to health care providers as well as to the research community. At the end of the day, I have to believe that more information is better than less, and that my main responsibility is to do careful, rigorous work that moves the field forward." Another great piece in the Gal Science series at The Toast, this time by Mollie Wood.
"A male duck’s penis is shaped like a corkscrew, and a female duck’s vagina winds in the opposite direction. Her work became the butt of political jokes when a $385,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study duck penises attracted the attention of a conservative news website." Best sentence juxtaposition of the week, from Carolyn Y. Johnson at Boston.com.
"These Web-based companies collect personal information to sell or to advertise against. And only about 15 percent of them let her see her own data—sometimes only after entering even more information to gain access." Also at CJR, Kira Goldenberg reviews the new danah boyd book along with Julia Angwin's new book, Dragnet Nation (though if you wanna hear about how Angwin's daughter is the world's coolest child-entrepreneur, you'll have to read Angwin's interview at The Awl).
Let's talk about work! She is now 74. She’s fluent in English, German, French, Jewish Grandma, and LA showbiz-speak. Her Italian, Spanish, Polish, and Hebrew are 'passable.' Daniller likes to ends her sentences in exclamations such as 'And that’s that!' or a conspiratorial, 'Would you believe?'" Manjula Martin profiles a Hollywood extra at The Awl, where I hope they are deadly serious about making "Fabulous Old Ladies" a regular feature.
"I’m not sure what the point of admitting all this might be, because I know that anyone who experiences a career peak in his mid-twenties will likely make the same mistakes I did, and it’s not even clear to me that they were all mistakes, unless writing a book is always a mistake, which in some sense it must be." Emily Gould's debt-and-failure essay from the book MFA v. NYC, reprinted at Medium. Also Jia Tolentino at The Hairpin on the concept of said book.
"I was in a serious, long-term relationship with my career for years, and when we broke up a few years ago I spiraled out into promiscuity, looking for love in every gig I met. I had a hard time keeping it casual and then, when those short-term freelance jobs couldn’t give me what I wanted – every goddamn time — I would slide, once again, into despair." Martha Bayne only very occasionally writes about not-food, but don't miss it when she does.
Finally, by the nature of this projected I am contractually obligated to link to this every year.