Sunday, March 23, 2014

Links for the week ending 23 March 2014

"Those records, collectively, show that child welfare administrators consistently under-reported the number of verified deaths by abuse and neglect. For example, in 2009, the state reported 69 child deaths 'with priors' to the governor and Legislature. The Herald, using records provided by DCF, tallied 107." This special report by Carol Marbin Miller and Audra D.S. Burch for the Miami Herald is investigative journalism at its best. But it is not easy reading. (Via Jacqueline Charles.)

"Regulators, contractors and more than 20 current and former workers interviewed in recent months say the deteriorating labor conditions are a prime cause of a string of large leaks of contaminated water and other embarrassing errors that have already damaged the environment and, in some cases, put workers in danger. In the worst-case scenario, experts fear, struggling workers could trigger a bigger spill or another radiation release." Excellent, alarming investigation of labor practices at the Fukushima clean-up, by Hiroko Tabuchi for the NYT.

"Trapped in her northern Syrian village by fighting, Mervat watched her newborn baby progressively shrink. Her daughter's dark eyes seemed to grow bigger as her face grew more skeletal. Finally, Mervat escaped to neighboring Lebanon, and a nurse told her the girl was starving." Diaa Hadid for the AP on the growing numbers of malnourished children both within Syria and in the swelling refugee camps in neighboring countries.

"With nine million Syrians driven from their homes, according to the United Nations, 2.5 million of them into nearby countries, the Syrian displacement dwarfs the exodus from British-mandate Palestine during the war over Israel’s founding in 1948, a flight of 750,000 people that fuels conflict and hardship to this day." The NYT's Anne Barnard reflects on the three years that have transformed Syria from a stable "middle-income country" to a wasteland of brutal violence and starvation.

Michelle Shephard is reporting for the Toronto Star from the Central African Republic. Here, on the use of drug-addled child soldiers in the violence. And here, on Muslim families trapped in a ghetto in the country's capital.

"But the main reason Safari and Muzaneza point to, as do others working to combat sexualized violence, is that men are trained at a young age in Congo to fight and be dominant over the weak or vulnerable in order to get what they want -- whether that is power, money, or women's bodies." Lauren Wolfe at Foreign Policy on continuing very high rates of rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo, years after the war ended.

"This has left many Haitians wondering why a country with no external threats, a history of violent, military-led repression against its own citizens, and an abundance of more pressing problems would need—or even want—a new military. 'Given the history of Haiti’s military,' warned Mark Weisbrot, its 'existence alone could be considered a threat to security.'" At Foreign Policy in Focus, Nathalie Baptiste writes about the recreation of Haiti's feared army. (Via Brian Concannon.)

"But within a few months of Russia’s recognition, shivering through the winter behind windows made of plastic sheeting, people began to wonder when the billions of rubles of aid pledged by Russia would reach them." Olyesa Vartanyan and Ellen Barry report for the NYT on the fate of another region that split from an independent former Soviet republic to return to Russia. (Via Lydia Polgreen.) Elizabeth Piper reports for Reuters, "Karen Vartapetov, an analyst at Standard & Poor's rating agency, calculated that Moscow would need to pay 38 billion roubles (just over $1 billion) a year to bring Crimea's per capita budget revenue to the same level as Russia's poorest regions, such as North Ossetia and Kabardino-Balkaria in the restive North Caucasus."

"He is no longer simply a Russian statist, an old KGB man who wants to recapture Soviet glory, as Brookings analysts Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy argued in their fascinating 2013 biography. Instead Putin has become a Russian ethnic nationalist." Meanwhile, at The Washington Post, political scientist Kimberly Marten argues that Putin's choice of language reveals the path down which his country may be headed. (Via Atossa Abrahamian.)

"According to a company that tracks Twitter use in Turkey, more than half a million tweets were posted in the first ten hours after the ban took effect, roughly in line with normal daily activity. Even members of the A.K.P. appeared to breach the ban, including Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, who announced his campaign schedule on Twitter." Jenna Krajeski for The New Yorker on Prime Minister Erdogan's attempt to shut down his country's access to Twitter. Also Zeynep Tufekci at Medium.

"Documents released in recent months show the Kochs have added wrinkles to their network that even experts well versed in tax law and campaign finance say they’ve never seen before — wrinkles that could make it harder to discern who controls each nonprofit in the web and how it disperses its money." Kim Barker and dude Theodoric Meyer for ProPublica.

Mounds of sludge—'ashbergs'—forty or fifty feet high jutted out of the river, some topped with bushes and trees torn from their roots. What she was seeing was a disaster: the worst industrial accident in American history." Rachel Cernansky at Medium reports from Kingston, Tennessee, five years after it was almost swallowed by the rupture of a retaining pond holding more than a billion gallons of coal ash.

"Even preschoolers are getting suspended from U.S. public schools — and they're disproportionately black, a trend that continues up through the later grades." Kimberly Hefling and dude Jesse J. Holland report for the AP.

"The new estimate would mean 56 million people, or nearly half of the U.S. population between the ages of 40 to 75, could be eligible for taking a statin to prevent heart disease." Julie Steenhuysen for Reuters on controversial new guidelines for heart-disease treatment that sure are going to be profitable for pharmaceutical companies.

"Banter about exchanging lethal injection help for football tickets and other favors raises questions about how seriously Oklahoma officials take the death penalty, which they have meted out about four to five times a year since 1990." Katie Fretland for The Colorado Independent on the secretive lengths to which some states are going to obtain untested drugs for executing prisoners. (Via Liliana Segura.)

"The combined service for the two men takes a little less than 10 minutes. When it’s over, Collier steps away from the caskets and the crew begins lowering the coffins into the ground." Robyn Ross for The Texas Observer on the state cemetery that receives the bodies of some of Texas's poorest prison inmates. (Via Pamela Colloff.)

"Compared to those people who had never been members of a gang, former gang members reported much worse overall health—both mental health and physical health. Former gang members were more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, alcoholism, and “poor general health” physically when they were 27, 30, and 33. They were also three times as likely to be addicted to drugs." Lauren Kirchner reports for Pacific Standard on some surprising findings from a 7 Up-style Seattle study.

"When those babies reached adulthood, even though they themselves had never been exposed to THC, their brains showed a range of molecular abnormalities. They had unusually low expression of the receptors for glutamate and dopamine, two important chemical messengers, in the striatum, a brain region involved in compulsive behaviors and the reward system." Virginia Hughes at National Geographic on a study that finds epigenetic changes in the offspring of rats regularly exposed to the active compound in marijuana.

"It is a women’s holiday, and so Nepal’s government gives all women a day off work. This is not to recognise the work done by women, but to give them the time to perform rituals that will atone for any sins they may have committed while menstruating in the previous year." By Rose George for Mosaic. (Hat tip to Jill Heather.)

"Only one Copenhagen cyclist was killed in 2012, and no year from 1998 to 2012 has seen more than seven cyclists killed in the city, according to Statistics Denmark. These figures are quite something in a city where the population cycles an estimated 1.27 million km every day." Also at Mosaic, Lesley Evans Ogden with a longread on cycling in seven different cities in Europe and Canada.

"'I think we can think of this measurement today as opening a new window up on what we believe to be a new regime of physics, the physics of what happens in the first unbelievably tiny fraction of a second in the universe, and at extremely high energies,' said John Kovac, the team leader and an associate professor of astronomy at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center." Carolyn Y. Johnson at The Boston Globe on evidence announced this week in support of the "inflation" theory of the universe just after the Big Bang. At The New Yorker, Andrea Denhoed writes a short, lovely piece on the reaction of elderly physicist Andrei Linde to the news that observation bears out the theory he championed on the origin of the universe.

"Another way we can show that people pronounced things in a particular way before we had recording devices to prove it is spelling variation, especially from less-standardized text like private notes and letters or from respelling schemes in early dictionaries. For example, if someone is writing “should” as 'shud', we can be fairly sure that the /l/ is silent for that person; conversely, if people don’t start writing “park” as 'pak' until 1775, we can suppose that they didn’t start pronouncing it that way until around the same time." So great — Gretchen McCulloch at The Toast on what Shakespeare's English might have sounded like.

"Noise, like pain, makes me want to leave the planet, but before that to kill someone." Jenni Diski, with a badness I share.

"It’s cheesy, and yet for days afterward, I find myself feeling more attentive, more curious, slower to anger, more attuned to people’s capacity to surprise. I feel bolder and less embarrassable. Crist makes people feel good. It’s what he does." Finally, from two weeks ago, Molly Ball's Atlantic profile of Florida's former governor and current gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist is a delight from start — in which she describes the candidate's appearance in a way one generally expects only when the subject of the profile is a woman — to finish.