Sunday, March 30, 2014

Links for the week ending 30 March 2014

"The account by Mr Salam intimately details, for the first time, how at the beginning of the uprising in 2011 the Syrian leadership decided to create a paramilitary force - secretly commanded by them - that could attack anti-government protesters." Salwa Amor and Ruth Sherlock at The Daily Telegraph.

"'No way that he can rule Syria,' says Hadian, referring to the Syrian president. Hadian insists this is a position with widespread support among Iranians, but, he says, 'there are powerful groups who would think otherwise.'" Deborah Amos reports for NPR on the prospects for continued Iranian support of the Syrian government.

"An Egyptian court has sentenced 529 people to death in the largest capital punishment case on record in Egypt, judicial authorities said Monday." Abigail Hauslohner and Lara El Gibaly for The Washington Post. Louisa Loveluck comments on at The New York Times: "The trial and its aftermath reveal the fault lines in Egypt’s escalating crackdown against political opposition that may yet provoke a stinging response from the very forces it was meant to eliminate."

"The decision on Thursday to release Mr. Hakamada, thought to be the world’s longest serving death row inmate, underscored the dark side of a criminal justice system that boasts a near-100 percent conviction rate and immediately led to calls for reform." From Hiroko Tabuchi at the NYT, a dark look at justice and capital punishment in Japan.

"Years go by, and you still have no idea why this happened to you. You have never been charged with a crime." The ACLU presents a comic explainer about the No Fly List, by Jen Sorensen. (Via Jody T.)

"Polk was not alone. Her kit on the shelf was just one of 11,304 in Detroit’s backlog of untested rape kits." Emily Orley at BuzzFeed reports on one dedicated Wayne County prosecutor's grant-funded quest to work through every single one of those kits. (Via Roxanne Gay.)

"Taylor was charged with two felony counts of child abuse for leaving her six-month-old and two-year-old in a car with the windows cracked last Thursday for at least 45 minutes as she sat in an interview for a potential job." This is the most heartbreaking story I've read in a long time. By Annie-Rose Strasser at ThinkProgress. (Via Irin Carmon.)

"Alexander’s plight reveals the unique vulnerabilities faced by Black women in the face of domestic violence, as well as their tragic invisibility in public awareness and advocacy around domestic violence, mass incarceration and Black-on-Black crime." Incisive analysis of the Marissa Alexander case and what it reveals about the "Overpolicing and Underprotection of Black Women" by Priscilla A. Ocen and Kimberlé Crenshaw at Ebony. (Via @prisonculture.)

"In early 2007, a Lowndes County grand jury indicted Gibbs, a 16-year-old black teen, for 'depraved heart murder' — defined under Mississippi law as an act 'eminently dangerous to others…regardless of human life.' By smoking crack during her pregnancy, the indictment said, Gibbs had 'unlawfully, willfully, and feloniously' caused the death of her baby. The maximum sentence: life in prison." Nina Martin, from two weeks ago at ProPublica. (Via Beth Schwartzapfel.)

"Jones wanted to help men like himself, and West Baltimore has no shortage of them. More than half the prison population released in Maryland returns every year to the neighborhoods around the center. They come out burdened not only by their records but by family estrangement and debt. Child-support arrearages are allowed to accumulate in prison, and about 3,000 men who live near the center owe more than $50 million in back child support." So many insights in this excellent longread from Monica B. Potts at The American Prospect, profiling one released felon's journey through an employment-training program whose inflexible, even abusive, policies are designed to mimic the conditions its clients will find in the world of low-wage work.

"Brooks finally made it to a foreclosure workshop in late February, where more than a dozen distressed homeowners sat around a conference table upstairs from a food pantry—all African-American men and women living in Prince George’s County." At MSNBC, Suzy Khimm looks at one mother's struggle to avoid foreclosure after losing her job last summer — and how Congress has made that struggle so much more difficult.

"We’ve had audience members say, 'You should talk to boys around the drug scene and who’re on drugs.' And I would say, 'You don’t even know that we didn’t.'" At Colorlines, Carla Murphy interviews Nicole Murphy, the producer of a film series that asks black boys ages 9-13 to describe what they think about love. (Via Julianne Hing.)

"What are we to make of this particular line of scholarship--so individualistic in nature, so far from a structural critique--gaining such favor in these times of gross inequity? If education is 'the civil rights issue' of our time--as so many reform entities, including those supporting the scholarship in question, often claim--what are we to make of a research agenda that explicitly names as its foundation a text steeped in eugenic thinking?" You're not wrong if you suspect I've included this piece out of schadenfreude, but it's still worth a read. Lauren Anderson at Education Week. (Via Tressie McMillan Cottom.)

"You know those ubiquitous BuzzFeed quizzes? The ones trying to help you determine what brand of peanut butter or which Game of Thrones character you are? Well it’s hard not to walk out of oral argument this morning in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius without being forced to confront a similar, but perhaps more awkward, question: What kind of contraceptive method are you?" Oh my god, this Dahlia Lithwick piece in which she assigns a contraceptive method to every member of the Supreme Court will make you laugh so much that you'll almost forget that said court is going to find that corporations can have religious beliefs and those beliefs have more legal standing than women's lives. At Slate. (Via Jody T.)

"There is an emerging consensus from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to Capitol Hill that the government’s mass collection of data about Americans’ phone calls must end." Ellen Nakashima at The Washington Post.

"When McPherson woke up, he was still sitting upright in his heavy wooden chair. But their house in a rural enclave about an hour's drive north from Seattle had been pushed 150 yards. His chair was crushed around him. A ceiling beam lay across his lap." Haunting piece by Maria L. La Ganga and dude Matt Pearce about the victims of the Washington mudslide. At the LAT. (Via Alana Semuels.)

"The type of oil that spilled — a marine fuel oil known as RMG 380 — is black, sticky and particularly heavy. That means that instead of evaporating from the surface of the water like gasoline would, much of it will sink, persisting in the environment for months or even years." Neena Satija reports for The Texas Tribune about an oil spill fouling Galveston Bay, including the spill's likely effects on the bay's fishing industries.

"Moreover, trees in the infamous Red Forest—an area where all of the pine trees turned a reddish color and then died shortly after the accident—did not seem to be decaying, even 15 to 20 years after the meltdown." Runner-up for Creepiest Science Article of the Week, on decomposition in the forests around Chernobyl, by Rachel Nuwer at Smithsonian. (Hat tip to Jenny F. Scientist.)

"NEITHER dead or alive, knife-wound or gunshot victims will be cooled down and placed in suspended animation later this month, as a groundbreaking emergency technique is tested out for the first time." Yeah, this is the Creepiest Science Article of the Week. By Helen Thomson for New Scientist. (Via Amanda Katz.)

"Two years ago, a cancer scientist who formerly worked at the pharmaceutical company Amgen disclosed that his team was able to successfully repeat only 6 of 53 landmark research studies that had been cited hundreds of times." Another fascinating piece on the process of science by Carolyn Y. Johnson at

"U.S. interconnection markets are at the moment perfectly engineered to raise revenue for Comcast and AT&T, at the same time that these companies are spending no more than 15 percent of that revenue on their infrastructure." Susan Crawford at Bloomberg View.

"Exactly. ‘Oh you must hate your job so much that you have to like dissociate yourself from it.’ But the thing is, most people do! The idea that your entire individual identity is based on your work identity is something that is relatively new." Really fascinating interview at The Billfold, where Melissa Gira Grant talks to Meaghan O'Connell about sex work as a labor issue.

"The things that differentiated this gathering from a high school cafeteria were small: the thin kid wearing a parka inside who came up, bashful, for a full plate of food three times; the kids who wrapped up food in tin foil or took it away with them in to-go containers." Rachel Kincaid at Autostraddle with a moving longread about Detroit's Ruth Ellis Center for LGBT youth.

"Part of the reason I went through such a rough patch last year was I went away to finish revising my novel for my publisher; I wanted to get away from all the "distractions" of being home, but it turns out those "distractions" are often the things that keep me from falling apart." The last in Sarah McCarry's series of interviews with writers on working and depression, this one with Cristina Moracho.

"In time I saw that this stuckness, rather than any physical pain, was what made me so reluctant to try. I wondered how many times I’d overlooked powerlessness as the source of my discomfort. I philosophized: was it wiser, in general, to make peace with impotence or resist it by any means possible?" This piece by Melinda Misener at The Hairpin is absolutely guaranteed to be the most profound thing you read about pull-ups (the exercise, not the toddler-wear) in this week — or any other.

"MACBETH: feel like we’ve already killed a lot of my friends
LADY MACBETH: then we could throw a PARTY and make out
Yeah. Mallory Ortberg continues the Dirtbag Shakespeare series at The Toast.

"People hurt and wound each other, and don’t understand, and betray, and all those things. And also emotional sympathies just dry up and die as we change, and they are as mysterious in friendship as in love. I mean, it’s a relationship like any other. " At The Believer, Madeleine Schwartz interviews 78-year-old writer Vivian Gornick.

Ahem. "March Madness: Tournament of Upper-Middle Class Afflictions." By Jessica Hagy at Medium. You're welcome. (Via Garance Francke-Ruta.)

"In the course of seven weeks, Waterson interviewed a hundred and twenty-seven families about their reaction to articles that begin with a wryly affectionate parenting anecdote, segue into a dry cataloguing of sociological research enlivened with alternately sarcastic and tender asides, and end with another wryly affectionate anecdote that aims to add a touch of irony or, failing at that, sentimentality." Finally (and in lieu of that Hanna Rosin takedown — I know I promised, but life — and, more specifically, this afternoon — is too short to hate-link, I've decided), Sarah Miller at The New Yorker with "New Parenting Study Released." (Via Amanda Brokaw.)

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.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Links for the week ending 16 March 2014

I'm sure it will be outdated by the time you read it, but as of yesterday, CNN's Faith Karimi and Barbara Starr were reporting on the latest developments in the probable hijacking and subsequent disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.

"'If we, Russians, let him win here, he will win in proving that we are nothing but zombies, a bunch of sheep who follow without questioning.' And then, before he finished his thought, Semenov buried his head in his big hands and broke into tears." Natalia Antelava reporting from Crimea for The New Yorker.

"What Moscow liberals are discovering is how quickly the ground has shifted beneath their feet since Putin came back to power in 2012, how futile and pathetic their resistance, and how easily wartime mobilization can steamroll them into nonexistence, in a way it couldn’t when Russia went to war with Georgia in 2008." A deeply despairing post from Julia Ioffe at The New Republic about where Putin's Russia is heading.

"About 4,000 women disappeared in Mexico in 2011-2012, mostly in Chihuahua and the State of Mexico, according to the National Observatory Against Femicide." Anahi Rama and Lizbeth Diaz at Reuters on pandemic levels of violence against Mexican women. (Via Melissa del Bosque.)

"'There is an alarming number of children seeking asylum. The U.S. government estimates this year there could be as many as 60,000 children in federal custody,' said Leslie Velez, a lead author of the new UNHCR report 'Children on the Run,' released by the agency’s Washington, D.C., office, which covers the United States and the Caribbean." Melissa del Bosque for The Texas Observer.

"Two hours later, after the fighters had left, it was finally safe for Bior and other survivors to come out of the water. But by that time, he said, eight children had drowned in their mothers' arms." Robyn Dixon reporting for the LAT on the ethnic cleansing that overtook South Sudan starting in December.

"Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim has publicly denied allegations of ill treatment and torture at the country’s detention facilities. But the accusations of abuse have been widely documented by human rights organizations in recent months and corroborated by detainee accounts." Erin Cunningham at The Washington Post on mass incarcerations in Egypt.

"It was in September that the interrogators broke his leg. Two weeks later, Zhou started slipping into unconsciousness. Only then, he says, did they let him go to a hospital under the false name of Wang Yan, with the story that he had fallen in the bathroom." Gillian Wong for the AP on torture committed during anti-corruption crackdowns conducted internally by China's Communist Party.

"Ahmed Belbacha, 44, became the first prisoner released from the Pentagon detention center this year. The U.S. never charged him with a crime across 12 years in custody, but an Algerian court convicted him of terror-related charges in 2009 and issued a 20-year sentence while he was at Guantánamo. Carol Rosenberg at the Miami Herald reporting from Guantánamo.

"'What I take away from it is how prisoners are looked at as commodities,' she says. 'It's all about how the private prisons can make the most money.'" Rina Palta at NPR reports on a new study showing that for-profit prisons contain an even higher percentage of people of color than their public counterparts.

"That’s what I’m thinking about a lot, how we name anti-blackness and anti-black racism as the foundation of punishment in the juvenile and adult legal systems, that we can’t separate those things out. I want to find a way to address that in a more transparent and real way." Interview at the Children and Family Justice Center's blog with Chicago advocate Mariame Kaba.

"Under current mandatory minimum guidelines, a drug offender convicted of possessing 500 grams of cocaine or 28 grams of crack would face a term of 63 to 78 months. Holder is proposing that the time in such a case be reduced to 51 to 63 months." Sari Horowitz at The Washington Post, on the not-exactly-game-changing sentencing reforms proposed by Attorney General Eric Holder.

"The study also shed light on why people get into sex work. Pimps and sex workers often said they were encouraged by their families to do so, and many cited poverty as a major factor in their decisions." Annie Lowrey at the NYT on a new report by the Urban Institute (which does amazing work) on the sex economy in seven major U.S. cities.

"Six percent of the men admitted to rape, or attempted rape. Of the rapists, 63 percent were serial offenders. In all, the serial rapists accounted for 439 of the 483 rapes." Claire Gordon at Al Jazeera America on the shocking percentage of campus rapes committed by repeat offenders. (Dear admissions committees, maybe start screening out likely rapists?)

"When colleges and universities become a market, there is no incentive to teach what customers would rather not know. When colleges are in the business of making customers comfortable, we are all poorer for it." I feel lucky to have caught this very smart piece from last December on its second go-round on Twitter this week: Tressie McMillan Cottom at Slate on the disincentives and barriers colleges have to teaching about structural inequalities — like racism — especially when taught by members of marginalized groups.

"The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said Wednesday that he favors ending the National Security Agency’s widespread collection of U.S. citizens’ phone data, making him the first of the four leaders of the congressional intelligence panels to do so." Ellen Nakashima at The Washington Post.

"By focusing on legible seats of power, activist groups and outraged political players have largely sidestepped the question of how surveilled subjects uphold—cannot but uphold—their position as surveilled. It is perhaps unbearable to consider that modes of surveillance undergird the way we live in contemporary capitalism." Natasha Lennard at The New Inquiry.

"Fortunately, WIRED is here with a solution: Cover your camera lens with a sticker." Fight the power, thanks to Kim Zetter at Wired.

"Bitcoin thieves, as a rule, don’t get caught, which made the hypothetical threat more serious. The chance of being apprehended for stealing cryptocurrency is so low that the usual disincentive to commit theft is almost nonexistent." Congratulations! You've made it to the non-depressing portion of this week's list! Reward yourself with Maria Bustillos' wonderful piece at The New Yorker on the media misidentification of the still-mysterious inventor of Bitcoin.

"The difficulty of sorting out visionary ideas from crackpot ones—or even outright fraud—has long been part of science, especially at the cutting edge." At, Carolyn Y. Johnson continues her great series of posts examining the continuing controversy over possibly fraudulent stem cell research as a viewfinder onto the process by which science is made.

"It’s a part of the brain that’s particularly active when you’re reading. In fact, you’re using it right now. Across fonts, across languages, across systems of writing, injuring this area would take away your ability to read or even recognize words." Super-interesting Gal Science piece at The Toast by neuroscientist Sarah Hillenbrand.

"After months of inaction, the Senate might finally act to restore federal unemployment benefits as a small handful of Republicans broke from their party to support a new bipartisan compromise." Suzy Khimm at MSNBC.

"The tenth and final recommendation, 'Be critical of the commercial advertisement of food products,' is particularly unusual in the world of dietary guidelines." Mia MacDonald and Judy Bankman at Civil Eats on Brazil's new, plainspoken, and refreshingly direct anti-obesity recommendations.

"Her husband, a ramrod straight-standing white-haired man recently retired from a government job, demonstrates a unique talent for being able to stare out at the horizon without moving or speaking for hours at a time. I spend the next few days considering his inner monologue, wondering exactly what I am watching him see." This piece by Caity Weaver at Gawker from last month about a week on a Paula Deen cruise is a thoughtful, funny delight from start to finish.

"Or, they can complete reams of paperwork and secure a bureaucratic certification called a HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control point) plan – originally a safety procedure created for NASA space flights and now applied in an unwieldy way to the food industry – which verifies that the preparation process is safe." Eveline Chao at Open City on the battle between Chinatown's roast ducks and NYC's Department of Health inspectors — and the economic disparities ABC health grades have introduced into the city's wildly diverse restaurant scene.

"It outsources the emotional and practical needs of the oft-fetishized, urban-renewing 'creative' workforce to a downwardly mobile middle class, reducing workers’ personality traits and educations to a series of plot points intended to telegraph a zombified bohemianism for the benefit of the rich." BOOM. Molly Osberg at The Awl with reflections on being a barista through a Brooklyn neighborhood's transition to hipsterhood. (Warning, though: The Awl has definitely become a place where you should skip the comments, unless you really wanna watch some guy evaluate a piece according to the degree by which he'd enjoy having the author as a girlfriend. Thanks, bro!)

"The bar counter of a pub is possibly the only place in Britain where the natives feel comfortable about shedding their natural reserve and engaging in conversation with strangers." On the other hand! The Toast has intensely awesome comment sections where a lovely soul linked to this 79-page .pdf 18-year-old anthropological study of the etiquette and rituals of British pubs, by Kate Fox. If this doesn't cheer you up simply by existing, try reading it from start to finish in one sitting. You will almost certainly feel better. (I did.)

"I’ve been written to at least a dozen times since by various organizations and colleges running drag balls, asking advice or asking for use of our photos. I can let them use the pictures all they want, but I don’t really have any wisdom. What can I say, really? Be a popular white kid? Pretty much good advice for anything." Okay, this piece at The Toast by Whitney Reynolds on going to her high school prom (in central Tennessee, no less!) in drag is guaranteed to cheer you up.

"Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you can conjure one yourself, then wish it senseless and inert when you have done with it." At The Toast, good advice from Mallory Ortberg, "A Solitary Witch." (Oh my god, the tags.)

"Languages are made up of dialects. They fit together like jigsaw puzzles: remove one or two pieces and you'll still be able to see the whole image, but the picture is incomplete nonetheless and you're definitely not getting more than $0.50 for it at a garage sale." Finally, this perfect piece by Kory Stamper at on why we should probably cut it the hell out what with being the grammar police, okay? (Grateful hat tip to Els Kushner!)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

No links for the week ending 9 March 2014

No links this week -- I took a lovely vacation from the news. The list will be back next week. As always, thanks for reading. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Links for the week ending 2 March 2014

"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

"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.