Archive for the ‘USA’ tag
This article is about all the bogus benefits the NFL has, but it’s approximately true of all major sports leagues in the United States, and the mentioned tax incentives are realized by copious other businesses at smaller scales. Still, if you’re unfamiliar with the whole political structure of it, it’s hard not to be incensed by a summary like this:
Taxpayers fund the stadiums, antitrust law doesn’t apply to broadcast deals, the league enjoys nonprofit status, and Commissioner Roger Goodell makes $30 million a year. It’s time to stop the public giveaways to America’s richest sports league—and to the feudal lords who own its teams.
Amidst most of the hubbub that came in the wake of the Edward Snowden story is the awkward reality that the man himself now faces. Amy Knight’s explanation of the problems that confront him, whether you consider him a true asylum seeker taking the only accommodation he could procure or an eager Russian accomplice, in his new existence.
But Snowden will nonetheless feel isolated and tightly controlled by Russian authorities. His lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, who Snowden selected from two names offered him to by the Russian border police at the airport, is known to have close ties with both the Kremlin and the Federal Security Service (FSB), which controls the border police.
Really strong (and long, because it’s the New Yorker) essay about how the way some civil forfeiture laws are written make them prone to reckless abuse, and how that abuse actually happens. It’ll probably make you at least a little angry, but knowledge of the practice is probably one of its most powerful antidotes.
They could face felony charges for “money laundering” and “child endangerment,” in which case they would go to jail and their children would be handed over to foster care. Or they could sign over their cash to the city of Tenaha, and get back on the road. “No criminal charges shall be filed,” a waiver she drafted read, “and our children shall not be turned over to CPS,” or Child Protective Services.
“Where are we?” Boatright remembers thinking. “Is this some kind of foreign country, where they’re selling people’s kids off?” Holding her sixteen-month-old on her hip, she broke down in tears.
I enjoyed Freddie Deboer’s review of Jaron Lanier’s Who Owns the Future, a book about which it seems I was right to be both interested in and dubious of. This paragraph is, I’m increasingly convinced, the trenchant and unanswered question facing the future of the capitalistic economies:
It is hard to overstate: This country, in its current condition, has no other option but something close to full employment. Our pathetic social safety net, even absent the contracting effect of austerity measures, can’t fill in the gaps caused by the demise of ubiquitous employment. Even the counterrevolution has no other idiom; the most common epithet directed toward Occupy protests, after all, was “Get a job!” That the near impossibility of getting a job was the point for many who were protesting was too destabilizing a notion to be understood. In the short term, I have no doubt that the unemployment rate will fall. The question is the long-term structural dependability of a social contract built on mass employment.
James Bamford’s piece about the NSA, its history, and it’s likely cache of legally-questionable data about US citizens is a valuable nugget of sanity among all the hubbub that’s followed the Edward Snowden’s data release. I liked this slice of history:
On July 1, 1920, a slim balding man in his early thirties moved into a four-story townhouse at 141 East 37th Street in Manhattan. This was the birth of the Black Chamber, the NSA’s earliest predecessor, and it would be hidden in the nondescript brownstone. But its chief, Herbert O. Yardley, had a problem. To gather intelligence for Woodrow Wilson’s government, he needed access to the telegrams entering, leaving, and passing through the country, but because of an early version of the Radio Communications Act, such access was illegal. With the shake of a hand, however, Yardley convinced Newcomb Carlton, the president of Western Union, to grant the Black Chamber secret access on a daily basis to the private messages passing over his wires—the Internet of the day.
XKCD may be a poorly-drawn stick-figure webcomic, but this chart — posted as a strip — is damn great. A breakdown of the ideological history of both houses of Congress throughout the over 200 years they’ve existed. It’s not exactly deep or rich history, but it’s both pretty and informative.
Prison rape is so common in America that most confronted with the reality either go for the joke or greet it with a “well they shouldn’t have gone to prison, then” attitude rather than face the catastrophe that it is. It’s good to know that the Obama administration has created a program that, though late, has some reasonable hope of bringing the problem under control.
“Atul Gawande” is a consistently promising byline, and this piece about the balkanization and standardization of the health care industry is no exception. You’ll get a number of thoughts about the pluses and minuses of the biggest trend in American healthcare administration, but also a thorough look at the high-end American restaurant chain The Cheesecake Factory. About the kitchen of the restaurant:
Two things struck me. First, the instructions [delivered to a touchscreen right beside the cook] were precise about the ingredients and the objectives (the steak slices were to be a quarter of an inch thick, the presentation just so), but not about how to get there. The cook has to decide how much to salt and baste, how to sequence the onions and mushrooms and meat so they’re done at the same time, how to swivel from grill to countertop and back, sprinkling a pinch of salt here, flipping a burger there, sending word to the fry cook for the asparagus tempura, all the while keeping an eye on the steak. In producing complicated food, there might be recipes, but there was also a substantial amount of what’s called “tacit knowledge”—knowledge that has not been reduced to instructions.
Second, Mauricio never looked at the instructions anyway.
You really don’t know yourself until you know how other people see you. Whether or not that’s true, I really enjoyed this brief description of how travel books seek to explain my country to the world.
But maybe the topic that gets the most attention in these books is food, which they praise for its quality and variety (and portion size) in a tone of near-disbelief. As in any culture, the niceties of dining — especially at someone’s home — can get complicated. Here, from Wikitravel, is some sage advice on a ritual that even I did not realize was so complicated until I read this passage:
When invited to a meal in a private home it is considered polite for a guest to ask if they can bring anything for the meal, such a dessert, a side dish, or for an outdoor barbecue, something useful like ice or plastic cups or plates. The host will usually refuse except among very close friends, but it is nonetheless considered good manners to bring along a small gift for the host. A bottle of wine, box of candies or fresh cut flowers are most common. Gifts of cash, prepared ready-to-serve foods, or very personal items (e.g. toiletries) are not appropriate.
I liked Reihan Salam’s argument in favor of private equity firms like the arm of Bain Capital Mitt Romney spent many years running. I certainly don’t agree with everything he says, but given the amount of aggressively negative things that are likely to be heard about that field until November, I think it’s important to actually listen to a competent defense. I liked this point:
Private-equity firms have taken the process of turning around failing businesses and made it into an industrial process. The hostile reaction to this industrialization of corporate cost-cutting evokes the revolt of the Luddites, the 19th-century textile artisans who sabotaged the mechanical looms that threatened their familiar way of life.
(via The Browser)
There may be be some who argue about the seriousness of the problem, but I think after reading this piece no one would be able to contest with a clear conscience that there is one. I can’t shake the feeling that the basic premise of this provocative essay is sound:
America’s prison system is a moral catastrophe. The eerie sense of security that prevails on the streets of lower Manhattan obscures, and depends upon, a system of state-sponsored suffering as vicious and widespread as any in human history. Dismantling the system of American gulags, and holding accountable those responsible for their operation, presents the most urgent humanitarian imperative of our time.
That isn’t the truly provocative part of Cristopher Glazek’s thesis, but it’s the part that you need to hear. The other half’s more in the “mind-blowing and interesting to consider” category.
(via The Browser)
By all accounts I’ve seen Charles Murray’s new book is important. David Brooks offers a pretty succinct summary of why:
His story starts in 1963. There was a gap between rich and poor then, but it wasn’t that big. A house in an upper-crust suburb cost only twice as much as the average new American home. The tippy-top luxury car, the Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz, cost about $47,000 in 2010 dollars. That’s pricey, but nowhere near the price of the top luxury cars today.
The Smithsonian magazine’s Past Imperfect blog is just about perfect. Little bits of history well-told and well-documented. There’s a bit of an American and popular bent, but it doesn’t make it less awesome.
I found this because The Browser’s linked to multiple stories from it (which were all interesting, but didn’t exactly stand alone). Just today they linked to this one, which might have been able to stand alone, but then you might not have noticed how good its holder is.
Ross Douthat does a pretty good job pinning down why Americans afford their politicians so little breathing room for their personal life:
But by turning their personal choices to political ends, politicians lose the right to complain when those same personal lives are subject to partisan critiques. They can and should contest these critiques, but they can’t complain about them. In a culture as divided about fundamental issues as our own, the kind of weird attacks that Rick Santorum is enduring come with the vocation he has chosen.
Have I ever told you how much I love David Brooks? (Yes, yes I have.) It’s because he says sensible things like this:
In sum, in the progressive era, the country was young and vibrant. The job was to impose economic order. Today, the country is middle-aged but self-indulgent. Bad habits have accumulated. Interest groups have emerged to protect the status quo. The job is to restore old disciplines, strip away decaying structures and reform the welfare state. The country needs a productive midlife crisis.
Justin Wehr writes a piece I feel like I’ve meant to for years — an ode to Americans’ absurd obsession with grass:
Grass farms – otherwise known as lawns – have been a part of our heritage as a suburb-dwelling species for thousands of centuries, or at least since 1897, when a USDA report was published and read by several people. The report specified that lawns should be grown from a single grass species and plucked of any intruding invader. [Fact.] This was a sensible request seeing as how, in the suburbs, a man’s home was his castle, and so the arbiters of fashion rightly urged that our castles ought to be miniature cutesy versions of Monticello and Mount Vernon.
I link to this story because beyond being an enjoyable diversion, it makes two important points that many people still don’t get.
- George W. Bush is a man who did his best to lead the United States in the direction he thought it needed to go for eight years.
- He is unquestionably well-read on a variety of historical topics. (Whether this raises or lowers your opinion of reading generally, or his reading, doesn’t make it any less true.)
Perhaps you’ve heard it:
The Americans spent millions of dollars developing a pen that would write in space; the Russians just used pencils.
Thing is, that’s not really a good explanation of why Space Pens were invented, or how human have written in space. I long suspected these facts, but I never actually bothered to confirm them, which io9 has conveniently done.