Monday, March 18th, 2019


The Grapes of Wrath

"On biting into a grape, the ancients did not know if it would be ripe or sour. The same was true, in my experience, as late as the 1990s. It was like grape roulette: a truly sweet one was rare and therefore special. These days, the sweetness of grapes is a sure bet." In The Guardian, Bee Wilson begins with the story of grapes and expands to food in general. "We are now producing and consuming more food than ever, and yet our modern diet is killing us." Good enough to eat? The toxic truth about modern food. "Millions of us enjoy a freer and more comfortable existence than that of our grandparents, a freedom underpinned by an amazing decline in global hunger ... Yet our free and comfortable lifestyles are undermined by the fact that our food is killing us, not through lack of it but through its abundance – a hollow kind of abundance." (This article definitely makes me wonder whether I'm really beating the system by regularly consuming a somewhat miraculous product called Cotton Candy Grapes.)

+ "The calorie as a scientific measurement is not in dispute. But calculating the exact calorific content of food is far harder than the confidently precise numbers displayed on food packets suggest. Two items of food with identical calorific values may be digested in very different ways. Each body processes calories differently. Even for a single individual, the time of day that you eat matters." Peter Wilson in The Economist: Death Of The Calorie.


Drained Medicine Chest

"Medical debt is a uniquely American phenomenon, a burden that would be unfathomable in many other developed countries." The Atlantic: Americans Are Going Bankrupt From Getting Sick. "Doctors' bills play a role in 60 percent of personal-bankruptcy filings."


This is Now

"I can tell you one thing right now. Our gun laws will change." That was New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern shortly after massacres at two Christchurch mosques. On Monday, she said the government plans to have new laws on the books by next week. "Within 10 days of this horrific act of terrorism, we will have announced reforms which will, I believe, make our community safer." (It turns out now is exactly the time to talk about gun laws.)

+ "Until today I was one of the New Zealanders who owned a semi-automatic rifle. On the farm they are a useful tool in some circumstances, but my convenience doesn't outweigh the risk of misuse." Kiwis begin to voluntarily return their semi-automatic rifles.

+ Congregants from The Tree of Life in Pittsburgh are raising money for New Zealand's grieving Muslim community. "'Sam Schachner, president of the congregation whose Tree of Life building was the site of a shooting massacre that left 11 worshippers dead, said, 'We're unfortunately part of a club that nobody wants to be a part of, and we wanted to reach out to New Zealand in the same way everyone reached out to us.'" (Every day there are signs of hate, bigotry, and violence. But there are also signs of unity, resilience, and hope.) Donate here.

+ "The New Zealand killer did not exact his violence in America, but he would be at home in our statistics: in the past decade, seventy-three per cent of all American extremist-related killings have come from the right wing ... Pointing out those patterns does not feed oxygen to the sources; it subjects them to the disinfecting power of sunlight. We can only have an honest analysis of the sources of this violence if we understand how it grows and spreads." Evan Osnos in The New Yorker: How to Talk About the New Zealand Massacre: More Sunlight, Less Oxygen.

+ And here's a look at how technology was used to spread video of the attack, even as the people who run the platforms tried to stop the deluge. From WaPo: Inside YouTube's struggles to shut down video of the New Zealand shooting — and the humans who outsmarted its systems. And from Reuters: Facebook says it removed 1.5 million videos of the New Zealand mosque attack.


Father Figured

"The people now sending her messages said they were Cline's secret biological children. They said their parents had also been treated by Cline. They said that decades ago, without ever telling his patients, Cline had used his own sperm to impregnate women who came to him for artificial insemination." The Atlantic: The Fertility Doctor's Secret.


Check Yourself

"Federal Aviation Administration managers pushed its engineers to delegate wide responsibility for assessing the safety of the 737 MAX to Boeing itself. But safety engineers familiar with the documents shared details that show the analysis included crucial flaws." Seattle Times: Flawed analysis, failed oversight. "When time was too short for FAA technical staff to complete a review, sometimes managers either signed off on the documents themselves or delegated their review back to Boeing." (We don't need black box data to know there's something wrong when safety reviews are left in the hands of the company who manufactured the products.)

+ Bloomberg: Boeing Had Too Much Sway in Vetting Own Jets, FAA Was Told.

+ What's scarier than a company being tasked with reviewing the safety of its own planes? Trump was the face of the 737 probe.
WaPo: "It was extraordinary for a president to intervene in matters typically left to the FAA or the Department of Transportation."


Overcoming a Checkered Past

"In a homeless shelter in Manhattan, an 8-year-old boy is walking to his room, carrying an awkward load in his arms, unfazed by screams from a troubled resident. The boy is a Nigerian refugee with an uncertain future, but he is beaming. He can't stop grinning because the awkward load is a huge trophy, almost as big as he is." This kid provides a welcome respite from both the current anti-immigrant fervor and the recent college admissions scandal. NYT: This 8-Year-Old Chess Champion Will Make You Smile.


Pod Squad

'In an age when we were promised jet packs, or at least augmented-reality goggles, it turns out what we've really been craving is the companionship of human voices nestled in our ears. These voices provide us with information, yes, but also inspiration, entertainment, enlightenment, emotional engagement, companionship, and, above all, a sense that, in even our most arcane obsessions, we are not alone."How Podcasts Learned to Speak: The once useless-seeming medium that became essential. (My theory is that content creators just got sick of typing.)


Midwest Floods

"At least three people are confirmed to have lost their lives so far amid record-setting floods affecting parts of Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, and other nearby states. Thousands of people have been asked to evacuate, and many have been away from their homes for days in hard-hit Nebraska, following last week's bomb cyclone." InFocus with a look at the massive flooding hitting parts of the Midwest.


The Guides of March

For the casual fan, college basketball season is about to start. To get you prepared, here's a little bit of information about each team in this year's NCAA tournament. And from FiveThirtyEight: The favorites, the Cinderellas and the teams to avoid when filling out your bracket. And from The Ringer: The 2019 March Madness Cinderella Guide. (Making selections among 68 teams might seem overwhelming, but it will be good practice for handicapping what promises to be the vastly larger group vying for the Democratic presidential nomination...)


Bottom of the News

"While we're clucking over the college admissions bribery scandal, those of us with children too young to worry about higher education gaze up from our smartphones and remind our tweens and teens that schoolwork's due Friday and to pack their uniform for practice. What's wrong with that?" (Nothing, as long as you can keep it up forever. If not, a lot.) USA Today on a poll that shows parents are killing kids' life skills. (Full disclosure: My mom forwarded me this link.)

+ BBC: Viral cat videos and the man who watches thousands of them. (Yeah, like there's only one dude who does this...)