----- 3 stars -----
Maria’s Bodies / New York Magazine
On that first day, when Hurricane Maria still raged with apocalyptic force, the destruction wrought by the storm was gruesome — and also familiar to anyone who had seen a tornado shuck the roofs off an Oklahoma town or watched Houston flood only a few weeks earlier. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, more than 1,800 died, many by drowning, as levees and flood walls failed and the city’s poorest neighborhoods were submerged. Puerto Rico has fewer low-lying areas, so the immediate death toll from Maria was substantially smaller. But Puerto Rico’s population of 3.4 million is more vulnerable, and its infrastructure weaker, than anywhere on the mainland. The island’s per capita income is $11,688, roughly half as much as the poorest of the 50 states. Its government has let its roads, emergency services, and electrical grid decay as it struggles under massive debt obligations and federally imposed austerity measures. These two factors — poverty and rotting infrastructure — combined with the storm to trigger a second disaster, this one entirely man-made and far more deadly than the storm itself. December 29 will mark 100 days since the storm ravaged the island, and it appears that at least half of Puerto Rico’s population is still without electricity. The damage caused by the extended electrical outage is most acute in the island’s hospitals.
The Newlyweds / Harper's
The sun was rising when the bus rolled through a traffic jam outside New Delhi. Dawinder saw a big, heaving city whose crowds could swallow them up and provide the anonymity they needed to survive. Neetu’s eyes watered from the pollution. Dawinder called his aunt Kulwant, who he suspected would be the only one able to receive the news of his marriage without collapsing. She asked to speak to Neetu. “Don’t betray him now,” Kulwant said. Neetu promised that she would not. They hailed a rickshaw, which bobbed in and out of potholes and squirmed through waves of pedestrians. Neetu saw a storefront that displayed red, blue, and yellow bras; in her village, she’d been able to buy them only in white. They rode past cheap hotels that offered rooms by the hour, places where married men took their mistresses. Dawinder clutched her hand and told her to trust him. The rickshaw stopped outside a rusted gate. They looked up at a crumbling building covered in lime plaster, scaffolding, and saris hung to dry. Outside, men were smoking and staring. Dawinder had seen videos of this place, but in person it looked nothing like he had expected. It was too late to turn back now—they had saved up ten thousand rupees ($150) to reserve a space. He took out his cell phone. “Hello, Love Commandos,” the voice on the line said. “We have come,” Dawinder said. “We have been waiting for you.” In Kakheri, the news of Neetu and Dawinder’s disappearance broke with the sunrise. Neetu’s father—Gulzar Singh, known as Kala—walked around the village, crazed. With his wrestler’s physique and pencil-thin mustache, Kala looked like the villain from the Mahabharata, the Hindu epic in which each character is meant to embody a trait that is supremely good or evil. Sudesh Rani, Neetu’s mother, sat in her kitchen, sobbing. Friends gathered to commiserate: a runaway daughter was as good as dead.
‘What Are We Going to Do About Tyler?’ / ProPublica
During his childhood, Tyler had been found to be suffering from seven different mental disorders, the first diagnosis coming when he was just four years old; he had threatened to bomb his school; he had chased his two siblings with a knife trying to stab them; his family suspected that he’d strangled a cat to death with his bare hands; he’d been hospitalized on several occasions and later placed in a home for troubled boys. The local prosecutor joined the defense lawyer’s request for an evaluation, and Judge John A. Gregory immediately signed an order to have Tyler assessed at the state hospital in Whitfield to determine if Tyler had a factual and rational understanding of the legal proceeding against him, as well as whether, at the time of the non-fatal assault, he knew the “difference between right and wrong.” “It is therefore ordered and adjudged,” Gregory wrote on April 23, 2013, “that the defendant Tyler Douglas Haire be given a mental evaluation at the earliest possible date.” Tyler’s evaluation would not happen for three and a half years. During the 1,266 days Tyler spent in the Calhoun County jail before he received his evaluation, he was never once visited by a psychiatrist. He went without any of the multiple drugs he had taken as a boy. He received no educational instruction. His father, who’d had his own brushes with the law, had friends of his in jail with Tyler give the boy a beating for the trouble he’d caused his family. His mother came to see him when she could afford the gas money. Once Tyler was found naked in the woods after he ran off during a stint on a work detail. The sheriff and his deputies spent hours with Tyler, discussing television shows and listening to Tyler vent about the voices he heard. The officers took turns putting $25 a week in Tyler’s commissary account, and in return he’d color them pictures of dragons and aliens.
The Most Expensive Mile of Subway Track on Earth / New York Times
New York’s struggles come as transit construction is booming around the world. At least 150 projects have been initiated since 1990, according to a recent study by Yale University researcher David Schleicher. The approximate average cost of the projects — both in the U.S. and abroad — has been less than $500 million per track mile, the study concluded. “There was one glaring exception,” Mr. Schleicher said. “New York.” That exception has not gone unnoticed. The independent online journalist Alon Levy first noted the M.T.A’s high construction costs, and 28 City Council members urged officials to research the issue in October. Mr. Lhota responded by defending the costs. He said in a letter, “There are unique challenges that contribute to high construction costs in New York City in general, and for M.T.A. projects in particular.” [...] To evaluate those arguments, The Times brought the list to more than 50 contractors, many of whom had worked in New York as well as in other cities. The Times also interviewed nearly 100 current and former M.T.A. employees, reviewed internal project records, consulted industry price indexes and built a database to compare spending on specific items. And The Times observed construction on site in Paris, which is building a project similar to the Second Avenue subway at one-sixth the cost. [...] “Those sound like cop-outs,” said Rob Muley, an executive at the John Holland engineering firm who has worked in Hong Kong and Singapore and visited the East Side Access project, after hearing Mr. Lhota’s reasons. In Paris, which has famously powerful unions, the review found the lower costs were the result of efficient staffing, fierce vendor competition and scant use of consultants. In some ways, M.T.A. projects have been easier than work elsewhere. East Side Access uses an existing tunnel for nearly half its route. The hard rock under the city also is easy to blast through, and workers do not encounter ancient sites that need to be protected. “They’re claiming the age of the city is to blame?” asked Andy Mitchell, the former head of Crossrail, a project to build 13 miles of subway under the center of London, a city built 2,000 years ago. “Really?”
Kenji Dreams of Sausage / Grub Street
This past spring the cook and food writer J. Kenji López-Alt took the stage at Italy’s Teatro Scientifico del Bibiena, in the small city of Mantua, with sacrilege on the brain. López-Alt, known to his devotees simply as Kenji, is a soft-spoken 38-year-old partial to sandals and backyard woodworking, but his laid-back affect obscures a taste for provocation. Mantua is in Lombardy, the birthplace of risotto, and López-Alt, in town to speak at a food festival, had come to tell his audience that the way they’d always made the dish — a technique passed down by two centuries’ worth of beloved, rice-whispering nonnas — could stand some rejiggering. “Italians are the most emotional people in the world when it comes to their food,” López-Alt says. “So I knew I was in for some trouble.” Making risotto the time-honored way involves three basic steps: Sauté aromatics in fat, toast rice in that mixture, then stir in broth slowly so that the starch thickens to create a creamy sauce. The problem, López-Alt argued onstage, is that this method pits the dish against itself. If only you could prolong the grain-toasting stage, you’d get a huge enhancement of flavor — “a nutty-brown aroma, almost like toasted pine nuts” — but all that toasting would destroy your starches: no creaminess. So he proposed a workaround. Rinse your uncooked rice with broth first and set aside that starchy liquid; toast the rice like crazy; then stir the broth back in, reintroducing the starches you safeguarded in step one. “This way,” López-Alt explains, “you get creaminess and flavor.” Not everyone in the room saw it that way. When the post-talk Q&A began, a woman tried to ask López-Alt something about freezing basil. Suddenly, another woman cut her off and, in a stream of angry Italian, “told me I was disrespecting risotto and shitting on hundreds of years of tradition.” A stammering moderator managed to return the microphone to the frozen-basil lady. Then, perhaps fearing further revolt, he ended the session altogether. “It’s a very unorthodox way of approaching risotto,” López-Alt concedes.
----- 2 stars -----
Carnival Scam Science - And How to Win / YouTube
I collected data at the carnival for a full day. Then I used that information to figure out which games are the biggest scams using science to analyze them and show you how to beat them. I also figured out how much the carnival actually pays for the prizes so even if you win, you lose. And then I visited the carnival with my professional baseball playing buddy to dominate all the games. It worked well.
What If College Football Hadn’t Wasted Decades On Polls And Just Used A Stinking Playoff? / FiveThirtyEight
The benefits of a four-team bracket got us thinking: What if the current playoff structure had been in place before 2014? Who would likely have won the championship each year? (Would it have been different from the consensus champs of old?) And which schools would have gained — and lost — the most titles under a playoff system? Let’s answer those questions. [...] Next, we’ll need a way to play out the theoretical playoff games themselves. For that, we’ll use Elo, which provides a probabilistic forecast for any given game based on the two teams’ pregame ratings. In most cases, we’ll use each team’s pre-bowl Elo ratings to give us the chances of each team winning both its semifinal game and the championship game (conditional on making it that far). The only exception is when a slated matchup happened in a real-life bowl that season, in which case we’ll use the actual result for that semifinal or final matchup.
"I want it to stop" / Washington Post
It was then that Jessica noticed the messages he’d sent her earlier, when she’d been at school with her phone turned off. In one: “I’m just some kid who has major depression disorder and severe anxiety who’s probably bipolar too.” And after that: “Just look at the people that do stupid s--- like me and don’t follow in their footsteps.” And finally: “Emotions are only temporary. Don’t let it take over you like it did to me.” An hour later, Jessica heard something on TV that she didn’t want to believe. “The news is saying a 15 year old was shot and killed,” she messaged her best friend. “Please don’t be you. Please.” [...] Urbina contended that the officer, who didn’t respond to a request for comment, should have used a Taser or pepper spray to stop Ruben. His older boy, Oscar, agreed, but he also believed the encounter ended exactly the way his brother intended it to. Already, Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert had concluded the shooting was justified because, he said, Ruben “was ready, willing and able to inflict death or serious bodily harm upon the responding officers.” Ebert said he considered it a classic “suicide by cop,” the only one involving a juvenile he could remember in his 52-year career as a prosecutor.
----- 1 star -----
How did fans react to The Empire Strikes Back in 1980? / A Critical Hit!
Fan reaction to The Last Jedi has been mixed to say the least, but it’s not the first divisive film the Star Wars series has ever had. That honor goes to The Empire Strikes Back. Today the general consensus is that Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars movie. It has an audience score of 97% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 8.8/10 on IMDb, compared to A New Hope’s 96% and 8.7/10, respectively. These user scores weren’t generated until decades after the original trilogy was released, but it’s not like fan opinion could have shifted that much, right? What would fans have been saying on the internet in 1980?
The profane origins of 'Merry Christmas' / Los Angeles Times
It’s the most wonderful fight of the year: the annual tussle between Christians who bravely defend “Merry Christmas” and the godless liberals who want to impose “Happy Holidays” on all of us. Or so the story goes on talk radio. But while President Trump promises to restore “Merry Christmas” to American life, those who insist on using the phrase as a sort of flag for conservative Christian culture misunderstand its history. Rather than religious, its origins are secular and commercial, even profane. For most of its history, the Christian church regarded Christmas as a small event on its calendar not requiring much observation. Puritans in England and later the American colonies went one step further, banning the holiday altogether since they could find no biblical support for celebrating the day. As the historian Stephen Nissenbaum has explained, the Puritans imposed fines on anyone caught celebrating and designated Christmas as a working day. These strict rules were necessary since so many men and women engaged in the drunken carousing that accompanied winter solstice festivities, an ancient tradition that the church had failed to stamp out when it appropriated Dec. 25 as a Christian holiday. In this setting, “Merry Christmas” was born. The greeting was an act of revelry and religious rebellion, something the uncouth masses shouted as they traveled in drunken mobs.
A Chef Opens a Restaurant. His Training? Decades in a Prison Kitchen. / New York Times
Candido Ortiz claims he can cook anything: mashed potatoes and gravy, pernil guisado, chicken cacciatore. At his new restaurant here, El Sabor del Cafe, he will honor any request. Mr. Ortiz honed his cooking skills in an unusual setting — a federal prison, where he was incarcerated for 26 years 10 months 17 days, and where he was a chef for 24 of those years.
The Millionaire Makers: What happens when 100,000 people create their own lottery? / New Statesman
Millionaire Makers began in 2014, inspired by a comment on the site’s “shower thoughts” thread. “If a million of us picked a certain Redditor and all donated just $1, we would have the power to make someone a millionaire,” read the original post. Five days later, Millionaire Makers was born. The premise was simple: users leave a comment to enter (for free), a name is drawn randomly, and then everyone who entered donates a dollar to the winner. There have been 31 draws in the last three years but no one, as of yet, has been made a millionaire. The largest amount of cash ever won is just over $11,000 (£8,200), and the smallest just over $1,000 (£750).
People Are Taking Ubers to Avoid Ambulance Fees / Futurism
Using an ambulance to travel to the hospital in an emergency can cost upwards of $1,000 USD. Now research demonstrates that a significant number of people are instead choosing Uber to perform the same service. The paper – currently being peer reviewed – examines the effect on ambulance usage as Uber was introduced to 766 cities across 43 states. According its findings, even the most conservative estimate shows a seven percent reduction in people traveling via ambulance where the service is available.
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