----- 4 stars -----
Faith, Friendship, and Tragedy at Santa Fe High / Texas Monthly
An incredible and moving piece -- this will probably be one of the top three links I send out this year:
Sabika Sheikh, a Muslim exchange student from Pakistan with dreams of changing the world, struck up an unlikely friendship with an evangelical Christian girl. The two became inseparable—until the day a fellow student opened fire. [...] Santa Fe is a deeply conservative community. In 2000 the town attracted national attention when officials from the school district appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to defend their practice of conducting public prayers before football games. (They lost the case.) And the Cogburns are the town’s Brady Bunch. Every Sunday, Joleen and Jason take their children to Santa Fe Christian Church, which holds as a central tenet that the Bible is literally true. The affable Joleen, who grew up in Santa Fe, sometimes teaches a women’s Bible study class. On Friday nights, the equally good-natured Jason, a former high school quarterback from nearby Texas City who owns a wholesale seafood and crawfish company, would lead a recovery group for addicts and alcoholics. “We are Kingdom-minded,” Jason explained, brushing his shoulder-length blond hair out of his eyes as he took a seat at the table. “We like to tell our children that we live in this world but that we are not of this world.” Like all of the Cogburn children, Jaelyn, the oldest birth child, had been homeschooled by Joleen, who followed a Bible-based curriculum. Jaelyn was shy. Outside of her own siblings and a couple of girls from her church youth group, she mostly stayed to herself. But earlier that summer, she had surprised her parents, telling them that she wanted to meet new people. She said that God had “put it on my heart” to go to Santa Fe High. Joleen and Jason assumed that their daughter would have trouble adjusting to life at a public high school with 1,500 students. Instead, Jaelyn came home on that first day of school, a smile on her face, talking excitedly about meeting a girl from Pakistan. As Joleen began fixing dinner, Jaelyn retreated to her bedroom, where she kept five Bibles on her bookshelf. She googled Pakistan and learned that it is in South Asia, bordered on one side by India and China and on the other by Afghanistan and Iran. She also read that almost all of Pakistan’s 200 million residents are Muslim. Jaelyn returned downstairs, walked into the kitchen, and told Joleen that Sabika was likely a Muslim. “You know, Mom,” she said, “I’ve never met a Muslim.” “Well, maybe God has put you together for a reason,” Joleen said. “Who knows? Maybe the two of you will become friends.”
----- 3 stars -----
‘Either They Kill Us or We Kill Them’ / New York Times
In one of the deadliest cities in the world, an embattled group of young men had little but their tiny patch of turf — and they would die to protect it. Journalists from The New York Times spent weeks recording their struggle. [...] The shooter, an MS-13 gunman in a tank top and black baseball cap, stood calmly on the corner in broad daylight, the only person left on the commercial strip. He stuck the gun in his waistband and watched the neighborhood shake in terror. Bryan, Reinaldo and Franklin scrambled into a neighbor’s dirt yard, scattering chickens. In panicked whispers, they traded notes on the shooting, the third in less than a week. Only days earlier, a child had been hit in a similar attack. Bryan, 19, wondered what response the few young men still living in the neighborhood could muster, if any. Mara Salvatrucha, the gang known as MS-13, was coming for them almost every day now. It raided homes, deployed spies and taunted them with whistles at dusk, a constant reminder that the enemy was right around the corner, able to charge in at will. There was no avoiding it. The neighborhood, a patch of unpaved roads no bigger than a few soccer fields, was surrounded on all sides. To the east, near the Chinese takeout where the three friends used to splurge on fried rice, MS-13 was planning its takeover of the area. To the south, past the house repurposed as an evangelical church, the 18th Street gang was plotting to do the same. North and west were no better. Gangs lined those borders, too. In reality, not much differentiated the neighborhood where Bryan and his friends had grown up from the ones already controlled by gangs. There was a sameness to them — the concrete homes worn by age; the handcarts offering fried chicken and tortillas; the laborers trudging to work at sunrise, waiting for buses on busy corners. But for Franklin, whose family had been there for generations and who had a child of his own on the way, the neighborhood was his entire world. Reinaldo and Bryan felt the same way. Only bad options remained for them: stay and fight, abandon their homes and head elsewhere, maybe to the United States, or surrender and hope one of the invading gangs showed them mercy. All three had been members of the 18th Street gang, but were sickened by the cadence of murder, extortion and robbery of their neighbors, the people they had known all their lives. Seeking redemption, they kicked the gang out of the neighborhood, vowing never to allow another back in. Now, they were being hunted — by their former comrades in 18th Street, and by MS-13, which wanted their territory. And so the young men doubled down for their own protection, transforming back into the thing they hated most: a gang.
The price of plenty: how beef changed America / The Guardian
Armour and his critics could agree on this much: they lived in a world unimaginable 50 years before. In 1860, most cattle lived, died and were consumed within a few hundred miles’ radius. By 1906, an animal could be born in Texas, slaughtered in Chicago and eaten in New York. Americans rich and poor could expect to eat beef for dinner. The key aspects of modern beef production – highly centralised, meatpacker-dominated and low-cost – were all pioneered during that period. For Armour, cheap beef and a thriving centralised meatpacking industry were the consequence of emerging technologies such as the railroad and refrigeration coupled with the business acumen of a set of honest and hard-working men like his father, Philip Danforth Armour. According to critics, however, a capitalist cabal was exploiting technological change and government corruption to bankrupt traditional butchers, sell diseased meat and impoverish the worker. Ultimately, both views were correct. The national market for fresh beef was the culmination of a technological revolution, but it was also the result of collusion and predatory pricing. The industrial slaughterhouse was a triumph of human ingenuity as well as a site of brutal labour exploitation. Industrial beef production, with all its troubling costs and undeniable benefits, reflected seemingly contradictory realities. [...] Beef was a paradigmatic industry for the rise of modern industrial agriculture, or agribusiness. As much as a story of science or technology, modern agriculture is a compromise between the unpredictability of nature and the rationality of capital.
----- 2 stars -----
Hand dryers v paper towels: the surprisingly dirty fight for the right to dry your hands / The Guardian
Public bathrooms offer three primary options to dry a pair of wet hands. First, there is the venerable crisp-pleated paper towel. Second, the old-style warm-air dryer: those indestructible metal carapaces that, through their snouts, breathe down upon our hands. And finally, the jet dryer sub-species of the sort Dyson makes, whose gale-force winds promise to shear away every drop of moisture rather than slowly evaporating it. In the quest to dominate the world’s restrooms, Campbell discovered, Dryer v Towel is a pitched contest of business strategy and public relations. “Expect to be lied to a lot,” Campbell told me. “It’s almost like the cola wars. You have Pepsi v Coke, and you have hand dryers v paper towels.”
How a tiny endangered species put a man in prison / High Country News
The pupfish were among the first species to be protected under the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966 — along with the American alligator, the California condor and the blunt-nosed leopard lizard — and that protection was carried over to the Endangered Species Act of 1973. At the time, around 220 survived in Devils Hole, but since the 1990s, the species has been in significant decline, sinking to just 35 fish in 2013. Today, there are modest signs that the population is growing; the last population count was 136. The tiny fish has become an icon for those looking to protect endangered species and their habitat, but it’s a target of deep resentment in Nevada, and particularly in Nye County, where, according to critics, the interests of an obscure fish are pitted against the livelihood of local agricultural families. The issue has tested water rights in this arid part of the American West and raised questions about how far officials should go to save a handful of imperiled fish. The drunken invasion of its habitat in 2016 was not unprecedented: Dozens of trespasses have been documented throughout the decades. But such crimes are difficult to investigate and rarely prosecuted. This time, however, would be different.
The Most Valuable Company (for Now) Is Having a Nadellaissance / Bloomberg Businessweek
The congratulatory texts and tweets started the last week of November. Microsoft had overtaken Apple to become the world’s most valuable company, a stunning climax in a year that also saw it pass Amazon and Google’s Alphabet Inc. Longtime employees, who’d grown accustomed to thinking of Microsoft as far removed from its glory years, when it was run by Bill Gates and feared as the “Evil Empire,” were flooded with messages from friends and family. Yet not a word of this achievement was uttered when Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella gathered his senior staff for their weekly meeting that Friday. In an interview at Microsoft Corp. headquarters in Redmond, Wash., Nadella appears irritated by questions about the company’s ascendancy. “I would be disgusted if somebody ever celebrated our market cap,” he tells Bloomberg Businessweek. He insists the valuation—which passed $1 trillion on April 25 and is up more than 230 percent since his watch began in February 2014—is “not meaningful” and any rejoicing about such an arbitrary milestone would mark “the beginning of the end.” The no-nonsense rhetoric is part of his shtick. Nadella, a 51-year-old engineer with multiple degrees who grew up in Hyderabad, India, is known for his librarian’s temperament. “At Microsoft we have this very bad habit of not being able to push ourselves because we just feel very self-satisfied with the success we’ve had,” he says. “We’re learning how not to look at the past.” Even if it doesn’t last, Nadella’s turnaround over the five years since he replaced Steve Ballmer as CEO has been nothing short of historic. The company had been universally viewed as spiraling toward obsolescence, having missed almost every significant computing trend of the 2000s—mobile phones, search engines, social networking—while letting its main source of revenue, Windows, the operating system that comes preloaded on PCs, stagnate. Microsoft marketers like to attribute its reemergence as a tech power to a sort of cultural rehab, involving what Nadella calls corporate “empathy” and a shift of his team from a “fixed mindset” to a “growth mindset.” The reality of the company’s turnaround was more painful, according to interviews with more than four dozen current and former executives, board members, customers, and competitors.
Blow up: how half a tonne of cocaine transformed the life of an island / The Guardian
In 2001, a smugglers’ yacht washed up in the Azores and disgorged its contents. The island of São Miguel was quickly flooded with high-grade cocaine – and nearly 20 years on, it is still feeling the effects.
----- 1 star -----
You Are Not as Good at Kissing as You Think. But You Are Better at Dancing. / New York Times
Do you think you are an above-average driver, as most people do? How do you compare with others as a parent? Are you better than most at dancing? Where do you rank in your capability to save humanity? Many of you will answer these questions incorrectly. For some of these skills, you will think you are better than you actually are. For others, you will think you are worse. We have long known that, for particular skills, people tend to rate themselves imperfectly. In a famous study from 1981, researchers asked people to rate their driving ability. More than 90 percent considered themselves above average. Of course, some people who think they are above-average drivers really are. But the 90 percent statistic shows that many people inflate how they compare with others. By definition, only 50 percent of people can rate above the median. Similar results have been found in many other arenas. More than 90 percent of faculty members at one state university considered themselves above-average teachers. More than 30 percent of one company’s engineers rated themselves among the top 5 percent. Studies like these led social scientists to conclude that people systematically exaggerate their own capabilities, that they have what researchers call “illusory superiority.” But that’s not the whole story.
The Beautiful Emergent Architecture of Crystals / Kottke
Arctic is a new video from the Beauty of Science crew that reveals the beauty of crystal formation.
Why Berlin's 15 Year-Old Airport has Never Had a Flight / YouTube (Half as Interesting)
Here Grows New York City, a Time Lapse of NYC’s Street Grid from 1609 to the Present / Kottke
Using geological surveys, geo-referenced road network data, and historic maps drawn the from the collections of the Library of Congress and New York Public Library, Miles Zhang made this time lapse video of the development of the street grid of NYC from 1609 (when Henry Hudson first explored the area for the Dutch) to the present day.
Money lending and the origins of anti-Semitism / Marginal Revolution
The Catholic usury ban and higher literacy rates gave Jews a specific advantage in the moneylending sector. Following the Protestant Reformation (1517), the Jews lost these advantages in regions that became Protestant. We show (i) a change in the geography of anti-Semitism with persecutions of Jews and anti-Jewish publications becoming more common in Protestant areas relative to Catholic areas; (ii) a more pronounced change in cities where Jews had already established themselves as moneylenders.
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