Links

----- 4 stars -----

A Million People Are Jailed at China's Gulags. I Managed to Escape. Here's What Really Goes on Inside / Haaretz
I rarely send out four-star articles, and they're typically (what I consider to be) superb pieces of writing. This one isn't quite that, and it's possible Haaretz will ask for your e-mail address to ungate this...but it's also an important and horrifying account that doesn't seem to be getting enough attention:

Twenty prisoners live in one small room. They are handcuffed, their heads shaved, every move is monitored by ceiling cameras. A bucket in the corner of the room is their toilet. The daily routine begins at 6 A.M. They are learning Chinese, memorizing propaganda songs and confessing to invented sins. They range in age from teenagers to elderly. Their meals are meager: cloudy soup and a slice of bread. Torture – metal nails, fingernails pulled out, electric shocks – takes place in the “black room.” Punishment is a constant. The prisoners are forced to take pills and get injections. It’s for disease prevention, the staff tell them, but in reality they are the human subjects of medical experiments. Many of the inmates suffer from cognitive decline. Some of the men become sterile. Women are routinely raped. Such is life in China’s reeducation camps, as reported in rare testimony provided by Sayragul Sauytbay (pronounced: Say-ra-gul Saut-bay, as in “bye”), a teacher who escaped from China and was granted asylum in Sweden. Few prisoners have succeeded in getting out of the camps and telling their story. Sauytbay’s testimony is even more extraordinary, because during her incarceration she was compelled to be a teacher in the camp. China wants to market its camps to the world as places of educational programs and vocational retraining, but Sauytbay is one of the few people who can offer credible, firsthand testimony about what really goes on in the camps. [...] Much of what she said corroborated previous testimony by prisoners who had fled to the West. [...] A large number of camps have been established in that region over the past two years, as part of the regime’s struggle against what it terms the “Three Evils”: terrorism, separatism and extremism. According to Western estimates, between one and two million of the province’s residents have been incarcerated in camps during Beijing’s campaign of oppression.

http://bit.ly/31T1Eau


The Legend of John Arthur, the Toughest Man in America / Men's Journal
(For those of you in Europe, this won't work without a VPN connection outside the GDPR zone...)

John Arthur has been shot, stabbed, fought in mob-run deathmatches. He’s arrested and killed some of America’s worst criminals as an undercover agent. And now he’s finally coming clean. [...] Of all the faded legends at Legends, though, no one has a larger reputation than Arthur. It’s an incredible feat, considering he never competed regularly in the United States as a pro boxer or kickboxer. His bona fides come solely from his years in the illegal bare-knuckle arena and working in law enforcement—not to mention fifty years of black-belt-level experience in American Karate, Tae Kwon Do, and the ancient Greek martial art Pankration. “Most managers don’t know how to fight, but have you seen John’s scars? I’ve seen him do stuff no one else knows how to do,” Blanks says. “I mean, he’s fought to the death in overseas matches.” Magnus puts it another way. “If John and I were facing off, I think I would just shoot him,” he says. “And hope I don’t miss.” Brown-eyed with a trim mustache and black tracksuit, Arthur has become a legend in the boxing world for training the hotheads no one else can handle and transforming them into champions. In the ’80s, he coached Michael Nunn, a volatile middleweight, taking him from drug dens to Caesars Palace. “A street guy,” Arthur recalls. “I had to break into the damn ghetto just to get him so we could go work out.” In the ’90s, Arthur took on Lakva Sim, an unruly featherweight from Mongolia, leading the 5’7″ puncher to a world title. “Ornery little bastard who loved to drink and cuss out promoters,” he says. Most famously, Arthur revived the career of James Toney, a world-champion heavyweight who once threatened to pull a gun on his own manager, scaring off everyone in the business—until Arthur donned gloves and entered the ring with Toney himself, sparring daily with the 5’9″, 220-pound behemoth until he brought him back to form. “He’s Superman,” Toney says of Arthur. “I was young and wild and crazy, and he stayed on top of me. He’s different. I mean, he’s shot and killed people. I seen his gunshot wounds—you won’t see that with no other manager.” [...] When I cold-called Arthur, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I encountered the last thing I had anticipated: relief. “Funny you should call,” he said, sighing. “For the longest time, I didn’t want to talk about this stuff. But now I’m nearing 70 and want to leave something for my grandkids. Where should I begin?” Over the next two years, in face-to-face interviews and endless phone calls, Arthur began to spin an incredible tale—so implausible, in fact, that I soon began reaching out to well over a dozen former fighters, co-workers, and family members to confirm his stories, every one of them only enriching his saga. “I should’ve been dead many times,” Arthur says, heading back to the ring in his gym. “Being where I’m from, I’ve had to have balls of steel.”

http://bit.ly/32Siurw


----- 3 stars -----

Inside TurboTax’s 20-Year Fight to Stop Americans From Filing Their Taxes for Free / Pro Publica

By 2019, nearly 40% of U.S. taxpayers filed online and some 40 million of them did so with TurboTax, far more than with any other product. But the success of TurboTax rests on a shaky foundation, one that could collapse overnight if the U.S. government did what most wealthy countries did long ago and made tax filing simple and free for most citizens. For more than 20 years, Intuit has waged a sophisticated, sometimes covert war to prevent the government from doing just that, according to internal company and IRS documents and interviews with insiders. The company unleashed a battalion of lobbyists and hired top officials from the agency that regulates it. From the beginning, Intuit recognized that its success depended on two parallel missions: stoking innovation in Silicon Valley while stifling it in Washington. Indeed, employees ruefully joke that the company’s motto should actually be “compromise without integrity.” Internal presentations lay out company tactics for fighting “encroachment,” Intuit’s catchall term for any government initiative to make filing taxes easier — such as creating a free government filing system or pre-filling people’s returns with payroll or other data the IRS already has. “For a decade proposals have sought to create IRS tax software or a ReturnFree Tax System; All were stopped,” reads a confidential 2007 PowerPoint presentation from an Intuit board of directors meeting.

http://bit.ly/32RHX4n


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The 2010s Broke Our Sense Of Time / BuzzFeed

You know those little cartoons of a city, where a guy in a beret with a poodle is walking past a baguette-carrying chef in front of a pencil drawing of the Eiffel Tower? Here in Brooklyn, the tall, thin women in silver Birkenstocks pass by groups of two German tourists and three Chinese tourists. “Car coming!” a man shouted every few minutes one night; a Carvel ice cream truck would inch by, followed by a silver Mercedes G-Class, all while the Q train blared overhead as the metal subway cars crossed the steel bridge. Here a couple would pose in black tie; there some teens would be texting on the curb. Here a black Range Rover; there a guy in shorts with an ice cream cone. A shirtless rollerblader would weave through the groups of women in dresses, crowded around a phone. “That’s a fine shot!” one bridesmaid lovingly called to a bride — who stood without the bridge in the background. “That’s a fine shot!” None of this — the intersection of a hundred lives in one place, your own Instagram feed crashing into someone else’s — could have happened 10 years ago. This long and wearying decade is coming to a close, though, even if there’s no sense of an ending. People are always saying stuff like: Time has melted; my brain has melted; Donald Trump has melted my brain; I can’t remember if that was two weeks ago or two months ago or two years ago; what a year this week has been.

http://bit.ly/32SoVea


The Liberation of Mitt Romney / The Atlantic

What set him off was my recitation of an argument I’ve heard some Republicans deploy lately to excuse Trump’s behavior. Electing a president, the argument goes, is like hiring a plumber—you don’t care about his character, you just want him to get the job done. Sitting in his Senate office, Romney is indignant. “Are you worried that your plumber overcharges you?” he asks. “Are you worried that the plumber’s going to scream at your kids? Are you worried that the plumber is going to squeal out of your driveway?” I am playing devil’s advocate; he is attempting an exorcism. To Romney, Trump’s performance as president is inextricably tangled up in his character. “Berating another person, or calling them names, or demeaning a class of people, not telling the truth—those are not private things,” he says, adding: “If during the campaign you pay a porn star $130,000, that now comes into the public domain.” At this, Romney glances over at two of his aides who are watching silently from the other end of the room, and grins. “They’re going, Oh gosh, shut up.” I’ve spent the past several months in an ongoing conversation with Romney as he’s navigated a Washington that grows more hostile by the day. Before arriving in the Senate, Romney nurtured a pleasant delusion that he could somehow avoid being defined by his relationship with Trump. He had his own policy agenda to advance, his own vision for the future of the Republican Party. He would use his platform to take a stand against Trumpism, while largely ignoring Trump himself. When I would speak with his friends and allies in Utah during last year’s campaign, there was often a certain dilettantish quality in the future Senator Romney they envisioned—a venerable elder statesman dabbling in legislation the way a retiree takes up tennis. Instead, Romney has emerged as an outspoken dissident in Trump’s Republican Party. In just the past few weeks, he has denounced the president’s attempts to solicit dirt on political rivals from foreign governments as “wrong and appalling”; suggested that his fellow Republicans are looking the other way out of a desire for power; and condemned Trump’s troop withdrawal in Syria as a “bloodstain on the annals of American history.”

http://bit.ly/2Wixcpf


After the rescue / San Francisco Chronicle

It wasn’t the two hours that San Francisco firefighter Gerry Shannon spent working a chain saw under a collapsed Marina district building that got to him. It was the five minutes he spent lying there while a colleague replaced his blade. Shannon was on his back in the claustrophobic crawl space, no more than 2 feet high. He could see the glow of approaching fire. He pictured the fire chief ringing the doorbell of his home to inform his wife, Deidre, that her husband had died while trying to rescue a woman trapped in her apartment after the Loma Prieta earthquake. He pictured Deidre giving the news to their three kids. “Those five minutes changed my thinking,” Shannon, 74, says now in a voice becalmed by his daily 40 minutes of meditation. “They talk about time standing still. It did.” It is a common story among people who have faced a life-threatening situation — the promise that if they survive, they will mend their ways and stop wasting time or taking life and family for granted. These vows are often forgotten as soon as the danger is lifted, and Shannon was tempted to go back to his life in the Irish bars of the Sunset District, where he grew up. He was now a hero with a rescue story that had spread nationwide. He had earned the San Francisco Fire Department’s highest medal for valor. Drinks would be on the house for a long time. But he never went back on the vow to pursue enlightenment that he made under that building the evening of Oct. 17, 1989. He has spent 30 years on a spiritual quest that has taken the fourth-generation city boy out of his element and out of the country. “It was a life-changing day,” he says, “and I survived it.”

http://bit.ly/2BQ1gPM


The newest gene editor radically improves on CRISPR / MIT Technology Review

Today, in the latest—and possibly most important—of recent improvements to CRISPR technology, Liu is introducing “prime editing,” a molecular gadget he says can rewrite any type of genetic error without actually severing the DNA strand, as CRISPR does. The new technology uses an engineered protein that, according to a report by Liu and 10 others today in the journal Nature, can transform any single DNA letter into any other, as well as add or delete longer stretches. In fact, Liu claims it’s capable of repairing nearly any of the 75,000 known mutations that cause inherited disease in humans.

http://bit.ly/368mciI


Indian Economic Reform: Much More Than You Wanted To Know

I was vaguely aware that India had done relatively well, but I didn’t grasp the scale. This should be up there with the rise of China as one of the most important (and most encouraging) news stories of my lifetime. And if it was really due to the 1991 reforms, they should go down alongside Deng Xiaoping’s liberalization of China as one of the century’s great achievements. Looking into it further, the progress against poverty is on firm ground, but the attribution to the 1991 reforms is controversial.

http://bit.ly/31O52Uk


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Behold Our Dazzling Night Sky When the Milky Way Collides with Andromeda in 4 Billion Years / Kottke

Wow! So what’s going on here? Using data from the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers at NASA have predicted that our own Milky Way galaxy and the nearby Andromeda galaxy (M31) will collide about 4 billion years from now. As part of the announcement from 2012, they produced a video of what the collision would look like and a series of illustrations of what our sky will look like during the collision process.

http://bit.ly/2MTByAe


Are intuitions about occupational licensing and minimum wages consistent? / Marginal Revolution

Now, if you believe minimum wage hikes don’t much harm employment, you believe the demand for labor is relatively inelastic. And if you believe the demand for labor is inelastic, the burden of the training costs for licensing fall on the employer, not the worker. Taxes fall on the inelastic side of the market. Now, you’ve already assented to: “A 20 percent training surcharge on all worker hires will not much damage employment, if at all.” So the occupational licensing should not much damage employment either. The employer simply picks up the tab, albeit grudgingly.

http://bit.ly/369KlFI


These Photos From A Muddy 49ers-Skins Game Are So Good / Deadspin

From the dry warmth of my living room, muddy football rules. It feels like a throwback, tickling some atavistic nerve that desires to see the game as messy as it can possibly be. These photos do a great job of capturing that, especially the shots of 49ers guard Mike Person looking like a mud-splattered Viking berserker defending Stamford Bridge.

http://bit.ly/2PnFkDq


At MIT, a rancid 25-year-old milk carton is fetid and famous / Boston Globe

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is known the world over for life-changing scientific breakthroughs and research that have earned major awards and honors: 77 MacArthur grants, 203 Guggenheim fellowships, a half-dozen Pulitzers. And then there’s “the Milk.” On MIT’s list of accolades, you won’t find any reference to the rancid and discolored carton of dairy that for 25 years has festered and rotted in the school’s Random Hall residence. But like mold, the Milk’s legendary status has grown over the years, curdling into campus culture and unifying generations of students.

http://bit.ly/2BPC1wY


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