Our story picks of the week, featuring the Hollywood Reporter, New York magazine, Wired, Oxford American and the New York Review of Books, with a guest pick by Teddy Worcester.
A political history of Donald Rumsfeld, from the Nixon years to a war in Iraq that he promised would be over in months:
Rumsfeld would offer the “creative” plan for the Iraq invasion that his president had requested that tearful evening in September 2001, one that envisioned a relative handful of troops—150,000, fewer than half the number the elder Bush had assembled a decade before for the much less ambitious Desert Storm—and foresaw an invasion that would begin in shock and awe and an overwhelming rush to Baghdad. As for the occupation—well, if democracy were to come to Iraq it would be the Iraqis themselves who must build it. There would be no occupation, and thus no planning for it. Rumsfeld’s troops would be in and out in four months. As he told a then adoring press corps, “I don’t do quagmires.”
It did not turn out that way. Having watched from the Oval Office in 1975 the last torturous hours of the United States extracting itself from Vietnam—the helicopters fleeing the roof of the US embassy in Saigon—Rumsfeld would be condemned to thrash about in his self-made quagmire for almost four years, sinking ever deeper in the muck as nearly five thousand Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died. He was smart, brash, ambitious, experienced, skeptical of received wisdom, jealous of civilian control, self-searching, analytical, domineering, and he aimed at nothing less than to transform the American military. The parallels with McNamara are stunning.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 27, 2013
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5011 words)
Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger on what we’ve learned so far about the Edward Snowden leaks, our privacy, and the way our government, press and commercial Internet companies have handled it. In many cases, it can come down to people who aren’t quite sure what’s going on trusting the people who do know:
But I did have an interesting (unattributable, of course) briefing from someone very senior in one West Coast mega-corporation who conceded that neither he nor the CEO of his company had security clearance to know what arrangements his own organization had reached with the US government. “So, it’s like a company within a company?” I asked. He waved his hand dismissively: “I know the guy, I trust him.”
PUBLISHED: Oct. 30, 2013
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5084 words)
A look back, and ahead, at how the Internet is evolving to capture our data—and what organizations will do with it next:
"There is no doubt that the Internet—that undistinguished complex of wires and switches—has changed how we think and what we value and how we relate to one another, as it has made the world simultaneously smaller and wider. Online connectivity has spread throughout the world, bringing that world closer together, and with it the promise, if not to level the playing field between rich and poor, corporations and individuals, then to make it less uneven. There is so much that has been good—which is to say useful, entertaining, inspiring, informative, lucrative, fun—about the evolution of the World Wide Web that questions about equity and inequality may seem to be beside the point."
PUBLISHED: Oct. 22, 2013
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4244 words)
Zadie Smith on her father, mourning, and the gardens of Italy:
"There is a sentimental season, early on in the process of mourning, in which you believe that everything you happen to be doing or seeing or eating, the departed person would also have loved to do or see or eat, were he or she still here on earth. Harvey would have loved this fried ball of rice. He would have loved the Pantheon. He would have loved that Rossetti of a girl with her thick black brows.
"In the first season of mourning there is a tendency to overstate. But still I feel certain that this was the garden that would have made us both happy."
PUBLISHED: Oct. 19, 2013
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3738 words)
How Sara Josephine Baker revolutionized medical care through her work in the New York City Health Department in the early 20th Century. She chronicled her experiences in a memoir, Fighting for Life
"In her first year at the Bureau of Child Hygiene, Baker sent nurses to the most deadly ward on the Lower East Side. They were to visit every new mother within a day of delivery, encouraging exclusive breast-feeding, fresh air, and regular bathing, and discouraging hazardous practices such as feeding the baby beer or allowing him to play in the gutter. This advice was entirely conventional, but the results were extraordinary: that summer, 1,200 fewer children died in that district compared to the previous year; elsewhere in the city the death rate remained high. The home-visiting program was soon implemented citywide, and in 1910, a network of 'milk stations' staffed by nurses and doctors began offering regular baby examinations and safe formula for older children and the infants of women who couldn’t breast-feed. In just three years, the infant death rate in New York City fell by 40 percent, and in December 1911, The New York Times hailed the city as the healthiest in the world."
PUBLISHED: Sept. 29, 2013
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3502 words)
PUBLISHED: Sept. 13, 2013
Jellyfish are wreaking havoc on human inventions like nuclear power plans and aircraft carriers—and they're changing the ocean permanently, according to Lisa-ann Gershwin's book Stung!
"Japan’s nuclear power plants have been under attack by jellyfish since the 1960s, with up to 150 tons per day having to be removed from the cooling system of just one power plant. Nor has India been immune. At a nuclear power plant near Madras, workers removed and individually counted over four million jellyfish that had become trapped on screens placed over the entrances to cooling pipes between February and April 1989. That’s around eighty tons of jellyfish.
"As Gershwin says, 'Jellyfish have an uncanny knack for getting stuck…. Imagine a piece of thin, flexible plastic wrapper in a pool, where it can drift almost forever without sinking, until it gets sucked against the outflow mesh.' Chemical repellents don’t work, nor do electric shocks, or bubble curtains, or acoustic deterrents. In fact even killing the jellyfish won’t work as, dead or alive, they still tend to be sucked in. And everyone from concerned admirals to the owners of power plants that lose millions of dollars with each shutdown have tried very hard to deter them."
PUBLISHED: Sept. 7, 2013
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3791 words)
In 1862, the Prince of Wales and future King Edward VII fled a sex scandal and took a trip to the Middle East. At the last minute, he was joined by a photographer named Francis Bedford, who proceeded to capture some of the earliest images of the Egyptian ruins. His work is featured in the new book Cairo to Constantinople
"The royal journey’s motive, too, may have been more complex than suggested. Ostensibly it was a private, informal expedition. It was urged by Queen Victoria for her son’s education (pretty much a lost cause, according to his guardian) and she ordered that the Prince go incognito, with no ceremonial encounters. But the itinerary seems to have been planned above all by the Prince Consort Albert, as a diplomatic initiation for the young man and to foster goodwill."
PUBLISHED: July 6, 2013
LENGTH: 6 minutes (1646 words)