Sometimes a writer does a really amazing piece that makes me jealous. Other times they do a piece that just makes me want to give up. Every time I read Katherine Boo I'm just glad that I don't even attempt to do narrative writing. It would be embarrassing to have anything I write put up against her. This dispatch from a refugee center for Katrina victims is heart wrenching and does more than anything else to bring home the psychological dimensions of American urban poverty.
Tuesday, March 6
People know Krugman these days as a feisty political polemicist, but back when he was less politically engaged he was absolutely one of the very finest popularizers of economic ideas ever. This piece is a wonderful, brief introduction to the fundamental economic forces driving the world and a lot of my current thinking is preoccupied with the questions it raises. Reading it again, I realized that a point I like to make about the elevator being a great mass transit technology is almost certainly something I subconsciously picked up here.
Jane Jacobs has a somewhat ambiguous legacy—or at least one that's contested by different factions in the present-day debate over cities and urbanism—but to me her most important idea is encapsulated in the title and spirit of this piece. It's old and, I think, utterly prescient about what successive waves of planning fads miss. The purpose of urban space is for people to use it. A great place is a place where people want to be.
In an odd way, crime has fallen off the political landscape. To an extent it's been replaced on the agenda by concern about the dire consequences of mass incarceration. But violent crime itself remains a major area in which the United States lags behind other developed countries. To suggest that smarter management of the criminal justice system could make it less brutal while simultaneously creating large reductions in the quantity of crime sounds utopian. And yet the proposals for parole system reform found in this article are utterly convincing.
Monday, March 5
A profile of Suge Knight, 29 and the C.E.O. of Death Row Records, before the deaths of Tupac and Notorious B.I.G.
Dikembe Mutombo, humanitarian and former NBA center, and oil executive Kase Lawal arrange a ill-fated deal to buy $30 million in gold in Kenya.
What really happened between the plaintiffs in Lawrence vs. Texas, the case that ended anti-sodomy laws?
Sunday, March 4
The hunt for rare 1933 Double Eagle coins:
The U.S. Secret Service, responsible for protecting the nation’s currency, has been pursuing them for nearly 70 years, through 13 Administrations and 12 different directors. The investigation has spanned three continents and involved some of the most famous coin collectors in the world, a confidential informant, a playboy king, and a sting operation at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan. It has inspired two novels, two nonfiction books, and a television documentary. And much of it has centered around a coin dealer, dead since 1990, whose shop is still open in South Philadelphia, run by his 82-year-old daughter.
"I thought dying for your country was the worst thing that could happen to you, and I don't think it is. I think killing for your country can be a lot worse. Because that's the memory that haunts."
On February 25, 1969, Bob Kerrey led a raid into a Vietnamese peasant hamlet during which at least 13 unarmed women and children were killed.
Inside a restaurant lawsuit.
Michael Chow’s complaint, which sought $21 million in damages, alleged that the team behind Philippe, including chef Philippe Chau, restaurateur Stratis Morfogen (also behind the well-received Ciano) and several codefendants, appropriated the Satay recipe and 11 other Mr Chow standbys, the “modern” decor of Mr Chow’s restaurants and even the name Chow—thereby engaging in deceptive trade practices, swiping trade secrets and infringing on the Mr Chow trademark.
Saturday, March 3
An essay on craft, excerpted from Writing About Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities.