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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Where The Death Penalty Still Lives, by Emily Bazelon, New York Times

What separates the 16 counties where the death penalty regularly endures from the rest of the country, where it is fading away? The 16 counties span seven states in the South and the West. They include major cities, like Los Angeles, Houston, Las Vegas and Phoenix; suburban areas like Orange County, Calif., and San Bernardino, Calif.; and semirural pockets like Mobile County, Ala., and Caddo Parish, La. Some are dominated by Demo­cratic voters, some are dominated by Republicans and a few are evenly split. Many of the counties have high numbers of murders, but so do plenty of other places that don’t use the death penalty.

Brandon Garrett, a law professor at the University of Virginia,along with a research team at Harvard Law School called theFair Punishment Project, has been trying to identify the factors that explain why certain counties still regularly impose capital punishment. They have been delving into the death-penalty records of the 16 counties and comparing them with those of other jurisdictions and have found three key features that often characterize the 16. “The people who get the death penalty tend to live in places with overaggressive prosecutors and defense lawyers who aren’t up to the task of defending against them — that’s a double whammy,” says Robert J. Smith, who directs the project. “Then in some places there’s a third element: a cultural legacy of racial bias and exclusion. It’s just not true that we execute the people who are the most culpable.”

Fear Of The Light: Why We Need Darkness, by Amanda Petrusich, The Guardian

I grew up in a small town in the Hudson River valley, about an hour north of New York City. Like most children, I regarded the night sky (or what I could see of it) with wonder. I understood that nobody could say for sure what was out there. Little kids are often frustrated by the smallness of their lives – as a child, you can conjure complex worlds, but in your own life, you are largely powerless to make moves. Looking up, the tininess I felt was confirmed, but it no longer felt like a liability. If the night sky offers us one thing, it is a liberating sense of ourselves in perspective, and of the many things we can neither comprehend nor control.

“I wish to know an entire heaven and an entire earth,” Henry David Thoreau wrote in 1856. He understood those worlds as separate, but in some essential conversation with each other – to receive one without the other was to misunderstand both. But what happens when mankind divorces itself from a true experience of the cosmos, separating from the vastness above, taming it by erasing it? How can we ever come to know a heaven we can barely see?

Sitting Up, by Witold Rybczynski, The Paris Review

We are good at walking and running, and we are happy lying down when we sleep. It is the in-between position that is the problem. This is true even if we sit on the ground—as attested by the variety of pads, bolsters, armrests, and cushions used by floor-sitting cultures. It is even truer when we choose to sit on a chair. Every chair represents a struggle to resolve the conflict between gravity and the human anatomy. Sitting up is always a challenge.

Why Read Novels?, by Elisa Gabbert, The Smart Set

This, I think, is why I read novels — not to experience life in this world in a different way or through a different medium, but to gain access to another world. Because the worlds of novels don’t just differ from my own life in the details; they are different from the actual world.

Doing Philosophy Better, by Jeanne-Marie Jackson, n+1

Whereas Naipauline scenes of abuse and erotic degradation bespeak a deeper misanthropy and resignation, Square Wave is ultimately a novel about the possibility of intellectual uplift in a self-consciously global context. Its social dystopianism, for De Silva, seems almost like window-dressing for a rare and moving faith in the power of the trained mind. In this way, De Silva emerges as a rare voice committed to mapping the many tones of a hostile world.

Homo Deus By Yuval Noah Harari Review – How Data Will Destroy Human Freedom, by David Runciman, The Guardian

At the heart of this spellbinding book is a simple but chilling idea: human nature will be transformed in the 21st century because intelligence is uncoupling from consciousness. We are not going to build machines any time soon that have feelings like we have feelings: that’s consciousness. Robots won’t be falling in love with each other (which doesn’t mean we are incapable of falling in love with robots). But we have already built machines – vast data-processing networks – that can know our feelings better than we know them ourselves: that’s intelligence.

The French Fries Had A Plan, by Dan Piepenbring, The Paris Review

Even with its abundant personification, it strikes me as a pretty literal-minded parable of class struggle. I imagine West seated in some vinyl booth with a McDonald’s feast spread before him, suddenly vivisected by paranoia. He’s realized what every Dollar Menu chump must, at some point: the fries 00do have a plan, and their plan is to make you eat them, and then to make you eat them again.

How A Mathematician Turned An Obscure Number Into A Scary Story, by Eric Grundhauser, Atlas Obscura

For those without the fortitude to stare directly at the infernal number, that’s a one, followed by 13 zeroes, followed by the traditional Number of the Beast, 666, followed by yet another 13 zeroes, and a trailing one.

Branded Newsstands, Bad Nachos, And The Evolution Of Airport Retail, by Ernie Smith, Atlas Obscura

As a guy who travels a few times a year and notices trends, I wanted to answer an important question for myself about airports: Why are the stores branded after TV news networks?