We enter March still 6 stories off the pace, but considering we started two weeks late, that’s no so bad.
If you missed January and February reading lists, check ’em out now. I’ve added gold stars next to the ones I liked the best. I also put together a quick list of some of my all-time favorite feature stories, in case you’re really desperate to get out of talking to your significant other while under house arrest. Got suggestions? Let me know in the comments. Always looking for more good reading material.
Anyway, on to March…
⭐ 55.) Miranda’s rebellion by Stephanie McCrummen in The Washington Post
I don’t have the proper words to explain how good this is, so let me leave it to my pal Tommy Tomlinson…
This story took my breath away in about eight different places. It treats everyone as human, embraces complication, and turns away from every easy answer. It’s damn near perfect. https://t.co/WObmdmA86o
— Tommy Tomlinson (@tommytomlinson) March 1, 2020
Seriously, it’s so good. Read it. Now.
56.) There’s an Entire Industry Dedicated to Making Foods Crispy, and It Is WILD by Alex Beggs in Bon Apetit
The Crunch Enhancer? Yeah, it’s a non-nutritive cereal varnish. It’s semi-permeable, it’s not osmotic. What it does is it coats and seals the flake and prevents the milk from penetrating it.
⭐ 57.) Wikipedia Is the Last Best Place on the Internet by Richard Cooke in Wired
This is something I think I’ve subconsciously considered often but never quite realized, that Wikipedia has blossomed into the antithesis of all the awfulness of the Internet, and this piece is wonderful in its appreciation.
58.) The Bible That Oozed Oil by Ruth Graham in Slate
The ending here — from both the author and some of those involved — seems to be “it’s all good if it brings people closer to God,” but I think it’s definitely way more complicated than that. This is another story of “people will believe anything if they REALLY want it to be true” type of piece, and that’s at the heart of so much that’s wrong with our country these days. I just think there’s something far more insidious about all this than just “ah, they meant well and no one got hurt” type of thing.
59.) Portugal’s radical drugs policy is working. Why hasn’t the world copied it? by Susana Ferreira in The Guardian
60.) The Full-Circle Journey of ‘Homer Simpson Backs Into the Bushes’ by Stefan Sirucek in Vulture
61.) The Great Model Train Robbery by Austin Carr in Bloomberg Businessweek
The story fizzles a bit toward the end. I thought there was an opportunity to spin a mystery into more of a profile of the main character, similar to what was done (less than perfectly) in this piece on buried treasure on the Oregon Coast. Still, the first 3/4 of this are just joyously fun and it contains, what I would suggest, is the most British quote ever included in a story.
“We were gobsmacked,” she says. “I can’t even remember cups of tea being made, because we were so in shock.”
And that’s not even mentioning the line: “We’ve been burgled!”
62.) Steve Miller cracked the code of 1970s radio. But he’s still raging against the music industry by Geoff Edgers in The Washington Post
Per the story, Steve Miller slaved over getting songs perfect.
To that, I say:
Billy Mack is a detective down in Texas
You know he knows just exactly what the facts is
He ain’t gonna let those two escape justice
He makes his livin’ off of the people’s taxes
63.) The Great Buenos Aires Bank Heist by Josh Dean in GQ
63.) Birmingham’s ‘Fifth Girl’ by Sydney Trent in The Washington Post
64.) It might not have mattered, but at least we had fun by David Simon in The Diamondback
An ode to the printed student newspaper from one of the best there ever was. This, right here, is the best journalism advice you’ll ever get…
The world will be the world. Corruptions may abide. Deceits may prevail. Reform may descend to farce. And the response to the best journalism might be for someone to rush into the breach and pass the worst law. All of that may be true, but in the end, I still get to come to the campfire and tell you a story. And if the story is true, if I know most of what I need to know and if I write it well enough, then, OK, the rest of you motherfuckers can never say you didn’t know. I’ll take that much and run with it.
65.) Tim Anderson Is Here to Save Baseball From Itselfby Tyler Kepner in The New York Times
66.) This backpack has it all: Kevlar, batteries, and a federal investigation by Ashley Carman in The Verge
67.) Suckers List: How Allstate’s Secret Auto Insurance Algorithm Squeezes Big Spenders by Maddy Varner and Aaron Sankin in The Markup
First, let me say this is terrific investigative reporting. This stuff is so complex and required so much groundwork in tracking down info from individual states, that it’s nearly mind-boggling.
On the actual subject matter though, I’m ambivalent. I agree this pricing model is problematic if our expectation is that we’re always charged based on a reasonable, actuarial assessment of risk, but do any of us actually think that? To me, it feels more like this plan is just a surcharge for laziness (of which I’m also a victim, certainly) that isn’t entirely different than all those FREE FOR THE FIRST 3 MONTHS! deals that rely on the customer simply maintaining the status quo.
Patty Born, a professor studying insurance regulation at Florida State University’s College of Business, doubts insurers will ever share enough information about their pricing models to allow customers to know if they’re overpaying. She said the only defense is to regularly check competitors’ rates.
Well, yeah. Doesn’t it seem a bit better to tell customers to price shop routinely — a process that’s made easier by sites that will do it for you! — than to require all this state and federal regulation? Rather than asking lawmakers to unravel a complex array of pricing models that they’re not equipped to understand, maybe just use NerdWallet or Compare or The Zebra or any of the other 149 million search results that popped up when I Googled “find cheapest car insurance.”
68.) The Trump Presidency Is Over by Peter Wehner in The Atlantic
The left seems certain, this time, that Trump is in over his head and everyone will realize it. I’ve found that your reaction to the Coronavirus has instead been every bit as politicized as everything else these days. If you’re a Republican, it’s all an overreaction and Trump is doing a fine job amidst alarmist chaos. If you’re a Democrat, it’s an earth-shaking event the likes of which we’ve not seen in a century, made all the worse by the people in charge. Trump fan or not, this to me is the ultimate failure of the current political climate — there is no truth, even when truth matters above all else.
69.) The Aesthetic Splendor of “The Simpsons” by Naomi Fry in The New Yorker
⭐70.) Garbage Language: Why do corporations speak the way they do? by Molly Young in Vulture
This is a terrific read, but alas, I’m afraid the corporate world has won. In the days of “Office Space,” we all reflexively agreed that this type of business babble was ridiculous and a sign of black heart (See: Lumberg, Bill), but these days, it’s just common language.
The piece did remind me, however, of one of my small joys in life. I used to get quite annoyed by Airport Business Guy. OK, in truth, he still annoys the hell out of me. He’s always on the phone until the minute the plane takes off, and he’s right back on it again when the wheels touch the ground, and ever word is excruciating. It’s all Garbage Language, which I’ve always assumed is designed to impress all his fellow travelers with jargon that simply screams: “Yes, I’m very important!”
But the more I’ve thought about Airport Business Guy over the years, the happier I am that he exists, because in him, I view a world I’ve managed to escape. Do I use Garbage Language at times? Well, when I feel it’s a value-add, I can certainly actuate a bit of directionality on that front. In reality though, my life is office-free, a fact that Airport Business Guy always reminds me of, and I’m forever appreciative.
71.) Coronavirus will radically alter the U.S. by William Wan, Joel Achenbach, Carolyn Y. Johnson and Ben Guarino in The Washington Post.
Perhaps the most sobering account I’ve read thus far of how bad things could get, and it gets at two really important things that I don’t think have been talked about enough: 1.) “Flattening the curve” doesn’t mean cutting down on the number of people who get it. It’s simply shifting the timeline for infection. And 2.) Health care is the absolute most important thing here in terms of survival.
In China, the fatality rate in Wuhan, the raging epicenter, was 5.8 percent. But in all other areas of the country it was 0.7 percent — a signal that most deaths were driven by an overwhelmed health system.
Bottom line is, many, many people will get this virus, but perhaps 8 times as many will die if we don’t ensure our heath care system can handle the sick.
72.) Anatomy of a Pandemic by Kevin Patterson in The Walrus
73.) Coronavirus and Chronopolitics by Gabriel Winant in NPlusOne
Good piece on the problems facing the medical field that unfortunately also has to wedge in a political diatribe about how wrong we all were for not voting for Bernie.
74.) I’m on the Front Lines. I Have No Plan for This.by Daniela J. Lamas in The New York Times
75.)“Everyone Knows a Leon”: The Freestyle Brilliance of J.B. Smoove, the Secret Weapon of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ by Jeff Weiss in The Ringer
On one hand, I really dislike the writing style at The Ringer. On the other hand, I absolutely love JB Smoove. So, on the whole, it’s still worth a read.
76.) The Myth of ‘Bloody Mary’ by Milan Solly in The Smithsonian Magazine
77.) The Killing of a Colorado Rancher by Rachel Monroe in The Atlantic
⭐78.) The coronavirus generation: We became parents of a baby boy in the cradle of a pandemic by Michael Graf in Charlotte Agenda
My buddy Michael is just a terrific essayist, and his account of what it’s like to be in the midst of the scariest and most eye-opening time in anyone’s life (bringing home a new child) during the scariest and most eye-opening time in recent history (the pandemic) is just fantastic.
⭐79.) The Accusations Were Lies. But Could We Prove It?by Sarah Viren in The New York Times
This is one of the most tensely written narratives I’ve read this year. It’s about a 45-minute read that felt like I finished in 5 minutes. Just a terrific first-person account that, in the end, became about something even bigger than the details of the actual narrative. One of my favorite reads of 2020 so far.
80.) The new coronavirus economy: A gigantic experiment reshaping how we work and live by Craig Timberg, Drew Harwell, Laura Reiley and Abha Bhattarai in The Washington Post
I think it’s almost impossible to understand now how much this catastrophic event in world history could change our futures. The ripple effects — not just on health and economy, but on culture in general — will be staggering.
81.) Inside the Pro-Trump Facebook Group Where First Responders Call Coronavirus a Hoax by Isaac Arnsdorf in ProPublica
82.) The Sedan Also Rises by David Frey in Narratively
I wish there was more depth to this story, but it has convinced me I want to read a good Hemingway biography. Any suggestions?
83.) Tom Perrotta’s ‘The Leftovers’ imagined 2 percent of the population disappearing. That could be our reality.by Ron Charles in The Washington Post
“The Leftovers” is one of the truly great TV shows of all time because it looks at the inverse of a catastrophe — not the 2% who died, but the 98% who survived. It’s a show about grief, and that’s part of the calculus that hasn’t been considered enough during this insane time we’re living through.
84.) A Different Kind of Theory of Everythingby Natalie Wolchover in The New Yorker
85.) He urged saving the economy over protecting those who are ‘not productive’ from the coronavirus. Then he faced America’s wrath.by Marc Fisher in The Washington Post
86.) The mother and the murderer by Gareth Evans in BBC News
87.) How China Built a Twitter Propaganda Machine Then Let It Loose on Coronavirus by Jeff Koa and Mia Shuang in ProPublica
88.) The Contrarian Coronavirus Theory That Informed the Trump Administration by Isaac Chotiner in The New Yorker
Hoo boy this is one heck of an interview. I think there’s ample room to question forecasting models, but it’s also critical to question the questioners, and this is just a terrific takedown.
89.) The History of Loneliness by Jill Lepore in The New Yorker
90.) This Is Not the Apocalypse You Were Looking For by Laurie Penny in Wired
We’re going to be inundated with “what did we learn” think pieces in the months and years to come, but I think this serves as a good starting point:
There’s an important difference between apocalypse and a catastrophe. A catastrophe is total devastation, with nothing left and nothing learned. “Apocalypse”—especially in the biblical sense—means a time of crisis and change, of hidden truths revealed. A time, quite literally, of revelation.
91.) Days After a Funeral in a Georgia Town, Coronavirus ‘Hit Like a Bomb’by Ellen Barry in The New York Times
Such a sad piece about a place I lived for two years. That the story shows such so many frustrations I saw there — a lack of effective government response, a gossip culture that pitted neighbors against one another — is not surprising though.