The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

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Below, our favorite stories of the week. Kindle and Readmill users, you can also get them as a Readlist.

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1. Is There Hope for the Survivors of the Drug Wars?

Monica Potts | American Prospect | March 24, 2014 | 32 minutes (8,059 words)

Men from Baltimore’s poor neighborhoods are turning to a family and job training center to keep themselves off the street dealing drugs and rebuild their lives after spending time in jail:

The men are what policymakers euphemistically call a challenging population: Lacking high-school education or formal work experience, they’re the most likely of any group in America to die young and to die from violence. Most of their life experience, the skills that have helped them survive the streets or prison, works against them in the legal world. The biggest problem the center has spent 15 years trying to solve isn’t how to get these guys jobs, or how to encourage them to be more involved in their children’s lives, or how make the streets safer, though those are tough enough. The problem is more profound: How do you give these survivors of the drug wars, men who are criminalized and discarded by society, who are at the bottom of every statistic, hope?

See also: “The Weeklies” (March 2013)

 

2. The Brutal Ageism of Tech

Noam Scheiber | The New Republic | March 23, 2014 | 28 minutes (7,020 words)

Scheiber meets founders and VCs who are fighting back against age bias in Silicon Valley:

Silicon Valley has become one of the most ageist places in America. Tech luminaries who otherwise pride themselves on their dedication to meritocracy don’t think twice about deriding the not-actually-old. “Young people are just smarter,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told an audience at Stanford back in 2007. As I write, the website of ServiceNow, a large Santa Clara–based I.T. services company, features the following advisory in large letters atop its “careers” page: “We Want People Who Have Their Best Work Ahead of Them, Not Behind Them.”

And that’s just what gets said in public. An engineer in his forties recently told me about meeting a tech CEO who was trying to acquire his company. “You must be the token graybeard,” said the CEO, who was in his late twenties or early thirties. “I looked at him and said, ‘No, I’m the token grown-up.’ ”

See also: “Silicon Chasm” (Charlotte Allen, Weekly Standard, Nov. 2013)

 

3. The Interpreters We Left Behind

Paul Solotaroff | Men’s Journal | March 27, 2014 | 21 minutes (5,297 words)

The difficult process of finding asylum for fixers, translators and other allies in Iraq and Afghanistan whose lives are now threatened for working with the U.S.:

“We were told it would take a while, but it’s been more than three years, and we can’t even get an update on his status,” says Kinsella, a Princeton grad who’s now at Berkeley Law School, preparing to become a Marine judge advocate. He decided to be a lawyer after his 2010 Afghan tour, at least partly to guide Mohammad and others like him through the visa process, which he describes as Kafkaesque. “First, ‘terps need a mentor, an officer they work for, to go out and spend months getting letters of recommendation, and logging every death threat they get,” Kinsella says. Then, if the officer is still in-country when the application is completed, they need him to bird-dog its progress at the embassy, lest it languish on someone’s desk or be dismissed by one of the clerks. If it passes muster there, it goes to Washington, D.C., for a months-long crawl at the National Visa Center, then an endless and redundant series of background checks by the CIA, FBI, and Department of Homeland Security, any of which can, and do, spike the application for a misspelled name or wrong date. When, or if, it finally runs the gauntlet there, it bounces back to Kabul for further review, including cross-examinations of the applicant and his family. “It’s completely insane – these guys get constantly vetted while they’re working for us,” says Kinsella. “They’re given counter-intelligence tests every few months to keep their security clearance. Also, they’ve had years to kill Americans on base, and not one of them ever has.”

See also: “The List” (Kirk Johnson, Guernica, Aug. 2013)

 

4. Sinkhole of Bureaucracy

David A. Fahrenthold | Washington Post | March 22, 2014 | 12 minutes (3,085 words)

In an old Pennsylvania limestone mine in the town of Boyers, 600 federal employees are still processing paperwork by hand. A look at why the Office of Personnel Management has failed to digitize:

During the past 30 years, administrations have spent more than $100 million trying to automate the old-fashioned process in the mine and make it run at the speed of computers.

They couldn’t.

So now the mine continues to run at the speed of human fingers and feet. That failure imposes costs on federal retirees, who have to wait months for their full benefit checks. And it has imposed costs on the taxpayer: The Obama administration has now made the mine run faster, but mainly by paying for more fingers and feet.

The staff working in the mine has increased by at least 200 people in the past five years. And the cost of processing each claim has increased from $82 to $108, as total spending on the retirement system reached $55.8 million.

See also: “Unfit for Work” (Chana Joffe-Walt, Planet Money, March 2013)

 

5. On the Trail of a Silver Thief

Kim Severson | Garden & Gun | March 23, 2014 | 16 minutes (4,055 words)

He ransacked the homes of America’s most wealthy families, stealing centuries-old heirlooms and sending them to the smelter:

The thief set the old window glass carefully against the side of the house and hoisted his body through the small hole. He had chosen only two rooms to rob. Crossing the hall into a living room, with pieces of silver on top of the baby grand and the bookshelves, could have set off the motion detectors. Still, the damage was devastating. He got the julep cups, three silver pitchers, and countless silver trays. Gone, too, were 150 pieces of Mary’s favorite flatware. Like so many Southern women
 of a certain generation, Mary was deeply attached to the spoons and forks that marked her table at dinner parties and holiday gatherings. What was on your table said everything about you.

See also: “Into the Pines” (Patrick Michels, Texas Observer, Feb. 2014)

 
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Photo by Jamelle Bouie

The staff of Longreads.
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