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    The best writing of the week, December 15

    The best writing of the week, December 15


    Your Sunday reading

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    read lead 1020

    We all know the feeling. You're sleepless in the sad hours of the night or stumbling around early on a hazy weekend morning in need of something to read, and that pile of unread books just isn't cutting it. Why not take a break from the fire hose of Twitter and RSS and check out our weekly roundup of essential writing from around the web about technology, culture, media, and the future? Sure, it's one more thing you can feel guilty about sitting in your Instapaper queue, but it's better than pulling in vain on your Twitter list again.

    Grab the entire list as a Readlist.

    On the intelligence community

    Ryan Lizza covers nearly two decades of domestic spying developments and Senator Ron Wyden's battles with the NSA.

    The New Yorker: Ryan Lizza - State of Deception

    Wyden, who said that he has had “several spirited discussions” with Obama, is not optimistic. “It really seems like General Clapper, the intelligence leadership, and the lawyers drive this in terms of how decisions get made at the White House,” he told me. It is evident from the Snowden leaks that Obama inherited a regime of dragnet surveillance that often operated outside the law and raised serious constitutional questions. Instead of shutting down or scaling back the programs, Obama has worked to bring them into narrow compliance with rules—set forth by a court that operates in secret—that often contradict the views on surveillance that he strongly expressed when he was a senator and a Presidential candidate.On Marissa Mayer

    Bethany McLean teases apart the mythology and reality of Marissa Mayer and her work to turn around Yahoo.

    Vanity Fair: Bethany McLean - Yahoo's Geek Goddess

    In her first year, Mayer has made believers of some skeptics. She took Yahoo by storm. Another way of thinking about it is that she Googlized Yahoo. She got rid of the BlackBerrys, replacing them with iPhones and Androids. She started providing employees with free food, like every other Valley company. She instituted a process to allow employees to complain about bureaucracy. She started holding Friday-afternoon meetings called F.Y.I.’s, in which employees can ask whatever questions they choose of her and other executives.On Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden

    Janet Reitman profiles Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden and the story behind the leaks.

    Rolling Stone: Janet Reitmman - Snowden and Greenwald: The Men Who Leaked the Secret

    Soon, thanks to this influx of money and the increasing reliance on the private sector to handle even sensitive jobs, the very heart of America's intelligence infrastructure was being outsourced to contractors. "Essentially, 9/11 was a massive jobs program, in which the ticket you needed for the party was your clearance," says Drake. "And tons of people were getting those clearances. So you had this huge apparatus being built, and the government was just managing it. And in some cases, they weren't even doing that."On drones

    William T. Vollman writes about security, freedom, privacy, and the surveillance state.

    Foreign Policy: William T. Vollman - Machines of Loving Grace

    Surveillance ebecomes more odious to the surveilled as it is coupled with secrecy. An absolutely open society, in which we could watch each other at any time, might be beautiful in its own way, but it would certainly be alien to us. A society in which the surveilled are kept ignorant of the watching, the state that our security apparatus appears to be striving for -- one reason it expressed so much fury when leaker Edward Snowden exposed its activities -- would be the other extreme. As I have said, it is not a society in which I would like to live.On lobotomies

    An investigation by The Wall Street Journal reveals thousands of soldiers were lobotomized during and after World War II. The multi-part report includes a video documentary on a surviving veteran and

    The Wall Street Journal: The Lobotomy files

    Besieged by psychologically damaged troops returning from the battlefields of North Africa, Europe and the Pacific, the Veterans Administration performed the brain-altering operation on former servicemen it diagnosed as depressives, psychotics and schizophrenics, and occasionally on people identified as homosexuals.On Chernobyl

    Kyle Hill writes about the terrifying legacy of Chernobyl and the still dangerous hardened radioactive mass dubbed the Elephant's Foot.

    Nautilus: Kyle Hill - Chernobyl’s Hot Mess, “the Elephant’s Foot,” Is Still Lethal

    After just 30 seconds of exposure, dizziness and fatigue will find you a week later. Two minutes of exposure and your cells will soon begin to hemorrhage; four minutes: vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. 300 seconds and you have two days to live.
    By the fall of 1986, the emergency crews fighting to contain the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl made it into a steam corridor beneath failed reactor Number 4. Inside this chamber they found black lava that had oozed straight from the core.On Google Maps

    Adam Fisher meets Google's Luc Vincent, the leader of Google's mapping efforts, and explores the past, present, and future of the digital mapping industry.

    The New York Times: Adam Fisher - Google’s Road Map to Global Domination

    A Frenchman who has lived half his 49 years in the United States, Vincent was never in the Marines. But he is a leader in a new great game: the Internet land grab, which can be reduced to three key battles over three key conceptual territories. What came first, conquered by Google’s superior search algorithms. Who was next, and Facebook was the victor. But where, arguably the biggest prize of all, has yet to be completely won.On Square

    Kyle VanHamert talks to Square's VP of Hardware Jesse Dorogusker and takes a fascinating look inside the design and assembly of Square's tiny new Reader.

    Wired: Kyle VanHemert - How Apple’s Lightning-Plug Guru Reinvented Square’s Card Reader

    By tweaking the design of the spring to which the magnetic read head was attached, the team was able to fine-tune the friction customers feel when swiping their card. At one point in development, they found that the level of contact they needed to successfully transfer data from a card resulted in a swipe that felt too loose. And when the swipe felt too loose, it felt like it wasn’t working, and would thus require another swipe. So they increased the friction above what was actually needed–an adjustment that was overkill from a technical point of view but resulted in a swipe that felt perfect to the hand.For more great longreads, visit our friends at Longreads.

    Have any favorites that you'd like to see included in next week's edition? Send them along to @thomashouston or share in the comments below.