Do We Really Want to Live Without the Post Office?

> The postal service is not a federal agency. It does not cost taxpayers a dollar. It loses money only because Congress mandates that it do so. What it is is a miracle of high technology and human touch. It’s what binds us together as a country.

The Bookstore Strikes Back

You may have heard the news that the independent bookstore is dead, that books are dead, that maybe even reading is dead—to which I say: Pull up a chair, friend. I have a story to tell.

What Happens Now That the War on Drugs Has Failed?

These votes suggest what may be a spreading, geographic Humboldt of the mind, in which the liberties of pot in far-northern California, and the unusually ambiguous legal regime there, metastasize around the country. If you live in Seattle and sell licensed marijuana, your operation could be perfectly legal from the perspective of the state government and committing a federal crime at the same time. It is hard to detect much political enthusiasm for a federal pot crackdown, but the complexities that come with these new laws may be hard for Washington to simply ignore. What happens, for instance, when a New York dealer secures a license and a storefront in Denver, and then illegally ships the weed back home? Economists who have studied these questions thoroughly say that they can’t rule out a scenario in which little changes in the consumption of pot—the same people will smoke who always have. But they also can’t rule out a scenario in which consumption doubles, or more than doubles, and pot is not so much less prevalent than alcohol.

Last Call

The United States, although no stranger to alcohol abuse problems, is in comparatively better shape. A third of the country does not drink, and teenage drinking is at a historic low. The rate of alcohol use among seniors in high school has fallen 25 percentage points since 1980. Glassing is something that happens in movies, not at the corner bar.

Why has the United States, so similar to Great Britain in everything from language to pop culture trends, managed to avoid the huge spike of alcohol abuse that has gripped the UK? The reasons are many, but one stands out above all: the market in Great Britain is rigged to foster excessive alcohol consumption in ways it is not in the United States—at least not yet.

They Cracked This 250-Year-Old Code, and Found a Secret Society Inside

It was actually an accident that brought to light the symbolic “sight-restoring” ritual. The decoding effort started as a sort of game between two friends that eventually engulfed a team of experts in disciplines ranging from machine translation to intellectual history. Its significance goes far beyond the contents of a single cipher. Hidden within coded monuscripts like these is a secret history of how esoteric, often radical notions of science, politics, and religion spread underground. At least that’s what experts believe. The only way to know for sure is to break the codes.

In this case, as it happens, the cracking began in a restaurant in Germany.

North Korea Won’t Be Liberated in a Day

North Korea’s prison camps are roundly condemned as heinous, but remain untouched. When an idealistic young reporter takes on a mission to help shut them down—bearing Hemingway and Vollmann in mind—he winds up on the doorstep of the Embassy of the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea.

How I Learned A Language in 22 Hours

I have never been particularly good with languages. Despite a dozen years of Hebrew school and a lifetime of praying in the language, I’m ashamed to admit that I still can’t read an Israeli newspaper. Besides English, the only language I speak with any degree of fluency is Spanish, and that came only after five years of intense classroom study and more than half a dozen trips to Latin America. Still, I was determined to master Lingala before leaving for the Congo. And I had just under two and a half months to do it. When I asked Ed if he thought it would be possible to learn an entire language in such a minuscule amount of time using Memrise, his response was matter-of-fact: “It’ll be a cinch.”

Monopoly Is Theft

The game’s true origins, however, go unmentioned in the official literature. Three decades before Darrow’s patent, in 1903, a Maryland actress named Lizzie Magie created a proto-Monopoly as a tool for teaching the philosophy of Henry George, a nineteenth-century writer who had popularized the notion that no single person could claim to “own” land. In his book Progress and Poverty (1879), George called private land ownership an “erroneous and destructive principle” and argued that land should be held in common, with members of society acting collectively as “the general landlord.”

Thomas Quick: The Swedish Serial Killer Who Never Was

It reads like a real-life Scandinavian crime novel. In the 1990s, Thomas Quick confessed to more than 30 murders, making him Sweden’s most notorious serial killer. Then, he changed his name and revealed his confessions were all faked.

Solitary in Iran Nearly Broke Me. Then I Went Inside America's Prisons.

The cell I am standing in is one of eight in a “pod,” a large concrete room with cells along one side and only one exit, which leads to the guards’ control room. A guard watches over us, rifle in hand, through a set of bars in the wall. He can easily shoot into any one of six pods around him. He communicates with prisoners through speakers and opens their steel grated cell doors via remote. That is how they are let out to the dog run, where they exercise for an hour a day, alone. They don’t leave the cell to eat. If they ever leave the pod, they have to strip naked, pass their hands through a food slot to be handcuffed, then wait for the door to open and be bellycuffed.

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