Short Takes: News From All Over

How Do You Defend a Failing State?
By Katherine Wheeler, Foreign Policy
Foreign Policy and the Fund for Peace recently released their 2007 Failed States Index, ranking 177 countries to determine the most unstable governments in the world. Correspondent Katherine Wheeler then hit the pavement of Washington’s Embassy Row to find out how countries such as Pakistan and Zimbabwe felt about earning the dishonor of being labeled a ‘failed state.’ The ambassadors’ reactions range from defensive to disappointed and can be viewed on Foreign Policy‘s website. — Bennett Gordon

CubaKeeps Traditional Chinese Culture Alive
By Ying Ying Joyce Choi, New America Media
Before Castro’s nationalization plans ushered foreigners toward Cuba’s exits, Havana was? home to a vibrant Chinatown that spanned 44 blocks. Now, the dwindled community is being kept alive largely through the efforts of 74-year-old newspaperman Guillermo Chiu. Chiu’s four-page biweekly Kwong Wah Po survives on government funding, news reprints, and martial-arts fiction. Using movable type and traditional Chinese characters, Chiu needs about 20 minutes to lay out a single 150-word article. His painstaking work has preserved a relic of Cuba’s multiethnic past and a Chinese language rendered old-fashioned in more modern times. — Eric Kelsey

Life Before Air Conditioning
By Miss Cellania, Mental_Floss
Mental_Floss runs through some of the low-tech strategies Americans used to beat the heat during pre-air-conditioning times. Instead of staying inside, people would hang out on their porches or sleep on their fire escapes. Or they built their homes underground. Now that’s cool. — Brendan Mackie

Ponca Tribe Proceeds with Lawsuits over Carbon Black Pollution
By Brian Daffron, Indian Country Today
The Ponca tribe of northeastern Oklahoma is suing the Continental Carbon Company over pollution from a nearby plant that produces carbon black — a substance used in making tires, hoses, and ink. In a two-part series for Indian Country Today, Brian Daffron details allegations that the plant’s pollution has degraded property (one family has laid black tile in their home to mask the soot); harmed the health of the area’s residents (many children are asthmatic); and eroded the cultural value the Ponca place on the environment. — Eric Kelsey

Hip-Hop’s Ghostwriters
By Adam Conner-Simons, Gelf Magazine
Unlike pop music, which tends to rely on a formulaic verse-chorus-verse format, hip-hop is often a stream of consciousness soliloquy, the merit of which is judged as much for its clever rhyming putdowns as its intensely personal realizations. Adam Conner-Simons looks at the little-known backbone of much popular hip hop: ghostwriters. These secret scribes have been the source of dozens of well-known hip-hop songs professing authenticity, and while they often receive little money and almost no recognition, most seem to appreciate the experience it affords them. — Chris Gehrke

Schoolof Shock
By Jennifer Gonnerman, Mother Jones
At the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center, autistic, mentally handicapped, and emotionally unstable students receive intensely painful two-second shocks after such petty mistakes as leaving their seats without permission. In this investigative look into behavioral-control theory gone awry, Jennifer Gonnerman reveals that these vulnerable children are receiving punishment that even our society’s harshest criminals are free of. A former student said, ‘It’s worse than jail. That place is the worst place on earth.’ — Cara Binder

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