1. "Tanned, tested, ready: John Boehner"
Michael Grunwald and Jay Newton-Small, TIME
On Thursday, Ohio Republican John Boehner secured a second term as speaker of the House, despite rumblings that some members of his party might attempt to mount a coup. Boehner had long sought the position before he finally secured it in 2010, and served a tumultuous first term, facing intense criticism from both Democrats and Republicans. Here, a profile of Boehner written shortly before he first took the speaker's gavel:
It's not as if John Andrew Boehner is a mysterious figure on Capitol Hill. He is what he is: A business-friendly conservative with a genuine aversion to taxes, regulations and earmarks; a pinstriped fundraising machine who once distributed campaign checks from a tobacco company on the House floor; a loyal Republican whose occasional drifts from the party line (on issues such as immigration and China) have tended to match those of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He's a patient leader who doesn't often pop off like Gingrich or bang heads like Tom DeLay; he's an even-keeled process guy who rhapsodizes about his love for the "people's House." None of that means he's a centrist or a moderate. "I have one of the most conservative voting records in the House," he told Time at the start of this Congress. "But I don't wear it on my sleeve. I don't shove it in people's faces." [TIME]
2. "America's real criminal element: Lead"
Kevin Drum, Mother Jones
In the weeks following the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, commentators offered several theories to explain America's high rate of violent crimes, ranging from lax gun laws to violent movies and video games. But some researchers have pointed to a far less obvious culprit that could explain a host of social problems plaguing the United States — lead, a chemical that continues to linger in the atmosphere despite a 1996 ban:
The biggest source of lead in the postwar era, it turns out, wasn't paint. It was leaded gasoline. And if you chart the rise and fall of atmospheric lead caused by the rise and fall of leaded gasoline consumption, you get a pretty simple upside-down U: Lead emissions from tailpipes rose steadily from the early '40s through the early '70s, nearly quadrupling over that period. Then, as unleaded gasoline began to replace leaded gasoline, emissions plummeted. Intriguingly, violent crime rates followed the same upside-down U pattern. The only thing different was the time period: Crime rates rose dramatically in the '60s through the '80s, and then began dropping steadily starting in the early '90s. The two curves looked eerily identical, but were offset by about 20 years. [Mother Jones]
3. "The fracturing of Pennsylvania"
Eliza Griswold, The New York Times
On Friday, Gus Van Sant's Promised Land hit movie theaters across the country. The film stars Matt Damon as an energy industry employee seeking to obtain drilling rights from the residents of a small Pennsylvania town for a process commonly referred to as "fracking." The film takes the anti-fracking stance espoused by many environmentalists — but as this 2011 dispatch about a real Pennsylvania township shows, the question of fracking remains a polarizing and complicated one:
[Amwell] township sits atop the Marcellus Shale Deposit, one of the largest fields of natural gas in the world, a formation that stretches beneath 575 miles of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York. Shale gas, even its fiercest critics concede, presents an opportunity for the United States to be less dependent on foreign oil. According to Wood Mackenzie, an energy-consulting firm, the Marcellus formation will supply 6 percent of America’s gas this year, a figure expected to more than double by 2020. About five years ago, leases began to appear in the mailboxes of residents of Amwell Township from Range Resources, a Texas-based oil company seeking to harvest gas through hydraulic fracturing. “Fracking,” as it is known, is a process of natural-gas drilling that involves pumping vast quantities of water, sand, and chemicals thousands of feet into the earth to crack the deep shale deposits and free bubbles of gas from the ancient, porous rock. Harvesting this gas promises either to provide Americans with a clean domestic energy source or to despoil rural areas and poison our air and drinking water, depending on whom you ask. [New York Times]
4. "New year, new Dish, new media"
Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Beast
On Wednesday, popular blogger Andrew Sullivan announced that he would be taking his blog The Dish off The Daily Beast, and launching an independent website that will be available for subscription for $19.99 a year. Sullivan's announcement prompted a flurry of commentary about the future of digital journalism, and whether or not his new venture would prove to be sustainable. Here, Sullivan explains his reasons for the risky decision:
Here's the core principle: We want to create a place where readers — and readers alone — sustain the site. No bigger media companies will be subsidizing us; no venture capital will be sought to cushion our transition (unless my savings count as venture capital); and, most critically, no advertising will be getting in the way. The decision on advertising was the hardest, because obviously it provides a vital revenue stream for almost all media products. But we know from your emails how distracting and intrusive it can be; and how it often slows down the page painfully. And we're increasingly struck how advertising is dominated online by huge entities, and how compromising and time-consuming it could be for so few of us to try and lure big corporations to support us. We're also mindful how online ads have created incentives for pageviews over quality content. [Daily Beast]
5. "Dick Clark: 20 years of Clearasil rock"
Ben Fong-Torres, Rolling Stone
On Monday, millions of Americans celebrated New Year's Eve by tuning in to watch the ball drop at Times Square, an annual show that was hosted by "America's oldest teenager" Dick Clark for decades. Clark's death at age 82 in April 2012 made this year's telecast one of the only Rockin' New Year's Eve specials not hosted by Clark, who appeared on the show in every year since 1974 except for 2005 (when complications from a stroke prevented his participation). Here, a 1973 profile of Clark shortly before he began the legendary hosting gig:
Clark himself liked jazz, listened to DJs like Freddie Robbins and Symphony Sid on WOV in New York. Dick had wanted to be a disk jockey since age 13 after he saw Garry Moore and Jimmy Durante doing a radio program; he went to Syracuse University, and in his first year got a spot on the campus station. For his audition, he did an imitation of a radio announcer. He did impersonations in high school, he said, "to get over a terrible inferiority complex... I was not physically terribly attractive. I was skinny and I had a lot of pimples like everybody else did, and I was going through that teenage thing of 'I don't want to get involved with too many people.'" His mimickry was apparently enough to cover up some of the blemishes, and Clark got elected class president in his senior year. [Rolling Stone]