Wandering Eye: A dire look at the American middle class, Future Islands land Song of the Year honors, and more

WaPo and the NYT have dueling series on the fate of the middle class. Both are interesting, but WaPo has the explanatory edge, so far. Here is Part II of the Post's series, with the subhed "The past three recessions sparked a chain reaction of layoffs and lower pay." It opens with Ed Green of North Carolina, who paves roads for the state full time during the day and then works in a stadium, cleaning up at night. Two full-time jobs to get into the middle class. The piece goes on like that. Of course, America used to be a place where a single breadwinner (typically the husband) could earn enough to raise a family in a suburban house. Then, in the 1970s, more and more wives took jobs to make ends meet. And now those jobs don't: "Green's state job pays about $12 an hour. His sports jobs pay about $9 an hour, which is decent money for anyone who works at a minor-league or college stadium. Green's wife works full time as a social worker for a small salary. Between them, they clock between 110 and 120 hours a week on average. All those hours allow them to earn what a typical American family earned 25 years ago, after adjusting for inflation." The Times' Dec. 12 piece, in The Upshot blog, examines why U.S. women are leaving the workforce. Turns out—surprise!—American labor policies make it hard to have children and stay employed, compared to women in civilized countries: "After climbing for six decades, the percentage of women in the American work force peaked in 1999, at 74 percent for women between 25 and 54. It has fallen since, to 69 percent today." The Times' series, based on polling data, is less ambitious but a good supplement to the Post's. (Edward Ericson Jr.)


The Senate Intelligence Committee's recent CIA torture report has offended the sensibilities of many who thought the U.S. was a civilized country, even though torture has been a consistent feature of government policy and practice for several generations, and prompted others to undergo remarkable moral contortions to defend the practice. More remarkable, though, is the fact that the best way to extract confessions and gain useful intelligence is to do the exact opposite of torture, the Atlantic reports: simply ask the questions you want answers to, after building respectful rapport. (Van Smith)


We're on record against the way many year-end music lists end up looking the same, but we were pretty excited to see local heroes Future Islands taking the top spot on some big-deal lists for their hit 'Seasons (Waiting On You).' The endlessly catchy dance pop track, which found its way into the living rooms of many Americans via an iconic performance on "Letterman," was named song of the year by The Guardian, SPIN, and Pitchfork. Yes, three publications arriving to the same conclusion is the sameness we derided, but fuck it, props to the local boys doing big things. And really, it's hard to argue with the choice; the band's career has reached incredible heights on the strength and power of this one song. Just try watching that Letterman video without smiling. (Brandon Weigel)

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