#NPRreads: From The Hell Of The North To 'Trash' Food

#NPRreads is a new feature we're testing out on Twitter and on The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers throughout our newsroom will share pieces that have kept them reading. They'll share tidbits on Twitter using the #NPRreads hashtag, and on occasion we'll share a longer take here on the blog.

This week, we share with you five reads.

From Ina Jaffe, a correspondent on NPR's National Desk:

For bike racing fans, nothing says "Spring is here!" like the race known as The Hell of the North. That's the nearly 160-mile race from Paris to the French city of Roubaix on the border with Belgium. What makes Paris-Roubaix hell is the often wet, still-wintry weather and the 30-plus miles of cobblestone paths along the route. The Wall Street Journal profiled Les Amis de Paris-Roubaix, a volunteer group of locals who tend to the venerable cobblestones. An excerpt:

"The techniques haven't changed much. Replacing each stone is like an exercise in macro-dentistry, a root canal for the road. Clean the damaged area, fill with a custom mixture, jam the new element in place, and make sure it lines up with the rest. Use a hammer if necessary.

"It's not about turning it into a pool table. That makes no sense," Mr. [Francois] Doulcier said. "So we have to keep the challenge of the cobbles, but we want to remove the ruts, the potholes that have no place on the course."

The 113th edition of Paris-Roubaix was April 12. Winner: German rider John Degenkolb. Trophy: a cobblestone, of course.

From Carrie Johnson, a justice correspondent on NPR's Washington Desk:

On the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, a reporter who met one-on-one with Timothy McVeigh shares his impressions of their unusual 45-minute interview. The bomber evaded answering any questions about the attack but instead used the time to strike back at personal slights levied against him by victims and the media. Reporter Kevin Johnson paints a fascinating portrait of a man who remained self-absorbed to the very end — his execution by lethal injection. Here's an excerpt:

"Ten months after his dramatic arrest for detonating a 4,800-pound fertilizer bomb on the doorstep of the Oklahoma City federal building, there he was, a confident smile creasing his face and stocking feet propped on a chair, as if relaxing in his own living room.

"There was absolutely no sense that he was afraid of what stood before him — a pending trial in then the largest mass murder in U.S. history and a likely death sentence. No expression of concern for the grief that still consumed a community and country just outside the mud-colored Oklahoma prison walls that contained him.

"Rather, on that day in February, he was upset with how he had been characterized in the media and sought to somehow reverse the torrent of public condemnation."

From Bill Chappell, a blogger on the Two-Way:

America's high incarceration rate makes me fascinated by how other nations handle crime and punishment. Finland has spent decades remaking its system. What works best, the country says, are shorter sentences and something like the old labor camp model — but with fluffy animals and gardening, the ability to come and go — and guaranteed vacation time. It's also a bargain compared with "normal" prisons. An excerpt follows:

"There's even an open prison at Helsinki's top tourist attraction, Suomenlinna Island. The island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it swarms with tourists in the summer. Yet the only thing that separates the prison grounds from a block of residential apartments and museums is a yellow picket fence.

" 'You really don't realize that you are walking in the middle of an open prison,' Lappi-Seppälä says. 'Nobody thinks of it. But I don't think even the American tourists find it scary.'"

"Locals seem to agree. When I talk to residents near the Kerava and Suomenlinna open prisons, most seem confused when I ask if they're concerned about sharing the town with convicts. Some tell me that the prisoners improve the community by restoring historic sites or cleaning up public spaces."

From Chuck Holmes, deputy managing editor:

Here's insight into a conservative's view of the Iran deal in five points. Commentator Bill Kristol rebuts the Obama administration's Iran nuclear deal, decrying it as a "foreign policy disaster" in the making. There's also nuance here in this followup to an earlier Weekly Standard editorial. On the political strategy ahead, the neocon Kristol urges more delaying tactics but also cautions fellow Republicans on the legislation they're considering. Here's more:

"The Corker bill only helps, if it does, after a deal has been signed—and then 67 votes in the Senate and 290 in the House are needed to overturn a deal. That's unlikely. And a lot of damage in the region (just from signing the deal) will have been done. So Congress can't pass the Corker bill and feel it's done its duty."

From Maria Godoy, host of our food blog, The Salt:

What we eat is undoubtedly a part of who we are. But when we talk about "trash food," what are we really saying about the people who eat it? In this moving essay in the Oxford American, writer Chris Offutt, who grew up impoverished in Appalachia, dissects the uncomfortable issues of class and status baked into the foods we consume.

"We arrange food in a hierarchy based on who originally ate it until we reach mullet, gar, possum, and squirrel—the diet of the poor. The food is called trash, and then the people are.

"Within certain communities it's become popular to host 'white trash parties,' where people are urged to bring Cheetos, pork rinds, Vienna sausages, Jell-O with marshmallows, fried baloney, corndogs, RC cola, Slim Jims, Fritos, Twinkies, and cottage cheese with jelly. In short—the food I ate as a kid in the hills.

"Participating in such a feast is considered proof of being very cool and very hip. But it's not. Implicit in the menu is a vicious ridicule of the people who eat such food on a regular basis."

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