Pawnee, Indiana was a place of hope and absurd dreams. It was a place where meager, government officials with outsized personalities could stimulate change—no matter how small. With Leslie Knope and her eccentric band of misfits on the case (yes, even Jerry), everything seemed just a little more possible. So as we bid farewell to Pawnee—"First in Friendship, Fourth in Obesity"—may we never forget the most important lesson of all: to always "treat yo self."

"Knope Springs Eternal: 'Parks and Rec' Ends Its Brilliant, Satisfying Seven-Season Run" by Andy Greewald

But what they never did was settle. Parks and Rec was utterly unique among significant sitcoms of the past 30 years because it measured happiness not in the intensity of its characters' retreat from the world but in their wild, open embrace of it. Parks was a show about misfits coming together to do more than lick wounds and eat Chinese food. To borrow Leslie Knope's words from last night's finale, their mission was to fight, scratch, and claw "to make people's lives a tiny bit better." It was about celebrating the merits of "small, incremental change every day." Few comedies have been so unfailingly clever about highlighting the absurdity of day-to-day existence, the frustrations caused by petty bureaucracy, hurt feelings, and the perpetual scourge of other people. But for Parks, these observations weren't a punch line. They were a challenge.

"Outside Man" by Jesse Katz

At the end of 2013, Budnick walked away from Hollywood, voluntarily ending his association with Green Hat and the writer-director at its helm, Todd Phillips. Under almost any other circumstances, someone with Budnick's credentials would have cashed in his connections and launched his own production company, making the leap from salaried executive to points-on-the-back-end mogul. That he did not was headline-worthy in the industry trades, even more so because Budnick was chucking it all for a cause that was not a disease or disaster or far-off humanitarian crisis but a stigmatized population close to home: the half million Californians incarcerated or under control of the criminal justice system.

"Practicing Islam in Short Shorts" by Thanaa El-Naggar

There are many like me. We don't believe in a monolithic practice of Islam. We love Islam, and because we love it so much we refuse to reduce it to an inflexible and fossilized way of life. Yet we still don't fit anywhere. We're more comfortable passing for non-Muslims, if it saves us from one or more of the following: unsolicited warnings about the kind punishment that awaits us in hell, unwelcomed advice from a stranger that starts with "I am like your [insert relative]," or an impromptu lecture, straight out of a Wahhabi textbook I thought was nonsense at age 13.

"Creative Disobedience: Q&A with Jeremy Suyker" by Pauline Eiferman

Artistic production in Iran is complicated in that the government doesn't really try and support creation. So people do what they can. There's a fantastic energy. People meet and create shows together. And because it's a pretty small network, you get to know everyone pretty quickly. It's all very DIY—there's a strong artisanal sense to all of this. And that's what I was interested in: the crafty side of art there. However, when I came home and showed this work, it was immediately simplified by the media. It was hard to explain it to people who were looking for the exciting narrative of censorship and illegal art. I feel like the media is happy to keep a very simplified image of Iran that opposes the bad Islamists and the nice little artists. What I was really interested in and what I photographed was how artists were able to creatively surpass censorship, and find a balance inside the confines of the law.

"How to Live Forever" by Tim Wu

I suspect, however, that most people seeking immortality rather strongly believe that they have a self, which is why they are willing to spend so much money to keep it alive. They wouldn't be satisfied knowing that their brains keep on living without them, like a clone. This is the self-preserving, or selfish, version of everlasting life, in which we seek to be absolutely sure that immortality preserves a sense of ourselves, operating from a particular point of view.

"The Secret Lives of L.A.'s Bottle-Service Girls" by Jason Duaine Hahn

Navigating the clanking champagne bottles and swaying bodies are the gears that power the machine: the bottle girls. They're soldiers in smoke- and booze-filled trenches, who happen to look like they just stepped out of a Victoria's Secret catalog. Aside from providing the eye candy that draws in punters, bottle service girls serve drinks, make conversation, and witness all of the celebrity hook-ups that Perez Hilton would kill to know about—which also makes them custodians of Hollywood's best-kept secrets (a job worthy of a very good tip).

"Who Killed Tony the Tiger" by Devin Leonard

Kellogg still spends more than $1 billion a year on advertising, but it no longer has the same hold on breakfast. The sales of 19 of Kellogg's top 25 cereals eroded last year, according to Consumer Edge Research, a Stamford (Conn.) firm that tracks the food industry. Sales of Frosted Flakes, the company's No. 1 brand, fell 4.5 percent. Frosted Mini-Wheats declined by 5 percent. Meanwhile, Special K Red Berries, one of the company's breakout successes in the past decade, fell by 14 percent. Kellogg executives don't expect cereal sales to return to growth this year, though they hope to slow the rate of decline and do better in 2016. But some Wall Street analysts say cereal sales may never fully recover. In Battle Creek, so-called Cereal City, that would be the equivalent of the apocalypse.

"A Boy Among Men" by Maurice Chammah

And then it happened. One night after the last count before bed, John says, his cellmate suddenly attacked him, pulling down both of their pants and wrestling him onto the bottom bunk. John tried to resist, but he was less than 140 pounds, and next to David's bulk of more than 200 he stood little chance as this powerful man forced his way in, slowly and painfully and in silence, without a condom or lubricant. John would later estimate that it lasted seven minutes. When David was finished, he told him to keep quiet. John obeyed; though still a fish, he had been down long enough to know that snitches suffer fates worse than rape.

"The Brief Life and Private Death of Alexandria Hill" by Brian Joseph

Nationally, no one tracks how many children are in private foster homes, or how these homes perform compared to those vetted directly by the government. As part of an 18-month investigation, I asked every state whether it at least knew how many children in its foster system had been placed in privately screened homes. Very few could tell me. For the eight states that did, the total came to at least 72,000 children in 2011. Not one of the states had a statistically valid dataset comparing costs, or rates of abuse or neglect, in privately versus publicly vetted homes.

[Image via NBC]