Remembering Aaron Swartz, the programmer and Internet activist who took his own life earlier this year, and what he was fighting for:
"Aaron didn’t play that game. After he sold Reddit, he couldn’t be bought. In fact, he was spending his own money, and his valuable time, on campaigns for the public good, and helping others to do the same. He was a realist about the government, media companies, and Silicon Valley. His experience with all of them made him grow up too soon. But he also never stopped being that not-even-teenager who believed in the utopian possibilities latent in the World Wide Web. He never stopped believing in the power of small groups of people who were willing to devote their attention to small problems and nagging details in order to create the greatest good for the greatest number. Aaron played in that space without resolving its tensions.
"It’s that collapsing telescope between the many and the few, the rational and the altruistic, the minute and the world-historical, the irreducibility of life as it is lived and the universality of the ideals that life should serve."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 22, 2013
LENGTH: 26 minutes (6506 words)
The writer faces the prospect of giving birth to a child at 23 weeks—when the odds are slimmer that the baby will survive, and the family must look for clear answers on what's medically possible to save the child:
"We learned her gender in week 16, cataloged her anatomy in week 20. I scrubbed the baseboards in the spare bedroom and stopped buttoning my jeans. I tried to imagine her as a real child, in my hands and in my life. I drew, in ballpoint pen, her cartoon outline on my skin — with big eyes, a sprout of hair, and an umbilical tether to my navel that made her look like a startled space walker. That was the extent to which I understood her: only in outline, the details waiting to be filled in.
"Suddenly there was blood. Blood on my hands. Blood on a thin cotton hospital gown. Blood in red rivulets and blood in dark clumps. Bright beads of blood on the doctor's blue latex gloves. Blood in such startling quantity we could only imagine there was no life, no baby, not anymore."
PUBLISHED: Dec. 7, 2012
LENGTH: 19 minutes (4985 words)
Author Ann Patchett on opening an independent bookstore in Nashville, Tenn. at a time when brick and mortar bookstores are considered dead:
"I was starting to understand the role that the interviews would play in that success. In my 30s, I had paid my rent by writing for fashion magazines. I found Elle to be the most baffling, because its editors insisted on identifying trends. Since most fashion magazines 'closed' (industry jargon for the point at which the pages are shipped to the printing plant) three months before they hit newsstands, the identification of trends, especially from Nashville, required an act of near-clairvoyance. Finally, I realized what everyone in fashion already knew: a trend is whatever you call a trend. This spring in Paris, fashionistas will wear fishbowls on their heads. In my hotel room in Australia, this insight came back to me more as a vision than a memory. 'The small independent bookstore is coming back,' I told reporters in Bangladesh and Berlin. 'It’s part of a trend.'
"My act was on the road, and with every performance, I tweaked the script, hammering out the details as I proclaimed them to strangers: All things happen in a cycle, I explained—the little bookstore had succeeded and grown into a bigger bookstore. Seeing the potential for profit, the superstore chains rose up and crushed the independents, then Amazon rose up and crushed the superstore chains. Now that we could order any book at any hour without having to leave the screen in front of us, we realized what we had lost: the community center, the human interaction, the recommendation of a smart reader rather than a computer algorithm telling us what other shoppers had purchased. I promised whoever was listening that from those very ashes, the small independent bookstore would rise again."
PUBLISHED: Nov. 29, 2012
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4590 words)
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This week, we're excited to share a Longreads Member Exclusive from Thomas E. Ricks
, whose new book is The Generals
, published by The Penguin Press
. Chapter 21, "The End of a War, the End of an Army," details how the U.S. military and its leadership faltered in the final years of the Vietnam War:
"Often in warfare, it is the first year of fighting that seasons forces, which become more effective as those who survive gain skill, good leaders rise to the top, and units become more cohesive over time. Counterintuitively, as the Vietnam War progressed, the American frontline force weakened. In 1966, remembered Paul Gorman, the battalion he commanded had fourteen senior sergeants who had been in the unit for more than ten years, all of them trained by a legendary sergeant major who had landed at Normandy with the Big Red One. By contrast, he said, five years later, when he was commanding a brigade in the 101st Airborne, good sergeants who could provide the backbone of units, especially by maintaining standards and enforcing discipline, were hard to find. "I didn't have the NCOs [non-commissioned officers]. The NCOs were gone." By 1969, draftees made up 88 percent of the infantry riflemen in Vietnam. Another 10 percent was made up of first term volunteers, meaning that the fighting force was almost entirely inexperienced and often led by novice first term NCOs and officers. In one company in 1970, of two hundred men, only three—the captain, one platoon sergeant, and one squad leader—had been in the Army for more than two years. In addition, because of the rotation policy, units not only arrived green but stayed that way. "After only two months in Vietnam, I had more experience than half the men in Vietnam," recalled one sergeant. There were plenty of career soldiers in Vietnam, but they disproportionately served at higher headquarters, not in line units doing the fighting."
PUBLISHED: Nov. 28, 2012
LENGTH: 22 minutes (5533 words)
How the 42-year-old Wisconsin representative (and now Mitt Romney VP pick) took a leading role in the Republican Party's budget battle with President Obama:
"Three days later, the White House started a livelier debate with Ryan. In a press briefing, Peter Orszag, the budget director at the time, dismantled Ryan’s plan, point by point. Ryan’s proposal would turn Medicare 'into a voucher program, so that individuals are on their own in the health-care market,' he said. Over time, the program wouldn’t keep pace with rising medical costs, so seniors would have to pay thousands of dollars more a year for health care. The Roadmap would revive Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security and 'provide large tax benefits to upper-income households . . . while shifting the burden onto middle- and lower-income households. It is a dramatically different approach in which much more risk is loaded onto individuals.' Ryan, who had always had a good relationship with Orszag, later described the briefing as the moment when 'the budget director took that olive branch and hit me in the face with it.'
"But the confrontation enhanced Ryan’s credibility among conservatives. He became the face of the opposition, someone who could attack the President’s policies with facts and figures. Indeed, at the retreat, Obama had mischaracterized Ryan’s Medicare plan, and Ryan politely corrected him. The two men sparred again the next month, at a summit at Blair House, over the President’s health-care plan. The details of Ryan’s proposals and his critiques of Obama’s mattered less than the fact that he was taking on the President."
PUBLISHED: Aug. 6, 2012
LENGTH: 26 minutes (6504 words)
[Not single-page] Goucher, a small liberal-arts college, hired a French professor from Rwanda named Leopold Munyakazi through The Scholar Rescue Fund, an organization devoted to providing asylum to intellectuals whose lives and work are threatened in their home countries. Sanford J. Ungar, the president of the college, is contacted by investigative reporters at NBC, and Goucher is subsequently accused of harboring a war criminal:
"The details of the accusations were horrifying, and I sat reading the documents while my visitors watched. Between April and July 1994, Leopold had been part of a 'joint criminal enterprise,' the indictment alleged, and had 'trained, indoctrinated, encouraged, provided criminal intelligence to, transported and distributed arms to members' of the armed forces and civilian militias, who in turn 'murdered, caused seriously [sic] bodily and mental harm, raped and pillaged Tutsi group members.' It said he had attended meetings of Hutu in the Kayenzi commune, where he and others allegedly complained that the killing was 'lagging behind.' Possibly he had planned or even chaired those meetings. At one such gathering at the Kirwa primary school, Munyakazi 'took the floor to address more than 2,000 residents,' it claimed, 'and publicly incited the masses to commit genocide.' He had, according to the indictment, personally turned over to the militia a woman who had taken refuge at his home, so that she could be killed.
"I was incredulous, filled with a mixture of anger and self-doubt. As their Rwandan companion nodded quietly in agreement, the producers from NBC demanded to know how Goucher could have sheltered such an evil man. They wanted to film me reacting to the indictment, but I refused. I hid behind the Scholar Rescue Fund, protesting that Leopold had been screened and certified, and that was all we knew. Later, in a New Republic story that was part of the flurry of early, short-lived interest in Leopold’s case, the producers were even quoted as describing my attitude as 'flippant.'"
PUBLISHED: July 22, 2012
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5142 words)
[Not single-page] A visit to one of Philly's most iconic summer camps:
"White’s runner arrived at the stage first, and Tyler, a Villanova bunk member who’d been watching older campers do this for years, thrust his face into the dessert topping. A chant rose: 'Eat that pie! Eat that pie!' About five minutes into the munch, the inevitable happened. Tyler lurched a little, and a burst of purple mud seeped out of his mouth, back onto the pie plate.
"I had been told that regurgitation wouldn’t end a pie-eating effort. I never imagined this rule would come into play, that one young man would have to make the ultimate sacrifice for his team. There have been legendary moments in the annals of Philadelphia sports: Chamberlain’s 100-point game, the Flyers’ 1974 Cup championship. I’ll spare the details, but Tyler cleaned his plate first. He won the Apache Relay. His teammates mobbed the stage. Someone shouted 'That’s how to get it done!' and slapped him on the back. Younger boys gaped in awe. Someday, they dared to dream, that’s gonna be me."
PUBLISHED: June 29, 2012
LENGTH: 10 minutes (2685 words)
The untold story of George W. Bush's service in the Air National Guard. Hagan revisits the mystery that led to the downfall of CBS's Dan Rather—with new details on what may have really happened when Bush suddenly stopped flying in the spring of 1972:
"The CBS documents that seem destined to haunt Rather are, and have always been, a red herring. The real story, assembled here for the first time in a single narrative, featuring new witnesses and never-reported details, is far more complex than what Rather and Mapes rushed onto the air in 2004. At the time, so much rancorous political gamesmanship surrounded Bush’s military history that it was impossible to report clearly (and Rather’s flawed report effectively ended further investigations). But with Bush out of office, this is no longer a problem. I’ve been reporting this story since it first broke, and today there is more cooperation and willingness to speak on the record than ever before. The picture that emerges is remarkable. Beyond the haze of elaborately revised fictions from both the political left and the political right is a bizarre account that has remained, until now, the great untold story of modern Texas politics. For 36 years, it made its way through the swamps of state government as it led up to the collision between two powerful Texans on the national stage."
PUBLISHED: April 16, 2012
LENGTH: 41 minutes (10415 words)