Inside the lives of homeless families who are staying at a Ramada Inn in the Colorado suburbs:
"At any given time, roughly 20 to 40 guests are staying long term. Since they pay by the week, they call themselves 'weeklies.' To score the cheap rates, $210 for individuals and slightly more for families, they must pay in advance. Residents sign a form that lists the activities that could get them kicked out (mostly involving drugs) and warns that they won’t get reimbursed if they leave early, no exceptions. Some families stay only for a few weeks, some for months, giving the hotel the feeling of a dormitory. A rotating cast of front-desk clerks sells candy and rations towels and washcloths. Though some of the clerks are kind and helpful, the guests think of them as enforcers, and the clerks tend to treat the weeklies less as customers than as undergraduates stealing toilet paper and sneaking in hot plates."
PUBLISHED: March 27, 2013
LENGTH: 29 minutes (7360 words)
A secession movement has been blossoming in the liberal state of Vermont:
"In Vermont, Bryan says, there is 'a commonality of people opposed to large distant bureaucracies telling them how to live their lives. It’s the decentralist commonality of the libertarian right and what I’d call the communitarian left. The right opposes big government, the left opposes big business. It’s really about governing on a human scale.'
"As Bryan notes, Vermont has radical genes, a history rife with alternative thinking. Ethan Allen fought against the British Crown as fiercely as he would fight the Americans. Vermont under Allen produced, in 1777, the first constitution in English to outlaw slavery and allow citizens without property to vote. Nearly two centuries later, Scott Nearing chose Vermont to escape what he called 'the American Oligarchy, the American Way of Life, the American Century, the American Empire.' When he published Living the Good Life in 1954, it became a touchstone for the first generation of the simple-living movement, the hippies and Luddites who in the 1960s flooded into the state to follow Nearing’s example. Vermont went almost overnight from a right-wing backwater to a leftist mecca that eventually put in office America’s only avowedly socialist senator, Bernie Sanders."
PUBLISHED: March 19, 2013
LENGTH: 22 minutes (5645 words)
A positive assessment of California Gov. Jerry Brown's achievements during his second time around:
"The testimony to Brown’s acuity for all things Californian is remarkable because the California that Brown now governs has been so radically transformed over the past three decades that it bears scant resemblance to the state he once governed. While Brown has lived his entire life in politics and has been a national figure longer than any current American elected official, he has often seemed impatient with, if not downright contemptuous of, the workings of both politics and government and many of the most basic tenets of American liberalism. Yet, California today is again a state, as it has not been for decades, where the future that liberals hope will be America’s is happening first, and Jerry Brown, for all his skepticism about politics, government, and liberalism, is leading it there."
PUBLISHED: March 7, 2013
LENGTH: 24 minutes (6033 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)
A lawyer and his pastor brother-in-law worked tirelessly to fight the Nazis from inside Germany—helping victims and even plotting to assassinate Hitler:
"Dietrich, embattled and frustrated, thought of going abroad, as he had in 1934 and 1935; perhaps some work in America might serve as a temporary alternative to military service—a dreaded, morally unacceptable prospect. His mentor Reinhold Niebuhr arranged a job for him in New York, where he arrived in late June 1939. But at once he was in spiritual turmoil: How could he contemplate living in a foreign country, at peace, when his own country was on the brink of war and desolation? He decided he must go back to Europe, explaining to Niebuhr:
"'I must live through this difficult period of our national history with the Christian people of Germany…. Christians in Germany are going to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive, or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying our civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose.'"
PUBLISHED: Oct. 8, 2012
LENGTH: 19 minutes (4776 words)
One of this year's nominees for the James Beard Awards
. Inside the lives, and calculating the wages, of farm workers in California:
"Compared with other recent tales of American farmworkers, Villalobos and Gomez might consider themselves lucky. In Florida, tomato pickers have been locked in box trucks under the watch of armed guards; in North Carolina, pregnant workers have been exposed to pesticides during harvest and birthed babies with missing limbs; in Michigan, children as young as six have been found laboring in blueberry groves. Those are marquee cases that garner national media, shining the spotlight on the most egregious abuses. In relative terms, suits like Villalobos are mundane, but they are also ubiquitous, filed with a frequency that suggests the most pervasive and insidious abuse faced by farmworkers is the kind Villalobos encountered: the blatant disregard of labor laws governing wages, safety, and health. This type of abuse is most typically seen in fields managed not by farmers but by farm-labor contractors, many of whom started out as farmworkers themselves."
PUBLISHED: Sept. 11, 2012
LENGTH: 23 minutes (5996 words)
Elizabeth Warren has energized Democrats in Massachusetts during her 2012 Senate race against Republican incumbent Scott Brown, but has also faced many difficulties as a first-time candidate. The race remains very close:
"Lydon brought up an anecdote he’d heard: Warren, while she served on the bankruptcy panel during Clinton’s presidency, had known the first lady, Hillary Clinton. Clinton had supported Warren’s work and opposed changes to bankruptcy law. But later, when Clinton was in the Senate, she’d turned around and voted for changes Warren opposed. Lydon quoted what Warren had said at the time: 'If she can’t take the heat, who can?' Later, Lydon asked Warren if she thought she could withstand the same pressures Hillary had sometimes caved to, or whether she’d just join the old boy’s club of the Senate. 'Nobody’s fooled about what I stand for,' she started to answer. He interrupted: 'No one was fooled by what Hillary stood for.' He was trying to raise, in a roundabout way, a concern that Warren’s fans had worried about since the race with Brown had begun: Was it possible to enter politics without being compromised? Warren knew what he was getting at. 'Oh, I think there’s a real question about what people run for,' she replied. She added that she got into the race to uphold her principles, 'not because this was a great career move for me.' The implication was that other politicians, including Clinton, were in it for themselves. It was a pretty harsh dig at a Democrat admired by many in Massachusetts, whether or not Warren meant it to be. Like Obama on occasion, she was trying to sound self-effacing but ended up being self-aggrandizing."
PUBLISHED: Sept. 4, 2012
LENGTH: 23 minutes (5911 words)
In the first four years as the first black president, Obama has largely avoided addressing race directly. Some historical context:
"Thus the myth of 'twice as good' that makes Barack Obama possible also smothers him. It holds that African Americans—enslaved, tortured, raped, discriminated against, and subjected to the most lethal homegrown terrorist movement in American history—feel no anger toward their tormentors. Of course, very little in our history argues that those who seek to tell bold truths about race will be rewarded. But it was Obama himself, as a presidential candidate in 2008, who called for such truths to be spoken. 'Race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now,' he said in his 'More Perfect Union' speech, which he delivered after a furor erupted over Reverend Wright’s 'God Damn America' remarks. And yet, since taking office, Obama has virtually ignored race.
"Whatever the political intelligence of this calculus, it has broad and deep consequences. The most obvious result is that it prevents Obama from directly addressing America’s racial history, or saying anything meaningful about present issues tinged by race, such as mass incarceration or the drug war. There have been calls for Obama to take a softer line on state-level legalization of marijuana or even to stand for legalization himself. Indeed, there is no small amount of inconsistency in our black president’s either ignoring or upholding harsh drug laws that every day injure the prospects of young black men—laws that could have ended his own, had he been of another social class and arrested for the marijuana use he openly discusses. But the intellectual argument doubles as the counterargument. If the fact of a black president is enough to racialize the wonkish world of health-care reform, what havoc would the Obama touch wreak upon the already racialized world of drug policy?"
PUBLISHED: Aug. 23, 2012
LENGTH: 38 minutes (9709 words)
How Udacity, Coursera and other online universities are changing the way we learn—and changing who has access to higher education:
"'It turns out that two-thirds of our students are from outside the United States,' Stavens, now the CEO of Udacity, said. 'It’s about a third US, a third from ten other countries you might expect—western Europe, Brazil, east Asia, Canada—and then about a third from 185 other countries. We have 500 students in Latvia. Now that doesn’t sound like a lot, but it actually means more students take our classes in Latvia than take them on Stanford’s campus.'
"And that’s just it: Stavens and his co-founders aren’t evangelists out to convert the unwashed masses. They simply minister to those who show up, looking to be saved. 'Learning is a process a lot like exercise. It has great results, but takes a lot of effort. And maintaining that effort is really hard.' If you don’t want to learn Python, or how the smartphone game Angry Birds works, fine. There are 500 Latvians who do."
PUBLISHED: July 5, 2012
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4129 words)