A writer and longtime Black Flag fan hitchhikes to Texas to audition for the band as it searches for a new bass player:
"It dawned on me: Black Flag did not have a bass player. I could be that bass player! I decided right then and there to find out where Ginn was living, hitchhike across the country, and persuade him to let me try out—just as I had attempted to do at 16. I knew all the old songs, and I figured that thumbing it instead of flying or taking a bus would prove to Ginn that I had dedication.
"Ginn, I knew, had for the past few years been based in a small town called Taylor, just outside Austin, Texas. That morning’s New York Post told me that the weather in Austin was presently a rejuvenating and springlike 70 degrees. There was no reason not to go."
PUBLISHED: April 9, 2013
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4005 words)
A history of blue jeans:
"Initially, jeans were proletarian western work-wear, but wealthy easterners inevitably ventured out in search of rugged cowboy authenticity. In 1928, a Vogue writer returned East from a Wyoming dude ranch with a snapshot of herself, 'impossibly attired in blue jeans… and a smile that couldn’t be found on all Manhattan Island.' In June 1935, the magazine ran an article titled 'Dude Dressing,' possibly one of the first fashion pieces to instruct readers in the art of DIY denim distressing: 'What she does is to hurry down to the ranch store and ask for a pair of blue jeans, which she secretly floats the ensuing night in a bathtub of water—the oftener a pair of jeans is laundered, the higher its value, especially if it shrinks to the "high-water" mark. Another innovation—and a most recent one, if I may judge—also goes on in the dead of night, and undoubtedly behind locked doors—an intentional rip here and there in the back of the jeans.'"
PUBLISHED: March 11, 2013
LENGTH: 8 minutes (2244 words)
Meet the families who have moved from America to West Bank settlements:
"In 2010, 269 Jews moved from America to West Bank settlements, many of which are marketed as 'bedroom communities' to families and white-collar professionals in the US. The migration is called 'making aliyah,' which translates roughly from the Hebrew as 'movin’ on up.' Never mind that it’s a violation of the Geneva Conventions for Israel, as an occupying power, to install civilians in the West Bank, one-fifth of which, according to the Oslo Accords, falls under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority.
"To encourage Jews to illegally settle there, the Israeli government subsidizes home purchases and offers reduced rates for leasing land, in addition to the perks all new Israeli citizens get such as free health care, upward of a 90 percent reduction in property taxes, tuition waivers for earning advanced degrees, and a payment of about $14,000 spending money for a family of five. The first installment is paid on arrival at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport—in cash."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 22, 2013
LENGTH: 8 minutes (2202 words)
A mother decides to give her son Wolf, a talented artist who suffers from a range of ailments, autonomy over his own life:
"The day after Wolf’s 18th birthday, I asked, 'What do you want?' I don’t think anyone had ever asked him this before.
"'I want friends,' he answered. 'I don’t have any friends because there’s always doctors and aides. I don’t know how to have friends, but I want to try.'
"'Do you want to fire some doctors?'
"'Can I do that?'
"'It’s your life.'
"He was shocked.
"Within a week he had fired two of his three therapists and his yoga instructor (who is great and had been giving him lessons for 13 years—only no one had noticed that for the past year or two, he’s hated it), and he informed his hormone-therapy doctor that he would only be coming in for blood tests every other month. He tore down the stop, wolf! sign stuck to the refrigerator door with a magnet and ripped up his behavior chart and his appointment calendar. He tried to convince his psychiatrist to cut down on his mood stabilizers. (The psychiatrist said no.) I found someone to take Wolf to church. He woke up early for it, happy to have a reason to put on a collared shirt. He also started lifting weights. He says he’s 'working on his abs.'"
PUBLISHED: Dec. 17, 2012
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3713 words)
Meet a NASA scientist who suggests the possibility that we're all living inside a video game:
"Two years ago, Rich Terrile appeared on Through the Wormhole, the Science Channel’s show about the mysteries of life and the universe. He was invited onto the program to discuss the theory that the human experience can be boiled down to something like an incredibly advanced, metaphysical version of The Sims.
"It’s an idea that every college student with a gravity bong and The Matrix on DVD has thought of before, but Rich is a well-regarded scientist, the director of the Center for Evolutionary Computation and Automated Design at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and is currently writing an as-yet-untitled book about the subject, so we’re going to go ahead and take him seriously.
"The essence of Rich’s theory is that a 'programmer' from the future designed our reality to simulate the course of what the programmer considers to be ancient history—for whatever reason, maybe because he’s bored."
PUBLISHED: Sept. 8, 2012
LENGTH: 6 minutes (1537 words)
A trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, joining a UN mission to investigate the massacres there:
"In the last few months, I’ve spent time in the Democratic Republic of Congo where I used an embarrassing fuck-up by one of the world's most publicly accountable organizations as a bargaining tool to get a story. A mistake by the United Nations means I saw something I shouldn't have*, and when I agreed to agree it never happened, they reluctantly allowed me to join a massacre investigation mission in the most damaged part of what is, if their own statistics are to be trusted, the most damaged country in the world.
"I was to accompany a three-person Human Rights Team into one of the remotest parts of the Masisi district in Eastern DRC. I was expecting something like the cast of The Matrix, but what I got was a Head of Mission who wore Prada loafers, a spherical Congolese lady with a kind smile and another guy who wore a Thailand tourist T-shirt and fell asleep all the time. The UN histrionics surrounding our departure made it seem like we'd be spat out into an as yet unseen sequel of a Hollywood blockbuster, but in truth, we were middle-class happy campers on holiday."
PUBLISHED: Aug. 7, 2012
LENGTH: 8 minutes (2102 words)
A blind journalist and his brother go to a rattlesnake roundup in central West Texas:
"We finally bolted for the nearest exit, heading past the coliseum’s fountain. Its gushing water, almost like a sizzle, was loud enough that it touched every corner of the room, though it failed to cool us to any degree. Then, about ten yards away, my ear distinguished the first edges of its rattling.
"'Is that—?' was all I could muster.
"It was. A plywood pen, chest-high, teeming with diamondbacks. The Snake Pit. Mykol had come closer for a look, not knowing I’d misheard it as a fountain. We pushed toward its wall of noise.
"The sound had a startling physics. It had mass. A tangible weight and effect on the air. I was immediately reminded that, at its essence, noise is vibration. To listen is actually to receive our most subtle form of touch. How easily we forget that."
PUBLISHED: June 4, 2012
LENGTH: 29 minutes (7405 words)
Memories of an early pioneer in New York public access television:
"By all accounts, public access television is dead, or dying, or just living an anonymous existence in the lesser-trolled channels of cable. But despite its decrepit state, I became mildly obsessed with, and then fully addicted to, The Grube Tube—a live talk show on Time Warner Cable New York’s channel 35. The show followed a simple and well-known format: a number was displayed on the bottom of the screen, and callers were instructed to dial in. The host answered these calls from a landline phone on his desk. The caller, who was now being broadcast live on air, could say anything he or she pleased. It was the host’s decision to converse with said caller or hang up. That host was Steve Gruberg. The callers were a mix of eccentric Manhattanites, adolescents with an unusual fondness for the c-word, and longtime viewers who refused to let the program lose relevance. I fell somewhere in between."
PUBLISHED: March 26, 2012
LENGTH: 8 minutes (2045 words)
Four Western journalists and a former Army Ranger-turned-counterinsurgency expert arrange a paintball game with members of the Shiite militant group, with the hopes of learning more about what motivates them:
"It took nearly a full year to pull together this game, and all along I’d been convinced that things would fall apart at the last minute. Fraternizing with Westerners is not the sort of thing Hezbollah top brass allows, so to arrange the match I’d relied on a man we’ll call Ali, one of my lower-level contacts within the group.
"Ali had sworn that he’d deliver honest-to-God trained fighters for an evening of paintball, but when the four-man Hezbollah team first walked into the building, I was dubious. In the Dahiyah, the southern suburbs of Beirut controlled by Hezbollah, every macho teenager and his little brother consider themselves essential members of 'the Resistance.' And one of the fighters—a tall, lanky, 20-something with a scruffy beard and the spiked-and-gelled hairdo favored by secular Beirut kids—seems like a wannabe. Especially after he introduces himself as Coco."
PUBLISHED: March 23, 2012
LENGTH: 19 minutes (4871 words)