Below, our favorite stories of the week. Kindle users, you can also get them as a Readlist.
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1. The Undefeated Champions of Defeat City
Kathy Dobie | GQ | May 13, 2014 | 25 minutes (6,333 words)
A Little League is helping transform a city plagued by drugs, addiction and violence:
For Bryan, baseball is a multipurpose tool: It can unify the neighborhood, and it pits the diamond against the corner. Since the dealers recruit kids at about the same age as the coaches do, Bryan’s in a tug-of-war for the souls of these 12-year-olds, some of whose parents are out there slinging, too. “Look,” Bryan says, “we can all agree on children, you know? That they should be free to be kids. And if Dad or Mom is at a game for a few hours a week, they’re not hustling. They’re at a game.”
Bryan’s philosophy in a nutshell: Don’t let circumstances dictate your behavior. Reverse that dynamic. Fill the parks with kids and families and eventually the junkies and the dealers will drift away. Pretend that you live in a safe place and maybe it will become one.
More Dobie: “The Girl From Trails End (2011)
Dale Russakoff | The New Yorker | May 12, 2014 | 46 minutes (11,617 words)
What happened when Mark Zuckerberg, Cory Booker and Chris Christie pledged to reform Newark’s schools? A lot of money spent on consultants, and some very hard lessons about enlisting community support for change:
One mother shouted, “We not having no wealthy white people coming in here destroying our kids!” From aisles and balconies, people yelled, “Where’s Christie!” “Where’s Mayor Hollywood!” The main item on the agenda—a report by the Newark schools’ facilities director on a hundred and forty million dollars spent in state construction funds, with little to show for it—reinforced people’s conviction that someone was making a killing at their children’s expense. “Where’d the money go? Where’d the money go?” the crowd chanted.
See also: “The Slow Death of Public Higher Education” (Mike Konczal, Aaron Bady, Dissent, 2012)
3. Why Did AIDS Ravage the U.S. More Than Any Other Developed Country?
Michael Hobbes | The New Republic | May 12, 2014 | 15 minutes (3,893 words)
Examining the methods of AIDS treatment and prevention in the U.S. in comparison with the U.K. and Germany where fewer people die of the disease:
No one knew how severe the epidemic was among drug users until 1984, when the still-under-development antibody test found that 50 percent of drug users in New York City and Edinburgh and 30 percent in Amsterdam were already infected. (Des Jarlais says genetic tests have since shown that the epidemic in Amsterdam originated in New York.)
Here’s where the differences come in. Almost immediately after those first tests, Western European countries installed needle-exchange programs, gave out free syringes, and established opiate-substitution treatment. Germany even got needle vending machines. By 1997, England and Wales were giving out 25 million free syringes per year. Anything to keep the virus from spreading, even if it meant making it a little easier to be a heroin addict that day.
The United States, on the other hand, refused to provide federal funds for needle exchanges or even fund research into whether they were effective.
See also: “AIDS at 30: A Time Capsule” (Bill Hayes, New York Review of Books, 2011)
4. How the Father of Claymation Lost His Company
Zachary Crockett | Priceonomics | May 10, 2014 | 20 minutes (5,113 words)
The story of Will Vinton’s Vinton Studios, which found success in the 1980s with commercial hits like the California Raisins, then struggled to keep up with its massive growth before getting sold to Nike CEO Phil Knight:
In the course of two years, a severely mismanaged Vinton Studios blew through more than $7 million in funding, largely due to their unwillingness to scale back the team even more. There was only one hope to salvage the company, and it came with a swoosh.
Farnath, Vinton Studios’ new CEO, approached Phil Knight “with his tail between his legs,” and asked the businessman to put in more money – just a few years after Knight had put up $5 million. This time, Knight had leverage to be a controlling shareholder.
See also: “The Rise of Nintendo: A Story in 8 Bits” (Blake J. Harris, Grantland, 2014)
5. ‘West Wing’ Uncensored
Lacey Rose, Michael O’Connell, Marc Bernardin | The Hollywood Reporter | May 13, 2014 | 27 minutes (6,858 words)
An oral history of the beloved political series:
Aaron Sorkin: Kivi knew about the meeting and said, “Hey, you know what would make a good series? That.” He was pointing at the poster for The American President. “But this time you’d focus on the staffers.” I told him I wasn’t going to be doing a series and that I was meeting with John to meet John — I wanted to hear stories about China Beach and ER, and I especially wanted to hear about his years as stage manager for A Chorus Line. The next day I showed up for the lunch, and John was flanked by executives from Warner Bros. and agents from CAA. John got down to business and said, “What do you want to do?” And instead of saying, “I’m sorry, there’s been a misunderstanding. I don’t have anything to pitch,” I said, “I’d like to do a series about staffers at the White House.” And John said, “We’ve got a deal.”
See also: “Cheers: ‘The Best TV Show That’s Ever Been’” (Brian Raferty, GQ, 2012)
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Photo Credit: Doug Dubois