The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Abigail Hauslohner, Roberto Lovato, Bathsheba Demuth, Oliver Milman, and Ryan Hockensmith.

Here are five stories that moved us this week, and the reasons why.

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1. No Escape From Guantánamo*

Abigail Hauslohner | The Washington Post | January 7, 2022 | 3,700 Words

The United States began detaining men at Guantánamo Bay 20 years ago this week. Nearly 800 prisoners have spent time in the facility’s cells; today 39 men still remain behind bars there, 27 of whom have never been charged with a crime. This haunting, must-read story is about men who’ve been released and resettled in third countries — a Tunisian in Slovakia, for instance, and a Yemeni in Serbia. Abigail Hauslohner describes them as “the discarded men of one of America’s darkest chapters.” After enduring torture and other horrors at Guantánamo, they’ve been forced to live hundreds or thousands of miles from any family or friends. They face persecution and poverty, as well as the lingering effects of trauma. If they can rely on anything, it’s each other. “They trade advice, news and jokes in text-message chains,” Hauslohner writes. “And when things get bad, they call each other.” —SD

* Subscription required. (Note: the vast majority of the pieces we recommend are free to read online. Occasionally, we will share a story that requires a subscription when we strongly believe that piece is worth your time.)

2. The Gentrification of Consciousness

Roberto Lovato | Alta | January 4, 2022 | 5,279 words

For Alta, Roberto Lovato reports on the coming psychedelic therapy wave, led by Silicon Valley companies and investors who view psychoactive substances like mushrooms as the next disruptive technology. Treatment, however, is pricey: one session of guided ketamine therapy can cost as much as $2000. An analysis Lovato cites found that Black, Latinx, and Asian people have also been severely underrepresented in psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy studies over the past 25 years. So who exactly will have access to these powerful medicines and experiences? Who will lead psychedelic policy reform? And how will this “psychedelic renaissance” play out in a place like San Francisco’s Mission District, which was once a center for psychedelic culture, and a majority Latino and non-white neighborhood before the techies drove them out? Lovato, who grew up in the Mission, weaves some of the neighborhood’s history with that of his own, and explains that people in this community, like the elders who came before them, have been exploring altered states of consciousness through sacred, mind-altering medicinas in underground and community-based spaces for a long time. This is a powerful, moving, yet sobering read on the tech-fueled psychedelic-industrial complex, spiritual extractivism (the mining of Indigenous tradition, ritual, and wisdom for profit), and the psychedelic underground. —CLR

3. On Mistaking Whales

Bathsheba Demuth | Granta | November 18th, 2021 | 4,746

“In the time and place where I was born, we were taught that the right way to consume a whale is with your eyes,” writes environmental historian Bathsheba Demuth. As she looks at the history of whaling in Russia, she considers the many ways in which whales have served humans in providing food, employment, and even housing. “I approach one house by crawling on my belly to peer down. In the dimness, the pale heavy brow of a whale’s skull holds back the earth. A bone wall. The people who lived here lived in the heads of whales.” Later, in speaking about her work to American audiences, she encounters rigid opposition to eating whales, from those who feel themselves superior partly because they hunt for food only at the grocery store. Demuth’s essay eloquently reminds us that reality is far more complicated than black and white; all of us inflict damage on the earth and on wildlife, in our own ways. “Here whales have been homes. A practical space, shelter and host to meals and births and deaths. Host to the least abstract kinds of love. Familial, romantic, parental. Here whales have made those intimacies, by giving people the capacity to live.” —KS

4. How the Speed of Climate Change is Unbalancing the Insect World

Oliver Milman | The Guardian | January 11, 2022 | 3,092 words

On New Year’s Day, I went for a walk in a local park and was struck by how much I was sweating in my huge coat. My lack of fitness was not the only culprit; it felt like a warm spring day in the middle of winter, an illusion rendered complete by a confused bumblebee buzzing past me. Oliver Milman provides an explanation for the unexpected bee in quoting Simon Potts, a bee expert: “There’s good evidence here in the UK that under climate change things are warming up early, so we’re got all these bees coming out early but not the flowers…” Bees are not the only insects suffering; early springs are unsettling the established life cycle of many insects. Even when rising temperatures benefit an insect population, it is not positive. In 2020, East Africa suffered its worst plague of locusts in decades. This fascinating and concerning essay reminds us that the disruption of these tiny insects is a crucial part of a very big problem. —CW

5. The Secret MVP of Sports? The Port-a-Potty

Ryan Hockensmith | ESPN | January 5, 2022 | 4,311 words

There’s nothing quite like it. You’re out an outdoor event when nature calls; looking around, your heart sinks when see that your only option is a flimsy plastic shed, behind the door of which untold horrors lurk. Odd as it is, though, you might fear that prospect a bit less after reading Hockensmith’s breezy tour through the history and importance of port-o-potties (and, crucially, the professional maintenance thereof). Whether following a crew of Buffalo sanitation workers undertaking a frenzied early-game half-suck in the parking lots around the Bills’ stadium or speaking with academics about the future of equitable sanitation, the piece never strays from its founding charm. By the time you’re finished, you may not be ready to leave indoor plumbing behind, but you’ll have a newfound equanimity the next time you do have to hazard a trip to the Box of Uncertainty. (Not always, though; as Hockensmith knowingly writes, Sometimes the cost of having to hold it isn’t as bad as the price of getting to go.) And no matter how much pre-gaming you’ve done, I promise you this: you’ll never try to run across the roof of one. —PR