Author Archives

Aaron Gilbreath
Aaron Gilbreath has written essays and articles for Harper's, The New York Times, Paris Review, Tin House, Kenyon Review, Vice, and The Morning News. Curbside Splendor published his essay collection, "Everything We Don't Know," in 2016. @AaronGilbreath

Weighing the Impact of Nationalized Medicine

Carol Von Canon, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

When the ACA was passed in 2010, Ana Maria Garza Cortez could hardly believe it. She’d spent decades trying to help poor people in San Antonio get health care. She knew the barriers they faced because she’d faced them too. She’d grown up in West Side housing projects, and her family never had health insurance. She and her seven siblings didn’t go to the doctor when they were sick. “That was a luxury,” Cortez says. “My mom loved us, but we were poor. She would wait to see if whatever we had would go away.” If it didn’t, she would take them to the neighborhood clinic or, more often, the emergency room. Since Cortez graduated from Our Lady of the Lake University, in 1990, she has worked with nonprofits, usually in health care. She serves as the vice president of development and marketing at CentroMed, one of the city’s sliding-scale, safety net clinics, with 23 locations in the area, many in the city’s poorer neighborhoods. She became one of the leaders of EnrollSA, along with Guajardo and Joe Ibarra, the deputy state director and operations manager at Enroll America. Among the city’s health care advocates, Cortez is admired for her energy and passion. “We call her ‘Santa Maria,’ ” Guajardo says. “She lives for the community. It’s in her bones.”

Now that President Obama had pushed through a law making health insurance available, at least in theory, to everyone, Cortez was elated. She knew Texas needed help—the state had five million uninsured residents, more than any other—and her hometown especially so. Officials figured there were 300,000 or so uninsured in the city and surrounding Bexar County. Latinos make up 60 percent of the San Antonio population, but 75 percent of the city’s uninsured. On the South Side, which has a significant Latino population, rates of diabetes, hypertension, and obesity were higher than average. For generations, says Santos Hernandez, who grew up in the Rio Grande Valley and now works as an application counselor at CentroMed, many in the poor Latino population, rural and urban, have had a three-step system for dealing with illness. “First you go to church, light a candle, and pray. Second, you see a curandero. Finally, you borrow money and take your kid to the doctor.”

In Texas Monthly, Michael Hall surveys the Texans whose health has dramatically improved after receiving medical coverage through President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, and discusses the group who labored to get them enrolled. The question that lingers now is: what will happen if the ACA gets repealed?

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The Telescope That Sees into the Heart of Hawaii

Alan L, Flickr

I asked Coleman, again, about the political nature of the TMT controversy. Was it not true that the United States instigated an illegal military coup and then later stole these islands near the turn of the nineteenth century? So weren’t these internecine politics sort of peripheral to the fact that Hawaii was a sovereign kingdom that was robbed from the Hawaiian people? And was that robbery not at gunpoint? And was it not true that the astronomers and groups supporting the TMT were just tacitly benefiting from a major geopolitical crime that was never rectified? Wasn’t the fundamental question of developing anything on Mauna Kea solely within the purview of the citizens of this hypothetical Hawaiian Kingdom? This was, to say the least, an uncomfortable question to ask, but it was important to know what one of maybe three Native Hawaiian astronomers on this planet thought about it.

He said, “There are very large numbers of Hawaiians who think statehood is a great thing. People who say, ‘We want to be Americans. We love it. We were born Americans, we served in Vietnam and Korea. We want to be seen as Americans.’ And then there are people who say, ‘No, we don’t want to be Americans. We hate the place.’” He speculated how these two groups could achieve consensus and the cold wind picked up and I grew impatient.

In Virginia Quarterly Review, Trevor Quirk reports from a mountain on the Big Island of Hawaii, where native Hawaiians protested the construction of a telescope on spiritual grounds — the presence of which cuts to the very question of who gets to decide what happens on Hawaiian soil — and who the soil belongs to.

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Celebrating New York City’s Early Soul Food Celebrity Chef, Princess Pamela

Eugene Kim, Flickr

To Taylor, Princess Pamela’s story is a case study in examining who controls narratives of excellence in cooking. For decades, the chains of influence and power in the culinary sphere have remained static and white, and so have those sentries who dictate the worth of certain people’s contributions. (That it took two white, male celebrity chefs to resurrect this book and assert its worth within the literary marketplace only confirms this.) “Food media tends not to focus on black stories and black cookbook authors,” Taylor says. “There are dozens more waiting to be told.”

It is a refrain I hear from countless others: that her narrative’s descent into obscurity is indicative of a greater systemic ill that plagues America’s culinary memory. It is a memory prone to historical amnesia. Look no further than Princess Pamela, a woman no one noticed was gone. It’s as if they weren’t even looking.

At Food52Mayukh Sen recounts the glory years of Manhattan’s best DIY soul food restaurant, Little Kitchen, and tries to understand the final years of its beloved proprietor, who left without a trace.

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How Would Jesus Treat Tech Workers Moving into an Impoverished Neighborhood? Love Them.

Francisco Gonzalez, Flickr

“Many of them have chosen to live here and just don’t know how to make a connection,” James Lin, Glide’s senior director of mission and social justice, tells me—they have a neighborhood, in other words, but scarcely know their neighbors. Enter Glide. The church had both the cred and the networks to facilitate an introduction between its oldest and newest residents. As cofounder and minister of liberation, Williams has stood astride poverty and fame for half a century; he marched in Selma, he’s counted the Mandelas and Obamas and Oprahs and Bonos of the world as friends. A newly arrived company looking for an ally on these blocks, or perhaps a broker, could do far worse.

To Felicia Horowitz, wife of tech luminary Ben Horowitz and a devoted Glide supporter, the tech industry has to work extra hard for community acceptance—even as far more insidious local industries mostly escape public reprobation. Chirag Bhakta didn’t mutter about predatory lending bros ruining the neighborhood. At the center, Horowitz sees an abiding tech truth. “We’re outsiders. That’s what it comes down to. We always have been,” Horowitz told me.

In Wired, Chris Colin writes about the determined reverend whose church provides services to the Tenderloin’s most disenfranchised residents, and helps gentrifying tech industry workers engage with the marginalized neighbors their presence directly effects.

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Why Are the Details of One Russian Diplomat’s Death So Hazy?

Nell Moralee, Flickr

But when BuzzFeed News went to Krivov’s address, listed in the NYPD’s files, at 11 E. 90th St., it wasn’t a residence. It’s a Smithsonian-owned office building for its neighboring Cooper Hewitt design museum. It’s located a block behind the Russian Consulate, which is at 9 E. 91st St. One of the consulate’s public entrances is 11 E. 91st St.

Asked about the discrepancy, the NYPD insisted that 11 E. 90th St. was the address they had been given for Krivov, apparently by Russian consular officials.

“No one is living here — this is where my desk is right now,” a Smithsonian employee at the address said when BuzzFeed News called.

At BuzzFeed, Ali Watkins investigates the way the Russian consulate called Sergei Krivov’s death a heart attack when he seems to have died of blunt force trauma on the floor of New York City’s Russian Consulate building. The details of his death, like his life, raise many questions, so why are so few officials talking about this?

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Ireland’s Forgotten Women

Nico Kaiser, Flickr

They spent decades behind high-grey-convent-walls, against their will, working away, packaging board games, without a complaint in the world to anyone: because they were brainwashed into believing they had committed a mortal sin, and were paying back their penance to Jesus.

The Good Shepherd Sisters have continually tried to erase these “forgotten women” from our collective consciousness; and want to relegate them to the dustbin of Irish history.

In the wake of the centenary celebrations of 1916, Ireland, more than ever, is striving to come to terms with the ghosts of its own history.

In doing so, there is a hope that coming generations might experience, what President Michael D Higgins recently referred to — in his keynote speech about the rising, in the Mansion House in Dublin — as “freedom from poverty, freedom from violence and insecurity and freedom from fear.”

In Little Atoms, JP O’ Malley digs deep to tell the story of the Irish nuns who a multi-million dollar corporation exploited to help produce its toys, and to honor their lives and their suffering.

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England’s Fears and Shifting Identity

Photo from mazz_5 via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

He tells a story about an A&E waiting room in Kent after his son fell over and hit his head on a shower railing. “The only English accents were mine, my dad’s and my other half’s. Everybody else was from abroad. My dad looked at it as if I’m 15 down in the queue for an institution I built and my parents worked towards. We built this.” I point out that the NHS might have been more affected by austerity than immigration, and anyway, immigrants have brought more money into the country in the form of tax – just look it up. “Aha, yes, they may well do, bruv – so am I going to base my entire idea on what the ONS says? This is the insanity of it: the right blame everything on immigrants and the left blame everything on the Tories.”

Four pints in and we’re not convincing each other, so we head to the pie and mash shop for some stodge. “Rarely do good things happen when people have been drinking, but what’s worse?” says Dan. “People have a drink, or all the pubs go.” Such considerations are part of the reason identity is such an important political subject today. People see change, and it’s often for the worse. In Grays, the local theatre is set to close. In recent years, the ground of Grays Athletic Football Club, which stood for over 100 years and was a point of local pride, was bulldozed to make way for flats.

In the English magazine Somesuch Stories, journalist Tim Burrows travels from London to the English countryside to talk with regular folks about the changing UK, race, immigration and the reasons behind Brexit.

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The High Price of Breaking Ground

duncan c, Flickr

McMahon hired her in 1997, and Chyna became the first woman to battle male wrestlers in the WWF ring, much to the chagrin of many fans, who protested Chyna’s presence by throwing batteries at her and spreading nasty rumors. (One was that she had the world’s largest clit; another, that she had a penis.) But the abuse didn’t seem to stop her. During one 1999 fight, Triple H kicked Chyna in the breasts. The announcer said nothing; when Chyna retaliated by socking Triple H in the balls, he gulped: “I still don’t know if I’m comfortable with this.” After Chyna beat Triple H a few minutes later, retired wrestler Mick Foley, in character as Mankind, hit on her. She hit him in the balls, too, and said, “In case you don’t get it, that means, ‘no.’”

“I let the boys do their thing,” Chyna said in a 2015 interview with Vince Russo. “My job was to keep my mouth shut.” Most the time, she beat her male opponents and became known as the “Ninth Wonder of the World.”

“She was in there not only wrestling guys but beating guys,” says former WWE host Jim Roberts. “She was doing stuff that only guys were doing at the time, and that I don’t believe any female has done since. What she did was incredible. She was really revolutionary in the wrestling business.”

At Broadly, Mitchell Sunderland examines WWE star Chyna’s accomplishments, struggles and legacy, and the complex challenges women face in a world fraught sexism. She died on the same day as Prince, but his passing isn’t what might eclipse her.

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Is There a Lost Galleon in the Desert?

Robert Gourley, Flickr

While inspecting the property, Carver noticed that the fence posts were oddly shaped. Jacobsen said this was because they came from a boat he’d found on his property. Jacobsen promptly left for Los Angeles, and his wife invited Carver to stay in the main house, because she was afraid of a “crazy Swede” who was prowling the area. Carver asked her about the ship. “We had a bad windstorm awhile back, and it blew a lot of sand off of one of the dunes near the back of the house,” she said, according to Grasson. “When the storm was done, Jakie noticed what looked like the front of a boat coming out of the ground, so he went to investigate. It took Jakie quite some time to get through all the sand, but when he did he found a small chest full of gems. But when he tried to lift the chest out it fell completely apart.” Jacobsen used a sifter to retrieve the spilled jewels.

On that recording, Carver says he saw the ship protruding from the ground. He also says that, during his trip to Los Angeles, Jacobsen met with a lawyer named Levi and a pawnbroker named Barney, presumably to trade some of the treasure he’d found.

In Newsweek, Alexander Nazaryan recounts one man’s search for a Spanish galleon that legends say traveled up the Sea of Cortez into California’s desert interior and never got out. Or maybe it’s a Viking ship. Even in that bright desert sun, the facts are hazy.

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Georgia: Asian, European, or Just Georgian?

Genadi Yakovlev, Flickr

Most geographical definitions of Europe do, in fact, exclude Georgia. A modified version of the border that Herodotus’ contemporaries agreed on—along the Tanais River, today’s Don—is still the most commonly accepted version of the Europe-Asia border, following the Don, Kuma, and Manych rivers from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea. Other geographers put it along the ridge of the Caucasus Mountains, which separate Russia from Georgia—a particularly cruel irony, given that Georgia’s embrace of a European identity is focused largely on distinguishing itself from Russia.

In the 1950s, Soviet geographers undertook an effort to finally eliminate confusion about where the border between Europe and Asia lie, and as part of that they solicited opinions from the geographical societies of the three “Transcaucasus” republics: Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. The first two argued that they should be placed in Asia, with only the Georgian opinion dissenting, on “historical-cultural” grounds, that the southern border of the Soviet Union, separating it from Iran and Turkey, was the proper border with Asia. But Moscow disagreed: “That sort of radical decision would hardly be accepted by the scientific community either in the USSR, or outside its borders. In geographical, historical-ethnographic terms the Transcaucasus belongs to Asia,” wrote geographer Eduard Murzaev, summarizing the debate in a Soviet journal.

And so Georgians since then have preferred to demur on the question of where exactly the border of Europe lies. Even Georgian textbooks don’t argue that Georgia is geographically in Europe, instead offering varying definitions of “political” Europe, “geographical” Europe, and so on. “In Georgia, there’s no interest in discussing this,” Gverdtsiteli tells me.

In Roads & Kingdoms, Joshua Kucera travels to the nation of Georgia, along the border of Russia and Europe, to examine the longstanding debate about whether it belongs to Asia, Europe or the Middle East, and why it matters.

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