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Not to be fed after midnight.

Growing Up in Rural Washington as a Muslim Immigrant

At SeattleMet, Hayat Norimine describes what it was like to grow up as an only child in a Japanese-Syrian household in Pullman, Washington, a small town eight miles from the Idaho border where issues of race and diversity were never talked about. “My parents never taught me to be proud of race or heritage,” Norimine writes, and it wasn’t until she was a college student in Seattle that she began to see her childhood more clearly.

In her essay exploring race, class, and identity, Norimine describes how she fell for a man from this very place she is from — a place that is “not glamorous or exotic,” and where “many immigrant kids somehow thrived.”

I had known what I was getting myself into, falling for someone who had very strong ties to the Palouse. I was only 23 when we married, and I had never wanted to be content with the first comfortable option I got. I had wanted to move back abroad, even at the risk of losing a green card. But over time my love for Owen translated to a love for the land that made him, helped him grow. I became comfortable with the idea of living there, while Owen—thinking he had made a commitment to someone who’s going anywhere but there—became comfortable with leaving.

Those dusty, yellow-brown rolling Palouse hills that never looked more beautiful? They were decrepit to Owen, a constant reminder of the land that wasted away under chemical farming to which he helped contribute. We’d drive by and he’d point to the gashes in the hills formed by water runoff, a sign of the damage endured after decades of abuse.

We were looking at the same site but saw very different things. I had romanticized returning to the land that Owen’s family held such ownership to. Owen now saw something else—confinement.

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What the Future of Death Looks Like

At UCLA’s Donated Body Program, Dean Fisher uses a device to dissolve the dead bodies of donors. This alkaline hydrolysis machine, called the “Resomator,” turns bodies into liquid and pure white bone, which is then pounded and scattered at sea. Compared to cremation, alkaline hydrolysis is better for the environment, yet the process is currently only legal in the U.K. and in 14 U.S. states and three Canadian provinces. Is this the machine that could disrupt the death industry?

At Wired UK, Hayley Campbell explores this process of water cremation, which a growing number of advocates is calling a cleaner, more efficient, and ultimately less expensive alternative to burial and traditional cremation.

The machine is mid-cycle. Fisher, grey-haired and tall in light green scrubs, explains what’s happening inside the high-pressure chamber: potassium hydroxide is being mixed with water heated to 150°C. A biochemical reaction is taking place and the flesh is melting off the bones. Over the course of up to four hours, the strong alkaline base causes everything but the skeleton to break down to the original components that built it: sugar, salt, peptides and amino acids; DNA unzips into its nucleobases, cytosine, guanine, adenine, thymine. The body becomes fertiliser and soap, a sterile watery liquid that looks like weak tea. The liquid shoots through a pipe into a holding tank in the opposite corner of the room where it will cool down, be brought down to an acceptable pH for the water treatment plant, and be released down the drain.

Fisher says I can step outside if it all gets too much, but it’s not actually that terrible. The human body, liquefied, smells like steamed clams.

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The Beauty (and Predictability) of a Slot Machine’s Algorithm

A Russian mathematician from St. Petersburg named Alex has quite the talent: he reverse engineers the pseudorandom number generators (PRNGs) that govern how slot machines behave. His team of field agents roams casinos around the world and “milk” the machines whose algorithms they’ve cracked.

Here’s how it works: an agent records a video of a targeted slot machine, sends the footage back to St. Petersburg, and Alex analyzes the slot’s behavior to determine the moment it will pay out. “By using these cues to beat slots in multiple casinos,” writes Brendan Koerner in Wired, “a four-person team can earn more than $250,000 a week.”

After interviewing Alex on the record, Koerner tells the story of this programmer-turned-hacker and what he views as his Robin Hood-like crusade against the global gambling industry.

In the course of reverse engineering Novomatic’s software, Alex encountered his first PRNG. He was instantly fascinated by the elegance of this sort of algorithm, which is designed to spew forth an endless series of results that appear impossible to forecast. It does this by taking an initial number, known as a seed, and then mashing it together with various hidden and shifting inputs—the time from a machine’s internal clock, for example. Writing such algorithms requires tremendous mathematical skill, since they’re supposed to produce an output that defies human comprehension; ideally, a PRNG should approximate the utter unpredictability of radioactive decay.

After wrapping up the casino gig, Alex spent six months teaching himself everything he could about PRNGs—in part because he admired their beauty but also because he knew that such expertise could prove profitable. “I mastered it to the point where I can develop such algorithms myself, on a level I am yet to see in a gambling machine,” says Alex, who will never be accused of lacking confidence. “It’s in my bloodstream now. I feel the numbers; I know how they move.”

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‘A Boy with No Backstory’: One Teenager’s Transition

In 2014, Oregonian reporter Casey Parks contacted local hospitals to find transgender patients who were interested in telling their stories. One doctor, Karin Selva, had a 15-year-old patient named Jay who was willing to share his own. Parks met Jay and his mother Nancy the following year, soon after his first testosterone shot, and has spent hundreds of hours with him since — at home with family and friends, on school visits, and during medical appointments. In the first piece of a three-part series, Parks chronicles the realization that would prompt Jay’s medical transition.

One afternoon while his mom worked, Jay called his younger sisters to the living room. They were 8 and 10 — old enough, he hoped, to understand.

“I need to show you a video,” he told them. He streamed one of the YouTube videos on the TV. A trans guy appeared on the screen and explained how he came out to his family.

Jay stood while his sisters watched from the couch.

“This is how I feel,” Jay said when it ended.

“So you’re becoming a boy?” asked his youngest sister, Angie.

Jay paused. He couldn’t bring himself to say it out loud.

“Kind of.”

“Do you want me to tell mom?” Maria asked.

“No,” he said. Jay hadn’t talked to his mother much the past year, but he knew he had to tell her.

The next day, he crept to the other side of their trailer, his heart knocking. He pushed open his mom’s bedroom door, stood in the doorway and watched her play Candy Crush. She was zoned out after a 12-hour workday. Maybe she’d be too tired to talk about it. She already had on her favorite pajamas, gray sweatpants and a tan tank top.

“I think I figured it out,” he said.

He took a deep breath.

“I’m a boy.”

His mom looked up from the phone.

“So you want to be a butch lesbian?”

“No,” he said. He walked toward her.

“A boy.”

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‘Oakland Used to Be More Funky’: Where Have All the Artists Gone?

There’s Adley Penner, a West Oakland musician who lives in a shed with Styrofoam walls. There’s also Theo Williams, of the musical group Sambafunk!, who was drumming at Lake Merritt one day when a man approached and asked if they had a permit, pulled the drumsticks from his hands, and called the police. And then there’s writer Tara Marsden, who ditched a full-time job at a tech company in San Francisco and moved across the bay to focus on her art — but now struggles financially and has had to move five times in recent years.

As the lack of affordable housing and influx of new, affluent residents make it increasingly hard for artists to live in Oakland, the future of the city’s vibrant creative community is uncertain. At Laney Tower, Sarah Carpenter, Brian Howey, and KR Nava trace the history of the city’s arts through years of development, industry, and racial discrimination and tell the stories of some of Oakland’s artists who are experiencing, firsthand, a changing local scene. Read more…

In a League of His Own: One Man’s Mission to Make Moviegoing Fun Again

Launched in Austin 20 years ago by Tim League, the Alamo Drafthouse chain of cinemas has spread to 27 locations and 20 cities, serving up League’s fun, eclectic blend of film, food, and entertainment: a Vin Diesel trivia contest before the screening of The Fast and the Furious. A DeLorean displayed during a run of Back to the Future. Food and drink menus curated for the films. Super-fans dressed in costumes.

But as more people stream movies on their TVs and tablets at home than ever before, traditional theaters face an uncertain future. And League, as Dan Solomon writes in Texas Monthly, believes he can bring us back into theaters — and make moviegoing great again.

In recent years, box office receipts have been high—2015 shattered the previous record, nudging past $11 billion—but much of that profit is based on people paying higher prices. The average cost of a movie ticket has spiked by more than $2.50 since 2004; it is now $8.84. But the number of tickets sold—the number of people going to the movies—has been declining. Except at certain theaters, like the Alamo, which are consistently selling out.

All of which highlights what Tim League and the Alamo Drafthouse are really selling. You can see a movie anywhere, but anyone who’s had to buy tickets weeks or months in advance for the opening night of a movie at the Drafthouse, a movie that will also be playing at every theater in town, knows that, like Marcus Loew, League doesn’t sell tickets to movies, he sells tickets to theaters—to an experience.

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The Resilience of a Middle Distance Runner

(Patrick Smith / Getty Images)

At Sports Illustrated, Tim Layden tells the story of middle-distance runner Gabriele “Gabe” Grunewald, who discovered in 2009 that she had a very rare form of cancer, adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC), which is found primarily in the salivary glands and for which there is no standard of care. Then 22, she was on the verge of winning a Big Ten title and about to launch her professional running career. So they removed the tumor and she fought ACC.

“It all marked the beginning of Gabe’s life with cancer, not the end,” writes Layden. Within less than a decade, cancer has come back in different forms — again and again and again. Through it all, Gabe keeps running.

Since that morning in Tempe, cancer had come back three times. First there was thyroid cancer in 2010, just a year after her initial diagnosis. This was an entirely different kind of cancer, which at first confused everybody (but which now seems like a footnote). In the days between those first two cancers, Gabe, now 31, had lived—and run—voraciously. She learned that ACC five-year survival rates are very high (approximately 89%), and she attacked those five years. “Just fit in everything I can,” Gabe says. She procured that extra year of eligibility and took a whopping 10 seconds off her 1,500-meter PR, down to 4:12.06. She finished second at the Big Ten championship, second at the NCAAs and scored a modest pro contract with Brooks. Justin was away at medical school, in Duluth, so she also stayed out a little later, drank a little more beer and a little more red wine, escaping and experiencing a life she’d avoided in her past. “Sometimes those nights ended in tears and drama,” she says, “because I would get emotional about everything.” She had surgery on the thyroid cancer that fall, followed by one treatment with radioactive iodine, and then she bounced back quickly.

The big cancer, ACC, stayed away for seven years, and in that time Gabe carved out a career as a solid professional middle-distance runner. She finished fourth in the 1,500 meters at the 2012 Olympic trials, ran a personal best in the same event in ‘13 (4:01.48; only 10 American women have ever run faster) and won the indoor 3,000-meter national title in ‘14.

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While They Were Creating the Album, the Beastie Boys Were Also Creating Themselves

After their 1986 debut Licensed to Ill, the world had high expectations of the Beastie Boys. But their second album, Paul’s Boutique, was viewed as a commercial failure. The hip-hop trio then had the creative freedom to pursue whatever they wanted next, and the result, 1992’s Check Your Head, presented their most ambitious vision yet, and allowed Ad-Rock, MCA, and Mike D to finally come into their own. At Flood MagazineMarty Sartini Garner describes how the Beastie Boys discovered themselves.

But the album is guided by a kind of audacity that refuses to recognize itself as audacity. It doesn’t even dare you to suggest that following the sunbaked rock of “Gratitude” with a conga-led organ jammer is a bad idea; it succeeds almost entirely on the power of the Beastie Boys’ conviction that it would succeed, that the contours of their map might be recognizable even if the landmarks aren’t. “They could relate and dig deeper with Check Your Head, because it fit their [evolution] in a lot of ways, too,” Diamond says of the audience they discovered when they finally took the album out on tour. “It may not have been the same trajectory of music that they discovered along the way, but they could relate.”

It was “this freedom to [try] shit and be inventive and use the whole century as a palette,” as Nishita puts it. “Let’s just smash it all together.”

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Once You Reach the Top of Mt. Everest, There’s Nowhere to Go But Down

In a personal piece at National Geographic, photographer and explorer Cory Richards shares stories of some of his past climbs and magazine assignments in Pakistan, the Russian Arctic, and Angola—accompanied by stunning adventure photography— alongside candid thoughts on his struggles with PTSD, alcoholism, and infidelity.

“In the field, I felt so connected to everything. But then I’d come home and I felt so disconnected,” he writes. For a time, the mountains were the only place where he felt secure, where he had an identity. And while his professional climbing career took off, his personal life unraveled.

In May 2016, on a trip with climbing partner Adrian Ballinger, he reached the summit of Mt. Everest:

The lessons started to pile onto me at that point, and in the months following. I thought Everest would be some cathartic act; it would puncture the darkness that I was in, solve the PTSD, and somehow vanquish my guilt. I thought it would be a sort of phoenix-rising moment.

What I found instead was that I had literally run to the highest point on the planet to escape my truth, and I couldn’t bury it any more. Allegorically, Everest is the point from which all else flows—at least that’s what I see there—and it’s from there that I had to go downhill and into all the things that I had to face.

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Illustration by Kate Gavino

‘They Would Try to Love Whoever Killed Her, and Forgive.’

In 1985, Cliff and Wilma Derksen’s daughter Candace was abducted and left to die in the severe cold of Winnipeg, Manitoba. While the couple did not yet know the killer’s identity, they made a decision early on to forgive — and to save themselves and the good left in their lives.

As he spoke, the Derksens saw for the first time what faced them. They would come to know it as the darkness, an abyss of sadness and anger that could swallow a person and take away everything they loved, that would spread until it destroyed all that was beautiful. Alone in their bedroom after he left, they made a decision: They had lost Candace, they wouldn’t lose everything else, too. They couldn’t.

“We kind of looked at each other and said, ‘We have to stop this,'” Cliff says. “We have to forgive.”

But what does it mean to forgive the person who killed your daughter? The person who bound her hands and feet in a way so dehumanizing it is called “hog-tying,” then left her alone and helpless to die in the cold? How do you forgive a person you have never met? Who has never asked your forgiveness? How do you forgive a person who may not even be sorry?

Thirty-two years later, the suspect in the case awaits his verdict in a second trial, as Jana G. Pruden reports in the Globe and Mail. Today, the Derksens reflect on their decision to forgive, to let go, and to face the light.

They admit it’s strange that the man at the heart of their story somehow doesn’t play a bigger role, but yet he is nearly invisible. Through the years, they have come to know that their forgiveness must be offenderless. They have fought so hard to keep him from destroying their lives, that in some ways it is not really about him at all.

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