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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

A plane taking off from Kabul, silhoutted against a dusty evening sky
A plane takes off from Hamid Karzai International airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 4, 2022. Photo: Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images

Here are five standout pieces we read this week. You can always visit our editors’ picks or our Twitter feed to see what other recommendations you may have missed.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox.

Bushra Seddique | The Atlantic | August 15th, 2022 | 4,429 words

A year ago this week, Kabul fell to the Taliban. A year ago this week, Bushra Seddique tried to leave. At 20 years old, Seddique had never lived under a Taliban government, but as a journalist and a woman, she realized she could not stay. It was an agonizing decision; while a friend helped her and her youngest sister get a place on a flight, her mother and middle sister had to stay behind. This essay focuses on a seemingly small thing — the journey to the airport — but conveys so much. In an instant, Seddique’s prose pulls you closely into this tight-knit family, leaving you pulsating with the sisters’ turmoil as they reel between emotions. The joy: when after three days of waiting in fear near the airport, they are sent home and see their family. The grief: when the airport briefly opens again, forcing them to flee before saying goodbye. The excitement: when they are finally on a plane to a new country. The constant underneath it all is a deep sadness for a home that is disappearing, a place where just a few weeks ago “[p]eople were going out to sing and dance; music played in restaurants and taxis.” I vividly remember the scenes at Kabul airport playing out on the news last year: people clinging to planes, the bomb, the chaos, the filth. This essay takes you back — and removes any detachment you may have felt along the way. —CW

Simon van Zuylen-Wood | Vulture | August 17th, 2022 | 4,430 words

Each decade seems to bring with it a new version of social panic around hip-hop, generally rooted in sex or violence. In the ’20s, that mantle so far has been laid on drill rap, and especially New York City’s version of the scene. But while the moralizing around drill had already ramped up, the February 2022 murder of Bronx teenager Jayquan McKenley brought a simmer to a boil. And as Simon van Zuylen-Wood captures in this affecting look at the McKenley tragedy, it gave NYC mayor Eric Adams and many other people the perfect symbol for a crackdown. This is more than a profile of a sweethearted teen, though. It’s a sober, neutral-minded tour through the fallout of the drill scene’s uniquely inflammatory recipe, from the artists who engage in hyper-personal social-media baiting to the NYPD detectives whose investigations often collide with the music. It’s not a fun read, but it’s a necessary one. —PR

3. Care Tactics

Laura Mauldin | The Baffler | July 26th, 2022 | 3,204 words

I read a few tweet threads recently about Pottery Barn’s new line of accessible furnishings. While many people praised the upscale furniture company for this ADA-compliant collection, others noted it was yet another example of inclusive design led by abled people. This discussion came to mind as I read Laura Mauldin’s enlightening piece on disability hacks. We live in a world in which health care systems and tech innovators are more invested in shiny objects that don’t consider disabled people’s actual, basic needs. As Mauldin explains, disabled folks and caregivers often rely on their own simple but ingenious hacks, and lean on shared knowledge “to MacGyver their way through daily life.” Perhaps surprisingly, Amazon has emerged as an indispensable service for disabled people to get affordable and essential health care equipment quickly. Mauldin offers us an insightful look at how disability and caregiving communities use creativity and collaboration to make their worlds more accessible in a time when businesses and larger systems continue to fail them. —CLR

4. How Three Amateurs Solved the Zodiac Killer’s ‘340’ Cipher*

Kathryn Miles Popular Mechanics | August 9th, 2022 | 3,776 words

I’m not a true-crime aficionado. I’m not one of the people who’s watched David Fincher’s Zodiac a zillion times. But I like weird shit, and I like puzzles, and this Kathryn Miles tick-tock unpacking one of modern culture’s enduring cryptographic mysteries serves up both. For more than 50 years, an encoded note from the Zodiac Killer went unsolved, until a trio of sleuthing obsessives connected online and brought all their combined power to bear on the problem. (To be fair, they had a supercomputer too.) The solution process itself would likely be more at home in a slide deck than in a blockbuster narrative — essentially waiting for a computer to brute-force various combinations of solving paradigms — but Miles manages to squeeze some real glee from the proceedings. Or, hey, maybe that’s just me. —PR

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5. An Essay About Watching Brad Pitt Eat That Is Really About My Own Shit

Lucas Mann Hobart | Aug 16th, 2022 | 8,227 words

Meet Joe Black is a bad movie. It’s long, and slow, and pretentious. But it has one thing going for it, and that is Brad Pitt eating. Specifically, Brad Pitt licking peanut butter off a spoon, considering it with his tongue, and then asking for more. Watching this scene in the theater in middle school was a seminal moment in my sexual awakening. Needless to say, I clicked fast when I saw the headline of this essay. And I wasn’t disappointed: Lucas Mann uses Brad Pitt eating — in a number of films, but starting, rightly, with MJB — as a lens through which to consider his relationship to his own body and to the bodies of others, some of which he knows intimately, others of which he knows only from watching them on screen. It’s a lovely, surprising piece that makes me crave peanut butter, straight out of the jar. —SD

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Photo by Peathegee Inc/Getty Images

Here are five standout pieces we read this week. You can always visit our editors’ picks or our Twitter feed to see what other recommendations you may have missed.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox.

Caitlin Dickerson | The Atlantic | August 8th, 2022 | 28,600 words

Go ahead and give Caitlin Dickerson a Pulitzer. Her examination of the Trump administration’s family separation policy is a reporting tour de force and an American horror story that should be read and studied as long as the republic stands. I could only read it in pieces. One go was too much — my heart couldn’t take it. Dickerson shows that some elected officials and bureaucrats acted out of a toxic combination of malice and ambition, while even more did nothing because they were too cowardly or navel-gazing. She holds them all to account, particularly those with children of their own. “‘Can you hold on? My daughter is about to get in her car to leave and I need to kiss her goodbye,’ one government official said as she was in the middle of describing a spreadsheet of hundreds of complaints from parents searching for their children,” Dickerson writes. A single phrase came to mind when I finished reading: “.” —SD

2. Seven Stowaways and a Hijacked Oil Tanker: The Strange Case of The Nave Andromeda

Samira Shackle | The Guardian | June 9th, 2022 | 5,925 words

Samira Shackle’s investigation is a gripping lesson in not taking things at face value. Exploring the story of “a heroic mission to defeat a hijacking in the Channel,” instead of finding “marauding Nigerian pirates,” she discovers scared and lonely men, still coming to terms with what happened to them after being brought ashore in the U.K. Any threat is dubious at best. The crew of the Nave Andromeda was likely just desperate to find a way to dock — perhaps even through a feigned distress call — having been turned away from Spain and France for having seven stowaways aboard. Shackle offers tremendous reporting on both this one event and the broader immigration issue of which it is part — while managing to keep humanity at the forefront. Her words paint an all too vivid picture of the rudder stock — the space around a pole that links the rudder to the steering room inside the ship — where the seven men clung on for nine days before being discovered, too scared to fall asleep in case they fell into the swirling sea below. Shackle focuses on Michael, fleeing from a gang in Lagos that killed his mother, and his bewilderment at being put into detention is heartbreaking. It is Shackle who helps clarify what has happened: “[H]e handed me a crumpled bail notice from the police and asked me to explain it. When I said that the case had been dropped, pulling up a BBC report from the previous January on my phone, he began to cry. ‘I didn’t know that,’ he said.” —CW

3. Looking for Clarence Thomas

Mitchell S. Jackson | Esquire | August 8th, 2022 | 6,500 words

“My god, dude, what the hell happened to you?” That’s the central question of Pulitzer Prize winner Mitchell S. Jackson’s new profile of Clarence Thomas. Except it’s not a profile in the traditional sense. It’s a rumination, a scream, a plea. Jackson, whose writing always seems to pour from his veins as much as it unspools from his brain, visits Thomas’ boyhood home in low country Georgia, where he was nicknamed “Boy” and grew up speaking Gullah, and his current home in Fairfax, Virginia, where Thomas “retires to on days he and his colleagues announce the usurping of more rights.” Jackson is seeking clues for how a Black man could come to make his life’s work the subjugation of his own people, among many other long-marginalized groups. I was moved by the honest desperation of this piece. Jackson’s work shimmers with pain. —SD

4. ‘She Made Us Happy’: The All-Star Dreams of Uvalde’s Biggest José Altuve Fan

Roberto José Andrade Franco | ESPN | July 27th, 2022 | 7,314 words

Two weeks ago, I read Roberto José Andrade Franco’s piece on the devastating loss of one Uvalde family, and I’m still thinking about it. Franco traces a history of Texas shaped by guns, violence, and segregation, but also comes in close to share the story of 10-year-old Tess Mata, one of the children murdered in the Robb Elementary School shooting, who loved softball and dancing — and had her entire life ahead of her. The photographs by Verónica G. Cárdenas are haunting — snapshots of Tess, her family, her bedroom and belongings — but so are the scenes from Tess’ life conjured from Franco’s words. I can’t stop imagining, for instance, a determined Tess throwing a softball in her family’s backyard, aiming practice pitches at a sugar maple tree in the Texas heat. A heartbreaking but necessary read. —CLR

Ian Dille | Texas Monthly | August 10th, 2022 | 3,938 words

Recent years have seen an explosion of discussion around racial gaps in outdoor recreation — finally. Despite rapidly proliferating groups like Outdoor Afro and the Major Taylor Cycling Club, retail brands and shops seemed almost inertially resistant to reaching beyond their assumed audience. (“I love Patagonia products, but their marketing materials make the luxury of intentionally living in your van seem admirable, even altruistic,” Nicholas Russell wrote in 2020. “The activities that outdoor companies present, whether climbing or running or snowboarding, isn’t correlated to what’s possible; it’s more about who fits the concept of that activity, who is likely to afford to buy into it.”) It’s that pattern that Jahmichah Dawes has sought to disrupt, opening an outdoors shop in small-town Texas. As such, Dawes has found himself a poster child of sorts, a symbol of something far bigger than just a man and his dream — whether he wanted to be or not. But as Ian Dille’s Texas Monthly profile makes clear, it’s a challenge he’s met with perseverance and mission clarity. And outdoor enthusiasts everywhere are better for it. —PR

Galloping Into the Abyss

Three men and their house in silhouette
Photo by Tailyr Irvine


Jana MeisenholderThe Atavist Magazine | August 2022 | 7 minutes (2,197 words)

This is an excerpt from The Atavist’s issue no. 129, “King of the Hill.” 

***

The Atavist Magazine, our sister site, publishes one deeply reported, elegantly designed story each month. Support The Atavist by becoming a member.

Before the arrival of European colonizers, the Columbia Plateau, which forms swaths of present-day Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, was home to several Native tribes, including the Nez Perce, Wenatchi, Palus, and Colville. Foreigners brought with them disease and destruction. They also brought horses. “It was probably the best gift the white man ever gave us,” the late Stampede organizer and horse trainer Eddie Timentwa told author Carol Austin, who wrote a book about the Suicide Race in 1993,

By the 1700s, horsemanship had become an integral part of Native culture. The animals assisted in transportation and territorial expansion. “Mounted war parties could strike enemies at greater distances and with greater force than ever before,” writes anthropologist Deward Walker. Horses also led to larger traditional gatherings, allowing more people from a wider geographical range to come together. During salmon-spawning season, plateau tribes would meet at the confluence of the Sanpoil and Columbia Rivers to harvest and dry the coming winter’s supply of fish. Horses served as entertainment and objects of sporting competition. Riders paraded horses adorned with tribal regalia and beaded stirrups and bridles before running perilous mountain races.

After the plateau tribes were forced onto the Colville Reservation, the tradition of horse racing continued, and people wagered on riders. Stories of these events were most often passed down through oral tradition, but in 1879, Erskine Wood, a U.S. military officer, wrote of one horse race, “It did not take long for the excitement to grow and soon the bets were showering down and the pile swelling visibly with such great rapidity that it was marvelous how account could be kept. Blankets, furs, saddles, knives, traps, tobacco, beads, whips, and a hundred other things were staked.” (Wood wrote positively of many of his encounters with Native tribes, but also participated in the violent removal of the Nez Perce from their ancestral land.)

In the 1920s, Hugh McShane, a white man married to a Colville woman, introduced a mountain race at the rodeo in Keller, Washington. The race, described by Austin as “a half mile, pell-mell down a nearly vertical, boulder-strewn chasm in the face of a mountain,” quickly became a crowd favorite. But it wouldn’t last: The construction of the Grand Coulee Dam in the 1930s flooded Keller, forcing residents to relocate. In Omak, about 60 miles northwest, Claire Pentz, a furniture salesman in charge of publicity for the town’s rodeo, heard about McShane’s event and decided to stage one of his own. Locals brainstormed what to call the starting location, a precipitous incline on the Okanogan’s southern bank. Murder Hill was floated, but organizers settled on Suicide Hill. “The suicide race draws only the most nervy riders,” The Omak Chronicle declared.

In 1942, a jockey named Bev Conners drowned in the river during the race. Since then, according to various sources, no other jockeys have died. But injuries are common, including grievous ones. Larry Peasley, who taught Andres how to ride a mechanical bull, has two adult children who were nearly killed in the race. In 2002, his daughter Naomie—one of only a few women to ever run the race—suffered a skull fracture and flatlined on the way to the hospital. Doctors were able to revive her. A few years later, Peasley’s son Tyler went somersaulting off his horse and was trampled by oncoming riders. He fractured his ribs and suffered a broken pelvis and hip.

It’s not hard to see what makes the race so dangerous. There’s the hill itself, more than 200 feet of earth pitched at a harrowing angle—according to one race organizer’s measurement, it’s steeper than the Great Pyramid of Giza. Riders charge down the slope at full gallop, reaching speeds up to 30 miles per hour by the time they hit the river. Then there’s the lack of any hard-and-fast rules about how the race should be run. Horses aren’t lined up in an orderly fashion at the starting line. What happens on Suicide Hill is a free-for-all, with mounted jockeys jostling each other, fighting for a competitive spot. The aggression only escalates during the race. Riders violently whipping other jockeys in the face with their crops, attempting to throw them off balance or slow them down, is a common tactic, and often a successful one.

The best Suicide Race jockeys are adrenaline junkies, as athletic as they are knowledgeable of the event’s 1,260-foot-long course. They’ve meticulously mapped out the quarter-mile and know what to do when: Lean back before this point, lock your knees here, sit forward just after that section, pull back the reins there. Riders have incredible core and leg strength to help them stay in the saddle, and they know how far their bodies can tilt sideways if need be, to avoid injury or inflict it on a competitor.

In 2002, the race’s all-time reigning champ, Alex Dick, passed away at the age of 83. He had 16 King of the Hill titles to his name; his obituary in a local newspaper noted that Dick, who was Native, “set a record that will probably never be broken.” So far it hasn’t been. Yet if there’s a first family of the Suicide Race today, it’s the Marchands. Three brothers—Loren, Francis, and Edward—have followed in the footsteps of their grandfather, Jim, an endurance racer who died after a horse fell on him in 1990, and an uncle, George, who holds three Suicide Race titles. Loren, now 34, has been crowned King of the Hill seven times, most recently in 2015. Francis and Edward have never won the overall title, but they’ve come close.

As the dominant force in the Suicide Race, the Marchand brothers have a wealth of tips and tricks, and they know all the best places around Omak to practice. But the race is a tradition most often shared among kin, and the Marchands are notoriously wary of letting people who aren’t blood, or at least Native, into their inner circle. They also reject weekend warriors and wannabe jockeys who are in it purely for the exhilaration. “The Marchands don’t fuck with anybody,” said Conner Picking, a Suicide Race jockey and a great-grandson of one of the founders of the Omak Stampede.

That didn’t stop Andres from trying to get their attention.

***

By the summer of 2018, Andres, now 26, had cleaned up his life and was working construction and picking up jobs as a handyman. He was also holding fast to his desire to learn from Suicide Race royalty, looking for a way in to their good graces. One day he accompanied a welder to a small ranch in Eastside owned by Preston Boyd, a Colville elder renowned for breeding and training thoroughbreds for flat-track racing. Boyd needed the men to fix his broken horse walker, a motorized machine that leads horses in a circle. While Andres worked, Boyd took a good look at him. He noticed Andres’s height—just five feet six inches. He probed the young man about his weight.

Boyd was searching for a new rider to exercise his racehorses, because his usual guys were getting too busy. Among them was his great-nephew, Francis Marchand. Francis was helping Boyd break some new horses that summer, but his schedule was increasingly packed with rodeos—a formidable horseman, Francis regularly competed in saddle bronc and bareback riding. Andres’s specs were promising for the kind of rider Boyd needed. Sure, he couldn’t gallop a horse yet, but he could learn. Boyd told Andres he might fit the bill.

Andres knew he was being given a rare opportunity—a chance to get to know Boyd and one of the Marchands, and to show that he had what it took to run the Suicide Race. But months went by and nothing happened. Boyd never followed up with Andres about exercising his horses.

Omak is the kind of place where everybody knows everybody, and sometimes Andres bumped into Francis at social gatherings. He would bring up Boyd’s suggestion that he was rider material as casually as he could, to see if Francis knew anything about his great-uncle’s plans. Andres also asked about going off the hill—what it felt like, what it took to win. Francis recognized Andres’s ambition, and in early 2019 he told him to stop dithering and get to the point: If he wanted to become a rider, he should go to Boyd and say so. “You want to do this? Look him in the eyes,” Francis said. “In any culture, you grab a guy, shake his hand, and tell him you want this.”

Andres took the advice to heart, but he didn’t want to seem desperate. He waited until he ran into Boyd at a gas station one day, then asked if he could help exercise his horses. Boyd said sure, and Andres showed up at 7:30 the next morning to start learning.

Unlike bull riding, which Andres took to easily as a boy, riding racehorses was challenging. Though short, he was stocky and muscular; working construction had made him strong, but he wasn’t nimble or quick to respond to a horse’s stride. Montana Pakootas, a seasoned jockey who helped out on the ranch, had to constantly remind Andres not to yank the reins, but to pull them gently, if he wanted to slow a horse down. “Use your wrist, not your whole arm,” Pakootas said. Otherwise, when a horse was going full speed, Andres risked throwing it off balance.

Andres’s riding improved, and by the summer of 2019 he was exercising Boyd’s newest racehorses for several hours most days of the week. Boyd expected his riders to stick to a routine, for the horses’ sake. “I take Wednesdays and Sundays off to let their muscles, if they get sore, to give them a little rest,” he said. On training days, it was Andres’s job to guide horses to a trot around a local track for a quarter of a mile, getting their blood pumping and helping them build stamina. Eventually he would get them up to a gallop. As a horse became more aerobic, Andres learned to increase its speed against its pulse, maintaining a low heart rate even while the horse worked hard over varying distances. After weeks or months of training, when a horse was comfortable running at top speed around the track in Omak, Andres took the horse to Emerald Downs, a race facility in Seattle, not to compete but to get acquainted with crowds and the whirring sound the starting gates make when they open.

Andres exercised Boyd’s horses for free, and he and Renteria, who was selling Amway products at the time, sometimes struggled to cover the bills. Andres picked up odd jobs where he could, but not anything that took away from his time with Boyd’s horses. The Suicide Race was never far from his mind. He watched videos of past races over and over, studying them. “He’d always say, ‘I hope I go down the hill one day,’ but I never thought he would actually be in it,” Renteria said. Sometimes Andres was surprised he still had a girlfriend at all. “He told me that he thought I’d break up with him since all he did was ride,” Renteria said, smiling.

One day, when Andres had been working with Montana Pakootas for a while, he decided to tell him about his ultimate goal. Pakootas, who had run many Suicide Races and was crowned King of the Hill in 2004, was hosing down a horse at the time. In response to what Andres said, he turned and sprayed him in the face. That’s how the hazing began. Another time Pakootas dumped a boot full of water on Andres’s head. “You scared of getting wet? Because that water fucking feels like it just whips you in the face,” he said, referring to the dive into the Okanogan River. Andres was humiliated, but he kept showing up, kept taking shit.

When Boyd asked him to come along to Emerald Downs for an official racing event, Andres jumped at the chance. At the Downs, Andres awoke every morning at 4:45 to feed the racehorses, then got them ready for the day’s competitions. Francis Marchand and his brother Edward were there, helping care for Boyd’s horses, and they picked up Andres’s hazing where Pakootas had left off. “Edward wasn’t easy on me, that’s for sure,” Andres said. The eldest Marchand brother, known for his success in the extreme sport of Indian relay racing, in which a rider changes his mount mid-competition, seemed to notice every mistake Andres made while warming up the horses. “It’s almost like he waited for me to fuck up,” Andres said, “just so he could go off on me and drive me away.”

Andres persevered, and over margaritas at an Applebee’s one day, he felt bold enough to say it to Edward straight—what he wanted, what he was sure he was capable of. What did he need to do to go off the hill? Edward, who had placed second overall in the 2018 Suicide Race, shook his head in response.

“You don’t have what it takes,” he said.

“What’s it take?” Andres asked.

“It doesn’t matter. You don’t got it.”

Read the full story at The Atavist.

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Clusters of ripe Pinot Gris grapes on the vine
Getty Images

Here are five standout pieces we read this week. You can always visit our editors’ picks or our Twitter feed to see what other recommendations you may have missed.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox.

1. Kate Price Remembers Something Terrible

Janelle Nanos | The Boston Globe Magazine | July 28th, 2022 | 11,329 words

I would be remiss if I didn’t start by noting that Janelle Nanos’s story contains graphic details of childhood sexual abuse — some readers may want to proceed with caution, or not at all. Should you choose to click through, you will find a feat of narrative journalism, as propulsive as it is compassionate. As an adult, Kate Price, an authority on child sex trafficking, began to remember being abused by her father, grandfather, and other men. But no one believed her. Even she wasn’t sure she could trust her memories. So, in collaboration with Nanos over roughly a decade, Price went looking for evidence of what her brain told her had happened. I won’t reveal what they found; readers should experience it in the context of Nanos’s excellent prose. I’ll just say that the piece took my breath away. Twice. —SD

2. Where There’s Smoke

Paloma Pacheo | Maisonneuve | June 24th, 2022 | 5,764 words

Although no wine connoisseur, I have been to the Okanagan Valley — a wine region in British Columbia — several times. I enjoy sitting on a vineyard patio, cockily swirling a big glass round and round while I pretend to detect oaky notes or hints of grass (all I smell is the reassuring whiff of alcohol.) The last time I was there, the air was also sadly filled with the smell of smoke as wildfires burned across the region. Although I feared for properties in the area, it never crossed my mind to consider the wine itself; but for those who can taste the difference between a cab sav and a merlot, the tinge of smoke is a growing concern. In this essay, Paloma Pacheco persuades several Okanagan winemakers to discuss the threat of “smoke taint” — still quite a taboo topic outside the industry. The taint occurs when compounds in woodsmoke bind to sugars in a ripening grape’s skin, and with wildfires growing in intensity each year, the risk of wine tasting, in Pacheco’s words, “like you’re licking the bottom of an ashtray,” has grown in many wine regions. Wine is a low priority in the many challenges of a burning world, but Pacheco points out that “the solutions that winemakers and growers have adopted represent a form of resilience many of us can learn from.” A riveting read. —CW

3. Code Snitching

Radley Balko | Nashville Scene | July 28th, 2022 | 8,219 words

Nashville isn’t the only American city to have seen a recent spike in both population and gentrification; it’s also not the only city to have a byzantine set of zoning codes governing what can and can’t happen on a person’s property. But when you put those two things together, as Radley Balko explores in this investigation, you get a perfect storm of bureaucracy-perpetuated inequity. Real-estate developers and property-value-minded neighbors anonymously call the Metro Codes Department on longtime residents, many of whom are older, Black, and poor — and almost none of whom (Balko included) can fight the compounding deluge of citations. That’s not even considering the bloated city council that’s uniquely susceptible to lobbying from housing associations, and thus not exactly disposed to address this syndrome at the root. Yet, in this case, change may be in the offing: Nashville Scene has already published a follow-up story detailing the ensuing uproar, which includes mayoral pledges and a whole lot of neighborly strife. Every time a hedge fund guts a local paper or alt-weekly, it jeopardizes the future for pieces like this. —PR

4. Moral Panics Come and Go. Sex Bracelet Hysteria Is Forever.

Claire McNear| The Ringer | July 29th, 2022 | 3,000 words

I remember laboring over sociology essays on classic moral panics such as the Mods and Rockers (two British youth subcultures, supposedly rather fond of beating each other up.) However, I never learned about parents getting flustered over colorful jelly bracelets. Luckily, Claire McNear is here to fill me in with this captivating essay on why seemingly innocuous bands became labeled as sex bracelets and banned from schools across the U.S. McNear explains, in far more entertaining terms than any of my turgid tomes on the topic, how the fear behind a moral panic is a “perception problem.” In this case, people assuming “the generation or generations behind them are more salacious.” There is little evidence that middle schoolers in the early 2000s were actually busy snapping bracelets to indicate sex acts — it was all far more Brady Bunch than the grown-ups would ever have suspected. —CW

5. Sam Taggart’s Hard Sell

Tad Friend | The New Yorker | Aug 1st, 2022 | 9,497 words

Where do I even begin to endorse Tad Friend’s safari into the world of modern-day door-to-door salespeople? First, I guess, would be the disclaimer that this sort of subculture piece is catnip for me. I’m a sucker for industry argot, from “bageling” to “tie-downs” to the BOLT system. I’m a sucker for play-by-play annotations, as when Friend details the conversations that Taggart — would-be king of the “knockers” — has with the folks unlucky enough to answer the door and expose themselves to his white-toothed psychological siege. I’m a sucker for anything that plumbs the depths of alpha-bro “performance” thinking, foreign as it is to my character. But that’s only the starting point. What Friend delivers here is a portrait of the want that plagues so many of us, a want for success that’s really a want for redemption. It fuels the cold calls, the seminars, the mind games. “Failure is abhorrent because it can induce a contagious loss of faith in the whole enterprise,” he writes. That was likely the case in the days of Fuller brushes and vacuum cleaners, and it’s certainly the case today, with the knockers peddling home-security systems and high-commission solar panels. Somehow as devastating as it is entertaining. —PR

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Futuristic cyborg learning about humans. This is entirely 3D generated. All book covers are fictional and made by contributor.
Photo: gremlin / Getty Images

Here are five standout pieces we read this week. You can always visit our editors’ picks or our Twitter feed to see what other recommendations you may have missed.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox.

1. Meet the Lobbyist Next Door

Benjamin Wofford | WIRED | July 14th, 2022 | 5,000 words

A business feature that doubles as a horror story, Benjamin Wofford’s chilling piece could be the premise for a Black Mirror episode. Wofford profiles Urban Legend, a tech startup that has built “the Exchange,” an interface connecting advertisers looking to promote political ideologies with influencers ready to peddle for a price. Urban Legend’s CEO, Ory Rinat, who previously worked in the Trump White House, and his colleagues like to talk about trust, authenticity, and empowerment, but as Wofford skillfully shows, there’s no heart to their business model — there’s only a black hole, a moral vacuum. The dread of it all crept up on me as I read, which is a testament to the writing. Now excuse me while I go scream into the abyss. —SD

2. The Great Fiction of AI

Josh Dzieza | The Verge | July 20th, 2022 | 5,091 words

Could artificial intelligence help you write your next novel? Josh Dzieza dives into the world of AI-assisted genre fiction, and how independent authors are experimenting with tools powered by GPT-3 to write stories faster. Dzieza recounts Kindle novelist Jennifer Lepp’s experience with one such tool, Sudowrite, which, at first, generates strange and hilarious output. Eventually, as Lepp learns how to control the software’s quirks, she gets results that are more promising. But they are unsettling, too: When Lepp gives a finished chapter to her husband to read, he isn’t able to distinguish between her voice and the machine’s. Dzieza also talks with authors who view AI as a welcome disruption to the field, such as Joanna Penn, who envisions a future where writers will be left behind if they don’t embrace the technology. This is a fascinating read that explores ethics, creativity, and authorship, and is a complement to the stories in our . I love the playful article design, too. —CLR

3. The Haves and the Have-Yachts

Evan Osnos | The New Yorker | July 18th, 2022 | 10,000 words

Inflation. Pandemic. Recession. Yet, since 2020,  — and the  has seen its aggregate worth balloon by nearly $4 trillion. What do you do with all that money? Easy. You spend it on reminding people, as one interviewee memorably relates in this piece, that “I am in a different fucking category than you.” In this case, that means multi-hundred-foot, multi-hundred-million-dollar superyachts, the world of which Evan Osnos excavates over (exactly) 10,000 deliciously arch words. These aren’t just phallic manifestations of mind-boggling wealth. With their onboard IMAX theaters and 50-person staffs, they’re manifestations of the one thing their owners want desperately but can’t quite attain on land: absolute sovereignty. But while you and I and the rest of the hoi polloi might be seen as “ineligible visitors” to this ionosphere of luxury, that doesn’t mean that you’re not in for one hell of a read. —

4. What Counts as Seeing

Alice Wong and Ed Yong | Orion Magazine | July 12th, 2022 | 3,948 words

Are you as excited as I am to see these names side by side? Here, Wong and Yong engage in a wonderful conversation that celebrates the strange and unpredictable in nature and fosters empathy for all creatures. They discuss Yong’s books, the incredible senses of other organisms, and, in turn, the limits of our understanding for how rich and diverse the natural world really is. (I love the bit where Yong compares his dog going on a walk to sniff and pee on things as the pup’s version of checking his social media for the day.) As you’d expect, their dialogue is delightful and accessible, thanks to Wong’s ability to open people’s eyes to experiences that are not their own and Yong’s knack for explaining scientific and biological concepts in plain language. What a treat to read. —

5. The 50 Greatest Fictional Deaths of All Time

Dan Kois (and Other Contributors) | Slate | July 20th, 2022 | 8,250 words

This list is so damn fun. Starting in 431 B.C. and progressing chronologically, it levels the cultural playing field, quoting passages from Beowulf and Macbeth while also reveling in the transgressive lyrics of “Goodbye Earl.” It reminded me of at least one brilliant cinematic death that I’d somehow forgotten — before using an inhaler, make sure it’s not a gun! — and made me tear up at its description of a groundbreaking storyline in Doonesbury. Like all the best GOAT lists, it also made me consider what I would include: one of the gruesome deaths in The Omen, Mr. Jingles’ demise and resurrection in The Green Mile, Alec’s murder in Tess of the D’Urbervilles (ooooh — or the raising of the black flag at the end!?). “We’ve made this list during a pandemic, as real-life death has stalked us all, more tangible than ever,” Dan Kois writes. “One of the many things art can do is to help us navigate the pitfalls of life, and there’s no deeper pitfall than the final one.” —SD

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

The sound effects team of the BBC radio drama department produces effects for the broadcast of the serial of H. G. Wells's War of the Worlds. Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Here are this week’s standout stories from across the web, and if would like to find more you can always visit our editors’ picks or our Twitter feed.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox.

1. It Was a Secret Road Map for Breaking the Law to Get an Abortion

Jason Fagone and Alexandria Bordas | The San Francisco Chronicle | July 10th, 2022 | 6,195 words

Before Roe vs. Wade, there was “the List”: a secret document that helped 12,000 people get safe abortions in the 1960s and ’70s. Created by Patricia Maginnis, a former U.S. Army nurse, the List began as an activist project and evolved into a clandestine yet well-organized health care system that spanned multiple countries, notably Mexico, which was viewed as the best, most affordable option at the time. Fagone and Bordas sift through a trove of Maginnis’ documents, including letters from desperate women seeking access to competent providers, and describe what some of these women had to go through to get the vital care they needed. “If you don’t know about the past, you cannot learn from the past,” said Karen L., one of the women who got an abortion in 1968 with the help of this underground network. The List, a “road map for breaking the law” when abortion was illegal, now provides a blueprint for the present. —

2. American Rasputin

Jennifer Senior | The Atlantic | June 6th, 2022 | 10,500 words

It’s hard to write about liars and megalomaniacs who are also raging bigots — which is to say that profiling the people angling to shove America fully over the fascist brink requires being able to recognize, endure, analyze, and contextualize hateful bullshit. Jennifer Senior was up to the task — no surprise for the most recent Pulitzer Prize winner in feature-writing — in her profile of Steve Bannon, who just this week agreed to testify before the Jan. 6 committee. Senior paints a picture of a dumpster fire and implores readers not to look away: Bannon, she explains, is a powerful agent of chaos, keen to leave “a smoldering crater where our institutions once were.” Senior’s use of first-person perspective and text messages in her storytelling is expert. So too is her depiction of Bannon’s slippery relationship with facts and ethics. (OK, in the latter case there’s no relationship at all.) It’s hard to come away thinking Bannon will tell the truth in his congressional testimony, unless it serves his goal of “attempting to insert a lit bomb into the mouth of American democracy.” —SD

3. Deep Time Sickness

Lachlan Summers | Noema | July 14th, 2022 | 3,699 words

Mexico City’s two most significant earthquakes happened exactly 32 years apart, in 1985 and 2017. Both further destabilized what is already a miracle of geology: As Lachlan Summers puts it, CDMX is, seismically speaking, a “floating city.” For many residents who lived through one (or both) of these quakes, such disruptions were neither beginning nor end. These tocado — touched as they are by a combination of PTSD and vertigo — find themselves assaulted by sensory reminders of the entropy around them. “Cracks in a wall, shifts in the Earth’s surface, the angles at which buildings lean,” Summers writes, “people who are tocado have geological sensors that foreground the indicators of the city’s ongoing collapse.” A PhD student in anthropology, Summers has spent years speaking with the tocado, and posits their difficulties as the result of temporal collision: the epochal irrupting into the timeframe of lived human experience. This is a piece that delivers poetry and terror in equal measure, a quiet awe at the enormity and fragility of our physical world. And in a week we all spent marveling at the images from the James Webb Space Telescope, it serves as a crucial reminder that the infinite doesn’t lurk solely overhead — but all around us, in every fissure and foundation. —PR

4. There are Trees in the Future, or, a Case for Staying 

Lupita Limón Corrales | Protean | June 24th, 2021 | 2,887 words

“Why struggle to stay?” asks Lupita Limón Corrales in this essay on pandemic life, reimagining both public and private space, and living in California — which, for many, has become impossible. I’d realized after reading the piece that it was published last year, but these observations still feel so fresh, as I continue to ask myself questions in the face of constant devastating news: Should we leave? Is everything pointless? What are we even doing? I’m most drawn to the musings on our changing relationship to space, such as the movements the privileged among us have been able to make, and how those shifts have affected other people and the ecosystems around us. (Who wins and who loses in this remote work revolution?) Corrales reflects on an uncertain present, but considers a future — one where communities mobilize and people come together — with much-needed optimism. “Maybe rather than asking ‘Should I leave or should I stay?’ we should ask, ‘In which versions of the future can everyone have a choice?’” I share this one in the hope that you, too, may benefit from its beautiful insights. —CLR

5. The Weird, Analog Delight of Foley Sound Effects

Anna Wiener | The New Yorker | June 27th, 2022 | 6,185 words

There is something lovely about an essay that includes the phrase, “I need more ka-chunkers,” and Anna Wiener’s dive into the bizarre world of Foley sound effects is endlessly delightful. I love learning about things that I never even knew were a thing. I assumed that sound effects were always added post-production in some soulless studio. I was wrong: The sound of E.T.’s movements — just one example — is raw liver sliding around in a packet and “jello wrapped in a damp T-shirt.” Wiener finds that although “technology has changed the process of recording, editing, and engineering sounds … the techniques of Foley have remained stubbornly analog.” Wiener spends time with the Foley artists at Skywalker Sound, and their passion is infectious. As I read, I found myself starting to listen differently: Could slurping this cup of tea be an alien slug sliding off his chair in his intergalactic spaceship? Could munching this packet of crisps be centaurs rustling through the forest? Our soundscape is truly amazing, and this vivid, information-rich article will truly make you hear. —CW

How Vladimir Putin Helped ‘Nazify’ Modern Germany

Illustration of male face surrounded by flags and people with hands raised
Illustration by Sam Green, courtesy of The Atavist Magazine

Leigh Baldwin and Sean WilliamsThe Atavist Magazine | June 2022 | 9 minutes (2,584 words)

This is an excerpt from The Atavist’s issue no. 128, “Follow the Leader,” published in partnership with SourceMaterial.

 

1.

The Atavist Magazine, our sister site, publishes one deeply reported, elegantly designed story each month. Support The Atavist by becoming a member.

As the sun set on May 31, 1991, the streets of Dresden crackled with energy. All day the city had been abuzz with the rumor that there was going to be a riot in the city’s nascent red-light district. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall some 18 months before, the smog-choked, bomb-scarred city in East Germany had changed. Suddenly, it was filled with new imports from the West, including drugs, gambling, and prostitution. Kiosks that once sold Neues Deutschland, the dour Communist Party propaganda sheet, now carried German editions of Playboy and Hustler. One man had sworn to clean house. His name was Rainer Sonntag, and he was a far-right vigilante—an avowed neo-Nazi.

Sonntag was born and raised in Dresden, but had fled across the Iron Curtain to West Germany five years earlier. By the time the wall fell, Sonntag had become one of the West’s leading neo-Nazis, thanks to a willingness to roll up his sleeves and fight. When he returned home, he recruited a ragtag army of acolytes to rid Dresden of influences he claimed were noxious. Most of his followers came from the grim maze of housing projects in Gorbitz, on Dresden’s western edge. The buildings there were filled with young people who had been stripped of stability and purpose by Communism’s implosion. Sonntag had charisma and an uncanny ability to channel the energy and anger of Gorbitz’s youth. They flocked to him, calling him the Sheriff.

Sonntag’s gang of neo-Nazis had started their supposed purification of the city by targeting the hütchenspieler, three-card swindlers who plied their trade on Dresden’s central Prager Strasse. They handcuffed the men and handed them over to the local police. Then the youth hounded the city’s Vietnamese cigarette sellers. Now they were eyeing brothels. Never mind that not so long ago, Sonntag himself had worked in a red-light district in the West; he timed an assault on a Dresden brothel called the Sex Shopping Center for midnight on the last day of May.

Throughout the evening, far-right youth—some with shaved heads, others with the feathery mullets still fashionable in the Eastern Bloc’s dying days—gathered in nearby bars and outside the boarded-up Faun Palace porn cinema, just down the street from the brothel. From behind the wheel of a parked car, Sonntag waited to give the signal to attack. The Sex Shopping Center was run by a Greek pimp named Nicolas Simeonidis and his business partner, Ronny Matz.

Around 11:45 p.m., as Sonntag’s army assembled beneath the Faun Palace’s faded neon sign, Simeonidis and Matz arrived in a black Mercedes to confront them. Simeonidis, a compact amateur boxer with a 16-1 record, brandished a sawed-off shotgun. “Get out of here!” he yelled at the forty or so young men gathered in the street. Simeonidis waved the shotgun in a wide arc, sending the neo-Nazis scattering for cover behind cars and bushes. “Leave us in peace!” he shouted.

Sonntag opened his car door and emerged. He was of average height and stoutly built, with dark, wavy hair and a round, friendly face that even now seemed on the verge of breaking into an infectious smile. Sonntag had charm to spare and a vicious stubborn streak. He wasn’t likely to back down just because his target had a gun—especially not with his troops watching. “Go on, then! Shoot, you coward!” Sonntag called out, removing his jacket and advancing steadily on Simeonidis.

From their hiding places, the neo-Nazis sensed a shift in the balance of the situation. One by one, they emerged to join their leader. They were willing to follow him anywhere.

But Sonntag’s young disciples didn’t know his darkest secret. While outwardly he was a neo-Nazi, he was also a spy for East Germany’s feared secret police, the Stasi. Not only that, he had ties to the KGB. In fact, right up until the Iron Curtain fell, one of his handlers was a young, ambitious Russian officer stationed in Dresden. The handler’s name was Vladimir Putin.

The story that follows is based on dozens of interviews with neo-Nazis, eyewitnesses, and former spies, and hundreds of pages of Stasi files and court records. It is the story of how, more than thirty years before Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine, under the disingenuous banner of “de-Nazifying” the country, he and some of his closest intelligence associates helped nourish a neo-Nazi movement across Germany. Their preferred tool for sowing hate and discord was Rainer Sonntag.

2.

Born Rainer Mersiowsky in 1955, Sonntag never met his biological father and took his stepfather’s name. His mother struggled to keep him on the straight and narrow, and he managed to graduate high school only by repeating his penultimate year. Teachers described him as insouciant, weak-willed, and hot-tempered. He needed constant validation and lacked ambition, they said. He was repeatedly disciplined for disrupting lessons.

When he was a teenager, the Free German Youth assigned Sonntag the role of agit-propagandist; he was also a drill leader in Dresden’s Gymnastics and Sports Federation. He had an apprenticeship as a machine worker and was soon tapped to join a paratrooper regiment in the army. But Sonntag wasn’t interested in being a Communist stooge or enduring a lifetime of drudgery for a meager wage. He began acting out. In 1972, police investigated an incident at a local ice-skating rink, where Sonntag had punched some kids in the face “without provocation.” Worse yet, as far as the authorities were concerned, he showed signs of bucking the ideological yoke. Teachers caught him singing a ribald song about the Soviet Union during a football match—a permanent black mark on his fattening police file.

By 1973, as Sonntag stared down his 18th birthday, his future looked bleak. That February, he had drinks with three friends, including a former schoolmate whom authorities referred to in official documentation as “Hans Peter.” They met at the Gasthof Wölfnitz, an old-fashioned beer hall, to discuss a daring plan: escape to the West. Like many people their age stuck behind the Iron Curtain, they dreamed of a life of freedom and material abundance, glimpsed by most East Germans only when they illegally turned their TV antennas toward the West. Around 150,000 East Germans had fled their country since the Berlin Wall was built in 1961. Many more had tried and failed.

One of Sonntag’s friends told the group at the Wölfnitz that his little brother had found a pistol in a nearby park. It was rusty and broken, but together they had cleaned and repainted it. They hoped to have it service ready soon in case they needed it during their escape. Another of Sonntag’s friends was in a mountaineering club and had a skill set that could help them navigate the rugged terrain near the border. The young men plotted their route: first to Czechoslovakia, then to Austria, and finally to West Germany. They set a departure date for later that month, drained their beers, and headed home.

It was summer before they acted on the plan, and only Sonntag and one of his friends decided to go. In July, while Sonntag’s mother, stepfather, and brother were on holiday, he rummaged in the family’s television cabinet, looking for the envelope he knew was stashed there. When he opened it he found 350 East German marks, and a second envelope containing 120 Czechoslovakian koruna. He intended to pay his parents back once he got to West Germany and found a job.

He and his friend boarded a bus to Altenberg, a pretty, medieval town high in the mountains on the East Germany border with Czechoslovakia. To avoid suspicion, the young men decided to tarry for a couple of days rather than cross into the neighboring socialist republic right away. Two days later, they woke early and changed their remaining marks into koruna. At 9:45 a.m., carrying nothing but a couple of sweaters, two knives, and his identity papers, and with money hidden in one of his shoes, Sonntag approached the border.

He and his friend were quickly separated and interrogated: What were their plans in Czechoslovakia? Sonntag told a border guard that they were headed to a parachuting competition in Prague. But his friend said they were planning to stop in Teplice, a spa town. Then the patrol found the money in Sonntag’s shoe.

Even if the friends had kept their stories straight, they never stood a chance. Their entire escape plan was already documented in a Stasi file, labeled “Machinist.” The Stasi had gathered every scrap of information they could from Sonntag’s colleagues and neighbors, the Dresden police, and a secret informant: Sonntag’s friend Hans Peter.

Sonntag and his companion were back in Dresden being interrogated by the Stasi that afternoon. “I knew I was forbidden to go to the capitalist West,” reads Sonntag’s confession, part of more than 230 pages of documentation now at the Stasi Records Archive in Berlin. “Although I knew this, I wanted to leave.” His sentence was 18 months of hard labor.

Authorities bounced Sonntag between several prisons during his sentence, including the notoriously tough Bautzen jail, a crumbling brick building known as the Yellow Misery. No matter where he was, Sonntag rebelled. He mocked the guards with his seeming obedience. “I show them a perfect cell, pretty as a picture,” he once wrote. “Three times they searched me and found nothing.” Prisoners spent much of their free time covering one another in primitive tattoos, and Sonntag, whom Stasi informants had noted possessed a talent for sketching, often came up with the designs.

In February 1974, he wrote a letter that he intended to smuggle out to his family. “The guards would love to throw me in solitary but they can’t get to me, I’ve been clever,” he wrote. Sonntag’s cockiness proved misplaced. On his way to the visiting room that month, warders frisked him and found the letter tucked in his sleeve. They punished him with three weeks in solitary.

While it is hard to know whether Sonntag began his drift to the far right while in prison, it would have been next to impossible to avoid exposure to National Socialism behind bars. The East German prison system was practically a university for Nazism; lockup was filled with extremists, and war criminals flaunted their radical views and groomed new recruits. According to Ingo Hasselbach, a reformed far-right activist who spent time in prison in the late 1980s, on Adolf Hitler’s birthday Nazi prisoners would paint swastikas on toilet paper and fashion them into armbands. “It may sound pathetic, but it was an incredible provocation,” Hasselbach wrote in his memoir, Führer-Ex. “Those people had a big influence on me, and on others.” Some prisoners viewed Nazism as the purest form of opposition to communism, the ideology whose agents had put them behind bars. Indeed, embracing far-right beliefs was, ironically, a demonstration of anti-authoritarianism.

For its part, the Communist Party was in denial. “Officially, in East Germany, Nazism didn’t exist,” said Bernd Wagner, a police commissioner who warned of a rising tide of neo-Nazism in 1985, only to see his report to the Politburo hushed up. His bosses’ response was as simple as it was naïve: “In a socialist paradise, Nazism is impossible.”

* * *

After Sonntag was released from prison, he again clashed with authorities. They issued him an ultimatum: work as an informant for the Dresden police or go back to prison. His freedom now depended on spying on his friends. He agreed to be an informant, but became more determined than ever to get out of East Germany. Sonntag was soon plotting another break for the West.

It would be tougher this time round, not least because his criminal conviction had resulted in the police confiscating his identity papers. Crossing the border legally would be out of the question. Over beers at the Rudolf-Renner-Eck pub, he formulated a new plan: Sonntag would hide in the trunk of a car while accomplices, including a young woman with a child, distracted guards at the border between East Germany and Poland, hoping to prevent the officers from searching the vehicle. Once in Poland, they would sell the car to buy passage across the Baltic Sea and out of the Eastern Bloc. But the authorities were several steps ahead of him: This time, the young woman’s mother was the one who ratted him out.

By 1975, Sonntag was back in jail, charged with “attempted flight from the Republic.” While he was behind bars, the Dresden police continued to use him as an informant. Snitching on fellow prisoners could bring all sorts of benefits in East Germany, from cigarettes to a comfier cell to a shorter sentence. Still, it was dangerous work. The faintest whiff of suspicion could be fatal. Sonntag took the risk anyway. When he was released after three and a half years, it didn’t take long for him to be arrested once more, again for theft. He got out two years later, in 1981, this time for good.

Sonntag had little to show for himself, and his dream of escaping to West Germany seemed more distant than ever. But things were starting to change in the East. For years the authorities had ransomed prisoners and criminals to the West as a way of raising hard currency. In the early 1980s, they expanded the practice, and thousands of East Germans began applying to leave. In theory, leaders in West Germany were paying for political dissidents of conscience; in practice, they never knew who would be shipped over. “East Germany palms its neo-Nazis off on us,” one West German politician complained to the newspaper Die Zeit in 1989.

The authorities turned down far more ransom applications than they approved, but Sonntag had little to lose. In 1984, he put in his official request. If he had ties to the far right at the time, which seems likely given his numerous prison sentences, he kept it under wraps. He told his drinking buddies that if he was allowed to leave, he would join the West German army or find work as a private detective.

As ever, the Stasi was listening. In one of the police state’s many paradoxes, “people who asked to leave were, unsurprisingly, suspected of wanting to leave,” writes Anna Funder in Stasiland. In other words, the requests were legal, but the authorities could also choose to view them as a smear against the state. Based on his ransom application, Sonntag was immediately placed under investigation.

Apparatchiks drafted a 16-point operational plan to preempt the escape plan they were sure Sonntag would hatch if his application was rejected. The Stasi’s ubiquitous network of code-named snitches—Peter, Berger, Nitsche, Pilot, Sander, Roland, Eberhard, Brinkmann—monitored Sonntag’s every move. They followed him to his job packing goods, sat across the room at his favorite watering holes, and even hid outside his apartment.

More often than not, they turned up intelligence that was painfully banal. “On October 6 I could confirm Sonntag and his girlfriend were in his flat,” reads a typical report from an informant with the code name Goldbach. “From voices in the corridor, and lights on in the kitchen and living room, I concluded that both people were at home. The extent to which other people were present I was unable to establish. It seemed to me however, that there were several women in the flat. I didn’t get the impression that anybody planned to leave the place in the evening.”

Behind the dull bureaucracy of police surveillance, however, more powerful forces were at work.

Read the full story at The Atavist.

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Pixel art game, design in 8 bit style character fighting against dragon with fire vector. Health lives points, man battle with dangerous creature
Image by robuart / Getty Images

We read a number of stories across the web this week, and you can always visit our editors’ picks or our Twitter feed to see what you may have missed. Among this week’s #longreads, here are five standout pieces that we recommend.

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1. A Plane of Monkeys, a Pandemic, and a Botched Deal: Inside the Science Crisis You’ve Never Heard Of

Jackie Flynn Mogensen | Mother Jones | June 23rd, 2022 | 6,566 words

In May 2020, a plane full of monkeys intended for COVID-19 research was supposed to depart Mauritius. But it never did. Who purchased the monkeys? Where were they supposed to go? When Jackie Flynn Mogensen looked into the failed flight, and began to investigate the secretive global trade of research monkeys, she found there was an even bigger story: The U.S. is experiencing a primate shortage, and there aren’t enough monkeys for research across many areas of medicine. Primate research has led to life-saving discoveries over the decades, but it remains controversial, with no guarantees, despite animal testing guidelines, that animals are treated properly. “But no matter how you or I feel about it,” Mogensen writes, “it’s clear the practice has saved—and is saving—human lives.” This is a fascinating dive into the monkey trade and the players within it, like Matthew Block, who’s been a target of animal rights groups for years and, as you’ll read, is the owner of the company who arranged the flight. Mogensen also reports on a few alternatives, like lab-grown organs, but we’re still a long way from a world without animal testing. —CLR

2. Jason Brassard Spent His Lifetime Collecting the Rarest Video Games. Until the Heist.

Justin Heckert | Vanity Fair | June 27th, 2022 | 5,900 words

I can count on my hands the number of video games I’ve played in my life, and the only way I ever won a round of Mario Kart in middle school was by shoving my friend off the couch in the den where she kept her console. But even as an uninitiated reader, it was impossible not to become invested in this story of a man who amassed an impressive collection of old and rare games, only to have them stolen in one fell swoop. A satisfying true crime tale, much more Knives Out than Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, this piece features quirky characters who work at game stores with names like Grumpy Bob’s Emporium. It’s also a poignant meditation on nostalgia and how we assign value to objects that speak to our past. I needed a distraction from the barrage of terrible news this week, and Justin Heckert delivered. —SD

3. One Woman’s Wholesome Mission to Get Naked Outside

Gloria Liu | Outside | June 13th, 2022 | 3,100 words

It may come with being British, but growing up I was very prudish about nudity. A communal changing room meant an elaborate wiggle dance under a towel, into a swimming costume that would have met with Queen Victoria’s approval. Upon moving to the Pacific Northwest, I found more liberal attitudes toward nudity, and I relate to Gloria Liu as she discusses her jealousy of “friends who were less inhibited, so comfortable in their own skin.” Liu takes us on a gentle journey as she attempts to emulate these friends, and go naked outside. Spoiler alert: She makes good progress and ends up describing a beautiful nude night hike, where “Taking my clothes off with others wasn’t the exercise in courage or cutting loose that I thought it would be. It was an exercise in faith. To be naked, I had to believe that the world could be good. And tonight it feels like it can be.” This essay starts by considering nakedness — but ends up reflecting on friendship and the importance of building memories. —CW

4. How the Yurok Tribe Is Bringing Back the California Condor

Sharon Levy | Undark | June 22nd, 2022 | 3,433 words

Condor 746, on loan from a captive breeding program in Idaho, traveled to California in spring 2022. He’s the first California condor in over a century to reach the ancestral land of the Yurok Tribe, and made the journey to mentor four young birds in a condor facility in Redwood National Park. Condors are very social, explains Sharon Levy, learning best and benefitting from being under the wing of an elder. In this piece, Levy beautifully traces the journey of the species, and the incredible efforts of the tribe to ensure the bird’s successful reintroduction to the wild. It’s an insightful look into what it takes for captive breeding programs to work over time: creative solutions, dedicated biologists, and — in the condor’s case — monitoring for lead poisoning. (And a bonus: there’s an amazing photo of a chick next to a hand puppet — the first condors reintroduced were reared by puppets!). —CLR

5. The Confessions of a Conscious Rap Fan

Mychal Denzel Smith  | Pitchfork | June 28th, 2022 | 2,287 words

Hip-hop has had subgenres nearly as long as it’s had the spine of a breakbeat, but at some point it was riven by a more seismic distinction: mainstream vs. underground, and specifically the rise of “conscious” rap. Mychal Denzel Smith was one of the many people who internalized that stance, who viewed hip-hop as a vessel of liberation and awakening to a degree that became an identity of its own. That was then, though. Now, with the 2022 return of Black Star and Kendrick Lamar — both avatars and resurrectors of conscious rap — Smith interrogates his onetime fandom, as well as the evolution (or lack thereof) of the music itself. “I was artificially limiting my perspective,” he writes, “in the name of some grand vision of consciousness that never cohered into anything other than my own sense of intellectual superiority.” This isn’t a discussion about art vs. artist. It’s a coming to grips with our own reductive tendencies, our willingness to flatten ourselves in the name of aesthetic belonging. If you’ve found that the backpack fits a little bit differently these days, this piece will help you notice where the straps are chafing. —PR

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Young Kid Learning To Ride a Bike without Support Stabilizer Wheels Left Behind
Young Kid Learning To Ride a Bike without Support Stabilizer Wheels Left Behind

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

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1. A Texas Teen Wanted an Abortion. Now She Has Twins.

Caroline Kitchener | The Washington Post | June 20th, 2022 | 4,100 words

If I were a journalism teacher, I would assign this story to my class immediately. Not only because it is wrenching — and my god, it is — but also because it demonstrates the value of beat reporting, editorial foresight, and covering the ripple effects of major news stories. Caroline Kitchener writes about abortion for one of the biggest newspapers in the country. The so-called “heartbeat bill” in Texas went into effect nine months ago, which means the first women in the state who couldn’t get abortions because of the law are now having babies. Therein lies the seed of a story idea, in the form of a question: What happened to those women? Kitchener found one of them, a teenager who gave birth to twins several weeks ago, and crafted an intimate narrative that simmers with pathos yet lets the facts speak for themselves. I won’t soon forget the scene in which antiabortion activists hold up the subject of Kitchener’s piece as a political victory — even lighting a candle in her honor — without any knowledge of what their shameful advocacy has meant for her well-being, her sense of self, or her future. This is complex, award-worthy storytelling. —SD

2. How Three Sisters (and their Mom) Tried to Swindle the CRA out of Millions

Sarah Treleaven | Maclean’s | June 21st, 2022 | 4,359 words

Who doesn’t love a Canadian grift story? When Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) employee Carol Power was asked to audit the Saker sisters from Nova Scotia — deemed to “be the model of rural ingenuity” for their diverse portfolio of interests — she had no idea that she had stumbled on to a complicated web of serious tax fraud going back years. When the CRA prodded, the sisters doubled down on the fraud, inventing false paperwork to cover their crimes. When taken to court, they proclaimed themselves victims of a vast CRA conspiracy against them. “The CRA investigators were looking for books, records, documentation, and electronic hardware and storage devices. They subsequently spent nearly three years combing through the Saker family bank records, sales receipts and invoices and searching for T4 slips, trying to track the Sakers’ behaviour and establish their patterns. Boudreau learned that many of the businesses had been operating largely without bank accounts, and most appeared to have no employees, supplier contracts or even production expenses. When CRA investigators asked the Sakers to provide supporting documentation to prove they were entitled to the refund amounts they claimed, the Sakers produced a huge volume of vendor invoices and sales receipts…One of the many vendors listed by the Sakers was Vandalee Industries, a name nearly identical to that of George Costanza’s fake employer on Seinfeld. It was almost like the Sakers were having a good time.” —KS

3. Safety Town

Ilana Bean | Guernica | June 20th, 2022 | 3,839 words

My most vivid childhood memories are the ones where I’m on my bike, at 4 years old, just after I learned how to ride. Our family’s home has an unusually long driveway: We can fit over a dozen parked cars during parties. There was so much space: to play, to ride, to create my own little whimsical world. I thought of this formative time as I read Ilana Bean’s piece on traffic gardens, those small-scale street systems through which kids can learn about road safety. In the imaginary world I built in front of our house, cracks in the concrete became turns. Carefully laid sticks became dividers. Rocks I collected from the neighborhood became coins for the toll bridge. But this curiosity in the built physical space I moved in quickly faded, and cars — driven by adults — would take me wherever I needed to go. Bean’s mother, Fionnuala Quinn, is a traffic safety expert, focused on building more intuitive relationships between children and our streets; car culture in the U.S. means that many of us “don’t actively interact with transportation until we reach the magic age of sixteen,” and at that point, we’re then expected to master the art of driving after a minimal amount of training. This is a thoughtful read on road safety and design — which I admit I’ve spent very little time thinking about in my life, despite the amount of power and responsibility I have each time I get behind the wheel. Even more, it’s a lovely, unexpected essay on the dedication of a mother, and the potential for a world in which children are raised with the skills to navigate their environments independently and safely and people are empowered to ask for and help build better streets. —CLR

4. How OXO Conquered the American Kitchen

Dan Kois | Slate | June 20th, 2022 | 3,066 words

When the second season of the brilliant sketch series I Think You Should Leave dropped last year, one of its oddest moments was the trailer for Detective Crashmore, a hardboiled action movie starring Santa Claus as the titular cop. There’s much more I’d like to say about it, but for our purposes today the thing that matters is a single line Crashmore utters: “Everything has sucked lately.” You know why? Because he’s right! We’re all mad and sad and worried. And when we’re all mad and sad and worried, that’s exactly when you need to read something like Dan Kois’ cheerful dive into the inner workings of OXO. You probably have a salad spinner or garlic press or measuring cup from the obsessively utilitarian housewares company; maybe you’ve marveled at it, maybe you haven’t. But in a time when the clearest articulation of our global mood comes from an irascible Santa-Claus-portrayed maniac, it’s worth taking a few minutes to concentrate on something small and good. Even when that something small and good is a vegetable peeler. —PR

5. A Marriage Story

Alan Siegel | The Ringer | June 14th, 2022 | 2,330 words

“It is, without a doubt, one of the most moving film sequences of the past 20 years.” I saw Up a long time ago, in a part of my life I’d like to forget. I don’t remember much about that time in my life (thankfully!) or much about the movie itself, other than what it reduced me to: a sobbing heap on the couch. I don’t think the term “ugly cry” had been invented yet, but that’s an accurate description of my response. How could two animated film characters conjure such a powerful emotional response in a hapless viewer in a mere 10 minutes? At The Ringer, Up director Pete Docter and codirector Bob Peterson reflect on the care and craft that went into making Carl and Ellie, as well as the specifics of imprinting them and their shared history on the hearts of an unsuspecting audience in that seminal first part of the film. —KS

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Diego Garcia Base as seen from the air
The British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) or Chagos Islands (formerly the Oil Islands) is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom situated in the Indian Ocean, halfway between Africa and Indonesia. The territory comprises a group of seven atolls comprising more than 60 individual islands, situated some 500 kilometers (310 mi) due south of the Maldives archipelago. The largest island is Diego Garcia (area 44 km squared), the site of a joint military facility of the United Kingdom and the United States. Following the eviction of the native population (Chagossians) in the 1960s, the only inhabitants are US and British military personnel and associated contractors, who collectively number around 4,000 (2004 figures). (Photo by: Pictures From History/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

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

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1. White Parents Rallied to Chase a Black Educator Out of Town. Then, They Followed Her to the Next One.

Nicole Carr | Pro Publica | June 16th, 2022 | 7,200 words

This was the scariest story I read all week. Cecilia Lewis was hired in 2021 by the Cherokee County School District in Georgia to be its first-ever administrator focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. But she hadn’t started the job — indeed, she hadn’t even moved down South from her longtime home in Maryland — before a mob of white parents decided she had to go. They sent her racist messages, spread lies about her, and screamed at school board meetings to get their way. And when Lewis took a different job, one county over, they didn’t stop. Nicole Carr’s feature is a searing reminder of just how vicious the right-wing war on progressive education in America has become, and a revealing look at the kind of people — white parents, riding a wave of national bigotry — who are leading troops into battle. —SD

2. Back to Chagos

Cullen Murphy | The Atlantic | June 15th, 2022 | 7,416 words

For most in the Americas who have heard of the Chagos archipelago, it’s likely through Diego Garcia, a tiny atoll that serves as a U.S. military installation in the middle of the Indian Ocean. But ’twas not ever thus. Not by a long shot. For Diego Garcia to be “uninhabited” enough to fulfill its current purpose, it first needed to be emptied of its indigenous populace: the Black people that had lived on the atolls for centuries, enslaved, indentured, and underpaid. Flung across Africa and as far as the U.K., the expatriated Chagossians fought for years to return to the islands; finally, this year, they boarded a ship and sailed eastward from the Seychelles to the land now known as the British Indian Ocean Territories. Cullen Murphy — a longtime Atlantic staffer, now the outlet’s editor-at-large — accompanies the voyage, and tells a long, maddening tale of disenfranchisement and diaspora. “Accompanied by British military personnel, small groups of Chagossians have in recent years been allowed brief ‘heritage visits’ to some of the islands,” he writes. “On their visits, the Chagossians have used the limited time on each island — never overnight — to clear vegetation from the decaying churches and restore the crumbling graves of their loved ones. They have cleaned inscriptions. They have left flowers. And then they have had to depart.” It’s not quite home again, but it’s a step closer. —PR

3. Loans Got Me Into Journalism. Student Debt Pushed Me Out.

Carrington J. Tatum | MLK50: Justice Through Journalism | June 13th, 2022 | 2,370 words

Carrington J. Tatum’s mother held multiple jobs and worked hard to send Tatum to college — the first in his family. Becoming his school’s first Black editor-in-chief, Tatum also discovered a passion for journalism, and realized he could make a real difference in the marginalized communities he reported on. “I was on my way,” he writes, making an impact, winning awards, and doing everything one is supposed to do to “make it” in this world. But the burden of student debt, and rising rent, has meant that he can’t afford to stay in this line of work: “After graduating, I owed more than $90,000 in student loans, about $64,000 of which is private loans to Sallie Mae.” Any amount he has hoped to save has gone, instead, to paying off loans with excessive interest rates. “My journalism degree was more expensive than my wealthier classmates’ degrees because I couldn’t afford to pay in cash,” he writes. “But that’s a common theme with American systems. Poor people pay high prices. Rich people get discounts.” This is a gutting read on the financial hardships that are driving bright, hard-working Black storytellers out of the field, the systems that keep people in poverty, and, in turn, the communities who also lose out because their stories are not told. (Pair this with one of our Longreads essays, by Kristin Collier, on living with debt in America.) —CLR

4. Sacrifice

Matthew Bremner | Hazlitt | December 1st, 2021 | 6,423 words

I am currently doing some renovation work on my house, which entails spending my evenings clutching a paintbrush, grimly painting the walls a color that someone, in a fit of whimsy, called “Beautiful In My Eyes.” (Inadvertently implying it is beautiful to no one else.) I am looking forward to a time when I do not have paint in my hair, and I can go back to being blissfully ignorant of the many different types of door trim there are in the world. (It is a whole thing apparently, there are catalogs.) Justo Gallego Martínez, on the other hand, chose to immerse himself in a building project for 60 years — not because he procrastinated over trims — but because he was building a whole damn cathedral by himself. With no architectural expertise and using waste and recycled materials, Justo constructed something near the size of the Sagrada Familia. As I struggle to figure out how to stop a door handle from falling off, I have nothing but respect for this achievement. So does Matthew Bremner, who finds himself charmed by Justo as he attempts to understand a monk who chose to sacrifice himself to God in such a unique way: “He piled empty paint cans on top of one another and filled them with cement to make columns. He bent corrugated iron rods and fed them through slinky-like springs to create the structure of arches.” Bremner spends weeks with Justo at the site, over a period of years, and learns not just about Justo but about the people who visit and even himself. Have a read — the beautiful descriptions will pull you into a bizarre world, one that Justo built himself. —CW

5. The Google Engineer Who Thinks the Company’s AI Has Come to Life

Nitasha Tiku | The Washington Post | June 11th, 2022 | 2,621 words

Could it be? After conversations with Google’s artificially intelligent chatbot LaMDA (Language Model for Dialogue Applications), engineer Blake Lemoine maintains that the bot has achieved sentience. Google vice president Blaise Aguera y Arcas has dismissed Lemoine’s claims, despite the fact he has “argued that neural networks — a type of architecture that mimics the human brain — were striding toward consciousness.” Lemoine’s on administrative leave from Google and decided to go public. While the story sounds like it comes straight out of science fiction, Lemoine is not alone. “Lemoine is not the only engineer who claims to have seen a ghost in the machine recently. The chorus of technologists who believe AI models may not be far off from achieving consciousness is getting bolder.” Detractors, though, say that making sense is far from sentience: “Most academics and AI practitioners, however, say the words and images generated by artificial intelligence systems such as LaMDA produce responses based on what humans have already posted on Wikipedia, Reddit, message boards, and every other corner of the internet. And that doesn’t signify that the model understands meaning.” Stories like this, as well as “Ghosts,” Vauhini Vara’s incredible essay about feeding the linguistic engine GPT-3 prompts about her late sister (highlighted in Longreads’ Best of 2021), would make any skeptic think again. —KS