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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

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This week, we’re sharing stories from Ronan Farrow, Diana Nyad, Rachel Monroe, Ross Andersen, and Teresa Mathew.

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The Dead Man Fund

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Jack El-Hai | Longreads | November 2017 | 7 minutes (1,672 words)

In 1989, Morningstar, Inc., an advisory service, issued a strongly worded and unusual recommendation to its clients who had placed money with a firm then called the Steadman Funds (later known as the Ameritor Funds). “We urge you to cut your losses and get out,” Morningstar counseled. Doubtless, some investors heeded this advice. Many couldn’t, though, because they were dead.

A few years ago, the fate of Ameritor— nicknamed “The Dead Man Fund” — and its unfortunate investors, became entangled with the history of my house. An envelope had landed in our mailbox containing a check in the amount of $10.32 made out to one Anna Mae Heilman. She was nobody we knew, but the name rang familiar to me for some reason. With the check was a letter explaining that the money was a final settlement of Heilman’s investment of 171 shares in the Ameritor Security Trust mutual fund, which had closed down.

It didn’t take long for me to remember how I knew Heilman’s name. When we bought the house, we acquired its abstract, a thick and crumbling packet of legal documents that chronicled more than a century of transactions involving the property. Heilman’s name was in there. She and her husband had owned our house for several years ending in 1971.

Heilman’s tiny payout at a rate of only six cents per share seemed strange, so I began looking into the history of Ameritor and the circumstances of the Heilmans’ sale of our house. I then learned of two terrible misfortunes that afflicted one family. Read more…

An Urban Planner Against the Developer Presidency

Trump Tower Chicago. Photo: Getty Images

Rachel Weber | The Avery Review | 11 minutes (2,885 words) 

The essay below originally appeared in The Avery Review, Issue 21 (January 2017) and was recently collected in a book called And Now: Architecture Against a Developer Presidency. This essay is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky.

* * *

Ego and social networks, more so than efficiency and expertise, are rewarded in the attention economy in which [real estate developers] operate.

Much has been made of having a corporate executive in the Oval Office. Donald Trump claims that, given his business experience, he will be able to be an effective negotiator, grow the economy, and make efficient allocation decisions with scarce resources. On the campaign trail, in tweets, and in televised debates, Trump has sold himself as a man of commerce, connected only to the material, productive economy and not the fictive, financialized one responsible for the Great Recession. He repeatedly criticized Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street ties, contrasting them to his own righteous independence, noting, “I don’t care about the Wall Street guys… I’m not taking any of their money.”

But real estate developers, particularly those in the high-stakes world of downtown commercial real estate, are not ordinary businessmen. Large-scale developers generally subscribe to a worldview that grants them considerable agency as strategic risk takers in an environment that is (according to them) largely of their own making. To see development potential that few others see, to take risks that few would want to shoulder, and to control the physical settings in which millions of people go about their daily lives—all this fosters a God complex to which few corporate CEOs would admit. Such sentiment is captured by Tom Wolfe in his novel A Man in Full, as the developer-protagonist admires the Atlanta skyline from his private plane. He mentally pats himself on the back: “I did that! That’s my handiwork! I’m one of the giants who built this city! I’m a star!” Ego and social networks, more so than efficiency and expertise, are rewarded in the attention economy in which they operate. Read more…

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

At eight, Promethea was the youngest child to take calculus from Stanford University. Mike Marini follows the prodigy's troubled youth for The Atavist. (AP Photo/Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Doug Loneman).

This week, we’re sharing stories from Mike Mariani, Emma Marris, Patrick Rosal, Susana Ferreira, and Scott Indrisek.

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The RNC, Revisited

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Jared Yates Sexton 

The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore: A Story of American Rage | Counterpoint | August 2017 | 19 minutes (5,081 words) 

Below is an excerpt from The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore, by Jared Yates Sexton. A version of this story originally appeared in The Atticus Review in July of last year, when it wasn’t yet clear that the ugliness Sexton Yates saw in Cleveland was a harbinger of much to come. Or, perhaps it was clear—to anyone who was really looking. Here is that essay, revisited. This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky.

* * *

Because I can.

The news broke over the radio.

Another ambush.

Another murder in a long line of murders.

Another gaping wound for Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a reeling community that hadn’t the chance to heal from Alton Sterling’s tragic death twelve days earlier. Three officers killed, another three wounded. The gunman a veteran named Gavin Long who celebrated his twenty-ninth birthday by targeting cops in the streets.

The cable networks breathlessly speculated in the fashion that’d become so commonplace in our era of panic. How many gunmen? Who’s responsible? We’re just getting video—what is this exactly? What type of weapon are we talking about? What’s the feeling out there? All the same whether it’s Baton Rouge or Dallas or France.

The only relief came when they would throw to their reporters stationed in Cleveland, preparing for the upcoming Republican National Convention and the possibility that the trend of violence could continue. Are people nervous? they asked. What type of security measures are being taken?

An hour or so later, Stephen Loomis, the president of Cleveland’s Patrolmen’s Association, begged Governor John Kasich to suspend open-carry regulations in the area outside the Quicken Loans Arena, a request Kasich said he couldn’t grant. Following his answer—a denial Loomis bemoaned on every available network—the media speculated again, this time what kind of tragedy Cleveland could see if tensions ran too hot.

“I think they’re gonna burn down the city,” a caller said on talk radio. “I really do.”

By Monday morning, the most sought-after picture in Cleveland was someone carrying a weapon in plain view of the entire world. The first I found was Jesse Gonzales, conspicuous because of the large halo of reporters surrounding him. Holding court in the heart of them, Gonzales stood with an AK-47 on his back.

By my count, there were at least four countries and three continents worth of cameras trained on him as he casually answered the most repeated question of why he would ever carry a weapon into a powder keg like this: “Because I can.”

Giving a similar answer was a group of Minutemen posting up on a corner outside Public Square. Decked out in body armor and combat boots, tactical communication sets snaking out of their ears, they pontificated on the police union’s “illegal request” and, when asked about the weapons, would only say three words: “It’s the Constitution.”

A few feet away were Ohio police officers in bulletproof vests. I asked one what he thought of the open-carriers and got a roll of the eyes. “No comment,” he said, “but it’s a pain in my ass.”

The scene was interrupted as a truck pulled slowly down the road with a digital screen in the back that sparked to life. Conspiracy mogul Alex Jones’s gruff voice avalanched out of the speakers and declared war on globalists and labeled Hillary Clinton a criminal who needed to be locked away.

Soon a black passerby invaded the space, leaving the Minutemen visibly uncomfortable. He carried a sign and ordered random members of the crowd to join him for a picture. “You,” he said to a passing girl. “I don’t know you from a sandwich, but come on over here.”

As the picture of the man and the Minutemen was snapped, the outfit’s leader shouted their two-minute warning. Not long after they were marching down the sidewalk, crossing the street, their rifles bouncing as they stepped out of rhythm. Read more…

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

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This week, we’re sharing stories from Roxane Gay, Katherine Heiny, Alexandra Starr, Dionne Searcey, and Anna Silman.

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How Does It Feel? An Alternative American History, Told With Folk Music

Daniel Wolff | Grown-Up Anger: The Connected Mysteries of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and the Calumet Massacre of 1913 | Harper| June 2017 | 18 minutes (4,937 words) 

This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky.

* * *

An alien way of life.

You could say the silence started in Calumet in 1913. Word spread that the doors opened inward, that no one was to blame. What followed was a great quiet, a hundred years of agreed-upon untruth.

Or you could say it began just afterward, during the patriotic rush of the First World War and the Palmer Raids that followed. The Wobblies were crushed, the call for a workers’ alternative stilled.

Or you could say it began after the Second World War. If you see the two global conflicts as a single long realignment of power, then after America emerged as a superpower, its century-long Red Scare kicked back in with a vengeance. That’s how Elizabeth Gurley Flynn saw it. She traced the “hysterical and fear laden” atmosphere of the late 1940s back to when she was a union maid visiting Joe Hill in prison. “Now,” she said, “it is part of the American tradition.” In other words, once the nation of immigrants had defined itself, had determined an American Way, it also established the opposite: an Un-American Way.

In 1918, it was the U.S. Senate’s Overman Committee investigating Bolsheviks. In 1930, the Fish Committee looked into William Z. Foster and other communist influences. Eight years later, it was the establishment of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which continued to operate through the fifties. “The real issue,” as HUAC’s first chairman, Martin Dies, put it, was “between Americanism on the one hand and alienism on the other.”

No one did more to define the Un-American than J. Edgar Hoover. His career began in 1917 jailing “disloyal aliens” as part of President Woodrow Wilson’s Justice Department. Soon Hoover was in charge of carrying out the Palmer Raids. By 1924, he was head of the nation’s Federal Bureau of Investigation. When he appeared before the Senate Internal Security Committee in 1948, he testified to “some thirty-five years of infiltration of an alien way of life in what we have been proud to call our constitutional republic.” That math put the beginning of the infiltration—and the silence—in 1913.

Hoover testified as the Popular Front was making one last national effort. Henry Wallace, former vice president under FDR, had mounted a third-party run for the presidency. Seeing little difference between Democrat Harry Truman and Republican Thomas Dewey, Wallace vowed to establish “the century of the common man.” That included expanded health care, the nationalization of the energy industry, and cooperation with Russia instead of Cold War. Attacking what he called the Red Scare “witch hunt,” Wallace proclaimed, “those who fear communism lack faith in democracy.”

What was left of the Popular Front rallied around him. Alan Lomax headed up a “musical desk” and brought in Guthrie, Seeger, Hays, and others. People’s Songs churned out tunes, including a fiddle-and-guitar blues by Guthrie: “The road is rocky, but it won’t be rocky long / Gonna vote for Wallace: he can righten all our wrongs.” Read more…

Help Alice Driver Tell One of the Stories of Our Time

Photo credit: Cambria Harkey

With the support of Longreads, I have spent the past eight months traveling, living with and interviewing migrants in Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador. There are some 60 million displaced people worldwide, and they have become the slave labor of the future—a population at risk to human trafficking whose bodies are used for labor ranging from sex work, to packing drugs, to picking coffee.

I interviewed a 13-year-old Guatemalan girl whose leg had been amputated due to violence suffered on the migrant trail, a transgender woman fleeing attempted murder in El Salvador, and indigenous women migrating because they wanted better access to healthcare and sexual and reproductive rights. The reasons people migrate and the violence they suffer are the stories of our time.

Alice Driver

Help support the work of Alice Driver and journalists like her who are telling the stories of our time by contributing to our member drive. You can read the first part of Alice’s series on migration and human trafficking here.

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

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This week, we’re sharing stories from Jane Mayer, David Zax, Christopher Glazek, Farah Stockman, and Alex Mar.

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We Should Be Talking About the Effect of Climate Change on Cities

The aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Houston. Photo: Getty Images.

Ashley Dawson | Extreme Cities: The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change | Verso | October 2017 | 17 minutes (4,461 words) 

This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky.

* * *

An utter transformation of human habitation across the globe within one generation.

Milestones on the road toward climate chaos are all too frequent these days: in 2015, the Manua Loa Observatory in Hawaii reported that the daily mean concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere had surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time; each year Arctic sea ice levels grow lower and lower; permafrost in areas like Siberia and Alaska is melting, releasing dangerous quantities of methane into the atmosphere; and each year brings more violent storms and more severe droughts to different parts of the world. Indeed, news of apocalyptic climate-related events is so manifold that it can feel overwhelming, producing a kind of disaster fatigue. One recent announcement merits particular attention, however: in the summer of 2014, a team of NASA scientists announced conclusive evidence that the retreat of ice in the Amundsen Sea sector of West Antarctica had become unstoppable. This melting alone, they concluded, will drive global sea levels up by over 1 meter (3 feet). As the Pine Island, Thwaites, and other glaciers of the Amundsen Sea sector collapse into the ocean, the effect is expected to be like a cork removed from a bottle of champagne: the ice the glaciers held back will rush rapidly into the sea, and the entire West Antarctic ice sheet will collapse. Sea levels will consequently rise 3 to 5 meters (10–16 feet). In addition, it was recently discovered that the same process that is driving this collapse, the intrusion of warmer ocean water beneath the glaciers in West Antarctica, is also eroding key glaciers in East Antarctica. The East Antarctic ice sheet contains even more ice than the western sheet: the Totten glacier alone would account for 7 meters (23 feet) of sea level rise. As if this weren’t bad enough news, a similar process of melting is also taking place in Greenland, where fjords that penetrate far inland are carrying warm water deep underneath the ice sheet.

These reports overturn long-held assumptions about the stability of Greenland’s glaciers: until recently, scientists had predicted that Greenland’s ice sheet would stabilize once the glaciers close to the warming ocean had melted. The discovery of ice-bound fjords reaching almost sixty-five miles inland has major implications since the glacier melt will be much more substantial than anticipated. The Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets combined contain over 99 percent of the Earth’s glacial ice. If they were to melt completely, they would raise global sea levels a virtually inconceivable 65 meters (200 feet). Although it remains unclear exactly how long the disintegration of these ice sheets will take, the implications of such melting for the world’s coastal cities are stark, and still almost totally unacknowledged by the general public. As Robert DeConto, co-author of a recent study that predicts significantly faster melt rates in the world’s largest glaciers, points out, we’re already struggling with 3 millimeters per year of sea level rise, but if the polar ice sheets collapse, “We’re talking about centimeters per year. That’s really tough. At that point your engineering can’t keep up; you’re down to demolition and rebuilding.”

Shockingly, few orthodox scientific predictions of sea level rise have taken the disintegration of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets into consideration. The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for example, projects a high of three feet of sea level rise by 2100, but this prediction does not include a significant contribution from the West Antarctic ice sheet. Like the IPCC’s projection for Arctic sea ice collapse, which has moved up from 2100 to 2050 in the latest report, this prediction is clearly far too low. What explains such gross miscalculations? The protocols of scientific verifiability provide a partial explanation. The general public has urgently wanted to know, after city-wrecking hurricanes like Katrina and Sandy, whether the devastation was caused by climate change. But unfortunately scientists have until quite recently been unable to make direct links between particular extreme weather events and climate change in general. This, as environmental philosopher Dale Jamieson puts it in Reason in a Dark Time, would be like saying that a specific home run is “caused” by a baseball player’s batting average. If scientists are becoming less reticent to make these links, as the science of attribution grows more sophisticated and able to track the causes of weather extremes, the change is still occurring slowly.

Nevertheless, the IPCC’s failure to account for the destruction of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets can only add to skepticism toward their predictions, especially after they were widely attacked for their 2007 calculations about the speed of Himalayan glacial melting. Further fueled by the climate change denial industry, the IPCC’s own excessively rosy predictions for the future will only increase skepticism. In their 2000 report, for example, the body assumes that nearly 60 percent of hoped-for emissions reductions will occur independently of explicit mitigation measures. As the urban theorist Mike Davis has pointed out, the IPCC’s mitigation targets assume that profits from fossil capitalism will be recycled into green technology rather than penthouse suites in soaring skyscrapers. The IPCC projects a market-driven evolution toward a post-carbon economy, a set of assumptions that, as spiraling levels of greenhouse gas emissions since 2000 demonstrate all too clearly, are dead wrong. These projections concerning sea level rise and the vulnerability of coastal cities will have to be radically revised, especially after spectacular urban disasters hammer home the inadequacy of current projections. But these world-changing transformations will not take place in the distant future. Citing evidence drawn from the last major ice melt during the Eemian period, an interglacial phase about 120,000 years ago that was less than 1ºC warmer than it is today, climatologist James Hansen predicts that, absent a sharp and enduring reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, global sea levels are “likely to increase several meters over a timescale of 50 to 150 years.” Should they prove accurate, Hansen’s forecasts spell an utter transformation of human habitation across the globe within one generation. Read more…