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Mike Dang
Editor in chief, Longreads | Editorial, Automattic | WordPress.com | Co-founder, The Billfold

Fear of a Pence Presidency

In The New Yorker, Jane Mayer dives deep into Mike Pence’s ascendancy to the office of Vice President of the United States. Critics want Trump out of office, but Mayer points out that a Pence presidency would have its own drawbacks, and she fills her story with accounts of his political missteps before joining the Trump ticket in 2016.

In 2015, Ed Clere, a Republican state legislator who chaired the House Committee on Public Health, became aware of a spike in the number of H.I.V. cases in southern Indiana. The problem appeared to be caused by the sharing of needles among opioid abusers in Scott County, which sits across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky. In a place like Scott County, Clere said, “typically you’d have no cases, or maybe one a year.” Now they were getting up to twenty a week. The area was poor, and woefully unprepared for a health crisis. (Pence’s campaign against Planned Parenthood had contributed to the closure of five clinics in the region; none had performed abortions, but all had offered H.I.V. testing.) That same year, the state health commissioner called Indiana’s H.I.V. outbreak a public-health emergency.

Clere came of age during the AIDS crisis, and had read Randy Shilts’s best-selling account, “And the Band Played On.” He tried to get the legislature to study the possibility of legalizing a syringe exchange, which he felt “was a matter of life and death,” and could “save lives quickly and inexpensively.”

But conservatives blocked the idea, and Pence threatened to veto any such legislation. “With Pence, you need to look at the framework, which is abstinence,” Clere said. “It’s the same as with giving teenagers condoms. Conservatives think it promotes the behavior, even though it’s a scientifically proven harm-reduction strategy.” In March, 2015, Clere staged a huge public hearing, in which dozens of experts and sufferers testified about the crisis. Caught flat-footed, Pence scheduled his own event, where he announced that he would pray about the syringe-exchange issue. The next day, he said that he supported allowing an exchange program as an emergency measure, but only on a temporary basis and only in Scott County, with no state funding. Clere told me that he spent “every last dime of my political capital” to get the bill through. After Scott County implemented the syringe exchange, the number of new H.I.V. cases fell. But Republican leaders later stripped Clere of his committee chairmanship, a highly unusual event. “I commend Representative Clere for the efforts to help the state deal with this,” Kevin Burke, the health officer in neighboring Clark County, told me. “But he paid a price for it.”

Clere remains bitter about Pence. “It was all part of his pattern of political expediency,” he said. “He was stridently against it until it became politically expedient to support it.” Clere, a Christian who opposes abortion, told me that he now finds Pence’s piety hypocritical. “He says he’s ‘pro-life,’ ” Clere said. “But people were dying.” When Clere was asked whom he would rather have as President—Trump or Pence—he replied, “I’d take Trump every day of the week, and twice on Sunday.”

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Announcing the 2017 Longreads Member Drive

I’m Mike Dang, editor-in-chief of Longreads.

Today we’re launching the 2017 Longreads Member Drive with the goal of raising $25,000 from readers by November 16. All of this money will go directly into a story fund that’s used to support work from veteran and emerging writers, photographers, and illustrators from all around the world.

In addition, for every dollar you give, WordPress.com will generously match with $3. This means that if we raise $25,000, we have the potential to add $100,000 to our story fund for upcoming writing and investigative projects. This is why your support during our drive is so crucial. Read more…

Eight Calls to the Police Couldn’t Prevent Her Murder

From the evening of October 9, 2014 to the early morning of October 10, 35-year-old Cecilia Lam called the police eight times to report that an ex-boyfriend named Cedric Young, Jr. was harassing her. Officers showed up at Lam’s apartment multiple times but ultimately were unable to stop Young from killing Lam and turning the gun on himself. Why? In the San Francisco Chronicle, Vivian Ho investigates what happened during the nine hours that led to Lam’s senseless death:

At 8:37 p.m., Cecilia made her first call to 911.

“My boyfriend and I, we’re pretty much fighting right now and I’m asking him to leave my home,” she told the dispatcher. “And he will not leave. … It’s starting to escalate.”

Young had been drinking all day, she said, then quickly added, “He’s actually leaving now.”

“Do you want me to send the police?” the dispatcher asked.

“No,” Cecilia responded. “I think we’re OK.”

But by 9:14, she was on the phone to 911 again, and then again at 9:33 p.m., describing an “escalating domestic violence issue.” Young was back and ringing the doorbell, over and over again.

“I’m getting more scared,” Cecilia said in the third call. “I don’t know if he’s going to break in.”

Ramirez dialed 911 around the same time. “I’m calling to straight up say this guy is insane and he’s trying to get inside,” he reported.

Dispatchers flagged the incident as a “418 DV,” a domestic violence dispute. As Lam made her third call to 911, Officers Adam Lobsinger and Chhungmeng Tov from Southern Station pulled up to the building. They began talking with Young, who had halted his frenzied attempts to get into the apartment.

Lobsinger would write in his report that Young seemed calm and “in good spirits.” Young told him “it was nothing more than couples arguing.”

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Inside the Murky World of Essential Oils

Rub a little lavender oil on your pulse points for sounder sleep, one magazine suggests, while another recommends using a frankincense-oil blend in your skincare routine. In The New Yorker, Rachel Monroe dives deep into the world of essential oils, examining how the product has risen to prominence in an age where wellness and holistic healthy-living practices have been embraced by consumers.

In the U.S., the majority of this oil is sold by two companies, Young Living and doTerra, which follow a multilevel-marketing model with independent distributors, many of whom are stay-at-home mothers looking for social connections and a way to earn an income. Both Young Living and doTerra have had problems with preventing their independent distributors from making unfounded claims when selling their oils:

The Food and Drug Administration is charged with preventing sellers of alternative-health products from making unfounded medical claims. Without ample independent testing, companies can’t assert that their products prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure disease. They get around this by relying on abstract words like “vitality” and “balance,” and by talking in vague terms about general body systems or mild issues that don’t rise to the level of disease. Young Living and doTerra have attorneys on staff to insure that product descriptions are within legal bounds.

It’s much harder to police the millions of independent distributors. In September, 2014, the F.D.A. sent a sternly worded letter to doTerra, scolding the company for distributors’ claims about oils and conditions including cancer, brain injury, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, and A.D.H.D. The agency cited a tweet by a doTerra consultant using the handle Mrs. Skinny Medic that listed “oils that could help prevent your contracting the Ebola virus,” and a Pinterest post by Wellness Empress that recommended peppermint oil for asthma, autism, bacterial infections, and brain injury. (Young Living received a similar letter.)

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Can Two Groups Who Are Wary of One Another Have a Civil Debate?

In these polarizing times, is it possible for two groups who are suspicious of one another to come together, set aside their differences, and have a productive conversation? In The Washington Post, Robert Samuels reports on what happened when two groups of men — anti-sharia activists and Muslims — decided to meet and have a civil debate:

The men talked for two hours at a branch of the Halal Guys, mostly about Wright’s fear that the mosque was still funding terrorists. Ghouri explained that the mosque’s leadership helps vet donations to ensure they don’t go to bad actors. He explained how their religion is a peaceful one.

“I’m not sure I believed him,” Wright said. “But I did get a free lunch out of it. I had a halal sandwich. That was good s—.”

Wright maintained that he didn’t learn anything about Islam from the conversation, but he allowed that “it changed my perspective a little bit. I have a little more trust for the average Muslim person.”

At first, Ghouri felt that lunch made an impact.

“I think I saw a little bit in him that he did not want to hate Muslims,” Ghouri said. “Maybe over time, he’d change his beliefs.”

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Remembering ‘Ally McBeal’s’ Creepy Dancing Baby

Twenty years ago, a quirky, hour-long dramedy about a young woman working at a law firm in Boston debuted and became a cultural phenomenon. The cast of that show, “Ally McBeal,” recently spoke with the Hollywood Reporter about how the show was developed, behind-the-scenes antics, and one very memorable dancing baby:

Gil Bellows (Billy Thomas): And then there was the Dancing Baby. I’m glad it brought attention to the show, but out of all the things that we explored, that was one of my least favorites.

Sandy Grushow (then-president, 20th Century Fox Television): I remember seeing a rough cut with the Dancing Baby when I was at home one night and I nearly fell out of bed. It was somewhere between creepy and charming.

David E. Kelley (executive producer/creator): The Dancing Baby scared and inspired us all! My assistant had come into my office one day and showed it to me on the computer. As soon as I saw it, I asked, “How do we get it into [the] show?” It may have been terrifying and hypnotic but it was also perfect for Ally. It tapped in to her internal war. She knew that on paper, a woman her age was supposed to be married with a child, but that wasn’t how she felt she wanted to be. The Dancing Baby represented that feeling.

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What Happens When You Dope Like Maria Sharapova

When Maria Sharapova won her first round U.S. Open match against the world’s No. 2 ranked female player, Simona Halep, she dropped her tennis racket and sunk to her knees in disbelief. Commentators Chris Evert and Mary Joe Fernández remarked that the match, which clocked in at two hours and 44 minutes, looked like it could have been the women’s final. When ESPN asked what Sharapova had learned from the match, she told them, “That behind this black dress with Swarovski crystals, this girl has a lot of grit and she’s not going anywhere.”

It was Sharapova’s first Grand Slam match in 19 months, the majority of which was spent serving a 15-month ban for violating anti-doping rules. The drug Sharapova tested positive for was meldonium, a heart drug that can assist in improving endurance and recovery. Caitlin Thompson was curious whether taking the drug could improve her tennis game while she competed in recreational tournaments, and she reported about the experience for Deadspin:

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Serena Williams on Returning to Tennis and Embracing ‘Power’

Serena Williams is planning on returning to the Australian Open next year to defend her grand slam title a mere three months after she gives birth. “It’s the most outrageous plan,” she told Vogue’s Rob Haskell from her home in Florida.

Williams has also learned to embrace what it means to be a powerful player on the tennis court:

Power—it’s a word that has clung with a sometimes unsavory vigor to Williams over the years, perhaps as a dismissal of her prodigious technical skill or, worse, as a proxy for her race. And it’s a word she has only recently come to embrace. “I think I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the idea of power,” she says. “In the beginning I didn’t like it when they said that my sister and I were power players. I thought, I don’t hit as hard as a Monica Seles. In Australia last year, I read that Maria Sharapova’s backhand and forehand are as good or better than mine, and that the only reason I win is that my serve is bigger. I was like, wait a minute, please. I place my serve. And what about my volleys? My speed? I’m the player who’s hitting angles. I’m the player who moves you. I use my brain, and that’s really why I win. Not only me, but women in general sometimes feel that power is a bad word. As I’ve gotten older I’ve started to feel differently about it. Power is beauty. Strength is beauty. So now on the court I want people to think that I’m powerful. But I also want them to be shocked at how I play. I want people to expect something, then get something different.”

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Instagram Wants to Make the Internet a Nicer Place to Be

Is it possible to make the internet a kinder place? Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom thinks so. In Wired, Nick Thompson reports on how Instagram has been working to clean up its photo sharing platform, creating tools for users to close comments on certain posts and ban offensive words—or, in one notable case, offensive emojis:

In mid July 2016, just after VidCon, Systrom was faced with just such an ophiological scourge. Somehow, in the course of one week, Taylor Swift had lost internet fights with Calvin Harris, Katy Perry, and Kim Kardashian. Swift was accused of treacherous perfidy, and her feed quickly began to look like the Reptile Discovery Center at the National Zoo. Her posts were followed almost entirely by snake emoji: snakes piled on snakes, snakes arranged numerically, snakes alternating with pigs. And then, suddenly, the snakes started to vanish. Soon Swift’s feed was back to the way she preferred it: filled with images of her and her beautiful friends in beautiful swimsuits, with commenters telling her how beautiful they all looked.

But Instagram can’t build that world with simple technical fixes like automated snake emoji deletion.

This was no accident. Over the previous weeks, Systrom and his team at Instagram had quietly built a filter that would automatically delete specific words and emoji from users’ feeds. Swift’s snakes became the first live test case. In September, Systrom announced the feature to the world. Users could click a button to “hide inappropriate comments,” which would block a list of words the company had selected, including racial slurs and words like whore. They could also add custom keywords or even custom emoji, like, say, snakes.

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An Ode to Dishwashers, the Unsung Heroes of the Restaurant Kitchen

In the Washington Post, food critic Tom Sietsema signed up for a dishwashing shift at Caracol, a 250-seat Mexican restaurant in Houston to experience the job Anthony Bourdain said taught him “every important lesson of my life.”

Dishwashers get paid a median annual wage of $20,000 a year in the U.S. and are a critical component of the restaurant industry. As Emeril Lagasse puts it, “You can’t have a successful service in a restaurant without a great dishwasher.” More restaurants are finding ways to recognize and reward their dishwashers:

After years of performing tasks no one else wants to do — cleaning nasty messes, taking out trash, polishing Japanese wine glasses priced at $66 a stem (at Quince in San Francisco) — the unsung heroes of the kitchen might be finally getting their due.

This spring, chef Rene Redzepi of the world-renowned Noma in Copenhagen made headlines when he made his dishwasher, Ali Sonko, a partner in his business. The Gambian native helped Redzepi open the landmark restaurant in 2003. And in July, workers at the esteemed French Laundry in Yountville, Calif., one of master chef Thomas Keller’s 12 U.S. restaurants and bakeries, voted to give their most prestigious company honor, the Core Award, to a dishwasher: Jaimie Portillo, who says he has never missed a day of work in seven years.

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