Category Archives: Blog Post

Remembering Jerry Krause, Architect Behind the Greatest NBA Team Ever Assembled

There is dichotomy that naturally comes with any sort of memorialization for Jerry Krause, the general manager of the Chicago Bulls for nearly 20 years and who died earlier this week. Krause didn’t draft Michael Jordan, but it was primarily through his efforts that the Bulls won six NBA titles, dominating the 1990s with players like Scottie Pippen, Steve Kerr, Horace Grant, and Toni Kukoc, among others; Krause was the architect behind the signing and drafting of those players, and without his efforts, who knows if we would even consider Jordan the GOAT. Read more…

Roger Federer is Brilliant, But Don’t Ever Forget About Serena Williams

Last week, I had the privilege of watching Roger Federer beat his longtime rival Rafael Nadal in a fourth-round match at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. Federer went on to win the tournament.

Tennis has long been a young person’s game, with the majority of the top players from both the men’s and women’s pro tour being in their 20s. At 35, an age when many tennis players have retired or considered retirement (Pete Sampras, for example, announced his retirement at 32), Roger Federer is finding success again with his latest wins in Indian Wells and at the Australian Open (his first grand slam win in five years). His resurgence has garnered him a GQ cover and a profile by Rosecrans Baldwin in the magazine’s latest issue. Baldwin asked Federer about what it felt like to win his latest grand slam title:

So how did it compare with the others? The 2009 French Open stands out, Federer said, when he clinched the Career Grand Slam and also tied Sampras’s record of 14 Slam titles. Then he beat Andy Roddick at Wimbledon a few weeks later—during the same summer that Mirka gave birth to their first children, their twin girls—and the record was his. A magical summer. But still, he said, “this one feels very different.” Less about legend, more about legacy. After a silence, Federer mused, “You have a better perspective when you’re older. You’re more at peace.” A second later, “Sometimes you want it more because you know time isn’t on your side.”

It’s a lovely profile of an athlete reaching the twilight of his career. Unfortunately, GQ undermined the story with a single tweet: Read more…

Robert B. Silvers, Editor of The New York Review of Books: 1929-2017

Robert Silvers

I believe in the writer—the writer, above all. That’s how we started off: admiring the writer. We organized the New York Review according to the writers we admired most: Edmund Wilson, Wystan Auden, Fred Dupee, Norman, Bill, Lizzie, Mary among them. Each of them had a confident sense of their own prose, and it meant a great deal to them—the matter of a comma, a semicolon, a word—and it does to our writers today. And so, when it comes to making a change, we should not do it without their permission. If a moment comes at some point where we see something should be improved, we don’t just scribble it in but call them up wherever they are. And that is, I think, crucial.

—Robert Silvers, co-founding editor of The New York Review of Books with Barbara Epstein, speaking with New York magazine’s Mark Danner in 2013, on the publication’s 50th anniversary. Silvers died March 20 after an illness. He was 87 years old.

NYRB announced the news on their Twitter feed today:

Shortly after I started Longreads, I was invited to visit the offices of the NYRB to meet their digital editor Matthew Howard. A man was walking toward the front of the office so I stopped him and asked if he knew where Matthew might be. He politely responded that he did know, then turned and walked back through the office to track him down. Matthew met me with a handshake, laughed, and then asked me, “You realize you just sent Robert Silvers to fetch me, right?”

From a grateful reader, thank you, Robert.

See more stories from The New York Review of Books in the Longreads archive.

‘We Love Europa But Europa No Love Us.’

Refugee camp graffiti

Travel writer David Farley spent a month volunteering in a refugee camp in Greece. He wrote about it for Afar. It was not exactly an introduction to the world of good will towards refugees.

Souda briefly gained prominence in November 2016, when it was reported that a right-wing mob stood atop the old city walls and launched large stones and Molotov cocktails down into the camp, setting tents ablaze. Tensions were such that one of the rules of the NGO I was volunteering for stated that once I left the camp, I had to remove my fluorescent green vest and volunteer badge for fear locals would attack me for helping the refugees.

Farley’s piece includes the voices of people we perceive as a generic mass with unified motives.

One day while serving lunch—a tomato and chickpea stew made by a Basque NGO—I met a Syrian named Dallal. He was a new arrival and was aware he might be at Souda for a while. “I don’t understand why we have to wait so long. Some people have been here for nearly a year,” he said. “Our collective goal is that we want a new future, a good future, a safe life. I have a degree in mechanical engineering. My friend here,” he pulled over a 25-year-old from Iraq, “he’s a veterinarian. We’re not poor. We just want a normal life. We are here for survival.”

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A Heart-Shaped Life: Twelve Ways of Looking at Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Amy Krouse Rosenthal

“What constitutes a life worthy of being remembered? How do you want to be remembered?” These are the kinds of questions Amy Krouse Rosenthal always asked in her work. When Amy died this week at 51, her obituary described her as a “children’s author, memoirist, and public speaker” who found “an extraordinarily large readership this month with a column in the New York Times titled “You May Want to Marry My Husband.” But Amy was far more than her final, heartbreaking column. Amy Shearn details what Amy did with her brief, inspired time, and how she came to inspire others. Read more…

Death in the Desert

Memorial coffins on the US-Mexico barrier for those killed crossing the border fence in Tijuana, México

Making it across the geo-political border doesn’t mean you’ve made it. In Documenting the Undocumented on Places, Taylor James and Adelheid Fischer find the end of the line for a number of “un-authorized border crossers.”

The public record of the Death Maps provides no detail about the private lives of its entrants. What hopes carried Claudia Patricia Oqunendo-Bedoya, Case Report 02-01321, into the desert inferno in August 2002 when she succumbed to “probable hyperthermia”? Just two days before Oqunendo-Bedoya’s remains were recovered, another crosser, Jaime Arteaga Alba, Case Report 02-01310, was riding in a vehicle that may have been taking him to his final destination: a job site in the U.S. Was he jubilant that he survived the grueling desert trek? Was he planning his new future when he was killed on August 8 in a highway accident?

Humane Borders gathers data each time a body is found, while the work of James (and Fischer, through this essay) attempts to humanize each loss.

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Mary Beard’s Voyage Into ‘Herland’

Mary Beard opens “Women in Power: From Medusa to Merkel,” her cover essay in this week’s London Review of Books, with one of the most satisfying depictions of female dominance in American letters—Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1915 comic novel Herland. Gilman’s book is satisfying because it’s thoroughly realized and genuinely funny, writes Beard:

It’s a fantasy about a nation of women—and women only—that has existed for two thousand years in some remote, still unexplored part of the globe. A magnificent utopia: clean and tidy, collaborative, peaceful (even the cats have stopped killing the birds), brilliantly organized in everything from its sustainable agriculture and delicious food to its social services and education. And it all depends on one miraculous innovation. At the very beginning of its history, the founding mothers had somehow perfected the technique of parthenogenesis. The practical details are a bit unclear, but the women somehow just gave birth to baby girls, with no intervention from men at all. There was no sex in Herland.

For an all-female society that’s lived without men for 2,000 years, Herland is doing very well, thank you very much. The government functions smoothly, the air is clean, and the diet is vegetarian. No sooner do three male scientists bumble along than the sexist observations follow, and sadly, they still hold up.

Beard calls on Herland not to say what one might expect—that more than a century after Gilman’s imagined future the very thought of a powerful woman is still consigned to fantasy—but rather that powerful women don’t appear in our collective imagination at all. Why? Because “our mental, cultural template for a powerful person remains resolutely male.” It’s a continuation of an argument Beard began in her 2014 LRB essay “The Public Voice of Women,” which looked at the classical history of when and why women speak out in public, and how they often use male rhetoric. “It is still the case that when listeners hear a female voice, they don’t hear a voice that connotes authority; or rather they have not learned how to hear authority in it.” In that essay, she explored how women speak and are heard; here, it is how they are seen. Of course, there are the clothes.

The regulation trouser suits, or at least the trousers, worn by so many Western female political leaders, from Merkel to Clinton, may be convenient and practical; they may be a  signal of the refusal to become a clothes horse, which is the fate of so many political wives; but they’re also a simple tactic—like lowering the timbre of the voice—to make the female appear more male, to fit the part of power.

But to my surprise, given the prominent placement of clothing in Herland, this the beginning and end of Beard’s fashion critique, especially since the wardrobe Gilman devised for her citizens is ingenious. Instead of “modern” underwire bras poking them in the soft tissue, and “panties” (that gross, girlish word) that do or do not hide so-called VPL, the women of Herland wear “a one-piece cotton undergarment, thin and soft, that reached over the knees and shoulders.” On top of this very sensible base they layer several tunics, depending on the season, the middle of which is “shingled” with pockets (not a feature of women’s clothing at the time Gilman was writing). Their hair they keep short, “hatless, loose, and shining.” And, my favorite detail: The base under-layer, which is essentially a modified union suit, doubles as athletic wear, “as perfect a garment for exercise as need be devised, absolutely free to move in,” Gilman writes. No more lugging a bag to the gym! In Gilman’s novel, even the male interlopers are impressed:

The garments were simple in the extreme, and absolutely comfortable, physically, though of course we all felt like supes in the theater. There was a one-piece cotton undergarment, thin and soft, that reached over the knees and shoulders, something like the one-piece pajamas some fellows wear, and a kind of half-hose, that came up to just under the knee and stayed there—had elastic tops of their own, and covered the edges of the first.

Then there was a thicker variety of union suit, a lot of them in the closet, of varying weights and somewhat sturdier material—evidently they would do at a pinch with nothing further. Then there were tunics, knee-length, and some long robes. Needless to say, we took tunics.

Beard writes that when we imagine powerful women we imagine “national politicians, CEOs, prominent journalists, television executives and so on,” which “gives a very narrow version of what power is.” And so she asks us to rethink our very definition of power, first by “decoupling it from public prestige.” I’d add that it would also help with this project if we rethought our relationship to fashion, in a serious, systemic way, not merely on a case-by-case basis. If I wanted to swan about in Herland tunics, I would probably pop over to Eileen Fisher, a brand that has turned comfort into an unaffordable luxury, and top it off with a pink pussy hat while I’m at it. But isn’t that joke too easy? Shouldn’t there be more than just one mass-market designer who’s addressing what it means for women to present themselves in ways that feel both professional and physically forgiving? There are an infinite number of daily negotiations and frustrations with dressing oneself and being seen in this world that Beard misses in her binary between pantsuit armor and clothes-horse.

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What Does the Women’s Strike Mean?

Women's March, Seattle

What makes a strike work? Large crowds, a focused goal, and inclusion. The evolution of the Womxn’s March on January 21, 2017, had a bumpy start, but evolved to have a focused, intersectional mission. Similar questions face the strike; who’s it for, who gets to go, and what’s its purpose?

Women’s strikes have typically succeeded when they have some clear idea of what women’s work is, some obvious problem that will become clear through women’s strategic withdrawal—for example, a French strike in which women left work early (to symbolize the time of day they stopped getting paid, as compared to men with the same job). Without a specific, labor-related point, after all, a “strike” is just a particularly righteous personal day.

In Elle, Sady Doyle looks at the history of women’s strikes and the complexity of who they serve even while finding praise for the current movement.

It’s also worth noting that the Women’s March itself was initially criticized for the fuzziness and non-specificity of its goals, and it still became the most successful protest in U.S. history.

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‘This Land’ Was Our Land: A Eulogy for a Groundbreaking Magazine

I first discovered the Oklahoma-based magazine This Land on Twitter through an extraordinary story by Kiera Feldman about a sexual abuse scandal and cover-up at a Tulsa Christian school. Longreads later named “Grace in Broken Arrow” one of the best stories of 2012.

This Land Press, which was founded in 2010 with a seven-figure investment by publisher Vincent LoVoi and editorial leadership from Michael Mason, announced last week it was halting its print operations. CJR called it “one of the most audacious local news experiments of the past decade.” To me, the magazine represented everything that I ever wanted to help celebrate through Longreads: Outstanding reporting from a specific place, with storytelling that resonates around the world. (I grew up nowhere near Tulsa, but I often saw shades of my own hometown, Fresno, California, in the perspectives that This Land shared.)

Read more…

Social Networks Have Always Battled HIV/AIDS

When’s the last time you saved thousands of lives with a Facebook post? It happened last year to Greg Owen, recently profiled by Buzzfeed UK, a part-time bartender and club promoter from Northern Ireland who contributed to last year’s steep drop in new HIV diagnoses in London while homeless, underemployed, and himself HIV positive.

On 11 August 2015, Owen posted on Facebook to let his friends know that he planned to begin taking PrEP. A friend, who was HIV-positive and had been prescribed the drug as part of his treatment before switching medication, offered him some spare pills. Owen’s plan was to start taking them and blog about his experiences—a “blow by blow” account, he says, laughing…

The day after the Facebook post, he went to a sexual health clinic to double-check he was HIV-negative before taking the pills. Moments later, the nurse gave him the result of the rapid pin-prick blood test: It was positive. He had missed his chance to prevent it.

“I felt sick,” says Owen. “I said, ‘I need to have a cigarette.’ I was in shock.”

The following evening, aware that his friends on Facebook would soon be asking how he was getting on with PrEP, and while working a shift in a gay bar, Owen posted an update on the site telling everyone he was HIV-positive.

That single act triggered a chain of events that would change everything.

This single post caused Owen to become the unintentional poster boy for PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, also known by the brand name Truvada, a pill taken daily that can help prevent the risk of HIV infection. PrEP is available in the US under most insurance programs, including Medicaid, but in 2015, it was still unavailable on the UK’s National Health Service.

With the help of social media and a homegrown website about the PrEP regimen, Owen got word to thousands of people, garnering the attention of public health officials along the way. It’s a trajectory made all the more surprising by Owen’s total lack of resources and official support. Owen managed to turn his social contacts and personal commitment to HIV prevention into a movement—and by doing so, unwittingly became the latest in a long line of underfunded, grassroots activists who have battled HIV/AIDS through social networks.

The gay community confronted the illness in the early 1980s, when public health officials heard reports of a “gay cancer” spreading through San Francisco and New York. Before HIV or AIDS even had a name, gay men gathered in the Greenwich Village living room of playwright and activist Larry Kramer, where they met with Dr. Alvin Friedman-Kien, a dermatologist and virologist who told them what he knew about the disease. They could hardly believe what they heard.

Kramer’s living room became the headquarters for Gay Men’s Health Crisis, now America’s oldest AIDS organization, as HIV/AIDS began to decimate gay communities and disbelief turned to action. The group, and others like it, relied on social networking to get the word out about AIDS. They disseminated the latest research, raised funds, and provided critical support for patients at all stages. “Nobody paid any attention to it, recalls Kramer in an interview with Frontline. “We didn’t exist.” (Kramer later parted ways with GMHC and went on to help found ACT UP, an advocacy group whose in-your-face tactics drew national attention to the crisis.)

For early HIV/AIDS activists, grassroots organizing wasn’t a choice—it was a necessity. Scientific understanding of the virus was in its infancy, and a social stigma surrounded its victims. Researchers struggled to get enough money to finance their work and activists struggled for media attention. Meanwhile, the Reagan Administration ignored both groups’ pleas for public acknowledgment, and the president famously failed to even use the word “AIDS” in public until 1985, and didn’t give a major speech on the subject until 1987. There was no choice but to pick up the phone, make a flyer, or get out into the street.

Part of the problem was what sociologists call “social death”—the exclusion of people who are thought to be beyond saving because of their social status. But grassroots activism gave hope to patients, challenged stigma, and ultimately pushed forward research. Celebrities whose own social networks were torn apart by HIV/AIDS eventually came forward, and slowly, an international movement was born. Today, those living-room gatherings, phone calls, get-togethers, and grassroots marches have resulted in prevention like PrEP and better treatments for HIV/AIDS patients. And they still fuel efforts like Owen’s to make sure those interventions get in the hands of those who are at risk.

As Owen’s story illustrates, there are still big gaps in awareness despite the existence of better treatment and prevention options. In March 2016, the NHS ceased—before it had even started—the process of funding the drug.

The resulting publicity surrounding the decision, however, had an interesting effect: More and more people were becoming aware of the drug and, says Owen, seeking it out on IWantPrEPNow. Traffic began to double and triple. His social media presence swelled, fueling further traffic and media traction: appearances on the BBC, more radio discussions, more press coverage. Greg Owen was becoming Mr PrEP.

In response to NHS England’s decision, all the major HIV charities joined forces to fight it. A series of meetings ensued. Owen was the only activist invited to attend, as every HIV specialist knew that he was the main link to thousands of people wanting the drug…

A legal battle commenced, brought by the National AIDS Trust, to counter NHS England’s claim that it was not their responsibility to provide PrEP as HIV prevention was the job of local councils. At each step of this process, as news reports described what was happening, traffic to IWantPrEPNow continued to climb.

By the time NHS England lost in the High Court in August last year, 12,000 people were visiting the site every month. NHS England swiftly appealed the ruling. Orders of generic PrEP kept rising… As the NHS stalled, an underground movement, facilitated by Owen, was in full swing.

The NHS eventually lost the appeal in November, and announced that it would provide the drugs for at least 10,000 people, but earlier that summer a panel discussion at the International AIDS Conference warned that global funding for the disease is still in danger of a “collapse” that could set back public health goals. If history is any indicator, activists won’t lay down their arms anytime soon. Like Owen, they’ll pick up their cell phones and carry on—even if their invisible labor goes unpaid and unrecognized.

Further Reading
The Epidemic of Gay Loneliness (Huffington Post Highline)
Dustin Lance Black, The Screenwriter Behind “Milk” and “When We Rise” on Coming Out as a Gay Activist (The New Yorker)

Read the Buzzfeed story