Category Archives: Editor’s Pick

Want To See a Polar Bear? Just Follow the Bones

a polar bear walks on the ice

In Kaktovik, Alaska, dozens of polar bears take advantage of the bone pile—the remains of this community’s yearly quota of bowhead whales, which locals butcher right on the shore—to supplement meager summertime hunting. The bone pile is also a bounty for locals like hunter and guide Robert Thompson, who’s booked solid through 2017 taking hopeful wildlife photographers on polar bear tours. Michael Englehard tells the story in Hakai magazine.

The juncture of lingering bears waiting for freeze-up, the windfall of a bone and blubber cache, and a nearby community eager for economic opportunities, has resulted in a burgeoning bear watching industry in Kaktovik. Thompson, one of seven coast guard-certified tour boat captains, makes a good living from the castaways at the bone pile between September and November. A popular captain who is already fully booked for 2017, he can get so busy that he rushes to work without breakfast, grabbing a fistful of coffee beans to chew on his way out the door. His boat Seanachaí, Irish for storyteller, is aptly named—the man who can see bears making a beeline to the bone pile from his living room chair and who once got charged by a marauding male right on his doorstep regales visitors with tidbits about life in the North. A favorite is the technique for how to prepare a polar bear skin. “You stuff it through a hole in the ice and let shrimp pick it clean,” he says, adding that he’s also seen bears steal from set fishing nets and once watched one pull a net to shore. Thompson’s porch is a still life of body parts and implements: a pot with chunks of unidentifiable meat chilling in the frigid air; a caribou leg for his dogs; snowmobile parts; a gas tank; and, like a cluster of fallen angels, a brace of unplucked, white-phase ptarmigans. On a driftwood stump near the shed grins a mossy polar bear skull; it’s not a scene for tender romantics.

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The Rules For Being John Hinckley

Thirty-four years after his commitment to Saint Elizabeths Hospital, after being found not guilty by reason of insanity for shooting Ronald Reagan to impress actor Jodie Foster, John Hinckley is free. Well, “free.” In a fascinating New York magazine profile that also digs into the limits of both psychiatry and juries, Lisa Miller details some of the conditions of his release into the custody of his 90-year-old mother.

Under the order of a federal judge, Hinckley has to live with his mother for at least a year. He must remain in treatment with mental-health professionals in Williamsburg, who have to be in regular touch with the doctors at St. Elizabeths and the court. He may not travel more than 50 miles from home, and he may not contact Foster or any of his other victims. He may not knowingly travel to places where “current or former Presidents” will be present, and if he finds himself in such locations he must leave. He may play his guitar in private, but in the interest of containing his narcissism, he may not play gigs. For now, he may browse the internet but not look at pornography or at information related to his crimes. He has to submit the make and model of his car to the Secret Service as well as his cell-phone number. He is encouraged to make friends in Williamsburg but may not invite a guest to sleep over at his house unless his mother (or one of his siblings, both of whom live in Dallas) is home. Violations of these terms could send him back to the hospital.

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I Can Totally Believe It’s Actually Butter!

In the Washington PostLibby Copeland talks to butter aficionado and food writer Elaine Khosrova — author of Butter: A Rich History — about the origins of butter, the range of butters available, and how to hold a butter tasting. But is it good for us or not? It depends when you ask.

Butter’s story is a very American story, because the arc of its vilification and subsequent redemption is a parable for how we get food wrong time and again. We alternately demonize and idealize individual ingredients — not just butter but also sugar, caffeine, red wine and supposed miracle foods featured on “The Dr. Oz Show” — and in doing so, we miss the big picture. Even now, at butter’s supposed moment of glory, many nutritional scientists worry that the pendulum may be swinging too far in its direction. American food trends are hopelessly reminiscent of Newton’s third law, says David L. Katz, founding director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center: “For every boneheaded action, there’s an opposite and equally boneheaded reaction.”

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Stories of Immigration as Protest: Letters to Donald Trump

At Granta, Barbara Zitwer, Colm Tóibín, Elham Manea, Linda Coverdale, Kyung-sook Shin, and Anne Landsman share their stories of immigration to protest Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban as an abomination in a country built and fueled by people from away.

Barbara Zitwer: I was very moved at an i am muslim too rally in NYC a few weeks ago. There were people of every color, every age and every religion. I overheard a conversation – an elderly woman was speaking so animatedly in a low, raspy voice, and although she had a thick accent her words lodged in my mind: ‘My family died in a camp in Germany. No one stopped them. We can never let that happen again. We can never watch. We must act. I lived for a reason. I am a Jew and today I am a Muslim, too.’ And then she rolled up her sleeve and revealed a tattoo on her arm as if it was a badge of courage.

Colm Tóibín: It is always easy to invent enemies; it merely takes a failure of imagination, a determination to look inwards, a lack of confidence in our own ability to see clearly, to understand, to love.

Linda Coverdale: Many of the more than eighty French books I have translated into English deal with war, oppression, misogyny, racism, the plight of refugees and the gruesome hells of genocide. The second book I ever took on told the story of Molyda, a child who watched without a tear – even a single one would have betrayed her ‘complicity’ – as those she loved died in the killing fields of Cambodia. Rescued from a Thai refugee camp by a couple in Paris, she could not speak for a year, but her new parents, psychiatrists in exile from Communist Czechoslovakia, helped her to dance and sing her memories, which slowly became her French voice.

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You Just Can’t Find a Good Deal in Kreuzlingen These Days

In Roads & Kingdoms, Milan Gagnon tells the stories of Kreuzlingen, Switzerland, and Konstanz, Germany — each weekend the residents of the Swiss city pour into the German one in search of good deals and good exchange rates, leaving one city full of empty storefronts and the other full of empty souls.

When Switzerland’s Saturday rush comes, Grübel will often head in the other direction. To save cash, she’ll pack a lunch and a thermos full of tea, and take the train right through Kreuzlingen, to the nature that is Switzerland’s most affordable draw. She cross-country skis the forests surrounding Kreuzlingen when there’s snow and hikes them when there’s not. Occasionally, she’ll splurge on a coffee in town and find someone from Konstanz doing the pouring, earning entry-level francs to spend like the Swiss back home. “The servers are German, and the cafés are empty,” Grübel says, “because everyone Swiss is in Konstanz.”

In addition to the opportunities for bucolic jaunts and barista jobs, there may be more and more reasons for Germans to spend time in Kreuzlingen again. “Money wins in Konstanz,” says Benni Kreiblich, a 33-year-old native of the city. “Unfortunately,” he adds, “there’s no value placed on quality and culture.”

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‘Smoking freebase has pretty much been my job for the past year.’

Writer Cat Marnell speaking on a panel in 2012

In the New Yorker, Naomi Fry writes about Cat Marnell’s new memoir, How to Murder Your Life. Fry’s piece is part review, part analysis of women’s addiction stories.

In the familiar eschatology of addiction memoirs—David Carr’s “The Night of the Gun,” say, or Bill Clegg’s “Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man”—an ambitious protagonist is bested by the wearying force of substances, only to later conquer his dependency and return, relatively unscathed, to the more wholesome business of achievement and success. But both “You’ll Never Eat Lunch” and “How to Murder Your Life” are remarkably honest in foregrounding the invidious parallelism of their subjects’ multifarious drives. It turns out that, for some addicts, drug use doesn’t just subvert ambition—it also mimics it. For Phillips, the deal-making stops, but the same desires that fuelled her career trajectory continue to animate her addiction. “Smoking freebase has pretty much been my job for the past year,” she writes of a particularly extreme period. And even after she quits cocaine, she begins exercising compulsively so as not to become a “fat tub of goo.” “Had she figured out a new and exciting addiction?” she wonders after injuring herself working out, describing the pain in a swollen ankle as “little jolts all along the way . . . painumb, painumb, painumb,” beating rhythmically like so many ticks on a never-ending workday clock.

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On Mastery: Learning Kyudo — One of Japan’s Oldest and Most Respected Martial Arts

Leigh Ann Henion was drawn to archery by her grandfather’s passion for it. She travels to Japan to improve her archery skills by learning Kyudo — a form of archery that is one of Japan’s oldest martial arts. In her short yet intense course, sensei Kazuhisa Miyasaka helps her realize that achievement with the bow and arrow comes only after mastering one’s mind.

We have not talked about the fact that, when our grandfathers were alive, our nations and families were adversaries. Or that when I asked him to introduce kyudo in just a handful of days, I was making an impossible request. But we both knew.

Miyasaka touches my arm, tightening my actions like the precise folds of origami. My projectiles hit sand, nearer and nearer the target. Until. Twack. I pierce paper. The target is so far away I’d need binoculars to see exactly where my arrow rests.

I’ve achieved an obvious goal. But my release felt no more important than my stance, this arrow no more special than the one sent before it. I arrived in Japan hoping to understand why hitting a target isn’t the most important part of this tradition. Now, I know the closest I’ll come is the realization that it doesn’t matter to me whether I hit.

When I hear the target rip again, from a second arrow, I realize that I had not been listening for it.

Miyasaka has been recording my final day with a video camera. He turns my attention to a flat-screen television, which seems out of place in front of the chalkboard where he sketches feather patterns. When he pushes play, I see a woman I do not recognize. She moves through the stages of kyudo form with deceptive ease. At one point, she closes her eyes.

When I see the pale cocoons of my eyelids, I think to myself: Seriously? I remember none of it.

Miyasaka looks out at the target and says, “You did that yourself. You have real skill now.”

But the sound of my target-slaying was not one of accomplishment.

It was a signal that, as long as I’m alive, I will not be done.

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Peanut Butter and Jelly: The NBA’s Secret Addiction

At ESPN, Baxter Holmes reports on how the lowly peanut butter and jelly sandwich fueled the 2007-08 Boston Celtics to an NBA title, becoming the sweet and salty stuff of superstitious sport legend that has spread like an addiction across the league.

But as the Garnett-Paul Pierce-Ray Allen Celtics steamrolled to a 66-win season and an NBA title, the secret to their success, so cleverly disguised between two pieces of white bread, was eventually leaked.

At the time, Doo notes, the Celtics not only didn’t provide lavish pregame spreads, they didn’t offer much food at all. But he soon found himself slapping together 20 PB&J’s about three hours before every tip-off, the finished products placed in bags and labeled with Sharpie in a secret code: “S” for strawberry, “G” for grape, “C” for crunchy. Of vital import: Garnett was an “S” man, and woe unto he who did not deliver him two S’s before every game. “If Kevin didn’t get his routine down, he’d be pissed,” Doo says. “Even if he didn’t eat them, he needed them to be there.”

The Trail Blazers offer 20 crustless, halved PB&J’s pregame — 10 of them toasted, a mandate ever since an opposing arena prepared them as such and Blazers guard Damian Lillard approved. They’re composed of organic fixings, save for white bread, which Portland’s assistant performance coach Ben Kenyon notes is a high-glycemic carb that easily digests to provide a quick energy jolt. Typically, all 20 vanish well before tip-off; sometimes the Blazers double their order.

The Rockets make sure the PB&J is available in their kitchen at all times, in all varieties — white and wheat bread, toasted, untoasted, Smucker’s strawberry and grape, Jif creamy and chunky — and offer 12 to 15 sandwiches pregame, with PB&J reinforcements provided at halftime and on postgame flights.

The Bucks might boast the NBA’s most elaborate PB&J operation: a pregame buffet featuring smooth, crunchy and almond butters, an assortment of jellies (raspberry, strawberry, grape, blueberry, apricot), three breads from a local bakery (white, wheat and gluten-free) and Nutella. The team scarfs 20 to 30 PB&J’s per game and travels with the ingredients, which rookies prepare on the plane and in visiting locker rooms.

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Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind

Sam Kriss, in a post he calls his “magnum opus” at The Outline, explores the age-old warning “Don’t stare directly at the sun.” Sure, there are medical reasons not to—but might there also be political ones? Do we have a moral duty to stare directly at the sun, and everything it represents?

Plato famously wanted a totalitarian society run by philosophers, in which ordinary people would live under the firm, rational, condescending guidance of those who had learned to see by the light of the Good. There’s always a kind of authoritarian undercurrent to rationalistic philosophy—take, for instance, Immanuel Kant. In What Is Enlightenment?, he argued that enlightened autocrats such as Frederick the Great of Prussia ought not to restrict the freedom of thought of his subjects, and that “freedom need not cause the least worry concerning public order or the unity of the community.” But this isn’t out of any respect for differences of opinion; instead, Kant takes it as axiomatic that Frederick’s rule is rational and that anyone sensibly using their freedom of thought will inevitably end up supporting it. Reason comes from the sun, and so does the king, and if there’s only one sun, neither can disagree with the other. Kant’s reason allows for only one right answer, and it happens to agree with political power. As he puts it: “Argue as much as you like, and about what you like—but obey!”

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MAWA! The Christian Alt-Right Wants to Make America White Again

In an exploration in The New Republic of how American Evangelicals came to embrace the Trump campaign, Sarah Posner introduces some of the main players in “alt-right Christianity,” like Nathanael Strickland.

Strickland recently told me that alt-right Christians see “racial differences” as “real, biological, and positive,” a view he insists is “merely a reaffirmation of traditional historical Christianity.” He argues that many on the alt-right who consider themselves atheists or pagans only lost their faith in Christianity “due to the antiwhite hatred and Marxist dogma held by the modern church.”

Strickland considers himself a “kinist,” part of the new white supremacist movement that, according to the Anti-Defamation League, “uses the Bible as one of the main texts for its beliefs,” offering a powerful validation to white supremacists for their racism and anti-Semitism. Strickland sees kinism as a successor to Christian Reconstructionism, a theocratic movement dating back to the 1960s that played a key role in the rise of Christian homeschooling. The movement’s primary goal was to implement biblical law—including public stonings—in every facet of American life.

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