Tom Maxwell | Longreads | March 2017 | 9 minutes (2,170 words)
On March 18, 1845, the Hutchinson Family Singers were huddled in a Manhattan boarding house, afraid for their lives. As 19th Century rock stars, they didn’t fear the next night’s sellout crowd, but rather the threat of a mob. For the first time, the group had decided to include their most fierce anti-slavery song into a public program, and the response was swift. Local Democratic and Whig papers issued dire warnings and suggested possible violence. It was rumored that dozens of demonstrators had bought tickets and were coming armed with “brickbats and other missiles.”
“Even our most warm and enthusiastic friends among the abolitionists took alarm,” remembered Abby Hutchinson, and “begged that we might omit the song, as they did not wish to see us get killed.”
It wasn’t that most people didn’t know the Hutchinsons were abolitionists. The problem was that slavery (as well as its parent, racism) was an American tradition, and performers who wished to be popular did not bring their opposition onto the stage. Five of our first seven presidents, after all, were slaveholders. Read more…
Comedy’s one of the ways that we can protect ourselves. Alec Baldwin deserves a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Sadly, he’s not going to get it from this president.
Can you explain that a bit more? How does satire protect us from Donald Trump?
The man has such thin skin that if you keep pressure on him — I remember there was a baseball game in Cleveland, and a swarm of flies came on the field and the batters were doing this [mimes swatting at flies] while the pitcher was throwing 100 miles an hour. Well, that’s Alec Baldwin and Saturday Night Live. It’s distracting the batter. Eventually Trump’s going to take a fastball off the sternum and have to leave the game.
There’s this idea that reducing Trump to a punchline could make him seem harmless or helps to normalize him. Is there any validity to that argument?
I guess it’s a possibility. On the other hand, Donald Trump can be Donald Trump, but if he doesn’t help the people that need help, then he’s just a jerk. That press conference that he held berating the news media? I mean, how do you build a dictatorship? First, you undermine the press: “The only truth you’re going to hear is from me.” And he hires the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Steve Bannon, to be his little buddy. Bannon looks like a guy who goes to lunch, gets drunk, and comes back to the office: “Steve, could you have just one drink?” “Fuck you.” How is a white supremacist the chief adviser to our president? Did anybody look that up? I don’t know. How’s this interview going? Do you think you’re talking to a normal person here? Don’t I seem like I’m full of something?
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.
Moonlight‘s surprise win on Sunday night was a shared-stage moment, a tantalizing suggestion that we were perhaps living in an alternate timeline. “Did the Oscars just prove that we are living in a computer simulation?” asks Adam Gopnik at TheNew Yorker, only half as a joke. “Since the advance of intelligence seems like the one constant among living things—and since living things are far likelier than not to be spread around the universe—then one of the things that smart living things will do is make simulations of other universes in which to run experiments.” Read more…
Congress was inundated with thousands of phone calls from people urging their representatives to vote against Trump’s education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos. Given her poor performance during confirmation hearings, her lack of experience, and her history of supporting attempts to dismantle traditional public education, Americans had visceral, negative reaction to DeVos. But this defense of our schools comes after years of anti-public education rhetoric by our country’s leaders about “failing schools” and teacher accountability.
Dana Goldstein’s 2015 book The Teacher Wars seeks to understand how America’s relationship with its public school teachers became so complicated. It goes much farther back than the battles of the past few decades: Read more…
Alice Stovall, Thurgood Marshall’s secretary at the NAACP, recalled the effect Marshall had on blacks when he showed up at courthouses in small Southern towns. “They came in their jalopy cars and their overalls,” she recounted. “All they wanted to do— if they could— was just touch him, just touch him, Lawyer Marshall, as if he were a god. These poor people who had come miles to be there.”
Southern juries might be stacked against blacks, and the judges might be biased, but Thurgood Marshall was demonstrating in case after case that their word was not the last, that in the U.S. Supreme Court the injustice in their decisions and verdicts could be reversed. He was “a lawyer that a white man would listen to” and a black man could trust. No wonder that across the South, in their darkest, most demoralizing hours, when falsely accused men sat in jails, when women and children stood before the ashy ruins of mob-torched homes, the spirits of black citizens would be lifted with two words whispered in defiance and hope:
-From Gilbert King’s outstanding Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Devil in the Grove, about Thurgood Marshall’s civil rights work for the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, and a case of gross injustice against falsely accused black men in the South.
To cover this past weekend’s inauguration and Women’s March protests in Washington, D.C., Longreads teamed up with Seattle publication The Stranger. Armed with mood rings supplied by their editors, writers Sydney Brownstone and Heidi Groover, along with photographer Nate Gowdy, met those celebrating and protesting, shared their personal perspectives, and examined what it means for the next four years. Here’s their full diary from the events of January 18-23.
“I think it’s coming along,” said Tim, “though we expect—” “I think it sucks!” said Jobs.
His vehemence made Tim pause. “Why?” he asked, a bit stiffly.
“It just does.”
“In what sense?” said Tim, getting his feet back under him. “Give me a clue.”
“Its shape is not innovative, it’s not elegant, it doesn’t feel anthropomorphic,” said Jobs, ticking off three of his design mantras.
“You have this incredibly innovative machine but it looks very traditional.” The last word delivered like a stab. Doug Field and Scott Waters would have felt the wound; they admired Apple’s design sense. Dean’s intuition not to bring Doug had been right. “There are design firms out there that could come up with things we’ve never thought of,” Jobs continued, “things that would make you shit in your pants.”
–An excerpt from the 2003 book Code Name Ginger, the story behind Dean Kamen’s Segway scooter. Steve Kemper recounts the time Kamen introduced his invention (code-named Ginger) to Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos. They immediately foresaw problems with the product. (via The Browser.)
What we did was talk. For six hours, we talked about our feelings for each other, why we love each other, how we love each other. We talked about what we felt when we first met, how our emotional connection grew and deepened, how we might deepen it still. The best way I can describe it is that we were transported emotionally back to our relationship’s early and most exciting days, to the period of our most intense infatuation, but with all the compassion and depth of familiarity of a decade of companionship. We saw each other clearly, loved each other profoundly, and basked in this reciprocated love.
The feeling lasted not for hours or for days, but for months. Actually, the truth is, it lasted forever. We’ve done the drug since, every couple of years, when we feel we need to recharge the batteries of our relationship. Though the experience has never again been quite so intense, it has been a reliable method of connection, of clearing away the detritus of the everyday to get to the heart of the matter. And the heart is love.