Last Friday, I had the once-in-a-gosh-darn-lifetime opportunity to see Bill Nye—yes, the Science Guy himself—in a darkened auditorium of 1,200 people fist-pumping to his theme song and cheering for facts. He spent a significant chunk of the evening discussing climate change denial, the connection between climate change and terrorism, Donald Trump’s plan to slash funding for scientific organizations and initiatives, and the viability of Solutions Project.
“Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution makes reference to the progress of science and the useful arts,” Nye said. “It doesn’t say for the repression of science. It doesn’t say ignoring the facts discovered by the means of science.” He’s optimistic about our future and disturbed by what he call’s the United States’ “can’t-do attitude.” His number one piece of advice for advocating for climate change awareness? “Talk about it.” So that’s what I’m doing in this week’s reading list.
Author and activist Rebecca Solnit urges us to commit to love and hope, not despair, in spite of our terrifying present:
“You have to be willing to imagine a world in which we recognize that what we’re called upon to do is not necessarily to sacrifice; instead, it’s often to abandon what impoverishes and trivializes our lives: the frenzy to produce and consume in a landscape of insecurity about our individual and collective futures.”
Ten Gulfstream jets, outfitted with special engines that allow them to fly safely around the stratosphere at an altitude of 70,000 feet, take off from a runway near the Equator. Their cargo includes thousands of pounds of a chemical compound — liquid sulfur, let’s suppose—that can be sprayed as a gas from the aircraft. It is not a one-time event; the flights take place throughout the year, dispersing a load that amounts to 25,000 tons. If things go right, the gas converts to an aerosol of particles that remain aloft and scatter sunlight for two years. The payoff? A slowing of the earth’s warming—for as long as the Gulfstream flights continue.
Solar geoengineering used to be akin to fringe science, perceived as weird or dangerous. David Keith, head of Harvard University’s Solar Geoengineering Research Program, remains cautiously optimistic about the potential of this fascinating field.
David Goodrich, former Director of the United National Global Climate Observing System, is the author of A Hole in the Wind: A Climate Scientist’s Bicycle Journey Across the United States. This excerpt tracks Goodrich’s trek out West, observing increased wildfires, for which “climate change is the background music.”
“Fuck inclusivity. If people who have had their land stolen from them and people who were stolen from their lands are not considered key in the economic management of their own environments, then solutions to their specific climate struggles will not be effective; they won’t address the problems at their roots. And when it comes to disaster preparedness for Black and brown people in coastal regions, staying alive is a matter of knowing their roots.”
Tom Maxwell | Longreads | April 2017 | 10 minutes (2,329 words)
On June 12, 1963, in the early morning after president John F. Kennedy’s Civil Rights address, activist Medgar Evers was shot in the back as he stood in the driveway of his Mississippi home. He was returning from a meeting with NAACP lawyers and officials, and carried an armload of T-shirts that read “Jim Crow Must Go.” Evers was taken to a local hospital, where he died less than an hour after being admitted.
On September 15, 1963, four girls were killed when white supremacists planted more than a dozen sticks of dynamite beneath the side steps of the African-American 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The children were preparing for a sermon titled “A Love That Forgives.” According to one witness, their bodies flew across the basement “like rag dolls.” Read more…
Today is Day 85 of the Trump Administration, and like a sailor condemned to four years at sea we carry on, stooped and weary from the weight of this albatross around our necks—Donald Trump’s taxes.
We know they exist—but what does their existence even mean any more? We’ve seen a few pages here and there, sent as proof of life to the New York Times and waved around by Rachel Maddow. In a bid to bring attention to President Trump’s noteworthy silence on his financial position, a tax march will take place on April 15 worldwide in response to a single tweet by a Vermont law professor.
Taxes are at once no one’s business and everyone’s business. We all pay them: how we pay them, what they are used for, what we want them to be used for, and what the government would rather do with them instead, is the Great American Story.
1. “Tax Time” (Jill Lepore, The New Yorker, November 2012)
Lepore takes the long view on taxes with a history of how the U.S. decided to levy an income tax. It’s easy to dismiss taxes, she argues, and much harder to defend them. But that’s not a problem our ancestors shared—despite opposition to King George’s levy on goods like tea, the founding fathers had no problem squeezing the rich with large indirect taxes for market exchanges such as imports. More than a century later, the constitutional amendment that made income tax the law of the land wasn’t even an issue in Congress. But taxes have since become a bone of endless contention, especially as they concern how much rich and poor should pay. Lepore weaves a deft story to tell us exactly why.
Taxes dominate domestic politics. They didn’t always. Since the nineteen-seventies, almost all of that talk has been about cuts, which ought to be surprising, because more than ninety per cent of Americans receive social or economic security benefits from the federal government. Americans, though, find it easier to see what they pay than what they get—not because they aren’t paying attention but because the case for taxation is so seldom made.
One of the most hotly contested forms of taxation is the estate tax, when a dead person’s estate is transferred to another person. Though the idea is thousands of years old and the American permutation has been around in some form or another for a century, the tax was gradually phased out starting in 2001. But when it came back in 2011—the product of impermanent legislation—the rich who stood to lose the most from the transfer of their substantial assets bucked.
It didn’t matter; the tax became permanent in 2013. But when Saunders and Pilon interviewed dying people and their potential heirs on the eve of the tax’s return, they found a strange phenomenon—people who make life-or-death decisions about their health and end-of-life care based on the potential of saving their heirs money on taxes.
In 2009, more than a few dying people struggled to live into 2010 in hopes of preserving assets for their heirs. Clara Laub, a widow who helped her husband build a Fresno, Calif., grape farm from 20 acres into more than 900 acres worth several million dollars, was diagnosed with advanced cancer in October, 2009. Her daughter Debbie Jacobsen, who helps run the farm, says her mother struggled to live past December and died on New Year’s morning: “She made my son promise to tell her the date and time every day, even if we wouldn’t,” Mrs. Jacobsen says.
In New York the lapsing tax spawned a major family conflict, according to one attorney. As a wealthy patriarch lay dying at the end of the year, it became clear that under the terms of the will his children would receive more if he died in 2010, while his wife (not the children’s mother) stood to benefit if he died in 2009. The wife then filed a “do not resuscitate” order and the children challenged it. The patriarch lived a few days into 2010, but his estate, like Mrs. Laub’s, remains unsettled given the legislative uncertainty.
Taxes are a matter of life and death not just to the wealthy, but to the people who need tax-funded social services to survive. Chadburn, who endured horrific abuse and a traumatic stint in foster care, considers what taxes mean to the people she calls “the throwaways,” those who depend on the small sums of money that anti-taxation advocates fight not to have to pay. As disparities between poor and rich grow, she argues, taxation can be seen as a revolutionary lifesaving act, a statement about the very worth of the people it helps.
Strangely, it was for dreams like these—the simplest dreams of rest, of feeling, of safety—that I first began to look at taxes. Taxes are the tool that makes these dreams of ours possible. Shelter for everyone, food for everyone, taxes ensure public safety. And what about love? Love is given and received. Love is not a solitary act. Love requires people to commune with one another.
My previous associations with taxes were shame and guilt and trickery. Then I looked at my history with money and public funding in general. Some people have argued that we are a nation of self-interested people. People who only care about themselves. Their own well-being.
I disagree. I think we are better than that but have been assaulted by the overwhelming personification of Greed….It’s our first lesson in pain.
Despite the stakes of taxation, the act of filing taxes can be unbearably mundane. But there’s a darker side to doing taxes—the poor pay a disproportionate amount to tax preparation firms that gouge them on relatively simple filings. Enter Joseph Bankman, a Stanford tax law professor who thought he’d figured out a simpler way. But as Planet Money reveals, simpler isn’t always better for those who benefit from the current, complex system. His fight for painless filing became a legislative battle—and his opponents were a strange coalition of their own.
While your average Joe struggles to pay the tax preparers, there’s a shadowy world of ultra-wealthy corporations and individuals who’ll do anything they can to not pay taxes at all. Last year, the lid on one of these complex tax-avoidance schemes blew open when 11.5 million documents—now known as the Panama Papers—were leaked, revealing inside information on over 200,000 offshore shell corporations that exist to help the one percent sidestep their tax obligations.
The Guardian won a Pulitzer for their groundbreaking investigation of the Panama Papers (Here’s a breakdown of how they got the scoop—and an in-depth podcast that tells the entire sordid story behind their award-winning investigation.) One of their most fascinating stories was about Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm that helped the rich find tax-friendly parking places for their cash. Harding tells the story of a company that’s part financial services provider, part peddler of international intrigue—one that’s marketed directly to Americans with money to hide.
Mossack Fonseca’s leaked emails reveal the extraordinary measures that some of its well-heeled clients took to keep their financial affairs secret. Especially the Europeans and Americans, who have latterly found themselves under scrutiny from their own governments.
One theme that emerges is anxiety. Wealthy individuals with “undeclared” offshore bank accounts are afraid they might get rumbled.
Another theme is victimhood. The super-rich, it appears, feel they are being unfairly picked on—persecuted even.
What happens when a tax evader is not an average citizen but the President of the United States? Of course, the answer is “we don’t know yet,” because we have no idea what’s in Donald Trump’s personal tax returns. Despite Rachel Maddow’s overhyped scoop on a few pages from Trump’s 2005 return, nobody’s been able to get ahold of what could be the most sought-after documents in modern history. And thus, we don’t know what wealth the President has to brag about—or hide.
After receiving several pages from Trump’s 1995 returns from an anonymous source, Barstow, Craig, Buettner, and Twohey hypothesized that back when he was a mere real estate mogul, the president used a $916 million business loss to cancel out his tax debt for decades. Is it true? Until Trump comes forward with his tax returns, there’s no way to know. But journalists won’t stop piecing the story together—and if the tax march is any indication, citizens won’t stop insisting that he tell the truth about his financial situation.
But the most important revelation from the 1995 tax documents is just how much Mr. Trump may have benefited from a tax provision that is particularly prized by America’s dynastic families, which, like the Trumps, hold their wealth inside byzantine networks of partnerships, limited liability companies and S corporations.
The provision, known as net operating loss, or N.O.L., allows a dizzying array of deductions, business expenses, real estate depreciation, losses from the sale of business assets and even operating losses to flow from the balance sheets of those partnerships, limited liability companies and S corporations onto the personal tax returns of men like Mr. Trump. In turn, those losses can be used to cancel out an equivalent amount of taxable income from, say, book royalties or branding deals.
According to the Brewers Association, craft beer hasn’t slowed down, and the brewers only continue to grow, making up nearly 22 percent of the beer industry’s retail value. The rise of craft—or the “end of craft” depending on how you view it—owes its success to the the authenticity and devotion to full-bodied flavors, as well as a homemade, independent spirit.
Which is why, on National Beer Day, we’d like to share our recent interview with Josh Bernstein, the dean of craft beer writers and one of the first to fully articulate the innumerable sensations, like the hit of a Mosaic hop on the tongue, that accompany a sip of beer. Bernstein, who recently released, Complete IPA: The Guide to Your Favorite Craft Beer, spoke with Longreads about his—and the nation’s—obsession with India Pale Ales and the growing evolution of craft beer.
Americans love IPAs, but how has the beer style changed in the past decade?
Back then, IPAs were all about aggression. Bitterness is great, but it turns as many off as it turns on. Big burly IPAs served a purpose, but they fell along with the imperial IPA pushWhat’s interesting to me is that IPAs are not all about bitterness, and brewers have begun to utilize hop varieties in different ways. The sledgehammer aspect of IPAs has disappeared, and been replaced with nuance.
[Hop varieties] Mosaic and Citra emphasized tropical, fruity, citrusy aromas. We are in this flavor-questing world right now. We want flavor in everything we do, from Thai takeout to beers, and hop varieties play within this new world. People start to spin IPAs in different directions: white IPAs, black IPAs, etc. People spun the color wheel to accentuate flavors like tropical fruits. The creativity has trickled down and it is dizzying. It used to be that Northeast IPAs were made in the English tradition, in which the malt was profound. Yhey were dark and sweet, which contrasted to the brightness of west coast IPAs. The last three years, though, Northeast IPAs have transformed to this hazy, juicy, and fruity beer with none of the bitterness.
IPAs have created a new template for beer that people can agree upon. The consumer wants flavor, and IPAs deliver in spades.
What was the tipping point for IPAs?
Definitely the beers of Vermont: Alchemist’s Heady Topper and Hill Farmstead. In 2012, I was stuck—snowed in—in Burlington. It was the best and the worst thing to happen to me. The local co-op had plenty of Heady, and I spent a long blizzard weekend drinking my way through their selection, and I saw the future of what these flavors could be. When you start to look at what is happening now, a decade of hop varieties have begun to trickle out from the ground. Brewers started to create hop crosses—like Citra, which debuted in around 2007—and use new ingredients to create distinct beers.
How does craft beer continue to grow from here?
There is a national evolution and international evolution, and we are at the beginning of this change. Beer styles grew up in geographic regions thanks to the water and the intellect of brewers, but with the rise of the international economy, beer styles are now moving quickly. Hops are like the marijuana industry—full of crazy strains and flavors. With hop research, we are seeing the very beginning of what is possible. It’s what comes of the ground that will determine where IPAs and craft beer goes.
There’s also research that has to be done to determine how long these flavors will last, shelf-wise. Ben Edmunds at Breakside Brewery is doing research on how to keep a juicy flavor without falling off. IPAs in particular are like fragile butterflies—they need to be consumed fresh—and because IPAs are a crowded market, you have to innovate to stand out. You can’t just brew an IPA and expect it to be good, or draw interest.
Tired Hands in Philadelphia is making a milkshake IPA, and Great Notion Brewing in Portland specializes in Northeast IPAs. Brewers are helping push tastes in different directions by researching different ways that flavors can fit together
Will IPAs always be dominant?
We are a nation of lager drinkers, and there is a rise in pilsners right now, but after twenty people come to the bar and ask for an IPA, brewers have to make one. Take Carton’s Boat beer. I talked to [owner and brewer] Augie Carton at a party, and he first called Boat a koslch because no one had called a low alcohol IPA a session IPA back then. And even when people complain that there are too many IPAs on tap, you talk to any bartender and ask what is selling, it’s IPAs.
If IPAs are king, is there another style you see bursting into the craft beer conscience?
Dry hopped sours are percolating. It doesn’t sound great, like drinking orange juice after brushing your teeth, but the chemical interaction and interplays just work.
I used to love Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute IPA, but now with all the different options availible, I haven’t had one in a while. Last month I revisited 60 Minute and I had a much different reaction—it didn’t hit me the way it used to. Is that something we’ll see, brewers tweaking their flagship recipes to fit the new craft sphere?
Legacy brewers have realized the IPA is key going forward, and they’re seeing shifts in American tastes and global tastes. It’s great to go back to beers you’ve forgotten and find out why they were elegant beers. Your palette matures and you tend to look for those big memorable flavors that used to stand out for you. But since education is so much higher these days, brewers are altering recipes to accommodate for new flavors.
Breweries adapt: New Belgium [Ranger] and Sierra Nevada [Torpedo] adds IPAs to their roster, and Sierra Nevada even comes out with a gose last year [Otra Vez]. IPAs and other styles change. A little more citrus in there, or some tropical notes. There are more than 5,000 craft breweries in the United States—you have to stay current.
Another woman, who lives in Atlanta, said she was misdiagnosed with scabies, and then humiliated in a hospital corridor by a doctor shouting that she was psychotic. She agreed to see a psychiatrist, but is still convinced that her skin is covered with bites. When she scratches, red, black, or white specks come out; they look like roach turds or eggs, she said. “Anybody with eyes can’t help but see it.”
For another Atlanta woman, a psychiatrist recognized the problem behind her itchiness and her obsessive cleaning, but those appointments haven’t helped. “She wants me to cut down on the cleaning … but in my mind I can’t stop, because if my kids start getting more attacked and I haven’t cleaned …” she said over the phone. “I’m sitting here right now and I feel things crawling all over my feet. I’ve been tested for neuropathy, MS, and cancer. I’ve been tested for everything.”
By now, she hopes the condition is psychological; she just can’t convince herself of it. “It’s ruined my life,” she said. She began to cry.
I read Alana Massey’s essay collection, All The Lives I Want: Essays About My Friends Who Happen to be Famous Strangers, with a pencil in hand. I read it behind the counter at work when it was quiet and customer-free. I read it in bed, long after my partner and cat had fallen asleep. I read it in Starbucks when I should’ve been writing but needed inspiration. Massey is a writer I’ve followed since I became interested in journalism. I admired her incisive blend of pop culture and literary criticism. I especially loved when she wrote about religion—Massey spent time at Yale Divinity School—because I went to a conservative Christian college and I was yearning to see how I could translate my weird, vaguely traumatic religious background into beautiful sentences. I bought her book as a reward for myself for meeting a writing deadline.
This reading list is partially inspired by Massey’s excellent writing about the way our society honors and rejects celebrated women—and also about society’s inclination, if not blatant desire, to know every little detail about our favorite celebrities and judge them according to our own arbitrary moral standards. (I’m not immune to this: I spent ten minutes in bed Googling potential paramours of one of my favorite YouTube stars, even though I know it’s none of my damn business.) Why do we feel like we own celebrities—not just their art or their products, but their images and their personal lives? What do celebrities owe us, if anything?
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…