The Most Surveilled Place in America

Southwestern Arizona isn’t home to much in the way of urban development. Between Yuma and Tucson, there’s just a whole lot of Sonoran wilderness — the desolate territory migrants coming across the Mexican border have to navigate on their way to safety.  But as Gaby Del Valle chronicles, the searing arid heat and unforgiving mountains are by no means the only threats facing these travelers.

The death tolls of the summers of 2020 and 2021 were exceptionally high, but migrant deaths in the Arizona borderlands are far from unusual. It’s common knowledge in Arizona that every year, at least 100 people will lose their lives trying to make it to the United States. Most of these fatalities happen on the Tohono O’odham Nation’s tribal lands; CBP has responded to this crisis by installing surveillance towers on the reservation, but the crossings and deaths haven’t stopped. Humanitarian aid groups do their best to prevent these deaths from happening: some dispatch search and rescue teams to look for migrants who have gone missing in the desert; others leave water jugs and other supplies on migrant trails in the hopes that they’ll save a life. When those efforts fail, they attempt to log all the remains they find and identify the deceased. Despite their dedication, these groups lack the resources, manpower, and legal might of the federal government. Members of No More Deaths have been arrested for leaving water in the desert and accused of harboring migrants. Two O’odham women were sent to a medium-security prison after being arrested for protesting wall construction on their ancestral land. The government isn’t just using its resources to surveil and arrest migrants; it’s also going after the people who might save their lives.

Source: The Verge
Published: Aug 3, 2022
Length: 32 minutes (8,027 words)

The Great Fiction of AI

Can artificial intelligence write novels? Josh Dzieza looks at how independent authors have begun to experiment with AI writing programs like Sudowrite and Jasper to write their stories faster. The piece explores questions around ethics and authorship, and its design is A+.

It requires a strange degree of sympathy with the machine, thinking about the way it works and how it might respond to your query. Branwen wrote that it’s a bit like trying to teach tricks to a superintelligent cat.

And it does generally seem to understand the assignment, though it sometimes takes it in unexpected directions. For instance, Lepp found that the program had a tendency to bestow her characters with swords. Despite there not really being any swords in her version of magical Florida, it would have characters unsheathing blades mid-conversation or fondling hilts as they sat on the porch.

Source: The Verge
Published: Jul 20, 2022
Length: 20 minutes (5,091 words)

Unsettled: The Afghan Refugee Crisis Collides with the American Housing Disaster

Part of The Verge‘s Homeland series, this feature by Makena Kelly on resettlement programs in the U.S. shows what Afghan families are facing from day to day, particularly in communities of the San Francisco Bay Area where the housing crisis is dire. Ongoing support and aid comes from local nonprofits, overworked volunteers, and generous families within the Muslim community.

When these overwhelmed caseworkers can’t answer the calls or emails of new Afghan immigrants, Siddiqui does. Over the last six months, she’s booked dozens of Airbnbs, partnered with local food delivery and religious groups, and held the hands of dozens of Afghans as they build new lives in California, often while they wait to receive the money that comes from the government-aligned resettlement groups.

Source: The Verge
Published: Jun 29, 2022
Length: 24 minutes (6,160 words)

A Once-in-a-Lifetime Bird

Kevin Nguyen captures the passion of birdwatchers in an essay for The Verge which manages to be both fun and poignant.

She has other tips for Black birders: go during the daytime, and if you have to go at night — for nocturnal birds, like owls — go in large groups; take along a dog or a white person; carry a field guide, less for what it says about nature but as proof that you’re birding, in case someone doubts you; and lastly, when birding takes you to private property, she “would not be caught dead on the other side of someone’s fence.”

Source: The Verge
Published: May 31, 2022
Length: 24 minutes (6,040 words)

The Hustler at the End of the World

In the early days of the pandemic, Hiam Kaplan tried to move massive amounts of PPE for money. But, as Amanda Chicago Lewis writes in this story about supply chain hustling, he found so much more.

It’s been a humbling time to be a hustler. After thousands of hours of work, through all his pandemic wheeling and dealing, Kaplan has only made around a thousand dollars total. Yet it doesn’t feel like a waste. He may not have found the wealth he was looking for, but he did find friendship, with Rob, and love, with Milla.

Source: The Verge
Published: Apr 19, 2022
Length: 26 minutes (6,596 words)

Searching for Susy Thunder

“Susan has an aptitude for the plausibly outlandish: the more far-fetched something sounds, the more detail she’s able to provide. It’s not lost on me, as she tells these stories, that I’m on the phone with a phone phreaker or that I’m attempting to tell the true story of an expert deceiver. When she tells me about a social engineering exploit, she does so methodically, outlining each step of the scheme until its conclusion seems all but inevitable. Like every con artist who has ever worked a mark, she’s thought of all the angles.”

Source: The Verge
Published: Jan 26, 2022
Length: 27 minutes (6,815 words)

Heat Listed

“He could be the shooter, he might get shot. They didn’t know. But the data said he was at risk either way.”

Source: The Verge
Published: May 24, 2021

The Eighth Wonder of the World*

“In exchange for billions in tax subsidies, Foxconn was supposed to build an enormous LCD factory in the tiny village of Mount Pleasant, creating 13,000 jobs.” The Verge investigates the empty promises (and empty buildings) of “Wisconn Valley.”

Source: The Verge
Published: Oct 19, 2020
Length: 39 minutes (9,970 words)

Mark in the Middle

“There was no obvious way to placate liberal employees and conservative users at the same time.” Casey Newton reports on the dynamics inside Facebook and shares a series of leaked audio recordings from internal meetings this summer.

Source: The Verge
Published: Sep 23, 2020
Length: 25 minutes (6,408 words)

Waiting to Be Thrown Out

Following the story of one Cameroonian, Gaby Del Valle dives deep into how video teleconferencing technology in the U.S.’s immigration courts fuels the deportation machine.

Source: The Verge
Published: Sep 8, 2020
Length: 33 minutes (8,280 words)