The human damage is incalculable. Think of a mother waking in the middle of the night to make formula for her baby girl and unwittingly using liquid death as a mixer. Lead poisoning stunts IQs in children, many of whom in Flint are already traumatized by poverty, arson and rampant gunfire outside their doors. And for what?
—In Rolling Stone, Stephen Rodrick returned to Flint, Michigan, to investigate how government neglect led to a massive health crisis. For more on Flint, read Upvoted’s interview with Flint-based journalist Ron Fonger, who covered the disaster as it unfolded.
This week, we’re sharing stories from Sarah Weinman, Stephen Rodrick, Bianca Giaever, James Ross Gardner, and Megan Pugh.
This week, we’re sharing stories from Donna Minkowitz, Stephen Rodrick, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, Nadia Berenstein, and Shanna Baker.
At Rolling Stone, Stephen Rodrick profiles teen climate activist Greta Thunberg. Thunberg won’t fly, for climate reasons, and her willingness to make personal sacrifices for the Earth gets Rodrick thinking about his own influence on the planet’s future. The teen’s message is not all doom and gloom, it’s about taking action, now: she’s working tirelessly to influence politicians and decision makers because we still have eight years to reduce carbon emissions to avoid catastrophic damage to Earth.
My Greta travels featured a Vancouver-Zurich round trip and then an L.A.-Stockholm trip. In between, I fly from Vancouver to L.A. for another story. It’s the job, but I take stock in horror and calculate that my three flights burn more carbon than the yearly usage of the average citizen of more than 200 countries. I torch the atmosphere so I can hear others praise the girl who won’t fly.
“The phrase ‘A little child shall lead them’ has come to mind more than once,” Al Gore tells me in Davos, before sharing his favorite Greta moment. It was at the U.N. summit last fall. “She said to the assembled world leaders, ‘You say you understand the science, but I don’t believe you. Because if you did and then you continue to act as you do, that would mean you’re evil. And I don’t believe that.’” Gore shook his head in wonderment. “Wow.” He then gives a history lesson: “There have been other times in human history when the moment a morally-based social movement reached the tipping point was the moment when the younger generation made it their own. Here we are.”
Somehow, it was Greta turning her weakness into strength that made her a global icon. According to Malena, Greta fell silent after seeing a film in school depicting floating armies of plastic infesting our oceans. Other students were horrified, but quickly returned to their iPhones and talk of upcoming ski trips. Not Greta. She fell silent and obsessed over the climate’s demise.
“I felt very alone that I was the only one who seemed to be worried about this,” Greta tells me in Stockholm. “I was the only one left in this sort of bubble. Everyone else could just continue with their lives as usual, and I couldn’t do that.”
Greta read all she could and sometimes went online and battled with climate deniers, oft exclaiming triumphantly, “He blocked me,” to her parents. She eventually wrote an essay on the climate crisis for a Swedish newspaper. Eco-activists contacted her, and Greta mentioned the inspiration she took from the school strikes after the Parkland, Florida, mass shooting, and suggested a climate version. The activists showed little interest. Greta didn’t care and slowly broke out of her cocoon.
“People change, don’t they?” journalist and author Will Storr asks at the beginning of an Aeon essay called “Plot Twist.” That question has been at the heart of Storr’s writing for years now, a question he carries with him throughout so many of his investigations into science, belief, and the human impulse to tell stories.
Storr has a knack for starting with a simple statement that anyone can intuitively understand, then revealing how deceptive both simplicity and intuition can be. Storr’s willingness to challenge even his most basic assumptions appears most often in his stories as curiosity, which he brings anew to all of his conversations with sometimes desperate story subjects who find themselves facing some of life’s most serious consequences.
At Rolling Stone, Stephen Rodrick reports on the “middle-aged white-male suicide epidemic” in America. He blames a lack of mental health facilities, easy access to guns, and jobs like truck driving that take men away from their families, fueling a sense of isolation. Then there’s the “cowboy complex” that prevents men from not only from seeking help but acknowledging that their pain even exists.
It’s easy to bash white middled-aged men in America. As a member of that privileged group, I’ll admit that much of the bashing has been warranted: No group in the history of the world has been given and squandered more than the white man. Yet the American white man is responsible for enough suicides annually that Madison Square Garden could not hold all the victims. And no matter how privileged, that’s somebody’s dad, someone’s friend, someone’s brother and someone’s husband.
Back in Cheyenne, Brand was still talking gun locks when a man took a seat in the corner. He looked 50, was slender, and wore studious glasses, running shoes and a hoodie. He sat quietly for a while as Brand talked about the dearth of mental-health facilities in Wyoming. The most comprehensive mental-health hospital is on the far edge of the giant state, in Evanston, five hours from Cheyenne, Laramie and Casper. A 2018 study revealed that 65 percent of non-metropolitan counties in America have no psychiatrists. (Wyoming veterans in need of help Skype with a revolving door of therapists in Salt Lake City.)
For the first time, the man in the corner spoke up. “I can tell you about that place,” said the man. “I spent 72 hours there, then they called my sister, gave me no referrals.” (The Cheyenne Regional Medical Center responded: “All inpatients from our behavioral-health unit are scheduled at the time of discharge to see a psychiatrist within two business days of being discharged.” The CRMC also said patients are referred to a community mental-health center that operates on a sliding-fee scale.) He took off his glasses and wiped them carefully. “I got home and went back to the fetal position for a week.”
The room went quiet. Another man began talking in a fast, clipped pace. He began spilling out that he often felt the same way, but didn’t dare share it with others for fear of being put in the broken-toys basket for the rest of his life. His blue eyes filled with tears. He wiped them away, put on his tattered field coat and said goodbye.
You’d think, after years as Jack Sparrow, not to mention roles in 36 movies, that Johnny Depp would be swimming in a sea of dubloons. A penchant for spending, generosity, and a laissez-faire approach to the fine details of his accounts has left Johnny’s treasure chest nigh on empty. At Rolling Stone, Stephen Rodrick attempts to see through the haze of hash to try and understand why Johnny Depp’s ship is sinking.
“So are you here to hear the truth?” asks Depp as Russell brings him a glass of vintage red wine. “It’s full of betrayal.”
We move to the dining room for a three-course meal of pad thai, duck and gingerbread with berries. Depp sits at the head of the table and motions toward some rolling papers and two equal piles of tobacco and hash, and asks if I mind. I don’t. He pauses for a second. “Well, let’s drink some wine first.”
This goes on for 72 hours.
Over the past 18 months, there has been little but bad news for Depp. In addition to the financial woes, there were reports he couldn’t remember his lines and had to have them fed to him through an earpiece. He had split from his longtime lawyer and agent. And he was alone. His tabloid-scarred divorce from actress Heard is complete, but not before there were persuasive allegations of physical abuse that Depp vehemently denies. Depp’s inner circle had begged him to not wed Heard or to at least obtain a prenup. Depp ignored his loved ones’ advice. And there were whispers that Depp’s recreational drug and alcohol use were crippling him.
During my London visit, Depp is alternately hilarious, sly and incoherent. The days begin after dark and run until first light. There is a scared, hunted look about him. Despite grand talks about hitting the town, we never leave the house. As Depp’s mind leads us down various rabbit holes, I often think of a line that he recited as the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland: “Have I gone mad?”
I want to go home, but feel reluctant to leave. One of the most famous actors in the world is now smoking dope with a writer and his lawyer while his cook makes dinner and his bodyguards watch television. There is no one around him who isn’t getting paid.
Stephen Rodrick goes on tour with the comedian as Rock grapples with post-divorce life and preparations for a new comedy special.
Michelle Legro | Longreads | April 2017 | 7 minutes (1,773 words)
Day 100 is a Saturday, which is good because Donald Trump should probably get some rest. Saturdays are usually fairly easy for the president—he took the first one off right after his own inauguration—a day he can kick back and enjoy some quality time with a piece of chocolate cake at Mar-a-Lago.
The Trump Administration introduced the American people to a new kind of time, one that moves with a glacial tick of the clock, but with the drama of a high school lunch period. To look back on the early days—yes, that was three months ago—is to find reporters breathlessly navigating the events of a single day in a flurry of tweets, with little time for a proper write-up before the next dramatic turn of events. We found ourselves asking what the fuck just happened today? as it became harder and harder to remember what happened an hour ago, let alone a day. However, it quickly became clear that journalists were digging in for the long fight. And while the best reporting has often been short, spry, and effective in these first crucial days, these were some of the longreads that stood out.