A growing earnings gap between those with a college education and those without is creating economic and cultural rifts throughout the country.
Seinfeld’s Jewish references posed a unique challenge: as Sebastian explained, “The Germans have a certain you-know-what with the Jewish.” Her editor was worried about some of Seinfeld’s Jewish jokes. “We better not say it like that,” she remembered her editor saying, “because the Germans may be offended.” She added later, recalling the incident to me, “They should be offended, in my understanding. They did it!”
Sebastian appreciated Seinfeld’s direct approach to Jewish history. She wanted to use jokes in direct translation, but the editor wouldn’t let her. She lost several battles. It was a fine line: Der Suppen-Nazi? Sure. Subtle reference to an uncle who survived a concentration camp? Not so fast. An entire episode based on George being mistaken for a neo-Nazi was problematic. So were references to the TV miniseries Holocaust and the film Schindler’s List. Take Elaine’s voiceover narration in “The Subway” episode when her train gets stuck: “We are in a cage. … Oh, I can’t breathe, I feel faint. Take it easy, it’ll start moving soon. Think about the people in the concentration camps, what they went through.”
— At The Verge, Jennifer Armstrong, the author of the upcoming book Seinfeldia: The Secret World of the Show About Nothing That Changed Everything, describes Sabine Sebastian’s translation and production of all 180 Seinfeld episodes for German television.
We asked writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here is the best in science, tech, and business writing.
Director of the Knight Science Journalism program at MIT and author of The Poisoner’s Handbook
The Touch of Madness (David Dobbs, Pacific Standard)
A beautifully rendered exploration of the slow, relentless creep of schizophrenia into the life of a brilliant graduate student, her slow recognition of the fact, and the failure of her academic community to recognize the issue or to support her. Dobb’s piece functions both as an inquiry into our faltering understanding of mental illness and our cultural failure to respond to it with integrity. It’s the kind of compassionate and morally-centered journalism we should all aspire to.
Australian writer and journalist living in Mexico, runner-up for the 2017 Bragg Prize for Science Writing
How Eclipse Chasers Are Putting a Small Kentucky Town on the Map (Lucas Reilly, Mental Floss)
Anyone willing to write about syzygy in the shadow of Annie Dillard’s classic 1982 essay “Total Eclipse” has balls for miles. Reilly’s decision to focus on the logistics faced by tiny towns preparing to be inundated by thousands of eclipse watchers was inspired. It brilliantly conveyed the shared enthusiasms that celestial events animate in us. Between these two essays, I’m convinced a total eclipse would be a psychic event so overwhelming I might not survive it. I’ve got 2037 in Antarctica on my bucket list — if it’s still there in twenty years. Read more…
We asked writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here is the best in political writing.
Special correspondent for Vanity Fair and author of the New York Times best-selling biography of Roger Ailes.
The French Origins of ‘You Will Not Replace Us’ (Thomas Chatterton Williams, The New Yorker)
Anyone wanting to understand the forces that propelled Donald Trump to power needs to read Thomas Chatterton Williams’s fascinating profile of the French racial theorist Renaud Camus. Camus — no relation to Albert — popularized the alt-right theory that Muslim immigrants are reverse colonizing “white” Western Europe through mass migration. He is an unlikely progenitor of a political movement built around closing borders and preserving traditional culture. Camus works out of a 14th-century chateau and once wrote a travel book that describes itself as “a sexual odyssey — man-to-man.” Allan Ginsberg once said, “Camus’s world is completely that of a new urban homosexual; at ease in half a dozen countries.” While Williams doesn’t shy away from shining a light on the ugly racism that underpins Camus’s writings, he challenges liberals to reckon with the social and cultural effects of immigration in an increasingly globalized world. Read more…
It was a year in which investigations loomed over us as we woke up each day and absorbed the news. Former FBI director Robert Mueller began investigating whether Donald Trump’s presidential campaign had any links to the Russian government and its efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election. The opioid crisis was covered by a few outlets wondering who, exactly, is profiting while countless people are dying. But it is the investigations into sexual misconduct perpetrated by powerful men across several industries that has had the most significant impact in 2017. And much of the reporting has been led by The New York Times. Read more…
After 31 years on this earth, I was compelled this week to learn who nominates the Golden Globes. (It’s the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, in case you also did not know, and no, I do not know who is in that association.)
I was compelled to learn because their nominations this year were so wildly flawed. They are probably flawed every year, which is unfortunate because they are apparently a good predictor of who will be nominated for the Oscars.
But the flaws were particularly striking this year, as Hollywood is undergoing a reckoning, a purge even, of the bad men who have for so long controlled who gets ahead and who, despite their magnificent, obvious talent, appears to stagnate.
So it struck many people as odd that all five nominees for Best Director are men, in a year when Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird shattered box-office records and was deemed by critics as “perfect,” when Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman changed the game for superhero movies, and when Dee Rees’ Mudbound took a genre historically controlled by white men and told a story in a way that had never been done before.
Snubbing those directors seems not just unfair but illogical, as The Verge noted. The same post also reminded us that only three women have been nominated for Best Director in the last 20 years and none has won a Golden Globe. (Kathryn Bigelow did win an Oscar for her directing of The Hurt Locker in 2009 — making history as the first woman to win for directing, and one of only three women to ever be nominated at that time.)
Yes, Gerwig got a best screenplay nomination. Yes, Mudbound has two nominations as well. But Wonder Woman is nowhere to be seen. Some are chalking it up to it being a superhero movie, but let’s be honest: it did for superhero movies, and for women and young girls, something that few movies had previously achieved.
Jordan Peele also was passed over for Best Director — another truly nonsensical snub, given people are still talking about Get Out many months after it left theaters. So was Kumail Nanjiani’s much-loved The Big Sick, which Nanjiani humorously tweeted about. All the director nominees are drawn from the safe, predictable ranks of the Nolans, Spielbergs, and Scotts of the world.
In an industry notorious for access journalism — in which publicists have undue control and power over coverage — it’s notable that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association seems to be currying favor with a cohort of already-powerful men, rather than attempting to recognize the great work of more recent newcomers to the field.
The good news for Peele, Nanjiani, Jenkins, Gerwig, and Rees is that while moviegoers don’t get to give them golden statues, they’ve shown their appreciation for their groundbreaking work in other meaningful ways all year. All the HFPA showed on Monday was how deeply out of touch they are with the people who really matter: people voting with their money at box offices.
Does anyone still remember Unhappy Hipsters, a Tumblr blog born in 2010, just months after the Great Recession officially ended? The concept was simple and irresistible. Each post contained a photo of a domestic interior from a Dwell-like magazine (or, just as often, from Dwell itself), and the photo had to include a person: a teenager lounging with a book on a nordic-looking wooden bed, a couple having a silent breakfast in a vast, concrete-floor kitchen. A caption accompanied each image, projecting a mix of smugness and existential angst onto the people occupying these impossibly streamlined spaces (“So focused on erecting a structure that would be impervious to atmospheric whims, he’d forgotten the obvious: an exit,” read a caption below an image of a man standing on a balcony of a glass-and-steel stilt house).
There’s nothing new about wanting to catch a glimpse of other people’s (nicer-than-yours) houses; what Unhappy Hipsters deftly added was an extra layer of vindictiveness to an otherwise common, aspirational voyeurism. Revisiting some of these old posts today, they feel at once naive and prophetic. In the intervening years, owning a house and designing one’s own space haven’t lost their allure as class markers and so-called #lifegoals. But they’ve also acquired a tinge of bitterness: you either can’t afford it (millennials, meet avocado toast!), can’t do it right (unlike everyone on Pinterest, Instagram, et al.), or risk trying too hard (at which point: surprise! You’re the Unhappy Hipster — in 2017, when both “unhappiness” and “hipsterism” have lost just about all meaning).
The way we organize and reshape our living quarters has always reflected, in some way, desires, hopes, and anxieties that transcended individuals. It was true when married couples started sharing the same bedroom and outhouses began to disappear in favor of indoor plumbing; it’s true today when we buy a vintage lamp or encounter a luxury bathroom almost the size of the bedroom it adjoins. Where does the current unease around the spaces we inhabit come from? What is unique about our attitude toward a supposedly universal concept like “home”? Here are four recent reads that try to address these questions.
Daniel Wolff | Grown-Up Anger: The Connected Mysteries of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and the Calumet Massacre of 1913 | Harper| June 2017 | 18 minutes (4,937 words)
This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky.
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An alien way of life.
You could say the silence started in Calumet in 1913. Word spread that the doors opened inward, that no one was to blame. What followed was a great quiet, a hundred years of agreed-upon untruth.
Or you could say it began just afterward, during the patriotic rush of the First World War and the Palmer Raids that followed. The Wobblies were crushed, the call for a workers’ alternative stilled.
Or you could say it began after the Second World War. If you see the two global conflicts as a single long realignment of power, then after America emerged as a superpower, its century-long Red Scare kicked back in with a vengeance. That’s how Elizabeth Gurley Flynn saw it. She traced the “hysterical and fear laden” atmosphere of the late 1940s back to when she was a union maid visiting Joe Hill in prison. “Now,” she said, “it is part of the American tradition.” In other words, once the nation of immigrants had defined itself, had determined an American Way, it also established the opposite: an Un-American Way.
In 1918, it was the U.S. Senate’s Overman Committee investigating Bolsheviks. In 1930, the Fish Committee looked into William Z. Foster and other communist influences. Eight years later, it was the establishment of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which continued to operate through the fifties. “The real issue,” as HUAC’s first chairman, Martin Dies, put it, was “between Americanism on the one hand and alienism on the other.”
No one did more to define the Un-American than J. Edgar Hoover. His career began in 1917 jailing “disloyal aliens” as part of President Woodrow Wilson’s Justice Department. Soon Hoover was in charge of carrying out the Palmer Raids. By 1924, he was head of the nation’s Federal Bureau of Investigation. When he appeared before the Senate Internal Security Committee in 1948, he testified to “some thirty-five years of infiltration of an alien way of life in what we have been proud to call our constitutional republic.” That math put the beginning of the infiltration—and the silence—in 1913.
Hoover testified as the Popular Front was making one last national effort. Henry Wallace, former vice president under FDR, had mounted a third-party run for the presidency. Seeing little difference between Democrat Harry Truman and Republican Thomas Dewey, Wallace vowed to establish “the century of the common man.” That included expanded health care, the nationalization of the energy industry, and cooperation with Russia instead of Cold War. Attacking what he called the Red Scare “witch hunt,” Wallace proclaimed, “those who fear communism lack faith in democracy.”
What was left of the Popular Front rallied around him. Alan Lomax headed up a “musical desk” and brought in Guthrie, Seeger, Hays, and others. People’s Songs churned out tunes, including a fiddle-and-guitar blues by Guthrie: “The road is rocky, but it won’t be rocky long / Gonna vote for Wallace: he can righten all our wrongs.” Read more…
Ashley Dawson | Extreme Cities: The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change | Verso | October 2017 | 17 minutes (4,461 words)
This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky.
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An utter transformation of human habitation across the globe within one generation.
Milestones on the road toward climate chaos are all too frequent these days: in 2015, the Manua Loa Observatory in Hawaii reported that the daily mean concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere had surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time; each year Arctic sea ice levels grow lower and lower; permafrost in areas like Siberia and Alaska is melting, releasing dangerous quantities of methane into the atmosphere; and each year brings more violent storms and more severe droughts to different parts of the world. Indeed, news of apocalyptic climate-related events is so manifold that it can feel overwhelming, producing a kind of disaster fatigue. One recent announcement merits particular attention, however: in the summer of 2014, a team of NASA scientists announced conclusive evidence that the retreat of ice in the Amundsen Sea sector of West Antarctica had become unstoppable. This melting alone, they concluded, will drive global sea levels up by over 1 meter (3 feet). As the Pine Island, Thwaites, and other glaciers of the Amundsen Sea sector collapse into the ocean, the effect is expected to be like a cork removed from a bottle of champagne: the ice the glaciers held back will rush rapidly into the sea, and the entire West Antarctic ice sheet will collapse. Sea levels will consequently rise 3 to 5 meters (10–16 feet). In addition, it was recently discovered that the same process that is driving this collapse, the intrusion of warmer ocean water beneath the glaciers in West Antarctica, is also eroding key glaciers in East Antarctica. The East Antarctic ice sheet contains even more ice than the western sheet: the Totten glacier alone would account for 7 meters (23 feet) of sea level rise. As if this weren’t bad enough news, a similar process of melting is also taking place in Greenland, where fjords that penetrate far inland are carrying warm water deep underneath the ice sheet.
These reports overturn long-held assumptions about the stability of Greenland’s glaciers: until recently, scientists had predicted that Greenland’s ice sheet would stabilize once the glaciers close to the warming ocean had melted. The discovery of ice-bound fjords reaching almost sixty-five miles inland has major implications since the glacier melt will be much more substantial than anticipated. The Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets combined contain over 99 percent of the Earth’s glacial ice. If they were to melt completely, they would raise global sea levels a virtually inconceivable 65 meters (200 feet). Although it remains unclear exactly how long the disintegration of these ice sheets will take, the implications of such melting for the world’s coastal cities are stark, and still almost totally unacknowledged by the general public. As Robert DeConto, co-author of a recent study that predicts significantly faster melt rates in the world’s largest glaciers, points out, we’re already struggling with 3 millimeters per year of sea level rise, but if the polar ice sheets collapse, “We’re talking about centimeters per year. That’s really tough. At that point your engineering can’t keep up; you’re down to demolition and rebuilding.”
Shockingly, few orthodox scientific predictions of sea level rise have taken the disintegration of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets into consideration. The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for example, projects a high of three feet of sea level rise by 2100, but this prediction does not include a significant contribution from the West Antarctic ice sheet. Like the IPCC’s projection for Arctic sea ice collapse, which has moved up from 2100 to 2050 in the latest report, this prediction is clearly far too low. What explains such gross miscalculations? The protocols of scientific verifiability provide a partial explanation. The general public has urgently wanted to know, after city-wrecking hurricanes like Katrina and Sandy, whether the devastation was caused by climate change. But unfortunately scientists have until quite recently been unable to make direct links between particular extreme weather events and climate change in general. This, as environmental philosopher Dale Jamieson puts it in Reason in a Dark Time, would be like saying that a specific home run is “caused” by a baseball player’s batting average. If scientists are becoming less reticent to make these links, as the science of attribution grows more sophisticated and able to track the causes of weather extremes, the change is still occurring slowly.
Nevertheless, the IPCC’s failure to account for the destruction of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets can only add to skepticism toward their predictions, especially after they were widely attacked for their 2007 calculations about the speed of Himalayan glacial melting. Further fueled by the climate change denial industry, the IPCC’s own excessively rosy predictions for the future will only increase skepticism. In their 2000 report, for example, the body assumes that nearly 60 percent of hoped-for emissions reductions will occur independently of explicit mitigation measures. As the urban theorist Mike Davis has pointed out, the IPCC’s mitigation targets assume that profits from fossil capitalism will be recycled into green technology rather than penthouse suites in soaring skyscrapers. The IPCC projects a market-driven evolution toward a post-carbon economy, a set of assumptions that, as spiraling levels of greenhouse gas emissions since 2000 demonstrate all too clearly, are dead wrong. These projections concerning sea level rise and the vulnerability of coastal cities will have to be radically revised, especially after spectacular urban disasters hammer home the inadequacy of current projections. But these world-changing transformations will not take place in the distant future. Citing evidence drawn from the last major ice melt during the Eemian period, an interglacial phase about 120,000 years ago that was less than 1ºC warmer than it is today, climatologist James Hansen predicts that, absent a sharp and enduring reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, global sea levels are “likely to increase several meters over a timescale of 50 to 150 years.” Should they prove accurate, Hansen’s forecasts spell an utter transformation of human habitation across the globe within one generation. Read more…