Search Results for: The Verge

Repetitive Stress

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Devin Kelly | Longreads | February, 2021 | 24 minutes (6,376 words)

Read Devin Kelly’s previous Longreads essays: “Running Dysmorphic,” “What I Want to Know of Kindness,” and “Out There: On Not Finishing.”

It wasn’t the pain on the lateral side of my right knee in March. I kept running through that. It wasn’t the throbbing of my right shin in July. I kept running through that. It was one morning, waking up, when I couldn’t bend my right leg at all. If I could’ve run, I would’ve. I just couldn’t. 

I should tell you before I say anything more that I am writing this from a place of injury, not recovery. There will be no conquering here, no overcoming. Nothing will be fixed by this essay’s end. Not long ago, I was diagnosed with an osteochondral lesion in my right knee. This, after multiple office visits and an MRI. This, after a year spent running over two thousand miles. After another year spent running over two thousand miles. After another year spent running over two thousand miles. And so on. And so on. And so on, and on.

An osteochondral lesion is a break in the cartilage that spreads itself over a bone. In this case, the fracture is in the cartilage covering the base of my femur. That cartilage does so much. It is, essentially, like a bone being fractured. The diagnosis is uncertain. I can walk fine. I present well. I do push-ups in the morning instead of going out for my usual run. I pace the apartment like a jaguar. I spend a whole day wishing I was someone else. They say I can’t run for months. They say something about surgery, maybe. They say don’t think about it yet. I stay up in bed and wonder if I will ever be the same. 
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Longreads Best of 2020: Science and Nature

All Best of Longreads illustrations by Kjell Reigstad.

All through December, we’re featuring Longreads’ Best of 2020. We’ve searched through our archives to find the science and nature stories that take you into ancient forests, through dark swamps, to the bottom of the sea, and right up into the stars. 

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The Social Life of Forests (Ferris Jabr, The New York Times Magazine)

Old-growth forests in North America are like something out of a fairytale — huge trees, luminescent with moss, with boughs arching above your head, and “gnarled roots” beneath your feet, “dicing in and out of the soil like sea serpents.” And, as Ferris Jabr discovers in this story, the magic of these trees goes beyond what we see — with intricate fungal networks weaving them together into an inclusive community that links “nearly every tree in a forest — even trees of different species.” This is a fascinating piece that shows you these giant sentinels are more than you expect — more than just individuals. 

Jabr goes into the forest with Suzanne Simard, a professor of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia who has studied these systems and proved “a dynamic exchange of resources through mycorrhizal networks” between the two species of paper birch and Douglas fir. Her work has provoked a certain amount of controversy: “Since Darwin, biologists have emphasized the perspective of the individual … the single-minded ambitions of selfish genes.” Simard is proving this is not what is happening in old-growth forests; they are “neither an assemblage of stoic organisms tolerating one another’s presence nor a merciless battle royale: It’s a vast, ancient and intricate society.” And trees are not just interacting with each other, “trees sense nearby plants and animals and alter their behavior accordingly: The gnashing mandibles of an insect might prompt the production of chemical defenses … Some studies have even suggested that plant roots grow toward the sound of running water.” 

A forest operating as a complicated, sharing society is a powerful notion. Not only does it garner more respect for this ecosystem, but it could prove that cooperation is as central to evolution as competition: “Wherever living things emerge, they find one another, mingle and meld.”  Read more…

Longreads Best of 2020: Business Writing

All Best of Longreads illustrations by Kjell Reigstad.

Through December, we’re featuring Longreads’ Best of 2020. After revisiting hundreds of business stories picked by the team this year, we’ve narrowed down our favorites. Enjoy these nine reads, including coverage of the wildest startup collapses and in-depth explorations of pandemic insurance, TikTok content houses, 5G, and the state of the fossil fuel industry.

If you like these, you can sign up to receive our weekly email every Friday.

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Unlucky Charms: The Rise and Fall of Billion-Dollar Jewelry Empire Alex and Ani (Aaron Gell, Marker)

Carolyn Rafaelian spent 15 years building a jewelry empire, making her company, famous for its $30 expandable wire bracelets, one of the fastest-growing fashion brands ever. But what led to Alex and Ani’s fall? Aaron Gell’s piece has it all: an odd alliance between a spiritual “earth mother” founder and an Army major-turned-CEO, business decisions influenced by astrology and New Age practices, a $1.1 billion gender discrimination lawsuit against Bank of America, and even a spinoff into a “university”that was meant to share the company’s life lessons with the world.

Buzzwords aside, the curriculum mostly aimed to impart an essential truth behind Alex and Ani’s appeal: Its products were not just glittery trinkets but spiritual armor designed to protect, inspire, and ennoble the bearer as she made her way through the world. Retail employees at the company’s “bangle bars” were known internally as “bar tenders” for their patience and empathy. They’d draw out customers’ personal stories — what AAU president Dennis Rebelo called “story birthing” — prescribing just the right stones and talismans (the Eye of Horus for protection, light, and reason; the dragonfly for grace, change, and power) for each unique journey.

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Shades of Grey

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Ashley Stimpson | Longreads | October 2020 | 26 minutes (7,001 words)

It’s been nearly a decade since the numbers were tattooed in her ears, but they remain remarkably legible. In the right one, dots of green ink spell out 129B: Vesper was born in the twelfth month of the decade’s ninth year and was the second in her litter. The National Greyhound Association (NGA) gave that litter a unique registration number (52507), which was stamped into her moss-soft left ear. If I type these figures into the online database for retired racing greyhounds, I can learn about her life before she was ours, before she was even Vesper.

Smokin’ Josy was born to a breeder in Texas, trained in West Virginia, and raced in Florida. Over three years, she ran 70 races. She won four of them. In Naples on May 12, 2012, she “resisted late challenge inside,” to clinch victory, according to her stat sheet. In Daytona Beach on April 17, 2013, she “stumbled, fell early.” Five days later, after a fourth-place showing, she was retired.

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Deconstructing Disney: Motherhood and the Taming of Maleficent

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Jeanna Kadlec| Longreads | October 2020 | 3,234 words (12 minutes)

How do you tame a witch? Historically, you don’t: You kill her. Burn her. Hang her. In tales, the witch is often a her. A she-devil, if you will, a woman who sleeps with Lucifer, who is Satan’s mistress, who bears a demonic mark. Read the 15th-century witch-hunters’ Malleus Maleficarum, it’ll tell you. Her very existence, her body itself, is a portal from this world to others, and she must be put down, lest she tears a rip in reality itself.

Wicked witches, the stuff of historical legend and nightmarish fairy tales, inspire a terror that verges on the sublime, that feeling Edmund Burke articulated so long ago — of standing on the edge of a cliff where you feel the simultaneity of danger and spectacular awe. Mountains are sublime. Milton’s Satan is sublime. Sublimity only exists in things that could kill you, which bring you to the edge of yourself. The untamed feminine, then, surely falls into this category: Witches exist on the margins, in the shadows, ever threatening to invade and disrupt the sanctity of the social order.

These days, Disney doesn’t kill witches — at least, not as often as they used to. These days, Disney is interested in the ultimate rehabilitation project: How do you make these archetypal wonders, this sublime femininity, less frightening? Less powerful — particularly to people invested in women and queers behaving in normatively gendered ways?

You make the witch a mother.


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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

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This week, we’re sharing stories from Adam Serwer, Alexandra Marvar, Timothy Snyder, Gaby Del Valle, and Sulaiman Addonia.

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1. The New Reconstruction

Adam Serwer | The Atlantic | September 8, 2020 | 30 minutes (7,613 words)

“There has never been an anti-racist majority in American history; there may be one today in the racially and socioeconomically diverse coalition of voters radicalized by the abrupt transition from the hope of the Obama era to the cruelty of the Trump age. All political coalitions are eventually torn apart by their contradictions, but America has never seen a coalition quite like this.”

2. The Unfinished Story of Emmett Till’s Final Journey

Alexandra Marvar | GEN | September 3, 2020 | 22 minutes (5,559 words)

“Till was murdered 65 years ago. Sites of commemoration across the Mississippi Delta still struggle with what’s history and what’s hearsay.”

3. What Ails America

Timothy Snyder | New York Review of Books | September 3, 2020 | 8 minutes (4,700 words)

“We would like to think we have health care that incidentally involves some wealth transfer; what we actually have is wealth transfer that incidentally involves some health care.”

4. Waiting to Be Thrown Out

Gaby Del Valle | The Verge | September 8, 2020 | 33 minutes (8,280 words)

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.

5. The Wound of Multilingualism: On Surrendering the Languages of Home

Sulaiman Addonia | LitHub | September 8, 2020 | 6 minutes (1,627 words)

“Learning a language as an adult or in your teens, especially with a history of repeated migrations between languages and countries, is extraordinarily difficult. It isn’t just about swallowing new words like passion fruit that glides down your throat. It’s like chewing on stones breaking your teeth in order to seed the foundations of that new language on your tongue already heavy with many idioms.”

Instacart: Shop ‘Til You Drop

(Photo by Glenn Koenig/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Instacart’s demand has soared since coronavirus arrived. But the company is continuously changing how it offers work to shoppers, pitting them against one another as batches appear and are instantly claimed and rejecting their sick claims even after positive Covid-19 tests verified by a doctor. At The Verge, Russell Brandom reports on a dog-eat-dog gig system where Instacart is “just an interface, sitting between a pool of orders on one side and a pool of itinerant labor on the other.”

The problem is bigger than just masks and sick pay. The pandemic has turned grocery delivery into a vital service, and Instacart’s business has never been better. Orders are up 500 percent since the crisis started, and shoppers are seeing 60 percent more money for every job they run. Instacart hit profitability for the first time last month, and it plans to bring in 300,000 new full-service shoppers. It’s on track to process more than $35 billion in groceries this year, which would put it on par with the fifth-largest grocery chain in the country.

That success has come on the backs of workers like Rachel. As most of the country has been sheltering in place, workers have been spending hours in lines, hunting through chaotic and newly dangerous supermarkets so that clients don’t have to. Instacart still views those workers as independent contractors, and tensions between executives and gig shoppers have reached a breaking point. The company has already seen two public walkouts, each accompanied by the threat of a public boycott in solidarity. Most painfully, the longest-running shoppers say they’re being pushed out by the influx of new employees in a system designed to churn through bodies rather than protect frontline workers.

For shoppers, batches are the lifeblood of the job. Instacart sets prices for each batch, but they’re often so low that the runs don’t make economic sense. Small batches are often set at the $7 minimum or just above, which is practically nothing when you factor in waiting times and the price of gas. There are good batches, too, but they get snatched up quickly, while the bad ones linger on until they’re the only thing shoppers see. The result is a daily battle over who will get the most profitable batches and be able to make a living on the platform — a battle Instacart seems to be actively encouraging.

In other cases, the app seems purposefully designed to make workers vulnerable. Buyers promise a tip when they list a batch, but they can change it for days after the run is completed. It’s led to a practice shoppers call “tip-baiting,” where buyers list a big tip to make sure their batch gets taken, then pull it back after the fact. Instacart defends the system, saying it gives buyers discretion over how much they’re tipping. According to the company’s statistics, tips are only lowered after the run in 0.5 percent of cases — but the result is still less money in the pockets of gig workers, and it’s a structural vulnerability for people who are already extremely vulnerable.

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Mowing the Lawn to Map the Ocean Floor, One Long, Slow Pass at a Time

A scuba diver explores an old, wooden shipwreck in Lake Michigan. The waters of the Great Lakes are so cold that they preserve the many wrecks on bottom.

Related underwater reading: Gene and Sandy Ralston use specialized sonar on their boat to locate bodies under water.

As Matthew Braga reports at The Verge, we’re flithy rich with land maps, ones that show us “how the planet has changed, and how we’ve changed the planet,” over time, but that’s not the case where land is covered by water. The treasure trove of information to be gleaned from mapping the world’s oceans could help scientists understand climate change. Enter BEN, an automated map-making boat Braga met while it plotted Lake Huron. According to Braga, “we’ve mapped just 9 percent of the world’s oceans to modern standards,” which is “why BEN and vehicles like it hold so much promise.” (Note, the fantastic illustrations in this piece were done by the incomparable Zoë van Dijk. Check out some of her illustrations for Longreads.)

It was just past midnight when the Ironton punched a 200-square-foot hole in the side of the Ohio. It was dark, the waters were rough, and the Ohio, a wooden bulk freighter loaded with flour and feed, was no match for the Ironton, a schooner heavy with coal. The Ohio sank within half an hour, and the Ironton soon followed, taking five of its crew down too.

Their ghostly hulls have sat largely undisturbed at the bottom of Lake Huron since colliding in late September 1894 — just two of the many wrecks that lie in a treacherous stretch of water called Thunder Bay off Michigan’s northeastern coast. Some are so well preserved by the lake’s frigid freshwater that their unbroken masts point definitely towards the surface, rigging still intact. Others have dishes in the cupboards, a century late for dinner. A few years ago, local media reported that divers found a 1927 Chevrolet Coupe amid the wreckage of a steamship, covered with algae and barnacles, but nonetheless pristine. You can thank the rocky shoals, frequent fog, and sudden gales of Thunder Bay for turning what was once the bustling marine interstate of America’s early industrial age into a modern-day museum of Great Lakes maritime history. Locals called it “Shipwreck Alley.”

Divers flock from all over the world to see the wrecks for themselves each year — and last spring, they were joined by an unusual interloper: an autonomous boat named BEN. BEN is a self-driving boat that’s been tasked with making maps, and it was brought to Thunder Bay to help lay bare the long-lost secrets of the lakebed.

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“We Are Not Lost Causes”

Universal Images Group / Getty / Photo illustration by Katie Kosma

Mark Obbie | Longreads | March 2020 | 45 minutes (12,427 words)

The three young men sauntering down a city sidewalk showed no signs of alarm as a thin man in a dark hoodie hopped out of the passenger side of a gold Honda minivan. They did not flinch as the man rushed toward them on foot while the van, its windows heavily tinted, continued on past.

This neighborhood on the northeast side of Rochester, New York, has ranked among one of the poorest and most violent in the United States. But it was the trio’s home. A year earlier, one of them, Lawrence Richardson, had been jumped and knifed nearby after exchanging insults with a group of guys he didn’t know. He hadn’t looked for that trouble, and the same was true today. Richardson and Cliff Gardner, his coworker at KFC, had spent the afternoon preparing to look for better jobs. On the city’s southwest side, they stopped at the Center for Teen Empowerment, a nonprofit where Richardson had worked for a year on anti-violence and community-improvement projects, and where he still volunteered now and then. After encouraging Cliff to create a résumé, Richardson suggested they catch a bus to the northeast side, where Richardson had grown up. He wanted to introduce Cliff to Kenny Mitchell, his best friend and fellow Teen Empowerment youth organizer.

The three hung out at Mitchell’s second-story apartment, then walked to a corner store for some snacks. They were just returning to Kenny’s when they encountered the van and its passenger.

Moments later, three calls hit 911 operators in quick succession. Callers described a chaotic scene with two bodies crumpled on the ground while a third, trailing blood up the stairs to Mitchell’s apartment, lay at the feet of his panicked father.

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The Image Bank / Getty Images Plus, Luis Villasmil / Unsplash, Photo illustration by Katie Kosma

Liza Monroy | Longreads | February 2020 | 15 minutes (3,637 words)

On the verge of turning 40, all my habits felt ingrained. So I was surprised when, late last February, I became vegan one morning, following an intuitive stab out of the ether. It made no sense, not yet, and Joaquin Phoenix’s viral Oscar speech was still a year into the future, but I’d promised myself to always follow my instincts after, 10 years prior, that little voice within had attempted to warn me to hide my laptop before leaving my apartment. Perplexed by the absurdity of this non-thought, I’d ignored it only to return to find the laptop submerged in the bathtub, fallen victim to a vengeful ex-boyfriend’s rage. Life had since quieted and so had the little voice, until it resurfaced whispering, be vegan for the month of March.

As a 20-year ovo-lacto vegetarian-with-a-sushi-exemption, I found the hunch puzzling. Still, the voice had spoken, so I didn’t question it, though I did start searching for reasons. As a second-time mother to an infant, then seven months old, I felt lacking in structure, focus, and goals, and veganism gave me a way to try and put some version of that back into my life. Or perhaps, like a culinary Oulipian, further constraints would spike creativity, breaking my egg-and-cheese-bagel,-salmon-nigiri routine with more colorful vegetables. What I definitely wasn’t thinking: dairy cows, other than to joke that, hooked up to my mechanical breast pump, I felt like one.

Though I couldn’t pinpoint a rationale for my non-choice, I knew what I wasn’t and would never become: one of those unpleasant extremists who espoused “radical vegan propaganda,” who harass you with pamphlets depicting horrifying conditions of factory farms.

And then I went to VegFest. The pamphlet was lying on a table with others containing recipe ideas and shopping lists. But this one, about the practices of the dairy industry, caught my nursing-mama attention in a new way: “A cow must regularly give birth to produce profitable amounts of milk,” it read. Though I was against killing animals, I’d believed dairy was only a matter of taking something that was already there. I’d operated under the assumption that milking a cow was taking a nutritionally beneficial substance that would otherwise go to waste, as if all dairy cows were overproducers like me, milk running in streams. I’d never encountered this simple information about their pregnancy. “Similar to humans,” the pamphlet continued, “a cow’s gestation period is about nine months. In that time she develops a strong desire to nurture her baby calf — a calf that will be taken from her hours or days after birth. Cows can live more than 20 years, however they’re usually slaughtered once lactation decreases at about 5 years of age.”

At first it was the babies being taken away that got me. Motherhood had instilled in me an understanding of the deep, cellular-level, biological attachment to the calf. It must not be entirely true, I insisted to myself. This pamphlet was the dreaded “militant vegan propaganda.” I went online in search of contradictory information, but even meat-industry trade publications indicated this process is but simple fact-of-the-matter, nothing to get worked up about.

An article by rancher Heather Smith Thomas in Beef Magazine states that, “There’s a complex hormone system involved in causing birth and initiating lactation.” Pregnancy and birth for a cow entails a physiological process nearly identical to humans’. The mother’s body produces oxytocin during labor, bonding her to her calf and bringing on a strong desire to nurse. Exactly like the pamphlet said. Exactly like my own experience.

Suddenly, I felt a little, well, militant in spite of myself. The timing of having recently become a small-scale milk producer again made it obvious in retrospect: milk wasn’t just there, in mammals’ mammary glands. You had to have a baby to get it there. I didn’t just happen to have milk in my udders either — I had to get pregnant and give birth before it came and turned my breasts into hot, painful footballs only my baby or a horrible breast-pump could relieve. I’d had no idea my beloved ice cream and pizza were the cause of suffering. But dairy cows with lower production rates are not economically viable. They are sent sooner to slaughter.

Sailesh Rao, a Stanford PhD and former systems engineer who founded Climate Healers, a nonprofit fighting climate change, told me: “During a visit to the Kumbalgarh Wildlife sanctuary in India I observed how the forest was being destroyed by cows eating anything new growing out of the ground while old-growth trees were being cut down. I realized it was even better to eat some beef to finish off the cows after I had exploited them for milk. I resolved to go vegan on the spot.”

Environmental reasons were obvious, but on the compassion front, for years I’d taken imagery on dairy-milk cartons literally: peaceful cows standing in fields beside gentle farmers seated on stools, red barn in the background under a vast open sky. Was that the real propaganda? In YouTube videos of the routine dairy-farm practice of taking newborn calves from their mothers, the distress cries sound chillingly like daycare drop-off, except the afternoon reunion will never come.

I grabbed a couple of magnets and affixed the pamphlet to the fridge.
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