Shaka (Oakland Royals), Eddie (Oakland Royals), Ridel (Ciudad
Havana), and Chris (Oakland Royals) in the dugout in Havana, Cuba. Photo credit: Ghost Town to Havana Staff Photographer.
Rick Paulas | Longreads | September 2017 | 7 minutes (1,856 words)
Unless you’re a fictional character boldly leaping from skyscraper to skyscraper in a stretch leotard, origin stories are fickle, slippery narratives, particularly when it comes to artistic endeavors. Maybe the idea came while you were taking a bath, but why’d you get into that bath? What were you thinking just before the eureka moment? How’d you get to those thoughts?
So, when I asked San Francisco Bay Area filmmaker Eugene Corr why he took nine youth baseball players from an impoverished section of West Oakland to Cuba back in 2010, I knew I’d get a distilled version of reality. In Corr’s documentary about the trip, Ghost Town to Havana, he mentions his own fractured relationship with his father, a former youth baseball instructor, so I figured that’d fit in somewhere. Along with the magic of the bat-and-ball sport that binds together the capitalist and socialist countries that have 103 miles of sea between them.
But what I didn’t expect was that the whole trip happened because Corr got mad at George W. Bush.
Eugene Corr in Havana. Photo credit: Ghost Town to Havana Staff Photographer.
“I still think the Iraq War was a historic mistake,” Corr says, over coffee near his Berkeley home. “So much that’s gone wrong with the world seems to stem from that. I was so angry about that, I did three things. I bought a headstone for my grandmother’s grave in a cemetery in Richmond, I started a screenwriting program at San Quentin, and I went to Cuba.” Read more…
Newcomers to the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in April, 1967. At the height of the "Summer of Love," the area had a population density greater than Manhattan.
Kate Daloz | Longreads | August 2017 | 11 minutes (2700 words)
The posters began to appear around the city just after New Year’s, 1967. “A Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-in…Bring food to share, bring flowers, beads, costumes, feathers, cymbal flags.” On Saturday, January 14, a crowd of young people began to form on the open fields of Golden Gate Park. Throughout the day, local bands — not yet famous — took turns on the stage: The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin’s Big Brother and the Holding Company. Poets Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder led Hindu chants to the bouncing rhythm of finger cymbals. Timothy Leary addressed the crowd, urging them for the first time ever to “turn on, tune in, and drop out.” Owsley Stanley, the rogue chemist credited with manufacturing the period’s highest-quality LSD, donated 75 turkeys for sandwiches — the bread was sprinkled lightly with crushed White Lightning acid. At one point, a skydiver descended gently into the crowd, borne by a white parachute.
In one particularly potent example of party trumping fact, when shown photos of Trump’s inauguration and Barack Obama’s side by side, in which Obama clearly had a bigger crowd, some Trump supporters identified the bigger crowd as Trump’s. When researchers explicitly told subjects which photo was Trump’s and which was Obama’s, a smaller portion of Trump supporters falsely said Trump’s photo had more people in it.
While this may appear to be a remarkable feat of self-deception, Dan Kahan thinks it’s likely something else. It’s not that they really believed there were more people at Trump’s inauguration, but saying so was a way of showing support for Trump. “People knew what was being done here,” says Kahan, a professor of law and psychology at Yale University. “They knew that someone was just trying to show up Trump or trying to denigrate their identity.” The question behind the question was, “Whose team are you on?”
In these charged situations, people often don’t engage with information as information but as a marker of identity. Information becomes tribal.
Escaping persecution and conflict, many Karen people of southern and southeastern Myanmar have migrated to Thailand, settling primarily in refugee camps at the Myanmar-Thailand border. As Margaret Simons reports on SBS, about 200 Karen people have since found a new home in Nhill, a country town halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide in Australia. Their presence has brought new life to the town — jobs, connections, and a sense of community — making Nhill a model for the rest of the country.
A board outside the shop announces, in the exotic Brahmin script of Myanmar, Kay’s great act of generosity and now her cause for hope. She has given, rent free, the space at the rear of her store to Karen community leader Kaw Doh Htoo. There, he has opened a grocery store for the Karen people who have made this remote country town their home. . . .
He sits at the formica table and tries to describe how he came to live here, in this little declining town with its wide streets and closed shops speaking of past prosperity. The Karen come from the hills and mountains of Karen state, part of Myanmar near the Thai border. He gets choked up.
This is home now, he says. It is a good place. But he misses the hills and jungle. Ask him what he hopes for his children, and he weeps.
Hope, after all, can be as sharp as a knife. . . .
But there are other things here, too — less visible to the passing eye. Nhill has a higher rate of volunteering than the nation as a whole. It has what Deloitte Access Economics has termed unusually high levels of social capital. Put more simply, it is a town with a big heart and, over the last six years, it has come to stand for a very different kind of Australian story.
The legendary Ellen Willis (first-ever pop critic for The New Yorker, feminist role model extraordinaire, etc.) passed away in 2006, but her work is enjoying a second renaissance thanks to The Essential Ellen Willis, a 2014 collection edited by her daughter Nona Willis Aronowitz. Earlier this month the National Book Critics Circle posthumously awarded Willis their top prize in criticism for the anthology. In honor of the honor, The Village Voice has reprinted “Escape from New York,” a fantastic Willis essay about loneliness, human connection, aging radicals and criss-crossing the country on a Greyhound bus. The essay first appeared as the Voice’s July 29, 1981 cover story, and has since been reprinted in The Essential Ellen Willis.
For Americans, long-distances buses are the transportation of last resort. As most people see it, buses combine the comfort of a crowded jail cell with the glamour of a liverwurst sandwich. Though I can’t really refute that assessment, I don’t really share it, either. As a student with lots of time, little money, and no driver’s license, I often traveled by bus. Un-American as it may be, I feel nostalgic about those trips, even about their discomforts. In my no doubt idealized memory, discomfort was the cement that bound together an instant community of outsiders, people who for reasons of age, race, class, occupation (student, soldier), handicap, or bohemian poverty were marginal — at least for the time being — to a car-oriented culture.
It is this idea of community that moves me now. Lately I’ve been feeling isolated, spending too much time hiding out in my apartment, wrestling with abstract ideas. What better remedy than to take a bus trip, join the transportation-of-last-resort community, come back and write about what I’ve learned.
Emily Perper is a word-writing human working at a small publishing company. She blogs about her favorite longreads at Diet Coker.
Last Thursday, the NBC series “Community” returned with its creator and original showrunner, Dan Harmon, at the helm. I like “Community.” I do. It’s warm and dark and funny and self-referential. In spite of its absurdity—perhaps because of its absurdity—it is human; its characters are far from perfect. In this list, I wanted to include unlikeable people who are just that: people. People who do more than they thought they could do, who survive despite heartbreak and prejudice, who show us our truest selves and what we could be and, as T.S. Eliot wrote, “to care and not to care.”
The characters of “Community” are beloved, sure, but that doesn’t make them likable. Chevy Chase/Pierce Hawthorne was booted off the show for Harmon’s sake. His character was the worst human ever and probably the most human of all “Community” characters, but that’s neither here nor there. Nevertheless, the show is back, Jeff Winger is making ethically questionable decisions again, and we get to watch friendship avert the darkest timeline—hopefully.
Gay ponders why it feels important to like the characters in the books we read, and why we feel revulsion to those who don’t immediately endear themselves. She approaches several novels written by women and explores what makes their characters unlikeable and therefore worthwhile: “Perhaps, then, unlikable characters, the ones who are the most human, are also the ones who are the most alive. Perhaps this intimacy makes us uncomfortable because we don’t dare be so alive.”
“You have no idea what kindnesses you’re capable of,” Anna writes, because Anna loves Ellie. They were going to get married, but it fell apart, and now Ellie’s engaged to someone else. Anna’s going to be in the wedding.
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Harmon calls his circles embryos—they contain all the elements needed for a satisfying story—and he uses them to map out nearly every turn on, from throwaway gags to entire seasons. If a plot doesn’t follow these steps, the embryo is invalid, and he starts over. To this day, Harmon still studies each film and TV show he watches, searching for his algorithm underneath, checking to see if the theory is airtight. “I can’t not see that circle,” he says. “It’s tattooed on my brain.”