Jon Christian

Comfort the afflicted. Afflict the comfortable.

Longform Monday

Sabrina Rubin Erdely: School of Hate. Rolling Stone, Feb. 2012.

Against this supercharged backdrop, the Anoka-Hennepin school district finds itself in the spotlight not only for the sheer number of suicides but because it is accused of having contributed to the death toll by cultivating an extreme anti-gay climate. “LGBTQ students don’t feel safe at school,” says Anoka Middle School for the Arts teacher Jefferson Fietek, using the acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning. “They’re made to feel ashamed of who they are. They’re bullied. And there’s no one to stand up for them, because teachers are afraid of being fired.” 

Charles Graeber: Inside the Mansion—and Mind— of Kim Dotcom, the Most Wanted Man on the Net. WIRED, Oct. 2012.

Kim has surrounded himself with luxury, but what he prizes above all other indulgences is pure, deep sleep. He simply doesn’t always like to get up in the morning, and he doesn’t always like going to bed at night, and—here’s the kicker—he doesn’t have to. The sun is up or down—who cares? The clock is numbers in a circle, duodecimal nonsense. It is a guilt machine, a metronome for the normal lives of normal people. But it is always dark somewhere. And it is always night in the Dotcom Mansion. Great black curtains shut out the light, thick stone walls block the sound. The $103,000 horsehair Hästens bed is waiting. In his sleeping chamber there are no electronic things, no humming or beeping devices, no leaking of LED, no sigh of capacitor or fan. For sleep of the finest quality, for epicurean, luxury slumber, total silence is required and enforced.

Michael Wolff: A Life Worth Ending. New York, May 2012.

The traditional exits, of a sudden heart attack, of dying in one’s sleep, of unreasonably dropping dead in the street, of even a terminal illness, are now exotic ways of going. The longer you live the longer it will take to die. The better you have lived the worse you may die. The healthier you are—through careful diet, diligent exercise, and attentive medical scrutiny—the harder it is to die. Part of the advance in life expectancy is that we have technologically inhibited the ultimate event. We have fought natural causes to almost a draw. If you eliminate smokers, drinkers, other substance abusers, the obese, and the fatally ill, you are left with a rapidly growing demographic segment peculiarly resistant to death’s appointment—though far, far, far from healthy.

Chris Jones: The Big Book. Esquire, April 2012.

Caro has spent vast stretches of his life poring over documents, mostly at the Johnson Library in Austin — it alone contains forty-five million pages, held in red and gray boxes, many of which he is the only visitor ever to have opened, rows and rows of boxes stretched across four floors — and interviewing hundreds of subjects. Some have stopped talking to him; he lost Lady Bird Johnson’s ear after the first book. Some have refused to talk to him altogether; Bill Moyers, the journalist and Johnson’s former press secretary, has steadfastly said no for thirty-eight years. (Awkwardly, Moyers also has an office in the Fisk Building. Moyers did not respond to requests for an interview for this story, either.)

Ezekiel J. Emanuel: Why I Hope to Die at 75. The Atlantic, Sept. 2014.

But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.

A.O. Scott: The Death of Adulthood in American Culture. The NYT Magazine, Sept. 2014.

In suggesting that patriarchy is dead, I am not claiming that sexism is finished, that men are obsolete or that the triumph of feminism is at hand. I may be a middle-aged white man, but I’m not an idiot. In the world of politics, work and family, misogyny is a stubborn fact of life. But in the universe of thoughts and words, there is more conviction and intelligence in the critique of male privilege than in its defense, which tends to be panicky and halfhearted when it is not obtuse and obnoxious. The supremacy of men can no longer be taken as a reflection of natural order or settled custom.

Michael Wolff: Empire Falls. Town And Country Magazine, Sept. 2014.

Forbes now maintains a skeleton staff; in effect anyone can write for it, with little vetting or oversight or alignment with the brand. In some sense there is no Forbes brand anymore, at least no specific, coherent one. Almost anybody who writes for the magazine or website—PR people promoting something; consultants looking for clients; anybody selling anything, in fact; as well as oddball opinionists—can claim to have been endorsed by Forbes.

Dvorkin, who is rail thin and has deep-set eyes that give him something of a Crypt Keeper look, recently told an audience at an event sponsored by PandoDaily, the tech news website, that traditional journalism was dead and hostile journalists should “get over it.” Journalists, he said, “need to understand the world is changing.”

Longform Monday

Truman Capote: The Duke In His Domain. The New Yorker, Nov. 1957.

Now, loosening his belt still more and thoughtfully massaging his midriff, he scanned the menu, which offered, in English, a wide choice of Western-style dishes, and, after reminding himself “I’ve got to lose weight,” ordered soup, beefsteak with French-fried potatoes, three supplementary vegetables, a side dish of spaghetti, rolls and butter, a bottle of sake, salad, and cheese and crackers.

Chris Heath: 18 Tigers, 17 Lions, 8 Bears, 3 Cougars, 2 Wolves, 1 Baboon, 1 Macaque, and 1 Man Dead in Ohio. GQ, March 2012.

Only once you slide up and down these slippery moral slopes can you see how much easier it is for all of these owners to believe that they are acting with kindness to animals that they love, and that their love is on some level reciprocated. Maybe something went very astray with Terry Thompson, and so of course it is now in the interests of the other owners to draw a firm line between what he did and what they do, but my hunch is that if one had visited him a few years ago, he would have expressed the same love and care and concern for his animals, and done so with conviction. The truth is that while, on a practical level, we may feel as though we can distinguish between better and worse owners, it is logically impossible to know for certain what the animals are thinking or experiencing. Every human who interacts with an animal and then makes claims about what that interaction means to the animal—in backyards or zoos or even on the plains of Africa—is making a claim neither they nor anyone else can verify.

Nicholas Cameron: Life Sentence. Maisonneuve, Sept. 2014.

Robert Kolker: What Happens When You Accuse a Major Hollywood Director of Rape? New York Magazine, Sept. 2014.

Scaachi Koul: Face of the New West. Maisonneuve, Sept. 2014.

Erica Lenti: Open Registration. Maisonneuve, Sept. 2014.

Lisa Miller: The Trans-Everything CEO. New York Magazine, Sept. 2014.

Graeme Wood: How Gangs Took Over Prisons. The Atlantic, Sept. 2014.

Walking into the SHU feels like entering a sacred space. After the clanging of doors behind you, a monastic silence reigns. The hallways radiate from the command center at the hub of the SHU snowflake, and each one has chambers on either side that sprout chambers of their own. The hallways echo with footsteps when you walk down them. There are no prison noises: no banging of tin cups, no screaming of the angry or insane. The silence is sepulchral, and even when you get to branches of the snowflake, where the inmates actually live, it seems as if everyone is in suspended animation, on one of those interstellar journeys that last multiple human lifetimes.

Einstein’s Workshop

I’ve got a new story in the Boston Globe, on a maker space for kids:

In a large central work space, children are building robots out of Legos and K’Nex. In one adjacent classroom, kids in grades 4 through 8 are using software and a laser cutter to fashion parts for wooden insects, animals, and panoramas; in another, they are putting together a Rube Goldberg-type of machine.

“It’s very unstructured, and I like that,” said Seema Bhalchandra of Acton, whose 10-year-old son, Aditya, has completed three courses at the workshop. “When I talk to him about what he’s learned in the class, he’s always been allowed to experiment. The teachers point him in the right direction, but it’s all about figuring it out for himself.”

Longform Monday

Here’s what I’ve been reading this week:

Michael Finkel: The Strange & Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit. GQ, Sept. 2014.

Anne Helen Petersen: Confidentially Yours: The Banality of the Celebrity Profile, and How It Got That Way. The Believer, May 2014.

Lauren Quinn: Mr. Nhem’s Genocide Camera. The Believer, May 2014.

Florence Williams: Gulf War Illness Leaves a Mark on the Brain. Discover, Sept. 2014.

The Editors: The Free and the Antifree. n + 1, Fall 2014.

Longform reading list, week of 8/11/14

Emily Gould: How much my novel cost me. Medium, Feb 2014.

It was more like the failure occurred in tiny increments over the course of two years, after which it was too late to develop a solid Plan B.

Bill Hayduke: A dispatch from two long and dark nights with the hub’s homeless in the middle of Boston Harbor. Dig, August 2014.

These days, Long Island is an isolated purgatory of lost souls, addicts, and survivors, home to rehabilitation clinics, a prison re-entry program, and a shelter that regularly houses more than 400 people. All this in a place that otherwise resembles a vacation destination.

Mat Honan: I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for Two Days. Here’s What It Did to Me. WIRED, August 2014.

By liking everything, I turned Facebook into a place where there was nothing I liked. To be honest, I really didn’t like it. I didn’t like what I had done.

Mat Honan: The Most Fascinating Profile You’ll Ever Read About a Guy and His Boring Startup. WIRED, August 2014.

All told, the space is big enough for 75 or so employees, most of whom have yet to be hired.

Longform reading list, week of 8/4/14

Mary H.K. Choi: Daniel Arnold Loves NY. WIRED, August 2014.

There’s a genuine pleasure in the process and a bracing lack of irony in the delivery.

Brendan I. Koerner: Feast For The Eyes. WIRED, August 2014.

Among the basic human needs, after all, food is the one that’s most ideal for sharing on social media: It’s more wholesome than sex, more titillating than shelter, and quite a bit more photogenic than water. 

Nathaniel Rich: Dangerous Game. WIRED, August 2014.

It is a game for two friends, and best played drunk. The instructions are simple:

1) Trade phones.

2) Select a name from your friend’s contact list…

3) Write a text message to this person from your friend’s phone. You can write anything. As a rule, the crazier the message, the better.

Larry Smith: My Life With Piper: From Big House to Small Screen. Matter, July 2014.

Piper’s instincts are great (with, um, one certain huge exception), and she is not risk-averse.

Longform reading list, week of 7/28/14

Sam Knight: A God More Powerful Than I. Harper’s, Feb. 2014.

He spent the rest of his life writing sermons, essays about fishing nets, and iffy poems about the glories of England’s westernmost tapering: “O! Land of yellow ling, and powdr’d hake! / O! Cornucopia of clouted cream . . . ” His pupil died of “ossification of the body,” in 1815, and the only issue of the new marriage, Day Perry Le Grice, inherited Trereife instead.

Greg Lalas: A Portrait of the Pickup Artist as a Young Man. Boston Magazine, May 2007.

We’re not very good. We do a lot of standing around and watching pretty girls walk by. Vin tries to introduce Bob to several prospects, but Bob doesn’t persevere through their rejections. Rahul winds up sitting on a couch alone. Even Daniel, the Sex God author, stands off to the side, inert.

Michael Specter: Partial Recall. The New Yorker, May 2014.

Concepts of memory tend to reflect the technology of the times. Plato and Aristotle saw memories as thoughts inscribed on wax tablets that could be erased easily and used again. These days, we tend to think of memory as a camera or a video recorder, filming, storing, and recycling the vast troves of data we accumulate throughout our lives. In practice, though, every memory we retain depends upon a chain of chemical interactions that connect millions of neurons to one another.

Ben Westhoff: Becoming Riff Raff: How a White Suburban Kid Morphed Into Today’s Most Enigmatic Rapper. LA Weekly, Sept. 2013.

So, like the Great Gatsby before him, or countless actors, rappers and movie stars, he faked it until he made it, and suddenly there was no Horst Simco anymore. There was only Riff Raff: the little boy’s dream of what a hip-hop star would be.

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