Jon Christian

Comfort the afflicted. Afflict the comfortable.

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.


This Cambridge studio teaches laser cutting and 3D printing to scrubs like me. And people are using their equipment to make some beautiful stuff! So I wrote a story on them for the Boston Globe. They also told me about their highly unusual funding strategy, also detailed by WIRED a few years ago.

Mohammad and Mazen persuaded the band to go with the zany idea after they showed a demo video, produced with MIT’s laser cutters.

“I can’t imagine what the professors would have done if they’d seen us sneaking into the lab with loaves of bread,” Mohammad said.


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