‘There Are No Victories That Will Bring Us Peace’

Photo: peoplesworld

It is good and right that we hound the state into giving us justice, but blacks cannot delude themselves into thinking that the state will ever become justice. There are no laws that can be passed or reforms that can be pursued that will allow us to stop being vigilant. There are no victories that will bring us peace. We will never be able to pound our swords into plowshares, because we will always have to be prepared to fight. Dr. King, our beautiful prophet, was wrong. The arc of the moral universe does not lead anywhere in particular, not in this life. If it bends towards justice, it is only because it is pulled that way by our constant effort, by our unceasing straining and sweating and shouting.

I wish I were ending this comment with answers or at least encouragement, but I have none to offer. I just have a list of things that I know. I know that I have never called the police, and if in future I do, it will be because I have reached the furthest of last resorts. I know that I am taking steps to learn how to arm myself for the protection of my loved ones and my community. I know that I will always vote “not guilty” if I am on a jury prosecuting a non-violent drug offense. I know that I will always oppose any expansion of the state’s power to harm and jail its citizens. I know that I will be going to community meetings and protests and vigils and organizing sessions and memorial services for the rest of my life. I know that one day I will tell my child, if I am blessed enough to have one, that the world is afraid of them, and that the police are not to be trusted. I know that one day, that child will tell her own child the same thing. And yet, I know that I still have enough hope to want to bring children into this world, broken as it is. That is something.

- Ezekiel Kweku wrote this profound essay in August after a police officer named Darren Wilson killed an unarmed teenager named Michael Brown. After last night’s verdict, it resonates.

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The Meaning We Put Behind Our Passwords

Photo: marc falardeau

Perhaps my biggest surprise has been how willing, eager actually, people are to openly discuss their keepsakes. The friends I queried forwarded my request, and before long I started receiving passwords from complete strangers. There was the former prisoner whose password includes what used to be his inmate identification number (“a reminder not to go back”); the fallen-away Catholic whose passwords incorporate the Virgin Mary (“it’s secretly calming”); the childless 45-year-old whose password is the name of the baby boy she lost in utero (“my way of trying to keep him alive, I guess”).

Sometimes the passwords were playful. Several people said they used “incorrect” for theirs so that when they forgot it, the software automatically prompted them with the right one (“your password is incorrect”). Nicole Perlroth, The New York Times’s cybersecurity reporter, told me about the awkward conversation she had not long ago, when, locked out of her account, she was asked by the newspaper’s tech-support staff to disclose her password: a three-digit code plus an unpublishable epithet — a reference to a funny exchange she overheard years earlier between a store clerk and a thief.

— Ian Urbina, in the New York Times Magazine, on how we instill meaning into the passwords we create.

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How An Independent Bookstore in New York Sells Books

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At Vulture, Christopher Bonanos takes us behind the business of one of New York City’s longest-running independent bookstores: The Strand.

“Our stock isn’t stale,” Bass says. “You come in, and there’ll be new stuff continually.” Slow sellers are culled, then marked down, then moved to the bargain racks outside, then finally sold in bulk for stage sets and the like…

The Basses have also tapped into New York’s great subsidizing resource: the global rich. If you’ve bought $15 million worth of living space on Park Avenue, it probably has a library, so what’s another $80,000 to fill those shelves? Make a call to the Strand with a few suggestions — “sports, business, art” — and a truckful of well-chosen, excellent-condition books will arrive. (Fred recalls that when Ron Perelman bought his estate on the East End from the late artist Alfonso Ossorio, the Strand had just cleared out Ossorio’s library; Perelman ordered a new selection of books, refilling the shelves.) In more than a few cases, the buyers request not subject matter but color. In the Hamptons, a wall of white books is a popular order, cheerfully fulfilled.

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Photo: Eliazar Parra Cardenas

Five Stories About the Way We Sleep

Photo: epSos. de
Photo: epSos. de

I miss sleep. I’m in the midst of stage managing a Christmas play, and rehearsals often run until 10 p.m. By the time I get home, send out rehearsal notes and prepare for the impending workday, it’s 11:30 p.m. I am one of those people who needs as much sleep as possible; I can easily sleep for 12 hours; I nap frequently; I rely on lattes and Coke Zero to keep up morale. This week, I thought about sleep a lot. Here are five pieces on different facets of sleep: a short story about sleepwalking, a dispatch from Gaza, a person who can’t help but sleep when he’s stressed, and more.

1. “Broken Sleep.” (Karen Emslie, Aeon, November 2014)

Sometimes I wake up at 5 a.m., awake and ready to get up, but I inevitably scroll through Twitter until I fall asleep again. I always attributed this to a beneficial lull in REM sleep, but this article gave me pause—perhaps it’s symptomatic of “segmented sleep.” Historically, people slept in two chunks of four to five hours, separated by one to three hours of wakefulness. There are many health benefits to segmented sleep, as the author explains, but in our 9-to-5 industrialized society, this kind of sleep schedule doesn’t jibe. Read more…

The ‘Female Stuff’ of Hollywood Creative Meetings

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Change rarely happens organically, and gender equality, in both Hollywood and the world at large, is the sort of issue that requires a forceful push by those who see the need for change. But the fact of the matter is, when it comes to the womaning-up of Hollywood, the people doing the pushing behind the scenes are mostly male. The Lego Movie sequel will have lady stuff as imagined by two dudes. Lady Ghostbusters was greenlit because it’s the brainchild of a man. I don’t have gender breakdowns of studio executives, but I’d bet my left ovary the decisions coming out of Warner, Marvel, and Sony originated in male-dominated meetings. And while the execs’ hearts may be in the right place, their minds are on getting people talking about their movies, and eventually getting butts in seats. If that means adding in some “female stuff,” hey, everybody wins, right?

Well, do they? While Hollywood is finding ways to slot women into its preconceived projects, female creators with their own ideas toil in the trenches to get their smaller, personal projects made. Two of this year’s best movies written and directed by women, Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child and Gina Prince-Bythewood’s new Beyond The Lights, took years of finagling and compromising on the part of their creators, and were eventually released on a relatively small scale. Meanwhile, of the 39 major studio releases originally slated for summer 2014, only one was directed by a woman, and even that comes with a big fat asterisk: That one film, Jupiter Ascending, which Lana Wachowski wrote and directed with her brother Andy, was pushed to 2015, thereby decreasing this past summer’s number of female-directed major releases to exactly zero.

-Genevieve Koski, at the Dissolve, on Hollywood’s “female stuff” problem.

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The Moment Firestone Teamed Up with a Warlord

Below is an excerpt from ProPublica and Frontline’s investigation into how the U.S. tire and rubber company Firestone ended up partnering with warlord Charles Taylor, who was taking over Liberia during the civil war in the early 1990s. In 1992 the company agreed to pay taxes to Taylor’s rebel government, and “over the next year, the company doled out more than $2.3 million in cash, checks and food to Taylor”: Read more…

30,000 Words, 700 Jobs, One Year

Photo: Kathryn Decker

A few months ago, a friend considering a freelance writing career asked me how much money I make as a writer. I wanted to say, “You mean, what’s the going rate for a human soul?” But I wasn’t close enough to this friend to be certain she’d realize I was mostly kidding. Instead I said, “This month, I made between $25 and $2,000 for individual stories that were about the same length,” to indicate how unpredictable rates are in an industry that is hemorrhaging money while flooded with qualified candidates.

I’ve produced more than 30,000 words of original and highly job-specific material without pay in an effort to prove myself a capable and good sport to the handful of companies that have reached back out to me from the black hole of resume inboxes to give me a chance.

- Prospective employers demand full-time freelancers to produce inordinate amounts of writing as part of their applications, in addition to the usual cover letter and resumé. From sample tweets to an entire magazine, Alana Massey experienced this firsthand. Read more about her experience and the ethics of freelancing at Pacific Standard. 

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