The New Yorker’s Ferguson Cover


Above is the cover of next week’s New Yorker, by Eric Drooker. In an interview about the work, Drooker says: “The police shooting of Michael Brown resonates on a personal level with me. An artist friend of mine was killed by a cop in lower Manhattan, back in 1991. He happened to be black, and the police officer was never indicted.”

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Life and Death at SeaWorld


In a recent piece for Outside, Tim Zimmermann spoke at length with three former animal care workers about their experiences at SeaWorld. Animal care workers, who are responsible for the health of mammals at marine parks, are privy to the best and worse that goes on, with unique access and responsibilities. In the excerpt below, Zimmermann quotes from the journal of Krissy Dodge, a former employee at SeaWorld San Antonio, as she recounts the birth of a baby beluga:

Sept 17, 2006. Sunday a week ago I had whale watch from 12am–7:30am. Siku the beluga was due at any moment. An hour into it I thought I saw a small amount of blood. I didn’t see any crunching [flexing by the mother] though, and kept watching. I saw more blood and half of the tail flukes come out. I was so excited I started shaking. I immediately called my supervisor and he arrived in 10 min. After everyone was called I got into my wetsuit in case I was needed to get into the water.

When the calf was half way out, the supervisor told us to surround the pool so if the calf went around, it wouldn’t bump into walls or flop out of the pool. The calf was born and I watched it take its first breath. It seemed to be doing OK. It was very exciting for me. I almost wanted to cry. Of course I didn’t since no one shows any emotion in our dept.

I stayed watching until I was off at 7:30am. The next day I found out that the calf was not nursing and had to be tube fed. He didn’t take it well. To do it, someone had to jump in and catch it, swim it over, then a tube was shoved down its throat. A few times milk and blood was being expelled from the blowhole. It was decided on Friday to make an emergency move of Siku and calf to a back pool. Apparently when they got into the water to move the calf, it died in a trainer’s arms. I found out it died as they were bringing it back to 72 [the necropsy room] on the back of a cart.

I had to help in the necropsy. It was my first one and was indeed traumatic. To be the one to see it being born and also the one to cut it up was really difficult. When it was finished I walked to the zoological building to get a shower. I was still taking it all in and trying not to cry. A coworker was there and asked how it went. I said it was ok, but difficult being my first one. She said, “Oh don’t worry, you’ll get used to it. Soon it won’t even phase you.” To have this job, the only way to do it is to become hard and desensitized to everything. This job is so difficult. Not just physically, but emotionally. It’s made me question who I am and what I believe in. I’m ready to move on. This chapter needs to be closed.

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

A Brutal Dictator, and the Wall Street Hedge Fund That Gave Him $100 Million


Mugabe’s men were setting up command centers for torture and killing in areas that voted for the opposition, the man told McGee, and regional party leaders like him were told to draw up lists of people to target. The ambassador learned that Mugabe’s government had landed critical funding, totaling $100 million, only days after the vote. The regime even provided hundreds of trucks and other vehicles to ferry militias to regions that favored Tsvangirai.

Reports of violence across the country soon poured into McGee’s embassy as Mugabe’s militias sought to punish opposition activists, drive their supporters from their homes, and intimidate the rest into backing Mugabe in the next round of elections. …

McGee wouldn’t find out for years, but as the attacks were unfolding, and as he worked with Washington to financially isolate Mugabe, a Wall Street consortium provided the $100 million for the dictator’s government. These millions secured the rights to mine platinum, among the most valuable of minerals, from central Zimbabwe. Several firms were involved in the investment, including BlackRock (BLK), GLG Partners, and Credit Suisse (CS). The most vital player was Och-Ziff Capital Management (OZM), the largest publicly traded hedge fund on Wall Street. An Och-Ziff spokesman declined to comment for this article. Now some of its African investments are at the center of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

-A new Bloomberg Businessweek investigation, by Cam Simpson and Jesse Westbrook, on the hedge fund that helped fund Robert Mugabe, the notorious president of Zimbabwe.

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Photo: sokwanele, Flickr

What Happens to Your Identity When You Don’t Speak to Anyone for 27 Years


Anyone who reveals what he’s learned, Chris told me, is not by his definition a true hermit. Chris had come around on the idea of himself as a hermit, and eventually embraced it. When I mentioned Thoreau, who spent two years at Walden, Chris dismissed him with a single word: “dilettante.”

True hermits, according to Chris, do not write books, do not have friends, and do not answer questions. I asked why he didn’t at least keep a journal in the woods. Chris scoffed. “I expected to die out there. Who would read my journal? You? I’d rather take it to my grave.” The only reason he was talking to me now, he said, is because he was locked in jail and needed practice interacting with others.

“But you must have thought about things,” I said. “About your life, about the human condition.”

Chris became surprisingly introspective. “I did examine myself,” he said. “Solitude did increase my perception. But here’s the tricky thing—when I applied my increased perception to myself, I lost my identity. With no audience, no one to perform for, I was just there. There was no need to define myself; I became irrelevant. The moon was the minute hand, the seasons the hour hand. I didn’t even have a name. I never felt lonely. To put it romantically: I was completely free.”

-Michael Finkel, in GQ, meets the man known as the North Pond Hermit. Christopher Thomas Knight lived in a secret camp in the woods of Central Maine, stealing food and supplies from nearby homes.

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Photo: WCSH 6

The ‘SNL’ Skit on Racial Profiling That Never Made It to Television


Robert Smigel, writer: It wasn’t until my last season that the network refused to air a “TV Funhouse.” It was a live-action one that was meant to be about racism and profiling, an airline-safety video with multilingual narration, and whenever you heard a different language, they would cut to people of that nationality. First, typical white Americans, then a Latino family, then a Japanese family, all being instructed about seat belts, overhead compartments, et cetera. Then it cuts to an Arab man, and the narrator says, in Arabic, “During the flight, please do not blow up the airplane. The United States is actually a humanitarian nation that is rooted in the concept of freedom,” and so on. … When the standards people freaked, Lorne fought them. Standards pushed back hard. They even got someone at NBC human resources to condemn it. … Lorne said, “I have a plan.” Obama was doing a cameo in the cold open. Lorne told me he would show my sketch to Obama. “If Obama thinks it’s OK, they won’t be able to argue it.” I thought it was a brilliant idea, except why would Obama ever give this thing his blessing? What if word got out? “Hey, everybody, that guy over there said it was cool. The one running for president of the country.” But I loved Lorne for caring this much and being willing to go that far to get this thing on TV.

Michaels: Obama said, “It’s funny, but no, I don’t think so.”

-From the newly expanded oral history of Saturday Night Live, by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales.

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Freelancing in War Zones: Serious Journalists Left with Little Protection

James Foley, Aleppo, Syria - 08/12

Syria is the most dangerous place in the world for journalists. In the last three years at least 60 of them have been killed while covering the conflict there, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Missing from the statistics is anything about the kind of journalist who goes to Syria and why. After the death of Marie Colvin, in a blizzard of Syrian Army shells in Homs in February 2012, much of the Western media drew back from covering the country. Meanwhile, a lightly resourced, laughably paid, almost wholly uninsured cadre of freelancers, often armed with little more than a notebook and a mobile phone, infiltrated Syria anyway. A few were crazy narcissists or war-zone tourists, but most were serious reporters. Four-fifths of all journalists working in Syria, according to one estimate, are freelance and answering to no one but themselves.

-James Harkin, in May’s Vanity Fair, on the disappearance of journalists Austin Tice and Jim Foley, and the dangers that freelance reporters face. A video surfaced Tuesday in which Foley allegedly was killed by members of the militant group ISIS.

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Photo: Nicole Tung,

Where the Spirit Meets the Bone: A Memoir by Lucinda Williams


Lucinda Williams, with Benjamin Hedin  | Radio Silence | March 2014 | 11 minutes (2,690 words)

Radio SilenceFor this week’s Longreads Member Pick, we are thrilled to share a first-time-ever memoir by the great Lucinda Williams from Radio Silence, a San Francisco-based magazine of literature and rock & roll. Subscribe, and download the free iOS app.

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