Longreads https://longreads.com/ Longreads : The best longform stories on the web Thu, 27 Apr 2023 00:24:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://longreads.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/longreads-logo-sm-rgb-150x150.png Longreads https://longreads.com/ 32 32 211646052 Inside Superiority Burger https://longreads.com/2023/04/26/inside-superiority-burger/ Thu, 27 Apr 2023 00:00:44 +0000 https://longreads.com/?p=189648 Odessa, a Ukrainian diner in the heart of New York’s East Village, was a legendary institution for 35 years. Then it closed. Now the space is home to a vegetarian burger joint deemed “the buzziest restaurant in America” by GQ. (Cue “Circle of Life.”) Does Superiority Burger merit such breathless? Who cares? The real draw is Brett Martin’s elbows-on-the-table profile of the restaurant; if the food is anywhere near as viscerally enjoyable as the story, it’s well worth the superlatives.

Though Headley arrives early in the morning to do prep work and develop new dishes, and has lately been in charge of cooking the daily family meal for staff, he spends little time in the kitchen during service. Instead, he’s in constant motion on the floor, wearing his paper hat, black hoodie, dark green pants, and clogs. He checks in on tables, runs out burgers, and rushes to clear plates as quickly as they are done, a touch he says is borrowed from Roll-N-Roaster, the venerable Sheepshead Bay roast-beef restaurant. If there’s been one complaint these first weeks, he says, it’s that service is too fast. Often, he’ll bustle in one direction, only to pull up short as though he’s forgotten what he was doing, and then run off in another. In fact, he’s monitoring music volumes, which vary wildly from song to song and spot to spot, in part because he insisted on replicating Odessa’s vintage ceiling speakers instead of installing a modern sound system. For each dinner service, he creates a fourteen-hour playlist, which he then DJs in real time from his phone, adjusting to the shifting energy of the room. (If the mark of a truly great restaurant soundtrack is regularly defeating Shazam, Headley’s playlist achieves it tonight, by my count, in five songs.) On most nights he clocks over 35,000 steps according to the device on his wrist, without venturing beyond the short walk to his apartment and the restaurant floor.

How the War in Ukraine Has Forever Changed the Children in One Kindergarten Class https://longreads.com/2023/04/26/how-the-war-in-ukraine-has-forever-changed-the-children-in-one-kindergarten-class/ Wed, 26 Apr 2023 22:56:02 +0000 https://longreads.com/?p=189643 In a piece that took eight months to report, Elissa Nadowrny and Claire Harbage trace what happened to one group of Ukrainian kindergarten children, scattered after war ravaged their country. It’s understated and moving, with some poignant photography to boot. These children “represent millions of children from Ukraine who have left and who have stayed.”

Of the 27 students in that green and yellow kindergarten class, ultimately, more than half would leave the country — driving south through Moldova or west into Poland. For some, it was easier. They had relatives abroad, preexisting plans to emigrate, or a destination in mind. For others, it was much harder: weeks or months living in refugee camps in Poland and Germany; constantly moving from one country to another in search of housing, jobs and stability.

For 40 Years He Blamed Himself for a Girl’s Murder. Then Came a Shocking Discovery https://longreads.com/2023/04/26/for-40-years-he-blamed-himself-for-a-girls-murder-then-came-a-shocking-discovery/ Wed, 26 Apr 2023 22:38:05 +0000 https://longreads.com/?p=189641 In 1980, in one of the most horrific events in the history of modern South Korea, at least 165 civilians were killed during a pro-democracy uprising in Gwangju. Max Kim tells the story of Choi Byung-moon, one of the special-forces soldiers deployed to crush the demonstrations, and zooms in on an incident involving an attack on a minibus, which killed all but three people on board. Two of those three survivors were later executed; the fate of the third person, a girl who Choi encountered among the dead, is unknown to him for decades. A low-ranking soldier at the time, Choi believed he was simply doing his duty, but later began to “feel burdened by a deepening sense of complicity,” writes Kim, “both as a cog in a larger machine of killing and later as a silent witness.”

But in 2020, Choi received a phone call that challenged everything he remembered from that day. The girl, he learns, is alive. Or is she? As the truth unravels, Kim weaves a moving story of regret, the unreliability of memory, and the freedom from closure.

On a frigid day in December 2020, Huh and his team met with Choi at a chicken restaurant in Incheon, a port city west of Seoul. Over shots of soju, Choi began to tell them, at first a little cautiously, what he’d seen in Gwangju, eventually turning the topic to an incident that sounded familiar to Huh. “He told us that he’d saved a young girl and handed her off, but that she had probably been taken to a military camp and executed,” recalled Huh. “He had believed this version of events his entire life.”

The King in the Endgame https://longreads.com/2023/04/26/the-king-in-the-endgame/ Wed, 26 Apr 2023 22:01:32 +0000 https://longreads.com/?p=189636 You know someone’s the best chess player in the world — and possibly ever — when they don’t even both to defend their world title for the fifth time. Magnus Carlsen has long been a phenomenon on the 64 squares, and David Hill does a (grand)masterful job tying together the current moment, chess’ bizarre new cultural primacy, and some surprisingly accessible chess analysis.

Games like this showed how chess heretics were unshackling themselves from dogma—exposing their kings and pushing their h-pawns with abandon! While this required Carlsen and other older players to unlearn things ingrained in them for most of their lives, Firouzja and his generation were born into this world. They, and those who will come after them, won’t need to undo what teachers and books taught them. It’s all but certain that modern technology will have a profound impact on how the next elite chess players and world champions play the game.

The Quest for Longevity Is Already Over https://longreads.com/2023/04/26/the-quest-for-longevity-is-already-over/ Wed, 26 Apr 2023 20:36:03 +0000 https://longreads.com/?p=189633 At Wired, Matt Reynolds suggests that increasing human longevity could possibly be related to extending our “healthspan” — the length of time we enjoy relatively good health before we become frail and more likely to suffer serious consequences from falls.

Healthspan—years lived in good health—might be the unsexy cousin of longevity research, but figuring out ways for people to live healthier lives could have a much greater impact than extending lifespan by a few years. A big part of extending healthy lives is pinpointing when people start to decline in health, and what the early indicators of that decline might be. One way is by looking at frailty—a measure that usually takes into account factors like social isolation, mobility, and health conditions to produce an overall frailty score. In England, the National Health Service automatically calculates frailty scores for everyone aged 65 and over, with the aim to help people live independently for longer and avoid two major causes of hospital admissions for older people: falls and adverse responses to medication.

The Internet of the 2010s Ended Today https://longreads.com/2023/04/25/the-internet-of-the-2010s-ended-today/ Tue, 25 Apr 2023 21:48:47 +0000 https://longreads.com/?p=189603 Charlie Werzel worked at Buzzfeed News during its heyday, a time, he writes, that “felt a bit like standing in the eye of the hurricane that is the internet.” With glorious anecdotes and thoughtful analysis of Buzzfeed News’ achievements, this is a fitting tribute to an institution that last week sadly shuttered its doors.

Morgan was barreling through the office, lifting his shirt up, smacking his belly, and cracking jokes about how pale all of us internet writers looked. I remember our lone investigative reporter, Alex Campbell, scurrying away from his desk, a row away from mine, to continue his reporting call in silence. A few months later, the story he’d been working on would help free an innocent woman from prison. 

Remembering the Egyptian Childhood I Never Had Through Its Culinary Traditions https://longreads.com/2023/04/25/remembering-the-egyptian-childhood-i-never-had-through-its-culinary-traditions/ Tue, 25 Apr 2023 21:48:16 +0000 https://longreads.com/?p=189602 In this beautiful essay, Jasmine Attia recounts her experiences growing up as the American child of Egyptian immigrants as she and her mother make waraa eynab (stuffed grape leaves), a hand-made dish made with experience, tradition, and love.

But my hands must still learn what the right amount of meat feels like between my fingers. There is no recipe in my family, nothing written down, no measurements. Measurements are for the inept. This is my mother’s mantra. We, the proud women of the family, we feel and smell and taste and touch and create. We know when it is good because we know when it is good. But some of the clan is gone, and they are only echoes now. My mother and I don’t speak of the deceased, but we understand why I must be the one to roll. I am soaking in the instruction. It is a heavy responsibility.

My mother and I roll about a hundred grape leaves. They are now ready to be cooked. We lay them in a pot one layer at a time, one arranged horizontally and the next vertically. Garlic cloves are inserted throughout. A soup is made. You must put in sumac. No sumac, no waraa eynab. I understand this. My mother grabs a handful of the crimson powder, its lemony scent filling the air around us, and she drops it into the pot. The soup can’t be too loose. She stirs the unready soup with a spoon. It must be just the right thickness, and not too salty.

She shows me what is right. I must taste it to know. I must see it. I pour the soup over the precisely arranged grape leaves so that I can see just how much of them should be covered with soup. Too much soup and you get mush. Too little soup and you get cardboard. Both very bad outcomes for an Egyptian apprentice like me.

Rachel Weisz and the Glorious Horrors of Pregnancy https://longreads.com/2023/04/25/rachel-weisz-and-the-glorious-horrors-of-pregnancy/ Tue, 25 Apr 2023 20:10:24 +0000 https://longreads.com/?p=189598 Alexandra Kleeman covers a lot of ground in this examination of the recent remake of “Dead Ringers”: Comparison to David Cronenberg’s original 1988 psychological thriller, Rachel Weisz’s career, how pregnancy is portrayed in media, and reproduction in the United States. Cleverly interweaving her themes to avoid any overwhelm, this is sure to keep your attention — and make you want to watch Rachel Weisz’s stunning performance in the series.

So much of the anxiety around reproduction in the United States has to do with the contradiction of being dependent and isolated at once: dependent on a health care system that must be paid for privately; dependent on a political apparatus outside your control that can force you to give birth while denying any resources or care to the baby that is born; isolated by the moral codes and prescriptions that circulate in the media and among the people in our lives. We often approach pregnancy with a hunger for clean, clear answers — the exact week at which a pregnant body should no longer be allowed caffeine or soft cheese, or the moment at which a bundle of cells becomes a legally protected human being — but living matter resists these attempts at containment.

There Is No A.I. https://longreads.com/2023/04/25/there-is-no-a-i/ Tue, 25 Apr 2023 20:05:32 +0000 https://longreads.com/?p=189595 Computer scientist Jaron Lanier suggests that for society to thrive in the age of artificial intelligence, data dignity — a concept under which people are paid for what they contribute to the web — is something we must carefully explore. It’s not about the robots taking over and obliterating the human race (although some think that’s going to happen!), it’s about putting people before machines, about prizing clarity of intent, purpose, and collaboration for the benefit of all.

The most pragmatic position is to think of A.I. as a tool, not a creature. My attitude doesn’t eliminate the possibility of peril: however we think about it, we can still design and operate our new tech badly, in ways that can hurt us or even lead to our extinction. Mythologizing the technology only makes it more likely that we’ll fail to operate it well—and this kind of thinking limits our imaginations, tying them to yesterday’s dreams. We can work better under the assumption that there is no such thing as A.I. The sooner we understand this, the sooner we’ll start managing our new technology intelligently.

If the new tech isn’t true artificial intelligence, then what is it? In my view, the most accurate way to understand what we are building today is as an innovative form of social collaboration.

A positive spin on A.I. is that it might spell the end of this torture, if we use it well. We can now imagine a Web site that reformulates itself on the fly for someone who is color-blind, say, or a site that tailors itself to someone’s particular cognitive abilities and styles. A humanist like me wants people to have more control, rather than be overly influenced or guided by technology. Flexibility may give us back some agency.

Anything engineered—cars, bridges, buildings—can cause harm to people, and yet we have built a civilization on engineering. It’s by increasing and broadening human awareness, responsibility, and participation that we can make automation safe; conversely, if we treat our inventions as occult objects, we can hardly be good engineers. Seeing A.I. as a form of social collaboration is more actionable: it gives us access to the engine room, which is made of people.

Voice and Hammer https://longreads.com/2023/04/25/voice-and-hammer/ Tue, 25 Apr 2023 19:02:08 +0000 https://longreads.com/?p=189591 Music star and civil rights icon Harry Belafonte died this week at the age of 96. A decade ago, on the heels of the release of the icon’s memoir and a documentary about his seismic influence, acclaimed journalist Jeff Sharlet wrote an intimate, lyrical profile of Belafonte. It’s about his singular cultural symbolism and its complications, about witnessing the evolution of his own legacy, and about reckoning with what, in a life full of remarkable achievements, he couldn’t accomplish:

Belafonte wants to tell me about a movie he never made, probably never could have made.

Amos ’n Andy. Not like Bamboozled, Spike Lee’s postmodern riff on blackface, but Amos ’n Andy as a history of minstrelsy going back to the beginning. It was the director Robert Altman’s idea. A movie of a minstrel show. White men in blackface who mimicked every brilliant song, every joke, every true story ever told by a black woman or man: stole it all and played it again, as both tragedy and farce, tragedy because it was farce.  

“It’s about the mask,” Belafonte says, speaking in the present tense like he’s talking strategy and tactics, sipping Harvey’s Bristol Cream. “It’s about how much time people spend being false, how often we façade our behavior. Nobody’s better at that than the minstrels. And in them I see all of us. Everybody’s in the minstrel show. Behind the mask, you can say and do anything. The Greeks did it. Shakespeare used it when he wrote the jester. Those he could not give the speech to, he created the jester to say it. All of America’s problems are rooted in the fact that we’re all jesters. Not one of us truth tellers. So how do you get to the truth? Well, how do Amos ’n Andy do it? What’s behind the mask?” 

This: In the mimicry and the falsehood, you can still find the roots of the song. “The art for me is how do you bend it your way?” 

Maybe it couldn’t be done. He told Altman, “You’re going to get us both fucking killed. Black people gonna be completely outraged. Don’t go to black people with blackface. And white people know it’s politically incorrect. There’s no audience.” 

Altman said, “Except everybody.” 

Belafonte’s quiet. Then: “But Altman left me here all alone.” Altman died in 2006. His last movie was A Prairie Home Companion. Belafonte shakes his head, talking to no one now. “Everybody’s in the minstrel show. Everybody’s a minstrel act.”