10 #longreads for Thanksgiving weekend

I was putting together a post of #longreads that had been sitting in tabs and email for a long time (some as long as a year), but it's taking way longer than I thought. I figured you could use some Instapaper grist for the holiday weekend, so here are 10. I'll post the rest some other time.

Vice sent a blind reporter to review the biggest rattlesnake roundup in the world. This is /was a fantastic article.

My feet were sweating. It wasn’t the idea of getting bit that freaked me out. Not entirely. Truth is, I’m mortally afraid of snakes, of everything snaky. The way they move, the way they sound, their shape. I won’t even begin to deconstruct the threat of a tongue that behaves so erratically. Never in my life have I touched one—not even the tiny garter snakes on our lawn when I was a kid, and that was way before blindness. They’d send me screaming.

I know what you’re thinking. Why put myself through something that runs contrary to every cue from my nervous system? It’s a legitimate question, and one I asked myself at the airport, on the plane, and in the car. The only answer I can offer, and I say it with conviction, is this: The best experiences don’t invite you.



The password can no longer protect you.

The common weakness in these hacks is the password. It’s an artifact from a time when our computers were not hyper-connected. Today, nothing you do, no precaution you take, no long or random string of characters can stop a truly dedicated and devious individual from cracking your account. The age of the password has come to an end; we just haven’t realized it yet.



Patriots tight-end, Rob Gronkowski, profiled in Sports Illustrated. Gronkowski, by the way, broke his arm blocking on the final extra point attempt in Sunday's blowout and will be out 4-6 weeks.

Gronkowski's specialty is the improbable play. Of the many he made during the 2011 season, one is particularly representative. It was Week 14, and the Patriots were leading the Redskins 7--3 in the first quarter. Tom Brady dropped back from his own 40 and whipped a 10-yard pass to Gronkowski, who dove to snag it and, realizing he had not been touched by Redskins defensive back DeJon Gomes, rolled over, leaped to his feet and burst upfield toward the sideline. Moments later, Gomes caught him from behind, locking his arms around Gronkowski's waist and digging his heels into the turf as if playing tug-of-war. Meanwhile, Redskins safety Reed Doughty grabbed Gronkowski from the front and wrestled him out-of-bounds. Or so it appeared to everyone, including Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who arrived on the scene, stopped and began walking away from the play. Only, somehow Gronkowski managed to 1) not step out of bounds, balancing both his weight and that of his tacklers on one of his size-16 cleats; 2) drop Gomes with a single volcanic knee thrust; and 3) shed Doughty with a hip swivel. Thus, when Hall turned his head a moment later, he saw Gronkowski galloping down the sideline toward the distant end zone. Cue Redskins defensive back Josh Wilson, who sprinted across the field to cut off Gronkowski and, wisely deciding against attempting a straight tackle, kamikazied into the big man's churning legs. The tactic worked, and an off-balance Gronkowski toppled forward. But instead of thudding to the turf, he began a wild extended stagger, gaining another 13 yards before finally going down at the 11-yard line. Talking to reporters after the game, a stunned Wilson compared Gronkowski to a "human gargoyle."



Neil Young is not afraid of failure.

His longtime manager and friend Elliot Roberts describes Young as “always willing to roll the dice and lose” and says: “He has no problem with failure as long as he is doing work he is happy with. Whether it ends up as a win or loss on a consumer level is not as much of an interest to him as one might think.”



A profile from Smithsonian Magazine about the Black Cyclone, Major Taylor. Also, check out Chris Piascik's Major Taylor series.

Yet one of the first sports superstars emerged from this curious and sordid world. Marshall W. Taylor was just a teenager when he turned professional and began winning races on the world stage, and President Theodore Roosevelt became one of his greatest admirers. But it was not Taylor’s youth that cycling fans first noticed when he edged his wheels to the starting line. Nicknamed “the Black Cyclone,” he would burst to fame as the world champion of his sport almost a decade before the African-American heavyweight Jack Johnson won his world title. And as with Johnson, Taylor’s crossing of the color line was not without complication, especially in the United States, where he often had no choice but to ride ahead of his white competitors to avoid being pulled or jostled from his bicycle at high speeds.



A baseball writer tells how the GOP lost Muslim voters, including himself.

It would be easy to say everything changed on 9/11 – because everything did change on 9/11. But 9/11 was a chance for America to show off the better angels of its nature, and as a nation, by and large, we did. A week after the World Trade Center came crashing down, President Bush spoke before both houses of Congress in one of the defining moments of his presidency. He did not disappoint, and while he outlined the need to attack Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, he was scrupulous not to point the finger at Muslims in general. “The terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics, a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam,” he said. And later, “I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It's practiced freely by many millions of Americans, and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah. The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself.”

In the chaos and hysteria that accompanied the immediate aftermath of 9/11, President Bush’s speech was deeply reassuring to American Muslims that whatever the fallout of the attacks would be on our community, the federal government was on our side.

But words were not followed with actions. Quite the contrary; a month later, when the PATRIOT Act was signed into law, Muslims were taken aback by the far-reaching implications. Citizens could have their phones or computers tapped with neither their knowledge nor any recourse. Muslims in Indiana found themselves on the No-Fly List because they had the misfortune of sharing the same name with a terrorist suspect in India - and there was essentially no way to clear their name from the list. Thousands of Muslims, many of whom had lived and worked in America for decades, were arrested on flimsy immigration violations and deported back to their countries of birth.



Profile of the NYPD squad charged with keeping from trying to jump off bridges and buildings.

The Emergency Service Unit is among the most coveted assignments in the Police Department. Officers must have five years of patrol experience before they are eligible for the unit. They must pass an oral interview, a physical agility test and a swim test. Officers who are selected then go through at least six months of training. Rescuing would-be jumpers is only part of their portfolio: They also learn how to properly suppress a fire, extricate an accident victim from a crushed car, rescue people in swift waters and anchor and tie ropes for bridge and building rescues.



Last year's NY Mag look at gay athletes from Will Leitch.

As usual, at the center of the story was TNT analyst Charles Barkley, the iconoclast chatterbox. When asked about the fines, Barkley went off. “I’d rather have a gay guy who can play than a straight guy who can’t play,” he told the Washington Post. “Any professional athlete who gets on TV or radio and says he never played with a gay guy is a stone-freakin’ idiot. I would even say the same thing in college. Every college player, every pro player in any sport has probably played with a gay person … I’ve been a big proponent of gay marriage for a long time, because as a black person, I can’t be in for any form of discrimination at all.” It was a cannon shot: It was one thing for Vogue intern Sean Avery to come out in favor of gay marriage. It was quite another for Charles Barkley, an NBA icon, to do so.



China's cities are amazing, but unlivable.

Even today, most Chinese cities feel like they were cobbled together from a Soviet-era engineering textbook. China's fabled post-Mao liberal reforms meant that the country's cities grew wealthier, but not that much more distinct from each other. Beijing has changed almost beyond recognition since Deng Xiaoping took power in 1978, but to see what Beijing looked like in the past, visit a less developed part of China: Malls in Xian, a regional hub in central China famous for its row upon row of grimacing terracotta warriors, look like the shabby pink structures that used to dot western Beijing. Yes, China's cities are booming, but there's a depressing sameness to what you find in even the newest of new boomtowns. Consider the checklist of "hot" new urban features itemized in a 2007 article in the Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily, including obligatory new "development zones" (sprawling corporate parks set up to attract foreign direct investment), public squares, "villa" developments for the nouveau riche, large overlapping highways, and, of course, a new golf course or two for the bosses. The cookie-cutter approach is such that even someone like Zhou Deci, former director of the Chinese Academy of Urban Planning and Design, told the paper he has difficulty telling Chinese cities apart.



Interview with David Mamet from the Paris Review.

INTERVIEWER So to you a character is . . .

MAMET It’s action, as Aristotle said. That’s all that it is—exactly what the person does. It’s not what they “think,” because we don’t know what they think. It’s not what they say. It’s what they do, what they’re physically trying to accomplish on the stage. Which is exactly the same way we understand a person’s character in life—not by what they say, but by what they do. Say someone came up to you and said, I’m glad to be your neighbor because I’m a very honest man. That’s my character. I’m honest, I like to do things, I’m forthright, I like to be clear about everything, I like to be concise. Well, you really don’t know anything about that guy’s character. Or the person is onstage, and the playwright has him or her make those same claims in several subtle or not-so-subtle ways, the audience will say, Oh yes, I understand their character now; now I understand that they are a character. But in fact you don’t understand anything. You just understand that they’re jabbering to try to convince you of something.



Via Stellar, Twitter, and the always great #longreads Friday email, among other sources long since forgotten.