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In this week’s edition:

  • Interracial persecution in 1960s Michigan
  • The cruelty bred into the chickens we eat
  • How Photo Shuffle helped one man through loss
  • Navigating life not knowing you’re neurodivergent
  • The deep craft in forging a handmade knife

1. In 1967, a Black Man and a White Woman Bought a Home. American Politics Would Never Be the Same.

Zack Stanton | Politico Magazine | December 22, 2023 | 17,959 words

The starting point for this mammoth feature by Zack Stanton is a little-known incident from the summer of 1967: a white mob tried with all their might to drive Carado and Ruby Bailey, an interracial couple, from the suburban Michigan neighborhood where they’d recently bought a new home. Drawing on interviews, public records, and press accounts, Stanton describes the horrors the Baileys and their daughter endured, including a cross burning, racist graffiti, and harassment by vigilante PTA moms who sound a whole lot like the women trying to ban books and marginalize transgender youth in schools today. But that’s not the whole story, or even half of it. In cinematic detail, Stanton shows how the battle over the Baileys’ home reached all the way to Washington, DC, where it might have shaped federal policy for the better if not for profound conservative backlash that instead helped usher in Republicanism as we know it today. I gobbled up this thick slice of forgotten history and was moved by the turn at the end when Stanton lets his sources directly address Ruby, now 95, a widow, and still living in the home she refused to leave. One source “admires your principle in the face of imminent danger,” Stanton writes. Another “wants people to understand that America isn’t simply a story of bad things that have happened; it’s the story of people trying to make things better.” Then there is the neighbor who watched from her window in ’67 and did nothing—today, she is ashamed. “When I asked what she would say to you if given the chance,” Stanton tells Ruby, “she broke down in sobs, a half-century’s worth of pain tumbling out.” —SD

2. The Unending Quest To Build A Better Chicken

Boyce Upholt | Noema | December 19, 2023 | 3,954 words

Last week I roasted a chicken. I’ve eaten chicken probably three times since then. I’m careful about the chicken I buy and cook and eat, and as a one-time vegetarian I like to think that I do so mindfully, but even as I do I harbor a suspicion that something is irrevocably broken. That phrases like “free range” and “heritage breed” and “regenerative practices” add up to very little. Boyce Upholt’s Noema story did nothing to disabuse me of that suspicion, and I mean that as a compliment. The quest he refers to in the headline isn’t one that’s currently underway; it’s something that happened long ago. And while we certainly need “better” in the way we raise and slaughter animals for consumption—sorry, fellow meat-eaters, but there’s no use for euphemisms here—”better” here is meant in an industrial sense. It means bigger. Much bigger. So much bigger that decades of exhaustive and meticulous cross-breeding have led to a domesticated chicken that is virtually unable to live on its own. PETA videos exposing factory-farming practices are all well and good, but as Upholt writes, the true atrocity lies well upstream: “The cruelty, in other words, is inscribed at the genetic level.” He’s not trying to guilt you about eating meat; he does so himself. (Besides, as he lays out ably, there’s not really a viable solution to the current situation.) Rather, by tracing the arc of the chicken from its initial domestication to its current fate, and by doing so with an engagingly nonjudgmental writing voice, he’s just making sure you know exactly what’s happened. Winner, winner, thought-provoking dinner. —PR

3. A Second Life for My Beloved Dog

Charlie Warzel | The Atlantic | January 5, 2024 | 1,500 words

I am the sort of person who, when watching a disaster film, will anxiously ask: “But, is their dog alright?” So—normally—I avoid any story where the dog might not, in fact, be OK. However, I conquered my fear to tackle Charlie Warzel’s essay about the death of his dog, Peggy (also the name of my dog, for extra potential trauma), and was rewarded with a beautiful, heartwarming piece. As any pet owner knows, the arrival of an animal means clogging your phone with endless photos: The pet sleeping. The pet playing. More sleeping. Charlie Warzel’s iPhone camera roll was no exception, and two-thirds of the way through 2015, it became “infused with a new vitality.” Peggy had arrived. When the time then comes for her to leave, Warzel descriptions of his grief are powerful. To remember Peggy, he tries Photo Shuffle on his phone, a feature that automatically changes the wallpaper to different photos from the camera roll. Setting a parameter to “Pets,” Peggy became his wallpaper star. Photo Shuffle is undiscerning—it may choose an Instagram-worthy shot but is just as likely to pull from the reams of outtakes, offering “chaotic, blurred streaks of fur and tongues.” The dynamic shots. The real ones. As Warzel explains, “Grief is not linear, and neither is Photo Shuffle.” Every day he remembers a different trip with Peggy, or just an “ordinary Wednesday.” In this way, his phone, instead of a constant distraction, becomes a source of reflection and a teacher in grieving. Reading this lovely little essay, I realized that sometimes the dog dies—and that is OK. —CW

4. Flight Risk

Emily Stoddard | The Kenyon Review | January 8, 2024 | 5,463 words

As a child, Emily Stoddard was called gifted, the “most invisible curse you can a put on a child who already feels she does not belong.” For The Kenyon Review, Stoddard reflects on what it was like to navigate life before an ADHD diagnosis in her mid-30s, and how challenging it can be to have conversations, to work, to walk down the street in her shoes. In some of my favorite parts of this piece, her artful and intentional prose mimics the constant chatter of a feverish mind; she also uses third-person perspective to detach from her own self, stepping outside of her body in times when she’s felt it’s all been too much. This is a deeply personal piece about being (and not knowing) you’re neurodivergent—the need to always mask, the feeling that it’s all in your head, the “at-times maddening, at-times inspired” way your interior motor never stops. —CLR

5. A Knife Forged in Fire

Laurence Gonzales | Chicago Magazine | January 9, 2024 | 6,814 words

“What makes a good knife?” In trying to answer what appears to be a simple question, former chef Sam Goldbroch was “swallowed up into the mysteries of metal and fire and force” in becoming a bladesmith in Skokie, Illinois. In this gorgeous profile for Chicago Magazine, writer Laurence Gonzales commissions a knife from Goldbroch and invites us to shadow the master at work. Gonzales does what few writers can; he uses keen observation to recast an industrial space into a place of magical transformations. Read this piece and see the tangerine flame. Hear the forge roar, feel its heat, and revel in the alchemy of your tiny 6,000-word bladesmith apprenticeship. “A cloud of smoke rose to the ceiling, and a searing sound filled the room like a basket of snakes. ‘This is the moment of truth,’ Sam said, holding the tongs and looking away from the smoke. ‘This is when it becomes a knife.’” You’ll enjoy the science and history rendered in detailed scene work, but the most beautiful thing about this story is that it celebrates and exemplifies dedicated craft—in forging handmade knives and in revealing the extraordinary in the ordinary. —KS

Audience Award

Here’s the piece our readers dug the most this week:

‘Badass Detective’: How One California Officer Solved Eight Cold Cases—in His Spare Time

Scott Ostler | San Francisco Chronicle | December 27, 2023 | 3,611 words

Given its subject matter on unsolved murders, I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call this a “feel-good” story. But Scott Ostler’s profile on Matt Hutchinson, a curious and determined Bay Area detective with a knack for solving decades-long cold cases in his free time, is a great read. In the seven years Hutchinson has been part of the robbery-homicide unit at the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety, he has solved eight cold cases—six homicides and two sexual assaults. Thinking out of the box, and also using today’s DNA testing and crime-solving tools, “[h]e has solved more cold cases in three years than any single detective in the last 15,” and in the process has helped to bring peace and closure to some of the victims’ surviving family members. Not bad for someone off the clock.  —CLR