A weekly newsletter for Pacific Standard Premium members.
Your Five Essential Reads
A rundown of five of our most important and timely stories from the past week.
- After another tragic school shooting—this time in Santa Fe, Texas—contributing writer Jared Keller argues that it's time for us to stop treating each of these tragedies as an isolated incident because it's giving these shooters—and the toxic communities they stem from, exactly what they want. Keller's story is one of many that we have written that dissect the canard of the "lone wolf" shooter, and advocate for meaningful action to ameliorate the hateful conditions that allow these shootings to occur again and again. Read Keller's story here.
- Staff writer Kate Wheeling traveled to Peru to meet Australian plant ecologist Brenton Ladd in her story, "The Great, Chaotic Biochar Experiment." Ladd wants to re-engineer the notoriously nutrient-poor soils in the Amazon and, in the process, save the world's trees. But first, he has to convince farmers that he's not just another crazy gringo with a bad idea. Read the story here.
- Last Sunday, the controversial president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, was re-elected in a process that many in the international community have condemned as undemocratic. In recent years, the country has been stricken by the collapse of oil prices, harsh international sanctions, spiraling inflation, and a hunger crisis that has instigated the largest migration of people in Latin American history. Lost in the geopolitical maneuvering around Maduro's future is the suffering of the Venezuelan people. Chris Feliciano Arnold tackles the question of what's next for the Venezuelan people under Maduro's rule. Read the story here.
- Do unstable medicaid programs affect people's political engagement? According to Cornell University professor Jamila Michener the answer is yes. Contributing writer Dwyer Gunn spoke with Michener about her new book on the subject of how state-level decisions around the program can politically empower or disempower beneficiaries, and what the waivers granted by the Trump administration mean for the political engagement of the most marginalized Americans. Read the full interview here.
- As a part of our New Landscapes series, which investigates how environmental policies are affecting communities across America, contributor Sophie Yeo looks at the troubling reality that many Americans on the coastline are ignoring a serious threat. As a result of climate change storms and flooding are increasing in frequency and severity along both coasts, and as long as people keep buying homes in these vulnerable locations we are risking another housing crash. Read the story here.
Early Access to Online Features
These stories from our June/July print issue, "Awakening the Grizzly," are available online early exclusively for PS Premium members.
First: In "The Endling," Ben Goldfarb writes from the frontlines of extinction in the Gulf of California, where a bashful species of porpoise known at the vaquita faces its final days. At just five feet long, vaquitas are the world's smallest cetaceans, the order that includes whales, dolphins, and porpoises. Read Goldfarb's feature story here.
And: Katherine Laidlaw reveals how law enforcement's efforts to curb the illegal trafficking of wildlife in her story "How Canadian Cops Ended a Decade-Long Fight to Manage the World's Polar Bears," which unpacks some of the difficulties of prosecuting poaching and trafficking of animal products due to the often transnational nature of these crimes. Read Laidlaw's full story here.
Plus: There are two museums in the country of Georgia that both document the life of former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. That's where the similarities end, however, as the two sites offer vastly different renderings of the tyrant's life and legacy. Zack Colman investigates how one society arriving at such diametrically opposed visions of its own history is a contradiction seen in more places than just Georgia. Read Colman's story here.
Introducing Our Short-Form News Editor
Recently, our editorial leadership decided to expand and deepen our coverage of timely news events. In order to accomplish this goal, we needed to bring on a new staffer whose primary focus would be to further develop our news offerings. Here, that staffer, Rebecca Worby, outlines her vision for the future of short-form news coverage at Pacific Standard.
Here at Pacific Standard, we pride ourselves on producing thoughtful coverage of society's biggest problems, and that takes time. But when big news breaks in our areas of coverage, we want to inform and provide perspective on the events that are shaping our times—and that's where I come in. As the new short-form news editor, it is my job to oversee and expand our short-form Web coverage. We've been covering timely news stories in the past—in various ways—but I'm working with our team of staff writers and contributors to expand and deepen our coverage of new developments and updates on key issues like criminal justice reform, workers' rights, and climate change.
So what does that look like? Sometimes it's one of the quick news posts that we've done with increasing frequency over the past few months, or perhaps it involves having a conversation with an expert on foreign policy, Medicaid, or net neutrality. Other times we will highlight key facts, collect reactions, or break down the findings of a new study. We're also continuing to experiment with photo essays to add color and context to complicated news stories.
In the months ahead, our Web team will continue to work and dream up new, varied, and interesting ways to bring Pacific Standard's public-interest mission to the news conversation. We know you'll keep coming to our website for our great features, but I'm hoping PSmag.com will become one of your go-to stops for news that matters too.
—Rebecca Worby, Associate Editor
Since We Last Spoke: Depo-Provera Pros
Updates to stories from the Pacific Standard archive.
A recent study in Global Health: Science and Practice offers more evidence of the benefits of Depo-Provera, an injectable hormonal contraception that's sometimes the only method of birth control available to underfunded clinics in sub-Saharan Africa. The research team created a model wherein the injection was pulled from Burkina Faso, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Senegal, South Africa, Malawi, Tanzania, and Uganda. They found that making Depo-Provera unavailable to women in those countries would significantly lower their life expectancies, as the chances of dying from childbirth would go up without the contraception.
But Depo-Provera use is not without risk. As Kathryn Joyce reported for Pacific Standard’s August/September 2017 issue, there's evidence that the injection may increase women's chances of contracting HIV, and women in poorly run clinics may not be told clearly what risks they face.
PS Picks is a selection of the best things that the magazine's staff and contributors are reading, watching, or otherwise paying attention to in the worlds of art, politics, and culture.
Liz Phair's Girly Sound Mixtapes: In 1991, Liz Phair was fresh out of Oberlin College and living with her parents in suburban Chicago when she recorded three cassettes of bedroom four-track tapes under the tongue-in-cheek moniker Girly Sound. Over 40-something songs, Phair spun candid tales of desire and wry send-ups of masculinity alongside strummy acoustic guitar and self harmonizations. The tapes got her signed to the now-legendary indie label Matador, where she released Exile in Guyville, her far more polished debut album. Though incomplete, degraded bootlegs floated around for decades, but they were difficult to access until this month, when Matador released The Girly-Sound Tapes as a three disc album to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Exile's release.
Exile rocketed Phair to Gen-X indie rock stardom, a critical and commercial success she was never able to replicate. Though its improved production values and increased instrumentation are essential to its lasting appeal, the album's brilliance comes from Phair's songwriting—her wit, frankness, and melodic flair. Much of that songwriting was pilfered from her Girly Sound material: More than half of the songs on Exile are adapted from those bedroom demos. Phair continued to raid these demo cassettes for songs on her next two albums, before sexist major label marketing, the unrealistic expectations of fame, and questionable artistic decisions dried up her output. "I go in there and rip stuff off—it's like a library," she told Rolling Stone in the 1990s. Since Phair's most beloved albums are something of a palimpsest of those bedroom demos, the tapes became an essential part of her origin myth among fans. And, while sprawling, they are a joy to sift through, repeatedly yielding melted down, all-too-human versions of the songs that earned Phair her fans.
Part of the appeal of The Girly-Sound Tapes is the thrill of the uncanny, of encountering a refracted version of the familiar—the Ur-forms of the shadows on Exile in Guyville's cave walls. But it's also hard not to cherish them as a prelapsarian window into the mind and maw of a brilliant 23-year-old, still untainted by the starmaker machine, by the press, and by us. The tapes perfectly present the dramatic irony of that tragedy. And for a loving listener: starting is such sweet sorrow.
—Jack Denton, Editorial Assistant
PS in the News
A look at where our stories and staff surface in the national conversation.
- Senior staff writer Tom Jacobs' write-up of a recent analysis that suggests President Donald Trump is potentially shrinking the Republican Party was included in a Washington Post happy hour round-up.
- California Sun placed staff writerKate Wheeling's piece about how California's oil production undercuts its environmental standing at the top of its daily newsletter.
- Contributing writer Sophie Yeo's story about how we can protect rare manuscripts and books from climate change appeared at the top of Lit Hub Weekly.
- Longreads shared writer Terese Marie Mailhot's stirring personal essay on the personal cost of speaking out against racism.
- Political candidates Katie Porter of Orange County, California, and Megan Hunt of Omaha, Nebraska, shared contributing writer Natalie Pattillo's piece about the rise of single mothers running for political office in the upcoming mid-term elections.
- Government has caused so much damage to this country. Instead of changing laws that incarcerated people for victimless crimes such as cannabis, they want to rearrange a broken system and call it fixed. Protecting the investors is paramount. —Cindy Kagan
- Working really really hard there to pretend misogyny isn't the key element. —Robin Abrahams
- Yeah, you guys missed the boat on this one. 4chan is where it started, but it's not why it started. Other commenter is right: It's misogyny and the persistent lies to young men that they will get sex if they are "nice guys" (you also focused too much on gentlemen and missed the nice guys entirely). Generally, it's pretty obvious that this is a shallow piece with little actual information about incels written by someone who hasn't even come close to setting foot in this world. I mean, have you ever even seen 9gag? —Jennifer Adams Seeley
- Hanif, you are an amazing writer. I have been trying to grapple with this news, feeling pretty hopeless. Reading your article felt like catharsis. Thank you. Scott is dearly missed. —Catherine Asmus
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