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When I met Tom Haines for coffee on a chilly January afternoon, he had snagged an ideal spot near the cafe’s small fireplace. The journalism professor at the University of New Hampshire, and long-time staff writer for newspapers like the Seattle Times and Boston Globe, was still reeling from the release of his new book Walking to the Sun, a deeply researched and personal account of his hikes across America’s key energy landscapes. Following more than a decade of overseas reporting, in 40 countries across five continents, Haines trained his wandering gaze back home, walking beside oil rigs in South Dakota, solar fields in the Mojave Desert, and sunken turbines off the coast of Maine. The idea occurred to him while overseeing the installation of a new home gas furnace, an experience that revealed how little he knew about the pipes that traveled up from his basement and plugged into to the broader energy apparatus that kept his family warm, their devices charged, cars running. Within minutes of joining Haines beside the fire, he made the same connection to our tiny gas-powered hearth. Walking aims to close a crucial gap that still plagues the environmental movement — that even as concerns about global warming take greater precedence, we too often overlook the demand curve of our own energy consumption. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

MK: Can you talk a bit about what drew you to this subject, apart from that fateful day in your basement?

TH: I think a big part was my experience over the past 15 years, reporting on the ground in different parts of the world, and most significantly, in developing regions like Africa or Asia. There, I would basically be outside the industrial infrastructure in which we live. For example, I spent a week in a little village in Ethiopia writing about drought. I met farmers who worked the land, burned charcoal fires, walked for their water. Then, I would get in a steel tube and fly through Frankfurt and come back to Boston and drive home up I-95. I think all the shuttling back and forth between those two worlds primed me for exploring this subject without even knowing it.

I had already been thinking about our relationship with nature as a species, and the extent to which our industrial world is out of scale with the planet. As the climate debate continued to mount, energy became an appealing beat to stake out as a journalist, and was one that also helped me personally address a sense of helplessness or inability to even comprehend the problem.

MK: What about this immersive, on-the-ground approach did you find so empowering?

TH: I’ve always been drawn to reporting about place. I like to go where things are happening, so when I came to energy, and saw the millions of important stories about the latest science or economic findings, I knew I wanted to explore the place of it. My ancestors on my mom’s side of the family actually came from Welsh coal country to the anthracite coal fields of Pennsylvania. So at the beginning when I was thinking about going to the source, I thought about going there to start. I kayaked down the Lehigh River and went to these old coal towns where my family was from. I never wrote a word about it, but it confirmed that there was a cool story to tell about place in terms of energy, and it confirmed that I have to write the story of now versus then.

Eventually, I took inspiration in journalistic books that followed a similarly granular, going-to-the-source approach. The Places In Between, by Rory Stewart, in which he walked across Afghanistan during the war. Ted Conover did a book called Coyotes in which he traveled with migrants as a way to write about immigration. Peter Hessler did a trilogy out of China called Country Driving and the narrative thread comprises his road trips through the country. Those were examples of a way of moving through place and talking about a bigger issue, instead of it being like a travelogue.

I also think I was working in the spirit of writers like Rachel Carson, books like Silent Spring that take a close look at the natural world as a way to understand ourselves and sound an alarm about the impact of human behavior. When I made my first camp in coal country, I wrote about the voles and the meadowlarks, the beautiful grasslands. I wanted to put the reader there, because it was so powerful to see that it’s still a natural place. Part of the problem is that we too often think of these places as just resources of fuel, something like Hunger Games District 12, the place where we get our coal. I thought there was a lesson in engaging more deeply with place.

The experience was often overwhelming, but also completely empowering — to reclaim that more original relationship with nature. It was exciting to be on the ground, exposed and vulnerable, feeling alive, sleeping in a tent on a prairie and thinking about myself as an animal.

MK: Along the way, you visit parts of the country that have long viewed land as primarily an economic resource. Are concerns about global warming compatible with this worldview?

TH: It really depended on where you were, and I saw a bit of everything. New York has a long history of natural gas drilling by conventional methods. But the rise of fracking sparked a debate between neighbors about whether it would help or ruin the place. It was interesting to observe how, as a species, we’re all over the map, trying to figure out how to move forward. Maybe it was because I was walking, and sort of vulnerable and isolated, but I never found myself in politically charged situations or moments where someone would say “You East Coast liberal! No wonder you’re out here!”

It was hopeful to find that the extent to which people defended the status quo of fossil fuels was because it was the thing that enabled them to make it all work financially. A great example is Texas, where I lived for seven years. Although it is a fossil fuel state, dominated by oil and gas, it’s also now the biggest developer of wind energy due to local economic incentives. At peak times, wind now powers up to 48 percent of the Texas grid. As a cultural thing, it feels like if it could happen there, it could happen anywhere.

MK: What were some changes that surprised you over the five years of writing the book?

TH: One thing was the high level of journalism being produced, the way major news organizations have built out climate teams and put these stories front and center without holding any punches. If there is a social revolution that has to occur, that’s really heartening. But of course the bigger shift has been in the political realm. Back when I was walking through the Powder River Basin, which supplies about 40% of the country’s coal, President Obama’s Secretary of the Interior had instituted a moratorium on all federal coal from that area, a small step in finally putting our land policies in accordance with our climate policies. One of the first acts of Trump’s presidency was to roll that back. So as part of what I was learning through the book project gave more reason for hope, the political landscape was getting less hopeful.

I don’t know how history will remember this bizarro time. It was 2019 and the current administration was doing lease auctions for drilling across the American West faster than companies could bid. They’ve opened up so much land, the industry can’t take it all. But this is also a point at which to hold progressives to account. In reality, that mindset is what makes our lives so comfortable. If they weren’t out there doing this dirty work, we’d have to pay more, and sacrifice conveniences we take for granted. It’s so intertwined.

Ten years ago, if someone had asked me if it would be beautiful to look out over the plains and see 500 wind towers as far as the eye could see, I would say no way. It would almost seem like a kind of failure, or a blight. But now, feeling the way I do about the urgency of the problem, we’re in the land of compromise. There’s no perfect solution anymore. So I look out there, and I think it’s at least a more honest representation. You can literally see how much we need to power ourselves.

MK: Do you feel like the broader culture is getting more or less insulated?

TH: In some ways, I think both. My kids are teenagers in high school, and I think they are more insulated literally, through phones and the creature comforts of industrial life. Cars are bigger and have heated seats. Everything is just more and more dialed in. But their generation is being educated about the situation, so in some ways they have more of an awareness of the vulnerability of that insulation. I think for previous generations, the insulation was not yet as strong but it was somehow more effective, because we either weren’t aware of the damage or costs, or at least there wasn’t a discussion of it.

In the book, I wanted to be fair to myself about the fact that we’re all the cause of this problem. It’s like the guys I met in the Bakken oil fields, who were replacing the casing of an oil well, talking about how that fuel is in our shoes and powers our airplanes. That is how deep we are. The incident with my basement furnace wasn’t just a device. There I was, an environmentalist, or a naturalist, and I was literally writing a check to connect more deeply into the system. Is it reasonable that I could live without any kind of fossil fuels? No, you can’t, because you live in this industrialized world, but we’re being told collectively that’s what we’ve got to stop doing.

MK: Now that you’ve returned to the modern world, do you have any recommendations on how folks can work towards that renewed compact with nature?

TH: Something anyone can do, which I found powerful for this book and might sound cheesy, is go for a walk. Get outside and feel our connection to the place, because I think that instills a kind of obligation, or responsibility. If we just tune out and live in our insulated worlds, we cede any responsibility we have as animals on the planet, which is what we are.

For someone who is already engaged, keep reading both the good and bad news stories. Learn more about both problems and solutions. Part of the reason my book dealt with industrial scale efforts as opposed to rooftop solar on someone’s house, which is also important, is that to my mind the only real hope is to achieve some kind of systemic change. We as a society have to prioritize that change, and that only happens if enough people know about it and care about it and do something about it. We can’t allow ourselves to become numb or overwhelmed.

Images illustrated by Barbara Chernyavsky.

Matthew King is a writer, editor, and teacher. His essays and reportage on subjects ranging from post-apocalyptic art to digital prayer aids have appeared in The AtlanticPacific StandardBoston Review, and elsewhere.

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Last year, legislators in Florida passed a historic though seemingly banal bill, mandating what many might assume is already the status quo: that counties in the state uniformly collect data related to criminal justice and share it with the public. Reformers across the United States, including the nonprofit Measures for Justice, which helped draft the legislation, rejoiced in its passage. Although collecting and sharing data related to the criminal justice system might seem commonsensical, it’s far from standard. The 3,142 counties which handle most criminal justice matters in the United States each do so in their own independent way. Not only does this mean that it’s nearly impossible to understand what’s happening on a macro level, but it’s exceedingly difficult to understand where and how the system is failing. For reformers, this means that the causes or consequences of systemic issues, like racism or classism, are unnecessarily obscured, preventing effective interventions. It also means that, whether intentionally or not, the reality of the criminal justice system is kept from the public. Measures for Justice hopes policies like the one passed in Florida will dispel the fog around the criminal justice system. Standardized data collection will make accurately analyzing and comparatively studying different municipalities possible, revealing both best practices and shortcomings. Publicizing the same information will not only better inform reformers but empower the public too. Justice will be blind no more. I recently spoke with Amy Bach, executive director of Measures for Justice, about the current state of the US criminal justice system, how her organization hopes to change it, and why that work is necessary. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

More… “Greater Justice through Statistics”

Arvind Dilawar is an independent journalist. His articles, interviews, and essays on everything from the spacesuits of the future to love in the time of visas have appeared in NewsweekThe GuardianVice, and elsewhere

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Hey. Remember that stationary store in your hometown? The one located at the top of the hill on the main drag? It had been around for three generations. You used to go there with your dad on Sunday mornings to pick up the newspapers. If he was in a generous mood he’d get you some gum or a candy bar. Maybe even a comic book. Try to remember the shape of the store. Where was the cash register? What weird things were on sale in the back? No matter, it’s all gone now. Been out of business for years, replaced by chain stores and the internet. Nobody wants mom and pop stationary stores anymore.

That melancholic tone, reminiscing through hazy, unreliable memories about objects and places that have vanished or are swiftly leaving the public consciousness is a central motif in the work of the Canadian cartoonist known as Seth (real name Gregory Gallant), and one that is central in his latest book, Clyde Fans by Seth. More… “Making Change”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal . . . and this site. He is one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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I park my scooter and enter the office of the collective taxi station at Pointe Simon. The smiling black receptionist with the straight hairdo and metropolitan French accent tells me, politely but insistently, that she prefers I actually meet with one of the social workers before being issued the application form. She gives me a number, and I take a seat — among the host of black single mothers.

Interminably, I wait for my number to come up on the screen above. At first, I calculate that I can safely absent myself for 30 minutes, given the delay between numbers called and my own 124.  But the numbers seem to jump erratically — in no time at all, 125 flashes across the screen. There is nothing to do but eavesdrop on the two women speaking Creole behind me. They are in agreement about the bad behavior of some nine-year-old kid — “he’s almost ten already, he should know better.” Complaining — be it in the tongue of Molière or the abbreviations of Creole – is de rigueur in the Antilles.

Thus, have I entered one of the sacrosanct institutions of the French overseas departments: the Caisse d’Allocations Familiales, familiarly known as the CAF, part of the ubiquitous welfare system of la République. Just for having children, the French state gives you money. My children are French; we are entitled to apply. But even to pick up an application form, you need to wait 45 minutes.

Never mind that I am not French. In the overseas departments, unlike in metropolitan France, the man is automatically, officially, the head of the family. Even though it is my wife who is French (and Martinican), and it is she whose bank account will be fattened by the child payments, I, the man, must apply as head of household.  “Oh, there are many differences with France,” the social worker explains to me. “It is 7,000 kilometers away.” More… “American Welfare Dad in the French Antilles”

William F.S. Miles is a professor of political science at Northeastern University and an affiliate of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at Brown University. His Elections and Ethnicity in French Martinique was published in France as Paradoxe au Paradis: de la Politique à la Martinique. A specialist on former French colonies in the developing world, Professor Miles has also published books on Niger (Hausaland Divided), Pondichéry (Imperial Burdens), and Vanuatu (Bridging Mental Boundaries). His articles on the French West Indies have appeared in French Politics, Culture & Society; Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs; Caribbean Studies; New West Indian Guide; Anthropology; and Nations and Nationalism. Recipient of four Fulbright fellowships, Miles has held appointments with l’Université de Maurice and l’Université des Antilles-Guyane. His travel writing has appeared in The Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, WorldView, The Antioch Review, Transition, and Contemporary Review.

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There’s nothing to indicate that this evening’s 20-minute amble to the Trinity Church Cemetery and Mausoleum will end differently. We take to the block like another of our twilight strolls. Down 150th, greeting neighbors and their dogs. Up Broadway, passing the flower shop, Taqueria San Pedro, a bodega that smells inexorably of frying bacon. Along 153rd, the cemetery to our left walled off by gothic concrete and iron-slat gates. And back down Amsterdam, the litter of Styrofoam, plastic bags, empties, trees clotted by discarded wrappers and shit, except for the church by 152nd whose constituents are invariably kind and welcoming and who make a concerted effort to maintain their area.

Rosetta does quick piss-upons, mawkish marks her spot, seeming almost sad or ashamed to be asserting her presence. She sniffs at noisome interests. She raises her hackles at unassuming brothers and sisters.

It could’ve been anything, really. It could’ve been a cat in the road. It could’ve been miscommunicated direction. It could’ve been my fault. It could’ve been my finest hour. More… “The Canon of Guilt”

Brian Birnbaum grew up just outside Baltimore. An MFA graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, his work has been published or is forthcoming in The Collagist, Atticus Review, 3AM Magazine, and more. Brian is a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA) working in development for the family communications access business. He lives in Harlem with MK Rainey and their dog.

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We almost always assume that a writer is most influenced by other writers. They’ve read piles of books, they’ve decided that their skills best synch up with what a given number of other authors were doing, and they take a bit here, take a bit there, mix that in with their own sensibilities, and voila, a style is born.

I’ve always found this a slipshod way to go, in part because I don’t believe a great author ever has a single style. It’s one reason I rate Hemingway as at best mediocre, and often quite terrible, like the authorial version of some droning, one-note song that can’t leave its initial starting key or augment what it is doing with additional chords.

You should know, when you read a great author’s work, that it could only be by them, usually within the space of a single paragraph, even a clause. They have a way of inhabiting worlds and characters, while possessing reams of that most overlooked of all literary qualities: energy. Their energy will be unique, and it will animate their characters, and their narrative, in unique ways. More… “Writing with a Brush”

Colin Fleming’s fiction appears in Harper’s, Commentary, Virginia Quarterly Review, AGNI, and Boulevard, with other work running in The Atlantic, Salon, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and JazzTimes. He is a regular guest on NPR’s Weekend Edition and Downtown with Rich Kimball, in addition to various radio programs and podcasts. His last book was The Anglerfish Comedy Troupe: Stories from the Abyss, and he has two books forthcoming in 2018: Buried on the Beaches: Cape Stories for Hooked Hearts and Driftwood Souls, and a volume examining the 1951 movie Scrooge as a horror film for the ages. Find him on the web at colinfleminglit.com.

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For a lot of people, the line between red and blue is a bit fuzzier in real life than it is on Twitter. For me, this is true even though I’m firmly on the side of le resistance. I think it’s because there are some threads woven into my own biography that keep tying the two sides together, in spite of all the enmity. Maybe, I just have an odd intellectual history, but I wonder if others share something like the story I’m about to tell. I hope it’s not a story that ends up in one of those both-sides, can’t-we-get-along, dead-end morality clause cul-de-sacs. I hope my thinking isn’t as lazy as that. But the threads the story traces are definitely the common ones, and I’m going to take the risk of equivocation in order to follow the story to a conclusion that’s a little more complicated (and a lot less satisfying) than “blue is right, red is wrong.” More… “Red Pill, Blue Pill”

Adam Smith is Assistant Professor of Political Philosophy and Director of the Honors Program at the University of Dubuque.

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Awaking aboard the International Space Station, astronauts must dress for a long day of research, maintenance, exercise, and other tasks. They don their “icon shirts,” custom-tailored garments with interchangeable “swatches.” Some swatches allow them to map their positions within the ISS, allow them to communicate with ground control, and others record and transmit their vital signs. After fixing the swatches appropriate for the day’s agenda to their icon shirts, the astronauts are prepared for work onboard the space station. Of course, when they venture outside of the ISS for experiments or repairs, they must also wear special equipment, like a spacesuit and a “personal warning harness,” which alerts them to any danger of being struck by stray debris.

As innovative as that wardrobe sounds, it’s far from the current reality. Aboard the ISS, crew members typically wear polos and cargo pants. In space, they wear suits similar to the ones worn by their predecessors in the 1960s.

But NASA has been trying to upgrade its astronauts’ wardrobes — particularly through collaboration with designers and researchers. Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman, one such collaborator, is a professor of industrial and fashion design at the Pratt Institute, where her students worked on prototypes for NASA, sewing and soldering their ideas for what astronauts’ clothes should be. We spoke about the challenges they faced, as well as their proposed solutions. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity. More… “Dressing for Success . . . in Space”

Arvind Dilawar is an independent journalist. His articles, interviews, and essays on everything from the spacesuits of the future to love in the time of visas have appeared in NewsweekThe GuardianVice, and elsewhere

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In high school, we swooned to boy bands and carried quarters so we could “arrive alive” after a teenage drinking binge. In middle school, we walked straight to airport gates to greet our grandparents as they tumbled off flights, rumpled in button-down shirts and pantyhose. And in elementary school, we read piles of books to earn personal pan pizzas from Pizza Hut and people told us we were special.

And we were special. As the high school graduating class of 1999, early on in our academic careers, administrators, teachers, and parents lauded us with the exclusive title of “last class of the century.”

Throughout our elementary, middle, and high school years, we got by on microwavable meals and believed our brains could look like fried eggs — any questions? — but we partied like it was 1999 anyway. On the brink of Y2K, my graduating class of 374 gathered on a warm evening in late May to fulfill our legacy. We were a large class crammed into a small gymnasium in West Central Wisconsin, our family members packed onto the bleachers after months of trading and haggling for coveted graduation tickets.

As one of 17 valedictorians in my class (yes, you read that right), I’d talked my way into what I considered to be the desired final speaking position. I wanted the proverbial final word—and it wasn’t about friendships or memories, thankfulness or nostalgia. What I had to offer was a simple piece of advice: “Wear sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience . . . I will dispense this advice now.”

That’s right. The class of 1999 was also the recipient of the spoken word piece, “Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen),” released by Baz Luhrmann in 1998 based off of music from the film Romeo + Juliet and an essay written by columnist Mary Schmich that was published in the Chicago Tribune in 1997. Though Schmich’s essay (and Luhrmann’s original rendition of the song) addressed the class of 1997, it was the single released in 1999 with its salutation addressed to “ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’99” that implanted in our minds after playing the song endlessly on our Discmans. More… “Trust Me on the Sunscreen”

JoAnna Haugen is a writer and editor working at the intersection of ethical travel, wildlife conservation, environmental preservation, community-based development, and cultural exchange. Her writing has been published in more than 60 print and online publications.

 

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It’s time to take Kpop seriously. Every pop culture form reaches a point where the product attains sufficient depth and complexity to merit serious critical attention, as opposed to sociological analysis or entertainment business history chronicling. For western pop, that moment came in 1967, with the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. For Kpop, that time is now. This is Kpop’s Sgt. Pepper moment.

To understand this moment, we need first to consider Kpop’s genesis and growth. Kpop has its origins in the processes that have transformed South Korea in the past two decades. Without the liberalization of Korean society at the end of the 20th century, Kpop would never have come into being. The military government that fell in 1987 had repressed rock and folk musicians as part of a larger policy of maintaining socially conservative norms. As the government democratized, so the media became open to a wider range of voices and styles. As part of this opening, the 11th April, 1992 saw one of the talent shows that were and still are a mainstay of television in Korea broadcast an act that broke with the hitherto dominant ballads and nightclub standards; Seo Taiji and the Boys drew on New Jack Swing and hip-hop in their performance of “Nan Arayo”. Kpop was born that evening. The show’s judges gave “Nan Arayo” the lowest score of the show, older viewers were bemused, but an enraptured younger audience, thrilled by both the new sound and the accompanying dance moves, rushed out the following day to buy “Nan Arayo” and kept it at the top of the charts for four months. More… “Kpop”

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