Longform’s Top 10 of 2012
Dharun Ravi, Andy Capp, and the debate over gun laws.
American Vespers: The Ebbing of the Body Politic
Earl Shorris • Harper’s
A writer considers America as he dies.
“Death is the moment when evening passes into night. I know. There is no surprise, and it often comes after a long sickness that is worse than death. When I died, I died of many things: the failing systems; the weakening of age; the exhaustion of the long war against dying. Finally, I succumbed to the lack of ethics in a California hospital, killed by filth and neglect.
“I have wished for many years to be a physician to my beloved country. The means to care for it is clear. I was revived by love and ethics. And I am not unique: no man, no woman is a metaphor; that is the place of gods. I do not know who will take America in their arms to revive her.
“No nation is forever.”
Jill Lepore • The New Yorker
The insanity of U.S. gun law.
“In 2002, Keene’s son David Michael Keene was driving on the George Washington Memorial Parkway when, in a road-rage incident, he fired a handgun at another motorist. He was sentenced to ten years in prison for ‘using, brandishing, and discharging a firearm in a crime of violence.’ I asked Keene if this private tragedy had left him uncertain about what the N.R.A. had wrought. He said no: ‘You break the law, you pay the price.’
I asked Keene if any public atrocity had given him pause. He explained that it is the N.R.A.’s policy never to comment on a shooting.
I asked him how he would answer critics who charge that no single organization has done more to weaken Americans’ faith in government, or in one another, than the N.R.A.
“ ‘We live in a society now that’s Balkanized,’ Keene said. ‘But that has nothing to do with guns.’ ”
Cigarettes and Alcohol: Andy Capp
Paul Slade • PlanetSlade
An appreciation, defense, and study of Reg Smythe, the “greatest British newspaper strip cartoonist of the 20th Century."
“For me, then, the real comparison is between Andy Capp and Charles Schulz’s Peanuts.
“Peanuts ended with Schulz’s death in 2000, by which time he’d produced close to 18,000 Peanuts strips over a fifty-year span, but has continued in reruns ever since. (9)
“Schulz, like Smythe, wrote and drew every line of his strip personally, and continued doing so for over four decades without ever letting the standard drop. Both men struck out in bravely original directions with their chosen strips, Schulz by reflecting 1950s America’s growing obsession with psycho-analysis, and Smythe by offering a brutal kitchen-sink realism many years before British film or television plucked up the courage to do so.
“Peanuts beats Andy on any measure you care to take, whether that be creator’s tenure, syndication reach, total readership, merchandising income, international sales or adaptions in other media. But the truly remarkable thing is that Smythe holds his place in that league at all. Even without the cuddly firepower of Snoopy, Woodstock and the rest to exploit in the mass market, he took Andy to the very top of this hugely-competitive tree, and maintained his place there alongside Schulz for over 40 years. Achieving that level of success with a foreign strip in the vast American market makes him even more remarkable.
“And so–I repeat–why don’t we treat him that way?”
An Empire Built Abroad
Charles Duhigg, Keith Bradsher • New York Times
How the U.S. lost out on iPhone work.
“Not long ago, Apple boasted that its products were made in America. Today, few are. Almost all of the 70 million iPhones, 30 million iPads and 59 million other products Apple sold last year were manufactured overseas.
“ ‘Why can’t that work come home? Mr. Obama asked.
“Mr. Jobs’s reply was unambiguous. ‘Those jobs aren’t coming back,’ he said, according to another dinner guest.”
The Truck Stop Killer
Vanessa Veselka • GQ
As a 15-year-old runaway hitchhiker, a trucker nearly killed the writer. Twenty seven years later, she investigates whether her attacker was truck stop serial killer Robert Ben Rhoades, who often kept his victims chained in the back of his truck for weeks before killing and dumping them.
“That ride turned out to be fine. We drove up to Ohio drinking Diet Coke and listening to Bruce Springsteen. The trucker bought me lunch and didn't even try to have sex with me, which made him a prince in my world. Several days later, though, heading south on I-95 through the Carolinas, I got picked up by another trucker who was not fine. I don't remember much about him except that he was taller and leaner than most truckers and didn't wear jeans or T-shirts. He wore a cotton button-down with the sleeves rolled neatly up over his biceps and had the cleanest cab I ever saw. He must have seemed okay or I wouldn't have gotten in the truck with him. Once out on the road, though, he changed. He stopped responding to my questions. His bearing shifted. He grew taller in his seat, and his face muscles relaxed into something both arrogant and blank. Then he started talking about the dead girl in the Dumpster and asked me if I'd ever heard of the Laughing Death Society. ‘We laugh at death,’ he told me.
“A few minutes later, he pulled the truck onto the shoulder of the road by some woods, took out a hunting knife, and told me to get into the back of the cab. I began talking, saying the same things over and over. I said I knew he didn't want to do it. I said it was his choice. I said he could do it in a few minutes. I said it was his choice. I said I wouldn't go to the cops if nothing happened to me, but it was his choice—until he looked at me and I went still. There was going to be no more talking. I knew in my body that it was over. Then he said one word: Run. Without looking back, I ran into the woods and hid. I stayed there until I saw the truck pull onto the interstate. It was getting dark. I was still in shock, so I walked back out to the same road and started hitching south. I never went to the police and didn't tell anyone for years.”
For more of the year’s best writing, check out Longform’s Best of 2012.