Aspirational urbanism. by Sameer Vasta

I’ve been thinking a lot about the future, recently. It’s normal, I think, to think about the future when you’re in a period of transition: when you’re caught in the in-between, you try and figure out the present by dreaming about the future.

The idea of planning for the future is not just an individual pursuit; inherent to the success of any organizations, public or private, is the ability to see what’s ahead and plan for that eventuality. Government, at its core, is about making sure needs are met in the present while making sure the foundation is solid for whatever the future may bring.

That’s why I’ve found the discussion over rapid transit in London so fascinating. The Shift London project posits that London needs rapid transit to accommodate growth—that, in itself, is good future thinking—but recent developments have left questions over what that rapid transit should look like.

The discussion has come down to a simple question: do we make plans for the kind of city we are, or for the kind of city that we want to be?

It’s a deeply personal question, too: as I’ve been navigating this period of life transition (new city, new home, in-between employment), I’ve been grappling with decisions that have made me wonder what kind of Sameer Vasta I want to be, and not just who Sameer Vasta is, right now.

Tonight, I attended a Pints and Politics session where we discussed the future of rapid transit in London, and there, I shared a little story that I’d like to share here. The details of the story are fuzzy, so I apologize in advance if I get some of the smaller facts wrong, but overall, it’s an important tale about thinking about the future and thinking about aspirational urbanism.

In 1910, R.C Harris designed and presented plans for a viaduct connecting the west side and east side of Toronto, across the Don River, along Bloor Street. The plans included not only a bridge deck to accommodate trams, buggies, and cars, but also a lower deck for rail transport, something that was non-existent at the time and added significant cost to the project.

Harris’ vision for adding a rail deck to the viaduct wasn’t about the Toronto he saw around him in 1910, but instead for the Toronto he hoped to be building for the future. He saw a future where Toronto would grow, and where rail transport could connect the currently-divided city, encouraging human and economic mobility. His plans reflected the Toronto we wanted to create, the city he wanted to be.

Unsurprisingly, the plans for the viaduct were rejected by referenda, every year until 1913. Even then, when the project was approved, the lower deck was controversial, and actual costs ended up being higher than the projected ones.

In 1966, when the Toronto Transit Commission finished the Bloor-Danforth Subway line connecting the city from west end to east end, they saved millions of dollars because of the existence of the lower deck of the Prince Edward Viaduct. Harris’ vision for the city he wanted Toronto to be had come to pass: the Don River no longer separated the city, and his massive infrastructure project, fifty years earlier, had paved the way for that vision to become reality.


I have no idea whether bus rapid transit or light rail is a better decision for London in the current fiscal reality, but I do know that the new business case that advocates for BRT instead of the hybrid model is missing something important: it has no recognition that building transportation infrastructure needs to be aspirational.

The new business case is grounded in building transit that reflects the city that we are, the London of 2016. It may be the best option for London’s future—while I have an inherent bias for LRT or the hybrid model, I’m not an expert on infrastructure or London’s fiscal reality—but it needs to do a better job of saying why it is.

At the moment, the new business case for rapid transit in London would disappoint R.C Harris; the business case talks about the London that we are now, and creates plans for today, instead of talking about the London we want to be, and taking action to get us to that vision. Whether or not that action requires BRT or LRT is beyond my expertise, but I do know that in order for this city to grow, to build upon the great potential that it has, we need to stop thinking about who are, and start asking who we want to be.

I’m asking myself the same questions, in my personal life, every day. Who do I want to be? What am I doing now to make that vision a possibility? It’s time that our city leaders start asking those questions, too.

Hamilton: The Revolution by Sameer Vasta

It is almost too easy to compare Hamilton, the smash hit Broadway musical, to RENT, the musical that took over Broadway in 1996 and stayed there for 12 years. They are both genre-defying, feeling new and contemporary while still paying homage, in a very considered way, to the great legacy of musicals that came before. The comparison feels too lazy; yet, is apt.

Twenty years ago, RENT showed Broadway patrons that musicals could be edgy, contemporary, and reflect current musical trends while still maintaining a connection to the past. The show was a viral phenomenon in an era when the web was still nascent and vitality was created by other kinds of media. Hamilton occupies that same space today, and rightfully so: Lin-Manuel Miranda's ode to Alexander Hamilton is one of the most innovative and pervasive pieces of popular culture today, so much so that it's often easy to forget that much of its inspiration is still deeply rooted in the legacy and culture of Broadway.

Jonathan Larson died before RENT debuted at the Nederlander Theatre, and with his death went many of the stories, anecdotes, and inspirations behind the musical. Thankfully, Lin-Manuel Miranda is healthy and very much alive, and is able to share the story and process of creating Hamilton with all of us through his videos, tweets, and interviews. Hamilton: The Revolution is a compendium of those anecdotes and inspirations that will help people understand the making of Hamilton, long after Mr. Miranda is no longer sharing the story himself.

Hamilton: The Revolution is really three books in one: the first is an annotated libretto that captures Mr. Miranda's often-silly but always-insightful thoughts on the content of the musical itself. He references his hip-hop and Broadway inspirations, Harry Potter, and his family, among other pieces of popular and historical culture. Mr. Miranda's anecdotes are poignant, sentimental, and funny.

The second is an incredible piece of long-form journalism by Jeremy McCarter, detailing every part of the creation of the show, from its inception of an idea to the first show on the Broadway stage. His wonderful prose includes profiles of actors, producers, and muses, interviews with critics and tastemakers, and a keen understanding of Hamilton's place in contemporary, and historical, culture. Without any offence to the genius of Mr. Miranda, Mr. McCarter's reporting here is the clear standout part of Hamilton: The Revolution.

The third book hidden in the large tome is a collection of stunning photographs, many of them occupying full two-page spreads, from the musical production. As someone who has not yet had the chance to see the show on Broadway, these photos are a delight, beautifully encapsulating the images behind the songs that I hear on the cast recording.

The annotated libretto, long-form reporting, and photographs are all intertwined together in Hamilton: The Revolution, making the book a delight to read again and again—I have read it cover to cover at least three times by now—especially while listening to the cast recording in the background. This is a book that I am not only proud to keep on my coffee table, but that has also made my enjoyment of Hamilton's music that much more intense.

I only wish Jonathan Larson could have done something similar, so many years ago. His music shall fill that absence, instead.

Let's go crazy. by Sameer Vasta

Still coping, still healing, still trying to process it all.

In the meantime, here are some excellent pieces of writing from some very smart, articulate people who are doing a good job of summing up the impact that Prince had on all our lives:

“In Honor of The Beautiful One,” Apollo Theater, taken by harlem + collective.

“In Honor of The Beautiful One,” Apollo Theater, taken by harlem + collective.

Earth Was Lucky to Get 57 Years of Prince:

Only Prince could make a song that has the arc of a sermon, with the passion of an orgasm. You feel like you’re catching the holy ghost as it takes over your body, but halfway through you realize that’s not Jesus, you’re actually just having sex. And after the song’s final two minutes transforms you, sending you to a place you typically are fearful of visiting, it just ends. And just like that, you look down, and it’s your own personal Garden of Eden. Figuratively, and perhaps literally, you realize you’re naked.

 

There Are Thieves In The Temple Tonight:

There is the kind of genius that works hard. You see Michael Jackson’s sweat and tears. Beyonce wears her hard work like a badge. They tell you that with hard work you could be great, too. You put them on your playlist to suit for the game.
Then there’s genius that makes the impossible seem inevitable. It is effortless. You can never attain it. You can’t earn it or deserve it. You can only float in it for a time. That was Prince Rogers Nelson.

 

When death comes too early, chaos reigns in its wake:

Through his music, we were able to express what seemed impossible to say. Through his creativity, we were able to imagine and dream the incredible, to create a new reality. Through his hard work and determination, we were able to believe in the ability to overcome those obstacle set before us.
Prince was a Visionary. A Dreamer and a Believer. But most of all, he believed in those whom his music touched. To watch him perform was, as he encouraged, “To see the dawn.” There was a new-ness, a freshness, a coolness that seemed to exude from his every pore. I’ve been asked, “What was it like to create and perform music with Prince? ” My rebuttal was usually a tongue in cheek, “Ask him what it was like to create and perform with me.” It’s an answer that he would understand because it comes from the boldness that he played a part of instilling in me. I will share with you now, that the truth is, I never knew what it was like, creating with Prince.

 

Nostalgia, Loss, And Purple Rain:

I’m done drawing lines around what sorts of things should make me happy and amass my interest; I am now old enough, and tired enough, that I am willing to accept whatever makes me happy, because the numbers of such things are dwindling, and will continue to do so.
And not even “happy,” really; more like ecstatically, jubilantly, childishly, childlike-ly content. Look, I don’t have kids. I don’t have a partner. I’m staring at 40. I know which side my bread is buttered on - and on the subject of butter, I, like Bilbo, I feel thin, stretched, and scraped over too much bread.

 

Good Night, Sweet Prince:

It was these stories that made us listen to every song, every note, to try to understand the secret of what made him so electric and magnetic to everybody in town. It didn’t take long to figure it out: Prince’s secret was that he could be your everything… but only if you were willing to expand your own horizons and be better than the person you were. If you were a man and wanted to really get with what Prince was all about, you had to learn how to drop the macho bluster and get sensitive, clean up, and find some style. If you were white, you had better find your soul. If you were black, you needed to accept that rock and roll was not “white music” but your own heritage. If you were a woman, you needed to be more aggressive than maybe you were raised to be. If you were a biracial American, drawing your heritage from a mix of of people from all over the world, then Prince was telling you to not find that mix confusing but liberating.

 

How a Local Radio Station Became the World’s Prince Memorial:

A day before, McGuinn got a phone call from Prince’s agent.
“He said, ‘I was talking to Prince today and we want to come to your party,’” he said. “So I called First Avenue [the concert venue hosting the event] and they said, ‘Great. We’ll put you on Purple Alert.’”
In other words: Prince was going to so many local shows they had a special name for it.

 

The Beautiful One: Remembering Prince’s Rich Life And Legacy:

One reason Prince’s death hits so hard is that in recent years he seems to have been coming to terms with his own legacy. Last month, he announced that he was working on a memoir titled The Beautiful Ones with Paris Review web editor Dan Piepenbring, due out next fall. Since January, Prince had been on a hit-and-run-style solo tour dubbed Piano & A Microphone, the genius sitting with an iPad and a keyboard he occasionally ran through pedals, à la his old LinnDrum, while he played through hits and sundry favorites. At those shows — the last of which he played in Atlanta just a week before his death — he discussed the music openly and with real candor: Introducing “Raspberry Beret” at a preview show at Paisley Park, he gave former keyboardist Lisa Coleman credit for hipping him to Bill Evans, then demonstrated by playing her harpsichord line: “That’s the whole song, right?” he said.

 

RIP To My Friend, Prince:

I have been fortunate enough to witness quite a few amazing talents in my career — landmark performers, singers, musicians and writers. But NOBODY was like Prince. Yes, the young Prince once practiced and dedicated himself to developing a skill set, but once his foundation was intact, the music, the ideas — both creative and promotional — flowed out of him like a raging river. There was no industry that was equipped to process and digest his ceaseless flow. Radio couldn’t keep up, record companies couldn’t market and promote fast enough, fans couldn’t re-focus fast enough. His songs were like a daily newspaper and he wanted them to be read while the news was fresh.
His brain never shut off. We wrestled with words to describe him — tireless, driven, obsessed, manic. But just maybe it wasn’t any of that. Maybe he was simply put here to be that funnel………to bring us the music and bring us the joy that accompanied it; to bring us the thought provoking lyrics and the effects they had on youth culture. To bring us the generosity ( much of which was incognito) that supported schools, music programs, young artists, ecological issues, social movements and people of all races and walks of life.

 

In a Special Sky: How Prince Escaped From Time:

The beauty of Prince’s dislocation from normal temporality was that he managed to fully embody his era while seeming almost magically free of its constraints. Like David Bowie, to whom he’ll be endlessly compared in the next few weeks, Prince seemed to inhabit a dimension of his own devising. But where Bowie’s freedom was secured by a careful edge of aloofness, that faint hint of a smirk that told you he’d already solved the game (and knew you’d love him for solving it), Prince could at times be startlingly exposed. Bowie was always disappearing into himself, always singing “give me your hands” from a stage where the hands couldn’t reach him. Prince, no matter how many layers of sunglasses and scarves and purple smoke and glinting wings he hid himself behind, often seemed as naked as he looked on his eponymous album cover.
This is who I am, his music seemed to say. You can touch me.

 

The View From Spike Lee’s Prince Block Party:

Prince’s music was blaring from speakers somewhere. We dipped our toes in slowly. Some of us bobbed our shoulders, pockets of people clapped, the drunkest guys tried to dance. I swayed back and forth and appreciated the diversity of the scene, which was New York in the very best of ways: moms and babies; hipsters of all races and creeds; every variety of natural hair; dudes who looked like they walked in off the set of Entourage; people who dressed like they came from the club; people who dressed like they came from doing laundry; at least one woman who was a dead ringer for Elizabeth Warren. In a neighborhood where there are still white bars and black bars, we were all together, because of Prince.
At one point, a young woman, used to the way things normally work in 21st-century New York City, ventured deeper into the crowd: “Is this the line to get in?” There was no line, we told her, no “in.” She was there.

 

On Prince, Blackness, and Sexuality:

A man. Clearly a man. A black man. Slight of stature, narrow of hip. Rising to global popularity in the 1980s, at the same time as another major American export: Hip-hop. A genre in which many black male artists releasing music on shelves alongside Prince’s albums—Run-DMC, LL Cool J, Ice Cube—projected an urban toughness. Leather jackets thick as armor, heavy gold chains, bold aggression. But Prince was a flirtatious, peacock pastiche made of diamonds and pearls, a dandy in paisley and lace. Some rappers’ personas aligned with the age-old oversexed, “primitive,” mandingo stereotype invented by white slaveowners. Prince defied stereotypes, period.

 

Why There Will Never Be Another Prince:

Where Bowie was great at being so many people, Prince’s gift was showing so many sides of himself. The expressions of raw sexuality were so pointed and clever, and the romanticism was so measured, each with equal parts self-assuredness and self-awareness. He knew what he was capable of on “Do It All Night,” but was fully aware someone else might get there first. He’d somehow lost his woman to the dude she brought for them to play with on “When You Were Mine,” and yet wanted her back with no equivocation. And “Adore,” with its soaring declarations of love and the groundedness to say that she better not lay a finger on his car, is as real as any love song has ever been, even if some of that love was for an automobile. Being shy in Prince’s world was useless, no matter how crass or uncomfortable the truth may have been.
Prince wasn’t Bob Marley. His music wasn’t supposed to change the world. It was the world as most could only wish it was. It was the soundtrack to dreams, even if it seemed like his real life. Because the dream for so many is freedom, to be liberated from convention and guided by how they felt, no matter what that feeling was.

Sunday Diversions: April, Part Two by Sameer Vasta

I shared some anecdotes about Prince and his impact on my life a few days ago, but here's another one that just came to me:

We now live in London, a medium-sized town in southwestern Ontario, just a two-hour drive from Toronto. One of the first times I ever visited London, however, was five years ago, with my brother. We came for a Prince concert.

I had attended the concert a week earlier in Toronto, but had managed to get tickets for the London show as well, so my brother and I borrowed my parents' car, drove down the 401, had dinner at Garlic's, and then went to the show. He played three encores; the show was almost five hours long. We drove back that night happy, exhausted, exhilarated.

Now, I live here, in London. That concert, five years ago, was a great introduction to my future home.

Here are some of the (non-Prince-related) pieces of writing that have made me smile, think, cry, or reflect these past two weeks:

The Highest Bidder: How foreign investors are squeezing out Vancouver’s middle class — Kerry Gold:

Global money is boosting Vancouver’s prices, and local dollars can’t compete. Most troubling is that many homeowners are now selling directly to buyers in China, listing their homes in real-estate exhibitions in Beijing and Shanghai. Vancouver realtors are helping them and making a fortune. Average-earning buyers are being entirely cut out of the purchasing loop. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the Ottawa-based agency that tracks housing data, is so concerned that it has reportedly accelerated its collection of figures on foreign investment, especially in Vancouver. For years, Tsur Somerville, director of the University of British Columbia Centre for Urban Economics and Real Estate (which one writer dubbed the “academic wing” of Vancouver’s real-estate industry) blamed xenophobia for concerns about offshore investing. But in February, he abruptly acknowledged that real-estate prices were inflated by “a massive change in the official currency reserves in China”—more specifically, wealthy individuals and companies moving money out of China and into Vancouver.
Vancouver isn’t an isolated example. With China’s economy slowing, the wealthy have increasingly looked elsewhere to park their cash safely. They’ve focused on gateway cities in North America, Australia, and the United Kingdom, including New York, Los Angeles, Melbourne, Sydney, and London. An unprecedented $1 trillion (US) flooded out of China last year. In 2014, $16.6 billion was invested in Canada, largely in Toronto and Vancouver. But buyers are now branching out into smaller cities as well, where they can find better deals. In BC’s north, for example, Chinese enterprises have invested heavily in resource land around proposed mines and pulp mills. Foreign investment has caused house prices to spike above the $1 million mark throughout Burnaby, Richmond, Port Moody, Coquitlam, South Surrey, Tsawwassen, Vancouver Island, and other areas in the region.

 

How a Cashless Society Could Embolden Big Brother: When money becomes information, it can inform on you — Sarah Jeong

Consumer protection and anti-vice run along in the same vein: It is all paternalism, and in particular, paternal regulation of the poor.
And when it comes to anti-vice in particular, the poor suffer the most—they are held to a higher moral standard than others, and are policed and punished for straying from it. Welfare recipients must undergo invasive and time-consuming drug testing. Women (often women of color) walking in areas “known for prostitution” are hassled or even arrested for simply carrying condoms in their purse.
A cashless society promises a world of limitation, control, and surveillance—all of which the poorest Americans already have in abundance, of course. For the most vulnerable, the cashless society offers nothing substantively new, it only extends the reach of the existing paternal bureaucratic state.

 

The Pretensions of Pop: A look at the secret, defining force in a field largely comprised of autodidacts and bedroom enthusiasts — Dan Fox

Try describing a few of the most wildly successful pop albums of the twentieth century without mentioning the artist and title. A concept rock album about a fictional Edwardian military band, featuring musical styles borrowed from Indian classical music, vaudeville, and musique concrète, its sleeve design including images of Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde, Marilyn Monroe, Carl Gustav Jung, Sir Robert Peel, Marlene Dietrich, and Aleister Crowley? That’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles, one of the biggest selling records of all time. How about a record exploring the perception of time, mental illness, and alterity? Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, which has to date sold around 45 million copies worldwide. Ask any of those 45 million who bought a copy of The Dark Side of the Moon if they thought themselves pretentious for listening to an album described by one of the band members as “an expression of political, philosophical, humanitarian empathy,” and the answer would almost certainly be no. Queuing for the bag check at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, I once overheard a young man complain bitterly to his girlfriend, “I hate modern art. I hate all that Picasso two eyes on the same side of a blue face shit.” “What do you like then?” asked the girlfriend. “I like putting on my headphones, turning out the lights, and listening to Pink Floyd.” Popularity ratifies cultural authenticity; if it’s popular, it surely can’t be pretentious.
Pop music has never asked anyone for permission to be pretentious. It has joyfully complicated the terms of pretension, which is built into pop’s DNA, even when it shouts loudest about its authenticity.

 

Total Noise and Complete Saturation — Christine Gosnay

A question that comes up in almost every interview with a writer goes like this: “What do you listen to when you’re writing?” Some writers reveal that they listen to music. They tell us their favorite bands and songs so we can steal some inspiration. These writers are cool—maybe even too cool. I picture big money, big headphones, and small packs of cigarettes on their desks. Some say they can’t listen to anything until they’re deep in the revision process; these writers seem reasonable enough, I guess, and might also be modest, responsible drinkers. The author who is said to require complete silence comes across as saintly and chaste. This writer must have a clean desk, drink tea, and make money very slowly.
What that question actually means is “how do you avoid the distraction of noise so that you can hear your own thoughts?” Writing about how noise disrupts thought has been going on for a very long time. In the 1850s, Schopenhauer published an essay “On Noise” in his larger collection Studies in Pessimism. In it, he wrote about the torment he suffered at the sudden and the static sounds of the city, where he moved in order to be close to the vital stimuli that would provoke his writing. Like the rest of us, philosophers cannot reliably predict the outcome of their choices. All they can do is examine them until everyone involved is exhausted. “Hammering, the barking of dogs, and the crying of children are horrible to hear; but your only genuine assassin of thought is the crack of a whip; it exists for the purpose of destroying every pleasant moment of quiet thought that any one may now and then enjoy.” Yes, you can be sure that Schopenhauer did not like whips at all.

 

To be newly pregnant is to feel uniquely unsafe. Here is one way to fall in love with an idea. — Chantal Braganza

It’s disorienting and frightening to realize how hard you can come to love something without thinking for too long about its existence in the first place. Here is one way to fall in love with an idea.
First, feel a twinge in your abdomen and left breast while watching a terrible horror movie, and despite having never felt the need to, pull out a pregnancy test because you’re horrified by a new and distinct awareness of what’s happening in your own skin. When the test comes up positive, cry on a couch for an hour until your husband comes home, and take the four more tests that he afterwards picks up at your request just to be sure. Go to a doctor for yet another test. Start taking vitamins.
Call your mother, who immediately starts crocheting cottony, white receiving blankets and makes plans to retire early. Freak out about the interminable graduate degree you’ve been working on. Scour the city for prenatal yoga classes that don’t cost you the firstborn you’re taking the classes for in the first place. Sign up for email newsletters that mark the growth of your baby in food metaphors, despite having despised the cartoonification of prescribed women’s narratives all your life.

 

Considering the constant fatalities, rampant pollution, and exorbitant costs of ownership, there is no better word to characterize the car’s dominance than insane. — Edward Humes

Car crashes are the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 1 and 39. They rank in the top five killers for Americans 65 and under (behind cancer, heart disease, accidental poisoning, and suicide). And the direct economic costs alone—the medical bills and emergency-response costs reflected in taxes and insurance payments—represent a tax of $784 on every man, woman, and child living in the U.S.
The numbers are so huge they are not easily grasped, and so are perhaps best understood by a simple comparison: If U.S. roads were a war zone, they would be the most dangerous battlefield the American military has ever encountered. Seriously: Annual U.S. highway fatalities outnumber the yearly war dead during each Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, the War of 1812, and the American Revolution. When all of the injuries from car wrecks are also taken into account, one year of American driving is more dangerous than all those wars put together. The car is the star.

 

Golden State and the Mathematical Magic of Seventy-Three — Charles Bethea

So what does Professor Ono think of seventy-three? “I really like the number seventy-three,” he said. “It is the sixth ‘emirp.’ ” An emirp, he explained, is a prime number that remains prime when its digits are reversed. (Emirp, of course, is “prime” spelled backward.) “Seventy-three and thirty-seven are both prime, so both are emirps.” In an episode of “The Big Bang Theory,” the character Sheldon Lee Cooper says that this is one of several properties that make seventy-three “the best number.” As for the other properties: “It is the twenty-first prime number. Its mirror, thirty-seven, is the twelfth. And its mirror, twenty-one, is the product of multiplying—hang onto your hats—seven and three.” He goes on to add, “In binary, seventy-three is a palindrome: 1001001.”
Seventy-three is also, it turns out, a star number (meaning it can be plotted on a centered hexagram, or Chinese checkers board), the largest minimal primitive root in the first hundred thousand primes (you can find an explanation for that one elsewhere online, if you must), and the smallest number with twelve letters in its name when it’s spelled out. To mathematicians, like Ono, it is more interesting than the average integer.
Seventy-three is also the number of books in the Catholic Bible and the titular number of one of Shakespeare’s most famous sonnets, about old age, which concludes: “This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong / To love that well which thou must leave ere long.” Perhaps more important to the young people of today, it is the atomic number of tantalum, a rare chemical element used in mobile phones that was named after Tantalus, an antihero in Greek mythology, who suffered hunger and thirst for eternity.

 

An Antiquated Business Model. A Horde of Upstart Competitors. Does NPR Have a Future? — Leon Neyfakh

The conventional wisdom among podcasters like Blumberg is that, in 2016, listeners want audio programming that makes them feel as though they’re getting to know a person or a topic intimately, whether through the familiar banter of beloved panelists or through lovingly produced works of storytelling. Whereas the parents of the elusive Lara turned to NPR because they wanted someone trustworthy to tell them the news, younger generations seem to find satisfaction in the velvety bedroom voice of 99% Invisible host Roman Mars as he murmurs about furniture and the self-consciousness of Serial’s Sarah Koenig, who makes the method of her reporting part of her story.
NPR News reporters usually can’t get that personal, in part because, as Gimlet’s Adam Davidson puts it, they are in the impossible position of having to simultaneously “appeal to 80-year-olds in Alabama and 20-year-olds in Brooklyn.”

 

Almost every modern Democratic primary has had a progressive insurgency. Bernie’s isn’t anything new. But it can be. — Jamelle Bouie

Obama was a mainstream Democratic politician. He was accustomed to this kind of coalition-building. For most of his congressional career, Sanders has been a gadfly—an ideologue pressing his colleagues from the left, with a base in one of the least diverse states in the union. The same qualities that make him exciting to so many Americans—his passion, his bluntness, his uncompromising views—make him ill-suited for the transactional politicking that you need to pull off a coup against an establishment figure like Hillary Clinton. And the absence of rigid racial politics in Vermont meant he didn’t have to learn those politics, at least not to the same degree as other left-leaning politicians.

 

Also, check out this stunning, striking photography from Sebastião Salgado: "Twenty-five years ago, as the United States-led coalition started driving out Iraqi forces from Kuwait, Saddam Hussein’s troops responded by setting ablaze hundreds of oil wells, creating one of the worst environmental disasters in recent memory."

When the Oil Fields Burned, by Sebastiao Salgado

When the Oil Fields Burned, by Sebastiao Salgado

When the Oil Fields Burned, by Sebastiao Salgado

When the Oil Fields Burned, by Sebastiao Salgado

When the Oil Fields Burned, by Sebastiao Salgado

When the Oil Fields Burned, by Sebastiao Salgado

 

Oh, and one more thing: this “Histomap,” created by John B. Sparks, was first printed by Rand McNally in 1931 and claims to be a visual depiction of the entirety of human history.

John B. Sparks' "Histomap," 1931

John B. Sparks' "Histomap," 1931

We could all die any day. I’d rather dance my life away. by Sameer Vasta

This has been a difficult 26 hours. I have alternated between crying on the couch, staring catatonically at the wall, and pretending that it didn't happen. I have never been alive, never known a world without Prince—today is the first day without him in my life, and fittingly, the sky is grey and cloudy.

Writing is how I cope with grief, with emotion, so today I am writing. Much of what I write won't make sense, will be a collection of gibberish and anecdote, but please forgive me for that, today.

Earlier this week, I wrote about mortality and legacy; yesterday, that message resonated hard. It's not just hard to face our own mortality, but especially hard to face the mortality of those we love. I knew, one day, I would have to deal with Prince's death—though it was easy to see him as transcendent, immortal—but I was under the impression that that day was still two or three decades away.

Instead, we mourn. We weep, we reminisce, we celebrate. And we listen to the music that changed our lives.

The first song Nathan played at our wedding, once the jazz duo had left and the speeches were done, was 7. We didn't ask him to play that, but he did because he knew just how much that song resonated with me; throughout the night, he played three other songs by Prince, always at the right time.

What Nathan didn't know is that of all of Prince's songs, 7 is the one where I'm always left with wonder and awe. It is a piece of music like nothing I have ever heard before, nothing I have ever heard since. I was already a fan of Prince's years before 7 was released, but that day I heard 7, when I was just ten years old, I knew that this song, this artist, was something special. I still have no idea what it is about, but I know that when I listen to it, I think of possibility, I think of wonder.

It was the perfect first song to play at our wedding, because that day was a day full of possibility and wonder. It was a day that was nothing like any day before, and nothing like any day since.


The first and only time I had an opportunity to have a conversation with Prince, I was dumbstruck. I had no idea what to say, no idea how to react. He was sitting there, listening to a band play, and I noticed him from afar. Nobody was bothering him, and I didn't want to be that person that interrupted his quiet afternoon. But yet, I couldn't not say hello.

He was gracious. He asked me my name, asked me if I came here often. I thanked him for his music, for his impact on my life. He smiled his little half-smile and told me that he just loved making music. I mumbled out another "thank you" before I let him be.

That day was over a decade ago, yet I remember it clearly today. I remember not knowing what to say, not knowing how to react. I remember not telling anyone about our encounter for a few days because I didn't want anyone else to take that memory from me, as if articulating it would steal it away.


Over the course of yesterday, I received dozens of messages, emails, phone calls asking if I was okay. I am thankful for everyone who took the time to reach out, to check in, to express their sympathy at the loss of someone they knew was close to my heart.

I received a slew of messages from A, a woman in East Africa whom I hadn't heard anything from in years. A had moved to Toronto as a teenager, from East Africa in the mid-1990s, and even at my young age, I was smitten. I showed her around town that spring, that summer, and when I got tickets to the Prince show at The Warehouse, I knew I would take her with me.

She didn't know who Prince was, and so I made her mix CDs as listening homework before the show. By the time the concert came around, A could sing along to a few of the songs. I was fifteen years old, at a concert with a gorgeous girl, watching my favorite artist play songs that had already become part of the soundtrack of my life. It was a magical night.

We drifted apart after the summer, and stayed in touch only sporadically until she moved back to East Africa some years later. Yesterday, she messaged me, after years of silence, checking in to see how I was doing, and to say thank you. And I reminisced, remembered.


Before my freshman year at Georgetown, I got to Washington DC a few weeks early, before orientation, to have some time to explore the city. In those few weeks, I met K, an international student starting her freshman year at GWU, and we became friendly, quickly. We spent a lot of time together those first few weeks, but once our respective orientation weeks were over, we drifted apart, only checking in on each other via AIM every four or five days.

Late into our first semester, a few weeks before the Christmas break, K disappeared. She stopped logging in to AIM, and didn't respond to my emails. I asked a friend of hers about her absence, who informed me that K had developed the flu, and it had gotten bad. She had returned to her home in the Caribbean a few weeks before Christmas so that she could heal and get care close to her family.

I sent her a mix CD filled with songs that we had listened to, over and over again, in our first few weeks together. (Naturally, at least a third of the songs were by Prince.) I never did find out if she received the CD. When I returned to school that January, her friend informed me that K had passed away from complications from the flu.


When people ask me about regrets I have in life, I tend to tell them I have few, if any. In fact, I've often paraphrased the line that Prince gave, when asked about regret: "No…you take one thing out and the structure falls."

I say I have no regrets because all the decisions I have made in my life have led me to who I am, where I am now: married to the most wonderful and beautiful woman I have ever known, building a career where my work makes tangible and positive impact on the world, and living a life where my main goal is to make someone smile, every single day.

But I do have regret, now. When Prince announced, just a few weeks ago, that he was coming to Toronto for the A Piano and A Microphone tour, when all my friends bought tickets and my brother offered to buy me one as well, I declined. I said no because I was tired, because I wanted to go home to London after a long week in Toronto. I decided to skip the concert because I had seen Prince perform so many times, and I knew that I would get the chance to see him so many more times in the years to come.

I was wrong. There are no more chances to see him perform live.

We live with our regrets. And we live with our sorrow, our loss. We mourn, we weep, we erupt into tears on the sidewalk. And then we celebrate. We remember, we reminisce. We build ourselves up on music and memories.

And then, between tears, we dance. Because that's what he would have wanted us to do.