Happy Monday, gentle readers! We’ve got a lot of great reads this week so we’re going to dive right in.
‘West Africa’s Most Daring Designer‘ (Alexis Okeowo for the New Yorker)
Fashion is never frivolous, no matter what anyone tells you. It reveals deep things about ourselves and our cultures, and when a community is in transition, it can be at the forefront of that change. This is a really great profile of Amaka Osakwe, a Nigerian designer who’s breaking boundaries and telling stories through her clothes.
Osakwe’s career coincides with a subtle change in Nigeria. Women are working more and making more money; with that increased power, they are pushing against long-standing norms. Female organizers helped pass an act prohibiting violence against women, and a senate bill to ban “indecent dressing” was defeated. Still, abortion remains illegal in most cases, and nearly half of girls marry before they are eighteen. Amina Mama, a women’s-studies professor at the University of California, Davis, said, “When it comes to sexual freedoms, our society is rushing backward to a colonial, missionary idea. It’s almost as if they are overreacting to progress in women’s rights.”
‘The College Try‘ (Ashley Powers for California Sunday)
California Sunday is consistently one of the best reads around — you’ll want to subscribe if you don’t already. Their in-depth, incredibly thoughtful longform takes the stories of ordinary struggles and confronts readers with their extraordinary nature. Why is it so hard to afford college? Is it even worth it?
California has long been at the forefront of trying to open higher education to students like Liz — students who, in past generations, might have been priced out of a degree. In 1960, the state enshrined into law the Master Plan for Higher Education. Born of Progressive Era optimism, the three-tiered system now consists of ten University of California campuses, 23 Cal State schools, and 114 community colleges. While UC is the state’s primary research institution, Cal State is the workhorse: cheaper, less exclusive, and much larger. More than half of Cal State’s nearly 500,000 students receive federal Pell Grants, aid for students from low- and middle-income families. One in three of its undergrads is the first in his or her family to attend college.
‘Gone Baby Gone‘ (Rachel Monroe for the New Republic)
Another housing crisis is flirting with the edges of disaster in the United States, and while there’s so much going on in the US that it’s hard to keep track, this is something people around the world should be thinking about. If the 2008 financial crisis caused a global market crash, the destruction of urban real estate could have an even worse ripple effect.
As it turned out, all the properties—and the various LLCs that owned them— were the responsibility of one man: a Houston millionaire named Scott Wizig, who had made his fortune as a real estate speculator. Few people in Baltimore had ever heard of Wizig; it’s unclear, in fact, whether he ever visited his properties in the city. But over the course of a decade, Wizig appeared to have become the biggest private owner of derelict houses in Baltimore. How he did it, and why no one was able to stop him, explains much about the current state of America’s cities.
‘Beware the Open-Plan Kitchen‘ (Caitlin Flanagan for Vulture)
Speaking of housing crises, let’s talk about how house flipping never died, and how it’s the subject of worshipful reality television shows that seem to be multiplying every year. It’s clear that people in the US didn’t learn their lesson in 2008, in a sense only making the problem worse — and while would-be moguls flip, flip, flip, less savvy people are caught in the crossfire.
We are supposed to be in rehab from our housing binge of ten years ago, the one that nearly bankrupted the country. We are supposed to be in a state of contrition. But our national love of HGTV suggests that the dream won’t die. The longing it addresses is impervious to market corrections, or personal financial realities, and as economists continue to explore the true causes of the 2008 financial crisis, they are beginning to suspect that some speculative Americans acting on that longing got us into that mess as much as — or more than — unscrupulous bankers or Wall Street. In fact, the network may now be tempting its millions of fans to dip their toes back into the most dangerous waters of the past crisis: flipping.
‘These Women Are the Last Thing Standing Between You and Nuclear War‘ (Danielle McNally for Marie Claire)
This delightful dive into the world of the women who work deep underground managing the US nuclear arsenal is accompanied with fantastic photographs by Tyler Joe. It’s rare to get an insight into the lives of working servicemembers that’s this raw and in-depth, so savour it.
“When I got assigned to missiles, my commander was shocked. I was shocked. I cried a little bit,” says Dinkha. “I thought, I studied math and linguistics—what am I going to do with missiles? But then you have to kick your ass into gear.” Dinkha recalls how she would listen to her dad, who immigrated when he was 16 and enlisted in the U.S. army, talk about the traveling he did in the military. Missileers, however, are relegated to just three bases out west. “Once you get into higher positions, you can start doing the squirrely stuff—that’s what they call it—get assigned to Hawaii maybe, or Europe. I’ll still have the opportunity to travel, I’ll just be older. Hopefully I’ll still be sparkly enough to enjoy it.”
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