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From “Disaster Aversion: The quest to control hurricanes” in the October 2009 Harper’s Magazine.
Like many a girl with a long-dead father, I refer to myself as a girl rather than as a woman, and I gravitate to places I suspect my father, dead fifteen years now, might haunt. My father was a left-handed professor of meteorology at the University of Oklahoma, an Israeli immigrant who never saw the interior of a mall, who remained suspicious of proposed etiologies of global warming, who liked nothing quite so much as a Sunday morning of watching political “arguing shows,” and who regularly called my best friend in elementary school “the Huguenot,” for no other reason, I think, than that her last name sounded vaguely French and he liked saying the word. His office answering machine promised to return calls “as soon as feasible.” So, naturally, when the Whitney Museum put on a Buckminster Fuller-retrospective—one advertisement featured Fuller’s diagram for a weatherproof dome over forty blocks of Manhattan—I went.
Being a god, even for a day, is not easy. To be convincing, you have to walk barefoot, can’t visit the toilet and can’t be seen eating— and so have to suffice yourself with an odd biscuit and tea. It is also lonely, because gods can’t talk or make friends. When insulted, as they often are, they must bear it silently, with god-like resolve. Sometimes people fall at their feet, or ask that they bless a sick child. Other times, they get beaten up. This is why the life of the bahurupi is a male preserve. Women, even if dressed as gods, are particularly unsafe from ungodly motives. –“The Gods Eat Biscuits,” Samrat Chakrabarti, Tehelka
My friend and I walked to the restaurant. Again and again he suggested that we cross to the other side of the street. I thought nothing of it. Not until the following day did he tell Andrei Plesu, the Director of the [New European College (NEC)], about the visitor’s form and that a man had followed him on his way to the hotel, and later the two of us to the restaurant. Andrei Plesu was infuriated and sent his secretary to cancel all bookings at the hotel. The hotel manager lied that it was the receptionist’s first day at work and that she had made a mistake. But the secretary knew the lady, she had worked in the reception for years and years. The manager replied that the “patron”, the owner of the hotel, was a former Securitate man who, unfortunately, would not change his ways. Then he smiled and said that by all means the NEC could cancel its bookings with him, but that it would be the same in other hotels of the same standard. The only difference being that you wouldn’t know. –“Securitate in all but name: Twenty years after Ceausescu’s execution his secret service is still active,” Herta Müller, originally in Die Zeit, republished in Sign and Sight
Vampires are monsters of the right; zombies are monsters of the left. Vampires are toffs; zombies are proles. Vampires are individualists; zombies are the mindless, nameless, faceless mob. Vampires are about hierarchies, tradition, bloodlines. They have mittel-European honorifics, live in castles, dress up and have manners. Vampires are the blood-and-soil nationalists of the undead world. Literally. Kipping in the soil of their native land is, in most versions of the myth, vital to vampiric survival. –“Cultural Notebook: Days of the undead,” Sam Leith, Prospect
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”