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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
Estimated total calories members of Congress burned giving Bush’s 2002 State of the Union standing ovations:
A fertility scientist named Panayiotis Zavos announced that he had created human-cow embryos that were theoretically viable, but denied that he planned to allow such a hybrid to be implanted in a woman’s womb. “We are not trying to create monsters,” he said.
A statistician determined that the five most common first names among New York City taxi drivers are Md, Mohammad, Mohammed, Muhammad, and Mohamed.
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“I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.”