Editor's Note — July 11, 2013, 2:00 pm

Introducing the August 2013 Issue

How we sleep (or don’t), the decline of North American fisheries, and scent sense

Harper's Magazine (August 2013)

This month, we’ve published a Forum on something precious and, for many of us, elusive: a good night’s sleep. We asked some of our favorite writers to participate — Rebecca Curtis, A. Roger Ekirch, Heidi Julavits, Gideon Lewis-Kraus, Sarah Manguso, Hamilton Morris, Christine Smallwood, Rebecca Solnit, Deb Olin Unferth — and although some of them had to work through the fog of a sleep-deprived brain, the essays they have produced are funny, informative, and heartfelt. Our Forum, “Are You Sleeping?,” covers such topics as bed-wetting cures, cuddle clinics for Japanese bachelors, self-experimentation with gray-market insomnia treatments, how to keep from killing your noisy neighbors, and the superhuman feats of nursing mothers.

The Sea of Cortez, which separates the Baja California peninsula from the mainland of Mexico, was until quite recently so abundant in sea life that Jacques Cousteau dubbed it the “Aquarium of the World.” Once host to a thousand species of fish, porpoises, shrimp, and turtles, the sea is being emptied by a combination of small fishing boats called pangas and large industrial trawlers. Reporter Erik Vance spent several months in the Baja, talking to fishermen and trawler operators, as well as marine biologists and shrimp farmers. He found that as the fish population declines, hookah divers along the peninsula’s shores will be forced to deeper, more dangerous depths; fishermen will have to harvest less-desirable species such as jellyfish; and many will turn to other livelihoods, such as running drugs. What is happening to the Sea of Cortez, Vance says, is essentially an early-warning signal for the world’s oceans.

Beau Friedlander explores the biology of smell, covering its history, its attendant superstitions, and its modern-day exploitation by everyone from hotel chains to the U.S. military. In his account, the odor of death is revealed as a potential weapon, while the odor of newly fallen rain becomes the Holy Grail of perfume research. This miscellany is also packed with fascinating tidbits: house flies smell with their antennae; salmon can sniff out their ancestral spawning streams from thousands of miles away; Helen Keller could deduce a person’s occupation by the scent of his or her clothes.

Elsewhere, Lorrie Moore reviews Jane Campion’s mini-series Top of the Lake, and Michelle Orange discusses Richard Linklater’s conjugal trilogy, which just wrapped up with Before Midnight. Thomas Frank, who began his career with a book about American advertising in the Sixties, finally turns his attention to Mad Men and its discontents. And in this month’s fiction, “The Way Things Are Going,” Lynn Freed expertly fuses South African politics with the struggle of an individual family.

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Helen Ouyang on the cost of crowd-sourcing drugs, Paul Wood on Trump's supporters, Walter Kirn on political predictions, Sonia Faleiro on a man's search for his kidnapped children, and Rivka Galchen on The People v. O. J. Simpson.

The new docudrama The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX) isn’t really about Orenthal James Simpson. It’s about the trials that ran alongside his — those informal, unboundaried, court-of-public-opinion trials in which evidence was heard for and against the murder victims, the defense and the prosecution, the judge, the jury, and the Los Angeles Police Department, to say nothing of white and black America. History has freed us from suspense about Simpson’s verdict, so that the man himself (played here by Cuba Gooding Jr.) is less the tragic hero he seemed in the mid-Nineties than a curiously minor character. He comes to the center of our attention only once, in Episode 2, at the end of the lengthy Ford Bronco chase scene — which in real life was followed by a surreal cavalcade of police cars and media helicopters, as well as an estimated 95 million live viewers — when Simpson repeatedly, and with apparent sincerity, apologizes for taking up so much of so many people’s time. It is an uncannily ordinary moment of social decorum, a sort of could-you-please-pass-the-salt gesture on a sinking Titanic, in which Simpson briefly becomes more than just an archetype.

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"All our friends are saying, load up with plenty of ammunition, because after the stores don’t have no food they’re gonna be hitting houses. They’re going to take over America, put their flag on the Capitol.” “Who?” I asked. “ISIS. Oh yeah.”
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He made them groom and feed the half-dozen horses used to transport the raw bricks to the furnace. Like the horses, the children were beaten with whips.
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The new docudrama The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX) isn’t really about Orenthal James Simpson. It’s about the trials that ran alongside his — those informal, unboundaried, court-of-public-opinion trials in which evidence was heard for and against the murder victims, the defense and the prosecution, the judge, the jury, and the Los Angeles Police Department, to say nothing of white and black America. History has freed us from suspense about Simpson’s verdict, so that the man himself (played here by Cuba Gooding Jr.) is less the tragic hero he seemed in the mid-Nineties than a curiously minor character. He comes to the center of our attention only once, in Episode 2, at the end of the lengthy Ford Bronco chase scene — which in real life was followed by a surreal cavalcade of police cars and media helicopters, as well as an estimated 95 million live viewers — when Simpson repeatedly, and with apparent sincerity, apologizes for taking up so much of so many people’s time. It is an uncannily ordinary moment of social decorum, a sort of could-you-please-pass-the-salt gesture on a sinking Titanic, in which Simpson briefly becomes more than just an archetype.

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With its lens shifting from the courtroom to the newsroom to people’s back yards, the series evokes the way in which, for a brief, delusory moment, the O. J. verdict seemed to deliver justice for all black men.
Still from The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story © FX Networks

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