Editor's Note — March 13, 2014, 8:00 am

Introducing the April 2014 Issue

How to be your own best doctor, a drone’s-eye view of America, and drought threatens the Southwest

Harper's Magazine, April 2014The older I get, the more I relish a little certainty in my life — and like most people, I look to doctors to supply it, at least to some degree. But in a world of futuristic instruments, shiny white furniture, and snappy assistants, that certainty is harder and harder to come by. For Heidi Julavits, who wrote “Diagnosis This,” the cover story for the April 2014 issue, the medical world is a gray zone, filled with conflicting views and endless, expensive conjecture. Attempting to determine the cause of a mysterious ailment, she consults a series of specialists — but also turns to literature and the Internet as diagnostic tools. Her quest is a fascinating look at modern medicine and how it is administered.

Contributing editor Christopher Ketcham, who last wrote for the magazine on a homeowners’ revolt against the banks, reports this month on the dying Colorado River, which has been diverted by a series of dams to supply water to the parched Southwest. Ketcham rafts down the river from Utah to Arizona with an environmentalist and the water manager for the city of Denver — two men with dramatically opposed views on how this precious resource should be used. But a solution must be found, since neither the cities of the Southwest nor California agriculture can ultimately survive if the river runs dry.

This month marks the first time we’ve used photography as our Folio. Tomas van Houtryve bought a drone on Amazon.com and modified it to accommodate a small camera and equipment for transmitting video back to the ground. The aerial photographs he took — of groups of people at weddings, funerals, and prisons — are eerie reminders of the drones the U.S. government deploys to carry out airstrikes in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, and of their even more troubling use as tools of domestic surveillance.

Our short fiction is an imaginative reconstruction of what happened between Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Nafissatou Diallo on May 14, 2011, at New York’s Sofitel. Told from Strauss-Kahn’s point of view, Ken Kalfus’s “Coup de Foudre” plausibly explains some of the more inexplicable details behind that historic, distinctly unsavory encounter, all the while treading a fine line between satire and satyriasis.

Also in this issue: Christopher Cox explores the balance between safety and surveillance, highlighting New York City mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to halt the police department’s stop-and-frisk program and the National Security Agency’s ongoing obfuscations; Andrew J. Bacevich skewers the diaries of American diplomat George F. Kennan, one of the prime architects of the Cold War; and Lawrence Jackson examines the life of Carl Van Vechten, an American writer and photographer who promoted many black artists and neatly blurred the line between fan, impresario, and (in the words of his biographer) “sideshow gimcrack barker.”

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    The North American continent west of the Rockies is a coastal desert. That’s why the transcontinental railroad was a road to nowhere until the first of many federal water projects made the land usable, starting in the 1920s at the instigation of Southern California Republican congressman Phil Swing. The first humans to arrive on this continent (15,000 years ago) via the Bering Strait landbridge kept to the east of the Rockies and ultimately settled on the Texas-New Mexico border in the southwestern corner of the Great Plains near the modern towns of Clovis and Folsom.

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