December Issue Web Roundup | Harper's Magazine

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December Issue Web Roundup


Dear Readers,

The December 2011 issue is now out on newsstands and with subscribers, for whom it is also available online. (Non-subscribers, please hasten to this page.) Herewith, our monthly roundup of blog posts and web links related to the stories in the magazine:

Thomas Frank‘s Easy Chair column this month, entitled “More Government, Please!” deals with the Works Progress Administration, the successor bureaucracy to the Civil Works Administration. Frank introduces the piece by writing about John Boehner’s threat that the nation’s “job creators” will go on a capital strike. As Frank points out in “The Job Creators Strike Out,” a blog post for, such warnings were common during the Great Depression, too.

The Readings section offers an excerpt from Joseph Epstein’s recently released Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit. Amid Epstein’s literary deep dish is an analysis of what he calls the HJHP, or Henry James Homosexual Project, which has seen decades of speculation over James’s sexuality. Well, we heard something Maisie may not have known: it seems a certain James brother may once have scalded his testicles on a hot stove. If your taste in gossip runs more to the factual, perk your shameless ears toward The Awl‘s new Vintage Dish column, which most recently whispered about Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm creator Larry David’s tortured 1970s rendezvous with Revolutionary Road author Richard Yates.

China Digital Times‘s full list of media directives from the Chinese government, excerpted in “The Forced Estate,” is available here.

Readings also features an excerpt from Ben Marcus’s new novel, The Flame Alphabet. We asked Marcus six questions about the book.

Statistics from the current Harper’s Index are tweeted by @harpers throughout the month using the hashtag #HarpersIndex. Follow us here to see them as they go out.

The lead feature for December is Alan Lightman’s “The Accidental Universe.” There, Lightman, a physicist and novelist who teaches at MIT, writes about the existential aftershocks of the twentieth century’s mind-bending cosmological theories. MIT’s Alan Guth, one of Lightman’s sources, featured in the PBS series Stephen Hawking’s Universe:


Of course, Guth is better known in Boston as the proprietor of the city’s messiest office.

The issue also features two pieces on Israel–Palestine relations, Bernard Avishai‘s “Abraham’s Children,” about the Palestinian right of return, and Ben Ehrenreich’s “Drip, Jordan,” about the water war between the two entities. Avishai has written a long summary of the essay at his website, provoking some heated debate in the comments.

Earl Shorris’s “American Vespers” fits into a centuries-old tradition of body-politic literature. In the course of a memoir linking his near-death experience with the decay of the American political constitution, Shorris mentions a screenplay he wrote based on the 1980 Republican National Convention, which appeared in Harper’s as “The Hollywood Right” (subscription required). Shorris has written many other pieces for the magazine over the years, which can be found here.

Andrew Marantz writes in “A Rising Tide” about Tuvalu’s not-always-strenuous efforts to deal with the rising sea level that many climate-change scientists predict will drown the Pacific island nation. Panos Pictures created a slick video illustrating the issue in 2009:


For a less-slick video, check out this marketing pitch for .tv domains, Tuvalu’s other major source of revenue, after international aid:


Larry McMurtry’s New Books column begins this month with a biography of Hedy Lamarr. Lamarr, McMurtry points out, was a pioneer in the realms of both brains and beauty. With respect to the former, she helped invent frequency hopping, a technology that is used today to make cellphones more secure, and for which Lamarr was awarded a special pioneer award in 1997 by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. We’d be remiss, however, in presenting a clip of the ceremony, rather than linking to what McMurtry describes as “still probably the most famous nude scene in film history,” from the 1933 Czech film Scandalous.

Terry Eagleton adds a critique of Christopher Hitchens’s Arguably: Essays to the Reviews section. Hitchens’s controversialism is on evidence in many, many places in our archive. Of recent vintage elsewhere is his “Romney’s Mormon Problem: Mitt Romney and the weird and sinister beliefs of Mormonism,” for his Fighting Words column at Slate. (The comment count sits at nearly 3,000 and rising.) For something in a 2001, read the Harper’s forum from February of that year, based on “The case against Henry Kissinger: Part one.” Subscribers can download the .pdf of the original article there as well.

And last, the issue’s concluding Findings section, wherein we drop science on you.

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