Middle-class Americans have taken it for granted that they will be able to stop working in their mid-sixties and enjoy a tranquil retirement. But as Jessica Bruder reports in the cover story of our August 2014 issue, they can no longer count on this. Many would-be retirees lost their jobs, their houses, and their life savings in the recession of 2008, and some have taken to the road in RVs, crisscrossing the country in search of temporary work. Depending on the time of year, they sort products in mammoth Amazon warehouses, sell Fourth of July fireworks, flip burgers at baseball games, or assist in sugar-beet harvests. They also staff many of the country’s campgrounds, trailer parks, and other tourist locations. These geriatric migrants are, Bruder writes, the “Okies of the Great Recession.”
For her first Easy Chair column, Rebecca Solnit writes about Stanford University, tracing its history and ties to the tech industries of Silicon Valley. Solnit exposes the self-glorifying libertarian roots of the university, which was founded with money from Leland Stanford’s government-subsidized railroad empire and relied on the same octopus-like networks still active in the Valley today.
Negar Azimi visited Cairo last fall, around the time Egypt’s democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, was ousted after only a year in office and put in detention; the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood were either jailed or had gone into hiding; and General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was poised to take over the government. Azimi describes an Egyptian populace both suspicious of the Brotherhood as a political entity and wildly enthusiastic about their latest strongman. They seemed to have forgotten that Sisi had served as Hosni Mubarak’s head of military intelligence and had ordered bloody raids on sit-ins by Morsi’s supporters just last year. Now the country’s pro-Morsi and anti-Morsi blocs are at war with each other. And Sisi, who, to no one’s surprise, was overwhelmingly elected Egypt’s new president, is likely to join the region’s disheartening roster of despots.
I think I can say with certainty that Francis I is the first pope to have been named Time magazine’s Person of the Year and to have made the cover of Rolling Stone. He is celebrated by progressives both inside and outside the Catholic Church for his seemingly liberal views. Yet as Mary Gordon reports, one group has been disappointed in him so far: American nuns. Exemplified by Sister Simone Campbell and her lobbying group, Network, these women are at the forefront of social action in the United States. But their positions on the Affordable Care Act, abortion, and gay marriage have put them at odds with the Catholic hierarchy. In “Francis and the Nuns: Is the new Vatican all talk?” Gordon describes this ecclesiastical clash and criticizes the supposedly populist pontiff for supporting the wrong side.
In this month’s Annotation, Jenna Krajeski examines video evidence from a night of rioting against the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Security cameras have been placed all over Turkey (by 2010, 4,000 cameras had been installed in Istanbul alone), and on the night of September 10, 2013, cameras in Antakya, a city in southern Turkey near the Syrian border, recorded the death of Ahmet Atakan, the sixth protester to have died during antigovernment demonstrations. Krajeski pieces together various bits of footage — including clips recorded by cell phones — to determine how and why Atakan died.
Also in this issue: Frederic Morton on why the world went to war in 1914; William Pfaff on the rise of American militarism; new fiction by Diane Cook; Laura Kipnis on narcissism; Christopher Tayler on the letters of Malcolm Cowley; and Joshua Cohen on Dave Eggers and Joan Rivers.