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[Editor's Note]

Inside the September Issue


Rich Cohen visits the N.F.L. combine; Rachel Poser investigates Zionist archeology; Sean Williams on the Black Axe; an acid-fueled memoir by Chris Rush

Poor build, skinny, lacks great physical stature and strength, lacks mobility and ability to avoid the rush, lacks a really strong arm, can’t drive the ball downfield, does not throw a really tight spiral, system-type player who can get exposed if forced to ad lib, gets knocked down easily.

So reads Tom Brady’s N.F.L. Scouting Combine report card from 2000. Earlier this year, Rich Cohen attended the N.F.L.’s annual event where top college football players undergo tests of physical and mental agility, and teams essentially shop for players, to understand how the combine’s approach to assessing athletes fails. “You can’t test for what you can neither define nor record,” Cohen learns, “which turns out to include many of the intangibles that make a great player.” 

Before trading in her trowel for the keyboard, Harper’s Magazine senior editor Rachel Poser was a doctoral candidate in archaeology. In “Common Ground,” she uses that expertise to report on East Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood, believed by some to be the location of the ancient City of David. This plot of land is one of the most contested in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. The Ir David Foundation, which oversees the site, has turned it into a tourist attraction, a kind of biblical Disneyland. The ultra-right settler group, commonly known as Elad, employs archaeology to strengthen Israeli control over Jerusalem. “It’s not simply a matter of faith; it’s a matter of fact,” Elad’s international affairs director tells Poser. “Archaeology is proving every day, beyond any reasonable doubt, that these things really happened.” The discipline’s vulnerability to biased reasoning, described so insightfully here, was a factor in Poser’s decision to change careers. 

How did an African freedom movement devolve into an international crime ring engaged in human trafficking, deadly violence, and the artful email swindle? In the Seventies, nine students at the University of Benin in Nigeria founded a campus fraternity called the Neo-Black Movement, which pledged to purge Africa of racism and oppression. Today, the leaders of the movement, now known as the Black Axe, insist that it remains a fraternal NGO based on the principles of democracy, equality, and social justice, though some in Nigeria and abroad are not convinced. Sean Williams investigates the four decades of growing criminality that have transformed the Black Axe into an organization more akin to the Italian Mafia than Human Rights Watch.

Also in the September issue: Chris Rush encounters a young homeless man in the Oregon woods and recalls his own youth on the run with a heart full of Jesus and a backpack full of acid. Catherine Lacey offers a delightful fictional meditation on personal stagnation and contemporary cultural mores. An Annotation examines what dental X-rays reveal about poverty. Readings includes an essay by Leslie Jamison, an excerpt from Benjamin Moser’s biography of Susan Sontag, and a few bons mots from Bo Jo. In Reviews: David Rieff on George Packer’s hagiography of Richard Holbrooke and Tim Parks on sex, violence, and the crime that defined modern Italy. 

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