Monthly Archives: October 2011

Commentary — October 31, 2011, 12:53 pm

An Excerpt from “Twilight of the Vampires”

Téa Obreht’s first novel, The Tiger’s Wife, was published by Random House in March 2011. This is an excerpt from “Twilight of the Vampires: Hunting the Real-Life Undead,” which was published in the November 2010 issue of Harper’s Magazine. Subscribers can read the entire piece here; non-subscribers are invited to sign up here. Three days before my flight to Serbia, the Devil intervenes: my mother, who is supposed to meet me in Belgrade, falls into a chasm on a Moscow sidewalk and shatters her ankle. That she has gone through life without ever having broken a bone before makes her, …

Commentary — October 31, 2011, 9:06 am

An Excerpt from “I Walked with a Zombie”

Hamilton Morris is Vice magazine’s pharmacopeia correspondent and is at work on a book about mushrooms. This is an excerpt from “I Walked with a Zombie: Travels Among the Undead,” which was published in the November 2011 issue of Harper’s Magazine. Subscribers can read the entire piece here; non-subscribers are invited to sign up here. My only suitcase is removed from my hand by the intact arm of a one-armed porter. It’s ninety-three degrees and I’m regretting not having brought some kind of a handkerchief to mop my brow or at least having worn something other than jeans and a …

No Comment — October 28, 2011, 1:10 pm

Gitmo Forever

In today’s New York Times, Charlie Savage tells us that Republicans are continuing to tie the Obama Administration’s hands in dealing with terrorism suspects: Republican senators are pushing to include a provision in a 2012 military authorization bill that would require [Al] Qaeda suspects accused of plotting attacks and who are not American citizens to be held in military custody — even people arrested in the United States. The White House opposes such a blanket rule. Republicans are lining up near-uniformly behind the measure, and they seem to be recruiting a number of Democrats as well. It appears to be …

Mr. Fish — October 28, 2011, 9:02 am

A Cartoon

No Comment — October 27, 2011, 3:09 pm

Waiting for Tinkerbell in Tashkent

At a time when Republican presidential frontrunner Herman Cain is touting his indifference to “Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan,” American diplomats and military leaders are in fact making the pilgrimage to Tashkent to pay homage to the president Cain proudly can’t name, Islam Karimov. Their purpose is plain enough: during the war in Afghanistan, American matériel has typically wound its way upland from Pakistan’s deepwater ports, through perilous mountain passes, to the troops. With relations between the United States and Pakistan in freefall, and with supply shipments increasingly menaced by terrorist attacks and banditry, American military planners are scrambling for an alternative. At the …

Commentary — October 27, 2011, 12:05 pm

Drone Knowns and Drone Unknowns

Daniel Swift is the author of Bomber County (FSG), recently out in paperback. He teaches at Skidmore College. His story “Conjectural Damage” appears in the November 2011 issue of Harper’s Magazine. It has been a big month for Predator drones. On Friday, September 30, Anwar al-Awlaki — described variously in the press as “Senior Al Qaeda leader,” “firebrand cleric,” and “Al Qaeda’s rising star” — was killed by a Hellfire missile launched from a Predator drone as al-Awlaki approached his Toyota Hilux pickup truck in eastern Yemen. The missile weighed 100 pounds, and the strike took place at 9:44 a.m.; …

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On any given day last summer, the smoke-choked skies over Missoula, Montana, swarmed with an average of twenty-eight helicopters and eighteen fixed-wing craft, a blitz waged against Lolo Peak, Rice Ridge, and ninety-six other wildfires in the Lolo National Forest. On the ground, forty or fifty twenty-person handcrews were deployed, alongside hundreds of fire engines and bulldozers. In the battle against Rice Ridge alone, the Air Force, handcrews, loggers, dozers, parachutists, flacks, forecasters, and cooks amounted to some nine hundred people.

Rice Ridge was what is known as a mega-fire, a recently coined term for blazes that cover more than 100,000 acres. The West has always known forest fires, of course, but for much of the past century, they rarely got any bigger than 10,000 acres. No more. In 1988, a 250,000-acre anomaly, Canyon Creek, burned for months, roaring across a forty-mile stretch of Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness in a single night. A few decades on, that anomaly is becoming the norm. Rice Ridge, for its part, swept through 160,000 acres.

At this scale, the firefighting operation is run by an incident management team, a group of about thirty specialists drawn from a mix of state and federal agencies and trained in fields ranging from aviation to weather forecasting and accounting to public information. The management teams are ranked according to experience and ability, from type 3 (the least skilled) to type 1 (the most). The fiercest fires are assigned to type 1s. Teams take the name of their incident commander, the field general, and some of those names become recognizable, even illustrious, in the wildfire-fighting community. One such name is that of Greg Poncin, who is to fire commanders what Wyatt Earp was to federal marshals.

Smoke from the Lolo Peak fire (detail) © Laura Verhaeghe
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Rebirth of a Nation·

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Donald Trump’s presidency signals a profound but inchoate realignment of American politics. On the one hand, his administration may represent the consolidation of minority control by a Republican-dominated Senate under the leadership of a president who came to office after losing the popular vote by almost 3 million ballots. Such an imbalance of power could lead to a second civil war—indeed, the nation’s first and only great fraternal conflagration was sparked off in part for precisely this reason. On the other hand, Trump’s reign may be merely an interregnum, in which the old white power structure of the Republican Party is dying and a new oppositional coalition struggles to be born.

Illustration by Taylor Callery (detail)
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Blood Money·

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Over the past three years, the city of South Tucson, Arizona, a largely Latino enclave nestled inside metropolitan Tucson, came close to abolishing its fire and police departments. It did sell off the library and cut back fire-truck crews from four to three people—whereupon two thirds of the fire department quit—and slashed the police force to just sixteen employees. “We’re a small city, just one square mile, surrounded by a larger city,” the finance director, Lourdes Aguirre, explained to me. “We have small-town dollars and big-city problems.”

Illustration by John Ritter (detail)
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The Tragedy of Ted Cruz·

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When I saw Ted Cruz speak, in early August, it was at Underwood’s Cafeteria in Brownwood. He was on a weeklong swing through rural central Texas, hitting small towns and military bases that ensured him friendly, if not always entirely enthusiastic, crowds. In Brownwood, some in the audience of two hundred were still nibbling on peach cobbler as Cruz began with an anecdote about his win in a charity basketball game against ABC’s late-night host Jimmy Kimmel. They rewarded him with smug chuckles when he pointed out that “Hollywood celebrities” would be hurting over the defeat “for the next fifty years.” His pitch for votes was still an off-the-rack Tea Party platform, complete with warnings about the menace of creeping progressivism, delivered at a slightly mechanical pace but with lots of punch. The woman next to me remarked, “This is the fire in the gut! Like he had the first time!” referring to Cruz’s successful long-shot run in the 2011 Texas Republican Senate primary. And it’s true—the speech was exactly like one Cruz would have delivered in 2011, right down to one specific detail: he never mentioned Donald Trump by name.

Cruz recited almost verbatim the same things Trump lists as the administration’s accomplishments: the new tax legislation, reduced African-American unemployment, repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, and Neil Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court. But, in a mirror image of those in the #Resistance who refuse to ennoble Trump with the title “president,” Cruz only called him that.

Photograph of Ted Cruz © Ben Helton (detail)
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Wrong Object·

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H

e is a nondescript man.

I’d never used that adjective about a client. Not until this one. My seventeenth. He’d requested an evening time and came Tuesdays at six-thirty. For months he didn’t tell me what he did.

The first session I said what I often said to begin: How can I help you?

I still think of what I do as a helping profession. And I liked the way the phrase echoed down my years; in my first job I’d been a salesgirl at a department store counter.

I want to work on my marriage, he said. I’m the problem.

His complaint was familiar. But I preferred a self-critical patient to a blamer.

It’s me, he said. My wife is a thoroughly good person.

Yawn, I thought, but said, Tell me more.

I don’t feel what I should for her.

What do you feel?

Photograph © Joseph S. Giacalone (detail)

Chance that a homeless-shelter resident in a major U.S. city holds a full- or part-time job:

1 in 5

Turkey hunting was deemed most dangerous for hunters, though deer hunting is more deadly.

The unresolved midterms; Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III replaced; the debut of the world’s first AI television anchor

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“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

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