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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Pushing the Limit·

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In the early Eighties, Andy King, the coach of the Seawolves, a swim club in Danville, California, instructed Debra Denithorne, aged twelve, to do doubles — to practice in the morning and the afternoon. King told Denithorne’s parents that he saw in her the potential to receive a college scholarship, and even to compete in the Olympics. Tall swimmers have an advantage in the water, and by the time Denithorne turned thirteen, she was five foot eight. She dropped soccer and a religious group to spend more time at the pool.

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The Minds of Others·

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Progress is impossible without change,” George Bernard Shaw wrote in 1944, “and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” But progress through persuasion has never seemed harder to achieve. Political segregation has made many Americans inaccessible, even unimaginable, to those on the other side of the partisan divide. On the rare occasions when we do come face-to-face, it is not clear what we could say to change each other’s minds or reach a worthwhile compromise. Psychological research has shown that humans often fail to process facts that conflict with our preexisting worldviews. The stakes are simply too high: our self-worth and identity are entangled with our beliefs — and with those who share them. The weakness of logic as a tool of persuasion, combined with the urgency of the political moment, can be paralyzing.

Yet we know that people do change their minds. We are constantly molded by our environment and our culture, by the events of the world, by the gossip we hear and the books we read. In the essays that follow, seven writers explore the ways that persuasion operates in our lives, from the intimate to the far-reaching. Some consider the ethics and mechanics of persuasion itself — in religion, politics, and foreign policy — and others turn their attention to the channels through which it acts, such as music, protest, and technology. How, they ask, can we persuade others to join our cause or see things the way we do? And when it comes to our own openness to change, how do we decide when to compromise and when to resist?

Illustration (detail) by Lincoln Agnew
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Within Reach·

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On a balmy day last spring, Connor Chase sat on a red couch in the waiting room of a medical clinic in Columbus, Ohio, and watched the traffic on the street. His bleached-blond hair fell into his eyes as he scrolled through his phone to distract himself. Waiting to see Mimi Rivard, a nurse practitioner, was making Chase nervous: it would be the first time he would tell a medical professional that he was transgender.

By the time he arrived at the Equitas Health clinic, Chase was eighteen, and had long since come to dread doctors and hospitals. As a child, he’d had asthma, migraines, two surgeries for a tumor that had caused deafness in one ear, and gangrene from an infected bug bite. Doctors had always assumed he was a girl. After puberty, Chase said, he avoided looking in the mirror because his chest and hips “didn’t feel like my body.” He liked it when strangers saw him as male, but his voice was high-pitched, so he rarely spoke in public. Then, when Chase was fourteen, he watched a video on YouTube in which a twentysomething trans man described taking testosterone to lower his voice and appear more masculine. Suddenly, Chase had an explanation for how he felt — and what he wanted.

Illustration by Taylor Callery
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Before the Deluge·

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In the summer of 2016, when Congress installed a financial control board to address Puerto Rico’s crippling debt, I traveled to San Juan, the capital. The island owed some $120 billion, and Wall Street was demanding action. On the news, President Obama announced his appointments to the Junta de Supervisión y Administración Financiera. “The task ahead for Puerto Rico is not an easy one,” he said. “But I am confident Puerto Rico is up to the challenge of stabilizing the fiscal situation, restoring growth, and building a better future for all Puerto Ricans.” Among locals, however, the control board was widely viewed as a transparent effort to satisfy mainland creditors — just the latest tool of colonialist plundering that went back generations.

Photograph from Puerto Rico by Christopher Gregory
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Monumental Error·

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In 1899, the art critic Layton Crippen complained in the New York Times that private donors and committees had been permitted to run amok, erecting all across the city a large number of “painfully ugly monuments.” The very worst statues had been dumped in Central Park. “The sculptures go as far toward spoiling the Park as it is possible to spoil it,” he wrote. Even worse, he lamented, no organization had “power of removal” to correct the damage that was being done.

Illustration by Steve Brodner

Percentage of Republicans who said they prioritized gun control over gun rights in 1999:

53

The kangaroo’s tail is a fifth leg.

Trump tweeted that he had created “jobs, jobs, jobs” since becoming president, and it was reported that Trump plans to bolster job creation by loosening regulations on the global sale of US-made artillery, warships, fighter jets, and drones.

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How to Make Your Own AR-15

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"Gun owners have long been the hypochondriacs of American politics. Over the past twenty years, the gun-rights movement has won just about every battle it has fought; states have passed at least a hundred laws loosening gun restrictions since President Obama took office. Yet the National Rifle Association has continued to insist that government confiscation of privately owned firearms is nigh. The NRA’s alarmism helped maintain an active membership, but the strategy was risky: sooner or later, gun guys might have realized that they’d been had. Then came the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, followed swiftly by the nightmare the NRA had been promising for decades: a dedicated push at every level of government for new gun laws. The gun-rights movement was now that most insufferable of species: a hypochondriac taken suddenly, seriously ill."

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