Editor's Note — May 13, 2015, 11:04 am

Introducing the June Issue

David Bromwich reflects on Barack Obama’s presidency, Antonia Juhasz follows the trail of BP’s oil in the Gulf of Mexico, Ian Buruma asks why Thailand keeps turning to military rule, and more

HarpersWeb-June2015-Cover-302x410“Anyone who voted twice for Obama and was baffled twice by what followed—there must be millions of us—will feel that this president deserves a kind of criticism he has seldom received,” David Bromwich writes in this month’s cover story, “What Went Wrong.” I trust I am not revealing too much about my own political leanings when I say that Bromwich delivers on the promise of his bluntly titled essay. His analysis of President Barack Obama’s personal failings and public failures—his “peculiar avoidance of the business of politics”; his inability to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, a decision he characterized, perhaps too candidly, as “the path of least resistance”—is overdue and essential, whether you voted for the current president twice, once, or not at all.

Vanessa Gregory’s Memoir begins with an ultrasound that takes too long. The technician, unable to find a gestational sac in Gregory’s uterus, falls silent; she calls in Gregory’s doctor, who tells her that he fears the pregnancy might be ectopic—that is, one in which the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus and so must be terminated. “I lay on my back as he explained this,” she writes, “naked below the waist except for a stiff paper blanket, the probe from the transvaginal ultrasound machine still resting inside me.” Three days later, Gregory’s doctor calls to confirm the diagnosis. What follows is both a history of ectopic pregnancies—which, as late as 1883, were fatal in as many as 99 percent of cases—and a personal reckoning.

Antonia Juhasz travels 5,272 feet beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico to the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion—which, in 2010, leaked over 100 million gallons of crude into the water. Aboard the research submarine Alvin, Juhasz follows a team of scientists as they gather animal, plant, water, and sediment samples from the seabed’s fragile ecosystem. Though BP, which operated the rig, claims that there has been “very limited impact from the oil spill on the seafloor,” the scientists worry that the opposite is true. The ecological effects could be devastating: “If you short-circuit the bottom,” Dr. Samantha Joye, a biogeochemist at the University of Georgia, tells Juhasz, “you threaten the entire cycle. Without a healthy ocean, we’ll all be dead.”

Ian Buruma lands in Bangkok with a series of questions on his mind. Primary among them: “Why does Thailand, which is in some ways the most open society in Southeast Asia, have such a hard time ridding itself of the scourge of military coups?” Thailand’s last coup was on May 22, 2014; in the past century, he writes, “there have been more than twenty coups or attempted coups.” And while they are generally bloodless, “the protests that follow are not.” This is the puzzling reality that Buruma investigates in the month’s Foreign Letter. And he uncovers a web of interconnected tensions between the country’s urban elite and its increasingly politicized rural poor that point toward an answer.

When one thinks of toilets—if one thinks of toilets at all—one thinks not of aesthetics but of functionality. Sallie Tisdale’s Annotation makes a compelling case for a toilet that not only works but also charms. After all, “Many people don’t know how to use a flush toilet—they’ve never had one, and they may not recognize the need for it.” Making a toilet attractive also makes it more appealing—and an appealing toilet could have a greater positive impact on global heath than Westerners might expect. As Tisdale notes, “90 percent of the developing world’s human waste flows into sources of freshwater, and this fecal contamination is the leading cause of the diarrheal diseases that kill hundreds of thousands of people each year, more than half of them under the age of five.”

Also in this issue: a new story by Adam Johnson; an investigation into the many (largely surveillance-based) uses of small, unarmed drones by William M. Arkin; David Thomson’s essay on lost films; Joshua Cohen’s take on literary feuds and friends; and a review of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt by Rivka Galchen.

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More from Ellen Rosenbush:

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Inside the October Issue

A forum on the constitution; Andrew Cockburn on progressive prosecutors; Adam Wilson interrogates the Golden Age of TV; Linda Stasi on sexual abuse in the world of Orthodox Judaism

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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

Editor's Note July 15, 2019, 9:47 am

Inside the August Issue

Ted Conover among the homesteaders of Colorado’s San Luis Valley; Christopher Ketcham on the Gilets Jaunes; Marc de Miramon on former Rwandan President Paul Kagame; Jacob Mikanowski on Hungary’s far right

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October 2019


Good Bad Bad Good·

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About fifteen years ago, my roommate and I developed a classification system for TV and movies. Each title was slotted into one of four categories: Good-Good; Bad-Good; Good-Bad; Bad-Bad. The first qualifier was qualitative, while the second represented a high-low binary, the title’s aspiration toward capital-A Art or lack thereof.

Some taxonomies were inarguable. The O.C., a Fox series about California rich kids and their beautiful swimming pools, was delightfully Good-Bad. Paul Haggis’s heavy-handed morality play, Crash, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, was gallingly Bad-Good. The films of Francois Truffaut, Good-Good; the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men, Bad-Bad.

Constitution in Crisis·

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America’s Constitution was once celebrated as a radical and successful blueprint for democratic governance, a model for fledgling republics across the world. But decades of political gridlock, electoral corruption, and dysfunction in our system of government have forced scholars, activists, and citizens to question the document’s ability to address the thorniest issues of modern ­political life.

Does the path out of our current era of stalemate, minority rule, and executive abuse require amending the Constitution? Do we need a new constitutional convention to rewrite the document and update it for the twenty-­first century? Should we abolish it entirely?

This spring, Harper’s Magazine invited five lawmakers and scholars to New York University’s law school to consider the constitutional crisis of the twenty-­first century. The event was moderated by Rosa Brooks, a law professor at Georgetown and the author of How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon.

Life after Life·

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For time ylost, this know ye,
By no way may recovered be.

I spent thirty-eight years in prison and have been a free man for just under two. After killing a man named Thomas Allen Fellowes in a drunken, drugged-up fistfight in 1980, when I was nineteen years old, I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Former California governor Jerry Brown commuted my sentence and I was released in 2017, five days before Christmas. The law in California, like in most states, grants the governor the right to alter sentences. After many years of advocating for the reformation of the prison system into one that encourages rehabilitation, I had my life restored to me.

Power of Attorney·

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In a Walmart parking lot in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 2015, a white police officer named Stephen Rankin shot and killed an unarmed, eighteen-­year-­old black man named William Chapman. “This is my second one,” he told a bystander seconds after firing the fatal shots, seemingly in reference to an incident four years earlier, when he had shot and killed another unarmed man, an immigrant from Kazakhstan. Rankin, a Navy veteran, had been arresting Chapman for shoplifting when, he claimed, Chapman charged him in a manner so threatening that he feared for his life, leaving him no option but to shoot to kill—­the standard and almost invariably successful defense for officers when called to account for shooting civilians. Rankin had faced no charges for his earlier killing, but this time, something unexpected happened: Rankin was indicted on a charge of first-­degree murder by Portsmouth’s newly elected chief prosecutor, thirty-­one-year-­old Stephanie Morales. Furthermore, she announced that she would try the case herself, the first time she had ever prosecuted a homicide. “No one could remember us having an actual prosecution for the killing of an unarmed person by the police,” Morales told me. “I got a lot of feedback, a lot of people saying, ‘You shouldn’t try this case. If you don’t win, it may affect your reelection. Let someone else do it.’ ”

Secrets and Lies·

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In 1973, when Barry Singer was a fifteen-year-old student at New York’s Yeshiva University High School for Boys, the vice principal, Rabbi George Finkelstein, stopped him in a stairwell. Claiming he wanted to check his tzitzit—the strings attached to Singer’s prayer shawl—Finkelstein, Singer says, pushed the boy over the third-floor banister, in full view of his classmates, and reached down his pants. “If he’s not wearing tzitzit,” Finkelstein told the surrounding children, “he’s going over the stairs!”

“He played it as a joke, but I was completely at his mercy,” Singer recalled. For the rest of his time at Yeshiva, Singer would often wear his tzitzit on the outside of his shirt—though this was regarded as rebellious—for fear that Finkelstein might find an excuse to assault him again.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:


A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

A federal judge authored a 69-page ruling preventing New York City from enforcing zoning laws pertaining to adult bookstores and strip clubs.

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Happiness Is a Worn Gun


“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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