Editor's Note — January 14, 2016, 3:11 pm

Introducing the February Issue


When the lunar module for Apollo 17 took off from the moon’s surface, in December 1972, a camera filmed its ascent into space. The camera’s operator, working remotely from Mission Control in Houston, tilted and zoomed out at exactly the right time, capturing ignition, liftoff, and the capsule’s slow-wheeling arc overhead. He did all this while compensating for a three-second delay as the signal traveled 240,000 miles to the moon and back. During the broadcast, he ignored the live feed and synchronized his movements with the countdown, hoping that the module would behave as expected. 

There are similar challenges to putting together a magazine like Harper’s. Reporting, editing, and fact-checking a story for publication takes time; to tackle subjects like the Iowa caucuses or the fight against the Islamic State, as we do in our February issue, you have predict what the news will look like days and weeks in the future. You tilt and zoom half blind and hope you get the shot.

Fortunately for us and unfortunately for the republic, the story in Iowa hasn’t changed much as we approach the February 1 caucuses. The conventional wisdom is that it’s something of a scandal that a rural, white, relatively unpopulous state plays such a large role in the American electoral process. In “The Trouble with Iowa,” Richard Manning argues otherwise. Iowa’s prominence, he suggests, is entirely appropriate, since many of the major political conflicts of our time—over climate, immigration, inequality, and corporate power—can be found in their purest form there. With cameos from Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton, and featuring a rousing defense of Chinese ownership of Iowa’s pig farms by Terry Branstad, the state’s governor, Manning delivers the perfect primer for the upcoming vote. 

The February issue also contains a three-part look at how the war against the Islamic State is affecting people across the Middle East and Europe. In Iraq, Charles Glass and the photographer Don McCullin embedded with Kurdish and Arab Shiite soldiers. They got an up-close look at the effects of American policy in the region, which Glass calls “at best schizophrenic, at worst criminal.” In Damascus, James Harkin reported on how gay Syrians are surviving the civil war. Harkin spoke at length with Samir, a soldier in Assad’s army, who has chosen to serve a regime that would imprison him in order to fight an insurgency that would execute him. And in Greece, Olivier Kugler interviewed and drew portraits of refugees who had fled the conflict. In his portfolio, we meet Noura, a high-school student who tells Kugler about the destruction her family saw in Aleppo (as well as the cats she had to leave behind); Rezan, a fashion designer whose set of watercolors are among the only objects he has left from home; and Omar, a medical student who says, “I just want to find a safe place and restart my life, study, and build a family.” 

This month marks the John Crowley’s final Easy Chair column, and he signs off with a love letter to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Crowley’s printed set of the E.B. had pride of place in his household: “The books were much loved and much handled, the fore edges of certain volumes darkened where they had been repeatedly opened by grubby fingers.”

Tanya Gold, who savaged Per Se for Harper’s months before Pete Wells did it for the New York Times, returns with a broadside against the British monarchy and all the expensive nonsense that goes along with it. To figure out what makes the Queen so maddening and so fascinating, Gold traveled to each of the monarch’s official residences, hoping to catch a glimpse of the woman she describes as “a two-legged tourist attraction, like St. Paul’s Cathedral but with skin.” 

Also in this issue: a new story by Joseph O’Neill, the author of Netherland; Garret Keizer’s flirtation with the Revolutionary Communist Party; four very strange first dates, courtesy of Tinder; and a Star Wars skeptic wonders whether The Force Awakens can make a convert of him.

NASA had tried to film the ascents of the lunar module on two missions before Apollo 17; both attempts failed. The footage from 1972, of what turned out to be the final moon mission, is the only video record of a full lunar liftoff. We aren’t exactly putting men on the moon here, but, when it comes to capturing the decisive moment, I can assure you that this issue is no Apollo 15.

Single Page

More from Christopher Cox:

Editor's Note December 10, 2015, 10:55 am

Introducing the January Issue

Alan Lightman, John Darnielle, Art Spiegelman, Anne Carson, and more.

Conversation October 23, 2015, 1:03 pm


“The amazing thing about these people is that they are living as they believe they ought to. Imagine being able to say that!”

Conversation March 6, 2015, 8:00 am

Cuckoo Spit and Ski Jumps

Michael Paterniti discusses “Driving Mr. Albert,” a story he wrote for Harper’s, in 1997, about driving across America with Albert Einstein’s brain.

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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.

Long Shot·

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Ihave had many names, but as a sniper I went by Azad, which means “free” or “freedom” in Kurdish. I had been fighting for sixteen months in Kurdish territory in northern Syria when in April 2015 I was asked to leave my position on the eastern front, close to the Turkish border, and join an advance on our southwestern one. Eight months earlier, we had been down to our last few hundred yards, and, outnumbered five to one, had made a last stand in Kobanî. In January, after more than four months of fighting street-to-street and room-by-room, we recaptured the town and reversed what was, until then, an unstoppable jihadi tide. In the battles since, we had pushed ­ISIS far enough in every direction that crossing our territory was no longer a short dash through the streets but a five-hour drive across open country. As we set out to the north, I could make out the snowy peaks in southern Turkey where they say Noah once beached his ark. Below them, rolling toward us, were the wide, grassy valleys and pine forests of Mesopotamia, the land between the Euphrates and the Tigris where our people have lived for twelve thousand years.

The story of my people is filled with bitter ironies. The Kurds are one of the world’s oldest peoples and, as pioneers of agriculture, were once among its most advanced. Though the rest of the world now largely overlooks that it was Kurds who were among the first to create a civilization, the evidence is there. In 1995, German archaeologists began excavating a temple at Göbekli Tepe in northern Kurdistan. They found a structure flanked by stone pillars carved with bulls, foxes, and cranes, which they dated to around 10,000 bce. At the end of the last Ice Age, and seven thousand years before the erection of Stonehenge or the pyramids at Giza, my ancestors were living together as shamans, artists, farmers, and engineers.

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.’ ”

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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