Editor's Note — June 16, 2016, 3:38 pm

Inside the July Issue

Tom Bissell on touring Israel with Christian Zionists, Joy Gordon on the Cuban embargo, Lawrence Jackson on Freddie Gray and the makings of an American uprising, a story by Paul Yoon, and more

HarpersWeb-Cover-July-302If your summer vacation is looking dull, consider bringing Tom Bissell along as your guide. In this month’s Folio, Bissell joins a group of Christian Zionists for a ten-day tour of Israel organized by the conservative radio host Dennis Prager. “I wanted to more fully understand why conservative politics had become synonymous with no-questions-asked support of Israel,” writes Bissell. The tour begins as right-wing propaganda, but soon turns into something far stranger. When a beloved tour guide named David gets fired mid-trip, Bissell’s group decides to revolt. Strategies are debated; a petition is circulated. Bissell and the pro-David faction interrogate anti-David travelers, hassle tour-company representatives to reinstate their guide, and eventually decide to occupy their bus. “It works for liberals!” one tourist tells Bissell. “Let’s make it work for us.”

For her Easy Chair column, Rebecca Solnit finds in the archetype of the American cowboy the modern conservative ethos of personal responsibility. “The loner taketh not, nor does he give; he scorneth the social and relies on himself alone,” she writes. It’s a dangerous and misguided view of the world. Never is this more apparent than in the case of climate change: “As the fact of climate change has become more and more difficult to deny, the ideologues of isolation deny instead our responsibility for the problem and the possibility that we are capable of acting collectively to do anything about it.”

In her Report from Cuba, Joy Gordon examines the United States’ embargo of Cuba, which since 1960 has denied Cubans access “to everything from electricity to video games to shoes.” Despite the fact that two thirds of Americans don’t support the embargo, Congress has given no sign of repealing it. In May, Barack Obama declared that his historic visit to the country—the first by a sitting U.S. president since Calvin Coolidge—marked a “new day” for the United States and Cuba; but so long as the country’s economy continues to struggle, Gordon remains skeptical. “For all the improvements in U.S.–Cuban relations over the past two years,” she writes, “that new day will not really come until the embargo is lifted in its entirety.”

In Lawrence Jackson’s Letter from Baltimore, he weaves the story of his family’s migration to the city with its brutal implementation of the broken-windows policing theory on its streets and in its schools. “Who doesn’t know,” Jackson asks, “that as American cities became blacker in the Fifties and Sixties, police departments felt fewer qualms about ‘cleaning them up’ with deadly force?” Jackson writes of the men he’s known who were killed in fatal encounters with police, and of his own near-fatal experiences. To protest the unjust killings not just of Freddie Gray but also of generations of black women and men, Jackson concludes, “a riot makes a lot of fucking sense.”

Also in this issue: Lyle Rexer on why we take—and share—so many photographs; new fiction by Paul Yoon and Alejandro Zambra; Caleb Crain on Sybille Bedford; Nick Laird on Seamus Heaney’s translation of the Aeneid; and Christine Smallwood on Hisham Matar’s The Return, John Cassavetes: Interviews, and Pond, a debut work of vignettes by Claire-Louise Bennett.

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Editor's Note May 9, 2019, 12:17 pm

Inside the June Issue

Marilynne Robinson on poverty; Alexander Chee, T Cooper, Garth Greenwell, T Kira Madden, Eileen Myles, Darryl Pinckney, Brontez Purnell, and Michelle Tea on Stonewall; and more

Editor's Note April 11, 2019, 1:29 pm

Inside the May Issue

Kevin Baker on the (Green) New Deal; Daniel Castro meets the negotiator of a historic gang truce in El Salvador; Joe Kloc encounters full-time boat residents in Sausalito

Editor's Note March 15, 2019, 7:34 am

Inside the April Issue

Christian Lorentzen on the decline of book reviewing; Rachel Nolan on the troubled legacy of Guatemalan adoptions; Lisa Wells on the fear of flying

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Early in the morning on June 28, 1969, New York police raided the Stonewall Inn at 53 Christopher Street, the city’s most popular gay bar. The police had raided Stonewall frequently since its opening two years before, but the local precinct usually tipped off the management and arrived in the early evening. This time they came unannounced, during peak hours. They swept through the bar, checking I.D.s and arresting anyone wearing attire that was not “appropriate to one’s gender,” carrying out the law of the time. Eyewitness accounts differ on what turned the unruly scene explosive. Whatever the inciting event, patrons and a growing crowd on the street began throwing coins, bottles, and bricks at the police, who were forced to retreat into the bar and call in the riot squad.

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The squat warehouse at Miami’s 5th Street Terminal was nearly obscured by merchandise: used car engines; tangles of coat hangers; bicycles bound together with cellophane; stacks of wheelbarrows; cases of Powerade and bottled water; a bag of sprouting onions atop a secondhand Whirlpool refrigerator; and, above all, mattresses—shrink-wrapped and bare, spotless and streaked with dust, heaped in every corner of the lot—twins, queens, kings. All this and more was bound for Port-de-Paix, a remote city in northwestern Haiti.

When I first arrived at the warehouse on a sunny morning last May, a dozen pickup trucks and U-Hauls were waiting outside, piled high with used furniture. Nearby, rows of vehicles awaiting export were crammed together along a dirt strip separating the street from the shipyard, where a stately blue cargo vessel was being loaded with goods.

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In 1989 I published a book about a plutonium-producing nuclear complex in En­gland, on the coast of the Irish Sea. The plant is called Sellafield now. In 1957, when it was the site of the most serious nuclear accident then known to have occurred, the plant was called Windscale. While working on the book, I learned from reports in the British press that in the course of normal functioning it released significant quantities of waste—plutonium and other transuranic elements—into the environment and the adjacent sea. There were reports of high cancer rates. The plant had always been wholly owned by the British government. I believe at some point the government bought it from itself. Privatization was very well thought of at the time, and no buyer could be found for this vast monument to dinosaur modernism.

Back then, I shared the American assumption that such things were dealt with responsibly, or at least rationally, at least in the West outside the United States. Windscale/Sellafield is by no means the anomaly I thought it was then. But the fact that a government entrusted with the well-being of a crowded island would visit this endless, silent disaster on its own people was striking to me, and I spent almost a decade trying to understand it. I learned immediately that the motives were economic. What of all this noxious efflux they did not spill they sold into a global market.

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My father decided that he would end his life by throwing himself from the top of the parking garage at the Nashville airport, which he later told me had seemed like the best combination of convenience—that is, he could get there easily and unnoticed—and sufficiency—that is, he was pretty sure it was tall enough to do the job. I never asked him which other venues he considered and rejected before settling on this plan. He probably did not actually use the word “best.” It was Mother’s Day, 2013.

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