Editor's Note — July 18, 2017, 12:19 pm

Inside the August Issue

David Wong Louie, Sarah A. Topol, Helen Vendler, Philip Roth, and more…

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are,” wrote Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in his epicurean bible, The Physiology of Taste. But what are we when we can eat no longer? It is a question most of us will never have to answer, since we go on noshing until we are a stone’s throw from the grave. David Wong Louie, alas, has not been so lucky. In 2011, this lifelong gourmand was informed that he had a cancerous tumor in his throat, which would prevent him indulging his greatest passion. “I loved to chew and swallow,” he writes. “My desire for food had the urgency of lust; I was constantly horny.” As he recounts in “Eat, Memory,” he was soon reduced to ingesting therapeutic smoothies from a feeding tube, and there is certainly an elegiac note to his chronicle—a farewell to what now strikes him as a culinary paradise lost. “Chewing was glorious,” he recalls. “Swallowing was king.” Yet he has lost none of his ability to evoke the sensuousness that makes even a half-decent meal an erotic experience—and, with surprising frequency, a kind of romance.

In “Sons and Daughters,” Sarah A. Topol visits a tiny village in the Dominican Republic where a genetic mutation has led to a prevalence of intersex children—that is, where children seem to transform from girls into boys at the onset of puberty. There are all sorts of ethical and scientific riddles posed by the population of Las Salinas, including the question of whether such children benefit from early corrective surgery. But the author is more interested in how easily the intersex inhabitants are accepted by their fellow villagers, especially given the prevalent machismo of Dominican culture. Closer to home, Richard Manning chronicles a transformation of political life in America’s Mountain West, where environmentalism is no longer the exclusive purview of tree-hugging liberals but a major driver of progressive change. As he writes in “Political Climbers,” public lands form the backbone of the region’s cultural identity and economy, and the struggle to preserve them may also offer an escape from the cul-de-sac of identity politics.

Elsewhere, we have an extraordinary portfolio of drawings by Olivier Kugler, bringing to life Syrian refugees who have resettled in England and Germany. Walter Kirn writes about the return of the dystopian note to American culture, and its latest iteration in Y.A. fiction, whose “story lines capture perfectly the plight of the adolescent psyche as it begins to chafe against authority.” Anthony Amsterdam contributes two poems, Helen Vendler delves into the expansionist ardor of A. R. Ammons’s verse, and in Akil Kumarasamy’s story, “New World,” Sri Lankan independence is the occasion for festivities, an Old Testament tempest, and at least one likely murder. Last but not least, in Readings, we have short works by Philip Roth and Patrick Modiano, and a list of dubious over-the-counter sexual-enhancement drugs including Anaconda, Cave Diver, O.M.G., Hard Wang, and the esteem-boosting Big Penis Male.

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November 2018

Rebirth of a Nation

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The Tragedy of Ted Cruz

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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)
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)
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)
Wrong Object·

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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)

Percentage of Aquarians who are Democrats:


Scolded dogs look guiltier if they are actually innocent.

Nikki Haley resigns; Jamal Khashoggi murdered; Kanye visits the White House

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Happiness Is a Worn Gun


Illustration by Stan Fellows

Illustration by Stan Fellows

“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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