Editor's Note — February 12, 2018, 11:15 am

Inside the March Issue

Rebecca Solnit, Katie Roiphe, Sallie Tisdale, and more

In “The Other Whisper Network,” Katie Roiphe argues that #MeToo, whose goals she heartily endorses, has created its own variety of conformist backlash. In her view, women who stray from the movement’s heated rhetoric—from the take-no-prisoners tone so common on Twitter—are shunned, silenced, and shamed. The author draws from her own experience and from that of the twenty-odd women who form a Greek chorus of the “deeply anonymous.” She assails the note of moral purity that so often creeps into the discussion: “As a culture, we seem to be in the midst of dividing ourselves into the flawless and the fallen, the morally correct and the damned.” Human beings are more typically moral hybrids, the author suggests, and should be assessed on that basis. “If we are going through a true reckoning,” Roiphe writes, “there should be space for more authentically diverging points of view, a full range of feelings, space to hash through what is and is not sexual misconduct, which is an important and genuinely confusing question about which reasonable people can and will disagree.”

Rebecca Solnit takes a somewhat different position in this month’s Easy Chair column. “Nobody Knows” is not explicitly about #MeToo but about the casual uses and abuses of power—and the ways in which such power can blind the person possessing it. The high and mighty, she points out, “swathe themselves in obliviousness in order to avoid the pain of others and their own relationship to that pain.” But not surprisingly, her argument circles back to men and women—to the asymmetrical combat of America’s gender wars, which have taken their toll on Solnit and on so many others. There is the middle-aged cook who delighted in groping the young author when she worked in a diner; there is the Colorado DJ who stuck his hand up Taylor Swift’s skirt in 2013 (and was at least fired for his Trumpish initiative); there Harvey Weinstein and there is the low-level harasser who showered his unwanted favors on a young friend of Solnit’s. Her conclusion is not that men are wicked or irredeemable but that self-knowledge of any kind dictates a thorough immersion in the lives of others.

Elsewhere in the magazine, Sallie Tisdale explores the mixed blessings of dementia in “Out of Time.” To suggest that there are any blessings at all associated with Alzheimer’s disease will strike some readers as blasphemous. But the author, a registered nurse who has worked extensively with dementia patients, sees something “far more nuanced than the commentary surrounding it: there is grace here, rare intimacy, moments of startling clarity—and, yes, happiness.” Alan Lightman commits a different sort of blasphemy in “The Infinity of the Small,” suggesting that eternity is to be found not in the vast reaches of the universe but in the tiniest subdivisions of the physical world. Once we thought atoms were the smallest units of matter, the indivisible end of the road. Instead we have chopped those same atoms into ever more minuscule fragments, fetching up—for the moment, anyway—at the Planck length, where time flows backwards and “space has been blown thin by an ancient glassblower, so thin that it dissolves into nothingness.”

Ian MacDougall investigates the seamy world of SLAPPs (“strategic lawsuits against public participation”) in “Empty Suits,” exposing corporate America’s latest tactic to quash activist dissent. Maddy Crowell journeys to Kashmir, where the Indian government is attempting to quell the province’s irredentist itch by building a lavish railroad, complete with the world’s loftiest railway bridge—assuming it’s ever completed. And in “If These Walls Could Talk,” Lauren Markham addresses the current rage for barrier-building. It’s not just the United States that hears incessant talk about the Really Big Wall on the horizon. Even Norway has gotten into the game, erecting a pipsqueak fence on its northern boundary with Russia that stretches a mere 600 feet. “Walls offer the promise of absolute protection,” Markham muses, “but they almost always fail to deliver. Still, we build them again and again.”

We have a wild metafictional ride from Catherine Lacey in “Violations,” and strong critical pieces by Joanna Biggs (on Alan Hollinghurst’s new, tradition-bending novel) and Amia Srinivasan (on The Incest Diary, meaning yet another take on the issue of sexual consent). In Readings, Barbara Ehrenreich inveighs against physical fitness, Terry Southern recalls the glory days of the West Village, and Brenda Hillman contributes a brief poem from a work in progress. We also get a look at the editorial notes delivered to Milo Yiannopoulos, which caution him against laziness, humorous boasting, and literally scatological rhetoric: “Let’s leave ‘fecal waste’ analogies out of this chapter.”

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Afew months before the United States invaded Iraq, in 2003, Donald Rumsfeld, the defense secretary at the time, was asked on a radio show how long the war would take. “Five days or five weeks or five months,” he replied. “It certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that.” When George W. Bush departed the White House more than five years later, there were nearly 136,000 US soldiers stationed in the country. 

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Before he died, my father reminded me that when I was four and he asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said I wanted to be a writer. Of course, what I meant by “writer” then was a writer of Superman comics. In part I was infatuated with the practically invulnerable Man of Steel, his blue eyes and his spit curl. I wanted both to be him and to marry him—to be his Robin, so to speak. But more importantly, I wanted to write his story, the adventures of the man who fought for truth, justice, and the American Way—if only I could figure out what the fuck the American Way was.

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Sarah was four years old when her spirit guide first appeared. One day, she woke up from a nap and saw him there beside her bed. He was short, with longish curly hair, like a cherub made of light. She couldn’t see his feet. They played a board game—she remembers pushing the pieces around—and then he melted away.

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In the fall of 1969, I was a freelance journalist working out of a small, cheap office I had rented on the eighth floor of the National Press Building in downtown Washington. A few doors down was a young Ralph Nader, also a loner, whose exposé of the safety failures in American automobiles had changed the industry. There was nothing in those days quite like a quick lunch at the downstairs coffee shop with Ralph. Once, he grabbed a spoonful of my tuna-fish salad, flattened it out on a plate, and pointed out small pieces of paper and even tinier pieces of mouse shit in it. He was marvelous, if a bit hard to digest.

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The family was informed they would be moving to a place called Montana. Jaber Abdullah had never heard of it, but a Google search revealed that it was mountainous. Up to that point, he and his wife, Heba, had thought they’d be moving from Turkey to Newark, New Jersey. The prospect of crime there concerned Heba, as she and Jaber had two young sons: Jan, a petulant two-year-old, and Ivan, a newborn. 

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