Editor's Note — April 12, 2018, 5:58 pm

Inside the May Issue

Rebecca Solnit, Rick Moody, Rachel Cusk, Jonathan Dee, and more

Mike Pence has never soft-pedaled his religious affiliation. Indeed, he has described himself as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order,” which suggests that he answers to a considerably higher power than Donald Trump. Yet his faith shouldn’t be mistaken for the folksy creed of, say, Mike Huckabee, let alone George W. Bush’s brand of Methodist uplift. In “Exiled,” Meghan O’Gieblyn takes a close look at Pence’s evangelicalism. The vice president and his coreligionists view modern life through the Old Testament narrative of the Babylonian exile, during which the Jews spent seventy years in virtual bondage, mourning the destruction of Jerusalem. Pence, too, considers himself part of an embattled minority—a strange view, perhaps, in a country that is approximately 70 percent Christian. This theology of banishment and persecution shapes every aspect of Pence’s life, and may be ever more pertinent as he inches closer to the Oval Office.

In her latest Easy Chair column, Rebecca Solnit peers at the contagion of our profoundly wired world and wonders whether it’s time to disconnect. On a similar note, Rick Moody recounts “Seven Years of Identify Theft,” during which Nigerian hackers stole his money, his good name, and his very sense of self. His remedy, too, is to take a huge step back from the digital abyss: “Better the human interaction, with all its morbid and fleshy complexities, than the perfect fantasy of the fleshless and fungible and shadowy life of the web.” In “The Pictures,” Stephen Koch writes about the photographer Peter Hujar, whose postmortem reputation was resurrected by the author, and whose images—of plants, animals, and supremely idiosyncratic human beings—are, in Koch’s words, “whole, beautiful, and his own.” There is also a shrewd, funny look by Will Ford at resistance in Tibet, in which Buddhist monks push back against the Chinese occupiers by the worldliest of tactics: building a hotel.

Elsewhere in the magazine, we have “Nothing But,” in which Geoff Dyer examines the pitfalls and potholes of memory, and a long poem by Juliana Spahr, “A Destruction Story.” In Readings, Jacqueline Rose plumbs the myth of motherhood, Rachel Cusk takes us to a fictional dinner party, and we learn some of the shapes of UFOs spotted by Americans over the past two decades (including Chevron, Boomerang, Teardrop, and the terribly old-school Blimp). Last but not least, we have brainy reviews by Lidija Haas, Jonathan Dee, and Elizabeth Lowry, plus a sharp and surprising work of fiction by Souvankham Thammavongsa. It’s another corker, folks—have at it!

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More from James Marcus:

Editor's Note March 19, 2018, 12:18 pm

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

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The city was not beautiful; no one made that claim for it. At the height of summer, people in suits, shellacked by the sun, moved like harassed insects to avoid the concentrated light. There was a civil war–like fracture in America—the president had said so—but little of it showed in the capital. Everyone was polite and smooth in their exchanges. The corridor between Dupont Circle and Georgetown was like the dream of Yugoslav planners: long blocks of uniform earth-toned buildings that made the classical edifices of the Hill seem the residue of ancestors straining for pedigree. Bunting, starched and perfectly ruffled in red-white-and-blue fans, hung everywhere—from air conditioners, from gutters, from statues of dead revolutionaries. Coming from Berlin, where the manual laborers are white, I felt as though I was entering the heart of a caste civilization. Untouchables in hard hats drilled into sidewalks, carried pylons, and ate lunch from metal boxes, while waiters in restaurants complimented old respectable bobbing heads on how well they were progressing with their rib eyes and iceberg wedges.

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The second-worst thing about cancer chairs is that they are attached to televisions. Someone somewhere is always at war with silence. It’s impossible to read, so I answer email, or watch some cop drama on my computer, or, if it seems unavoidable, explore the lives of my nurses. A trip to Cozumel with old girlfriends, a costume party with political overtones, an advanced degree on the internet: they’re all the same, these lives, which is to say that the nurses tell me nothing, perhaps because amid the din and pain it’s impossible to say anything of substance, or perhaps because they know that nothing is precisely what we both expect. It’s the very currency of the place. Perhaps they are being excruciatingly candid.

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When Demétrio Martins was ready to preach, he pushed a joystick that angled the seat of his wheelchair forward, slowly lifting him to a standing position. Restraints held his body upright. His atrophied right arm lay on an armrest, and with his left hand, he put a microphone to his lips. “Proverbs, chapter fourteen, verse twelve,” he said. “ ‘There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is . . .’ ”

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On December 7, 2016, a drone departed from an Amazon warehouse in the United Kingdom, ascended to an altitude of four hundred feet, and flew to a nearby farm. There it glided down to the front lawn and released from its clutches a small box containing an Amazon streaming device and a bag of popcorn. This was the first successful flight of Prime Air, Amazon’s drone delivery program. If instituted as a regular service, it would slash the costs of “last-mile delivery,” the shortest and most expensive leg of a package’s journey from warehouse to doorstep. Drones don’t get into fender benders, don’t hit rush-hour traffic, and don’t need humans to accompany them, all of which, Amazon says, could enable it to offer thirty-minute delivery for up to 90 percent of domestic shipments while also reducing carbon emissions. After years of testing, Amazon wrote to the Federal Aviation Administration last summer to ask for permission to conduct limited commercial deliveries with its drones, attaching this diagram to show how the system would work. (Amazon insisted that we note that the diagram is not to scale.) Amazon is not the only company working toward such an automated future—­UPS, FedEx, Uber, and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, have similar programs—­but its plans offer the most detailed vision of what seems to be an impending reality, one in which parce­l-toting drones are a constant presence in the sky, doing much more than just delivering popcorn.

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Every year in Lusk, Wyoming, during the second week of July, locals gather to reenact a day in 1849 when members of a nearby band of Sioux are said to have skinned a white man alive. None of the actors are Native American. The white participants dress up like Indians and redden their skin with body paint made from iron ore.

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At Ivanwald, men learn to be leaders by loving their leaders. “They’re so busy loving us,” a brother once explained to me, “but who’s loving them?” We were. The brothers each paid $400 per month for room and board, but we were also the caretakers of The Cedars, cleaning its gutters, mowing its lawns, whacking weeds and blowing leaves and sanding. And we were called to serve on Tuesday mornings, when The Cedars hosted a regular prayer breakfast typically presided over by Ed Meese, the former attorney general. Each week the breakfast brought together a rotating group of ambassadors, businessmen, and American politicians. Three of Ivanwald’s brothers also attended, wearing crisp shirts starched just for the occasion; one would sit at the table while the other two poured coffee. 

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