Editor's Note — September 13, 2018, 11:00 am

Inside the October 2018 Issue

The printed word in peril; poems by Ben Lerner; among Britain’s anti-Semites 

Anyone who cares about fine, challenging writing, a group that surely includes every reader of Harper’s Magazine, must be concerned about the digital world’s constant intrusion into our daily lives. The screens we carry or sit in front of vie for our attention and win it more often than we would care to admit. We are readers, after all, serious readers, so why are we spending precious minutes, nay hours, scrolling through Instagram? It’s a predicament that Will Self, who writes our October cover story, calls the “tyranny of the virtual,” a phenomenon he’d rather analyze than condemn. It “is my determination, as a novelist, essayist, and journalist, not to rage against the dying literature’s light,” he writes, “but merely to examine the great technological discontinuity of our era, as we pivot from the wave to the particle, the fractal to the fungible, and the mechanical to the computable.” This is your brain on digital.

John Hockenberry, the former Public Radio International host of “The Takeaway,” accused of sexual harassment and dismissed from his job late last year, writes about the subsequent collapse of his marriage, his fractured relationship with his children, and the perilous road back from personal and public shame. A paraplegic since the age of nineteen, Hockenberry finds context in his derailed path to maturity, solace in Byron’s poetry and Nabokov’s fiction, and empathy in a most unlikely place: the feminist theory of Andrea Dworkin.

Most outrage directed toward Trump Administration immigration policies is focused on ICE, but in “Checkpoint Nation,” Melissa del Bosque alerts us of another agency, the US Customs and Border Patrol Protection, whose seemingly unlimited, government-granted power is cause for alarm. CBP, tasked with guarding America’s borders, has been extending its reach farther and farther into the country’s interiors, not to mention the interiors of human beings, both documented and undocumented. (CBP never passes up an opportunity for a cavity check, and an inconclusive sniff from a dog is all they need to proceed.) The legal definition of “the border,” del Bosque explains, is troublingly broad. Some 200 million people—nearly two thirds of all Americans—live within CBP’s jurisdiction. CBP has the authority to set up checkpoints almost anywhere within the hundred-mile zone—they have been found in Los Angeles and Houston—and to search and detain people without a warrant. Even US citizenship is no protection from harassment by CBP.

To report on the anti-Semitism crisis plaguing Britain’s Labour Party, our UK correspondent, Tanya Gold, attends a slate of Labour events and finds the party’s moral dilemma is all too real. Wherever Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters gather, hostility to Zionism is rampant, comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany are tolerated, and the Holocaust is all but shrugged off as just another genocide. Gold is surprised (and fascinated) to find fellow Jews in the midst of all this disdain, and those she speaks to willingly share their rationales. “Jews are not excluded from the Labour Party,” one tells her. “They are extremely well represented at all levels of the party. It has some people who through ignorance or political sloppiness or racism say bigoted things at times. That is it.” Gold is not relieved.

Edwin Dobb offers a gorgeous essay about the unexpected gifts that change our lives profoundly and for the better. In his case, that gift is two children who enter his life through a relationship, now ended, who remain a deeply integral part of his life, inevitable as any blood relative. “My relationships with Kate and Ezra partake of eternity,” Dobb writes, “the always-was and always-will-be, having remade the character of everything that came before while reshaping everything that came after. Could there have been a time when they weren’t mine, when I wasn’t their father?”

Also in this issue, an essay by Rachel Kushner, poetry by Michael Palmer, fiction by Fiona Maazel, and Walter Kirn on the sharing economy. In Readings, Saint Augustine saves a cannibal.

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More from Ellen Rosenbush:

Editor's Note November 19, 2018, 3:32 pm

Inside the December 2018 Issue

Janine di Giovanni describes the plight of Christians in the middle east; Mychal Denzel Smith on the burden of the black public intellectual; Kathy Dobie goes inside New York City’s task force on bias crimes; Nora Caplan-Bricker considers an ethical archive of the web

Editor's Note October 19, 2018, 8:00 am

Inside the November 2018 Issue

Jonathan Taplin on the progressive states’-rights movement; John Cleese proselytizes; Ana Marie Cox on the tragedy of Ted Cruz; a personal history of the Holocaust

Editor's Note August 21, 2018, 10:58 am

Inside the September Issue

Garret Keizer on organized labor post-Janus; Rohini Mohan on religious conflict in India; Katie Booth on doctors learning how to treat Deaf patients; Micah Hauser on scams targeting the undocumented; and more

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The Gatekeepers·

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Toward the end of the Obama presidency, the work of James Baldwin began to enjoy a renaissance that was both much overdue and comfortless. Baldwin stands as one of the greatest American writers of the twentieth century, and any celebration of his work is more than welcome. But it was less a reveling than a panic. The eight years of the first black president were giving way to some of the most blatant and vitriolic displays of racism in decades, while the shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and others too numerous to list sparked a movement in defense of black lives. In Baldwin, people found a voice from the past so relevant that he seemed prophetic.

[caption id="attachment_271389" align="alignright" width="320"]Somewhere in Between, oil, acrylic, ink, paper, fabric, wood, metal, and mixed media, by David Shrobe © The artist. Courtesy Jeffrey Deitch Gallery, New York City Somewhere in Between, oil, acrylic, ink, paper, fabric, wood, metal, and mixed media,
by David Shrobe © The artist. Courtesy Jeffrey Deitch Gallery, New York City[/caption]

More than any other writer, Baldwin has become the model for black public-intellectual work. The role of the public intellectual is to proffer new ideas, encourage deep thinking, challenge norms, and model forms of debate that enrich our discourse. For black intellectuals, that work has revolved around the persistence of white supremacy. Black abolitionists, ministers, and poets theorized freedom and exposed the hypocrisy of American democracy throughout the period of slavery. After emancipation, black colleges began training generations of scholars, writers, and artists who broadened black intellectual life. They helped build movements toward racial justice during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, whether through pathbreaking journalism, research, or activism.

Bloom, acrylic, ink, wood, and fabric on canvas, by David Shrobe © The artist. Courtesy Jenkins Johnson Gallery, San Francisco
The Vanishing·

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On a Friday afternoon in the fall of 2017, a few months after the liberation of Mosul from the Islamic State, a group of neighbors gathered at Mar Mattai, a monastery founded in the fourth century. They unloaded baskets of food, and arranged themselves around a long table in a courtyard. A woman named Niser spread out a tablecloth and put down a plate of dolmas. “It’s a way of celebrating that we still exist,” she told me. More people were arriving—children, grandparents, cousins, aunts, and distant relations—members of one of the oldest Christian communities in the world who had not seen one another for three years.

Overlooking the village of Mergey from the old section of the Mar Mattai Monastery, Mount Maqlub, Iraq. All photographs from Iraq (October 2017) and Jerusalem (March 2018) by Nicole Tung (Detail)
Investigating Hate·

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Around three in the morning on a cold December Sunday, brothers José and Romel Sucuzhañay began to walk home from a bar in Bushwick, Brooklyn. It was a cloudy night, only a few degrees above freezing, and the houses and stores lining their route wore impassive, nighttime guises—shades drawn, metal grates locked down. Romel had only recently arrived from Ecuador. José, a thirty-­one-year-old father of two, ran a successful real estate agency in the neighborhood. The two had spent the evening eating and drinking at a quinceañera at St. Brigid Church, and afterward, they stopped at a local bar called Christopher’s Palace. They were feeling the alcohol as they headed back to José’s apartment. When they realized that José had left his coat behind in the bar, Romel took off his jacket and draped it around his younger brother’s shoulders. They continued to walk up Bushwick Avenue, swaying a bit, arms around each other for warmth and ballast.

As they approached the corner of Kossuth Place and Bushwick Avenue, a red SUV stopped at the traffic light. “Check out those faggots!” the driver yelled out the window. José may have said something in reply. Very rapidly, a man jumped out of the passenger side door and smashed José on the head with a bottle, dropping him to the ground. He then turned to attack Romel. As Romel fled from the man down Kossuth, the driver exited the car, grabbed an aluminum baseball bat out of the vehicle, and began to beat José until someone emerged from the back seat and called him off. The driver was walking away when he saw some movement from José, a twitch of his hand or his leg sliding across the pavement—trying to rise, perhaps—and he strode back, straddled him, and raised the bat high in the air. He brought it down on José’s head, again and again, as if he were chopping wood.

Illustration by Shonagh Rae (Detail)
Preservation Acts·

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After eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, Bergis Jules found himself worrying not only over the horrors of the present, but also over how little of the present was likely to be preserved for the future. The best reporting on the aftermath in Ferguson was being produced by activists on Twitter, a notoriously ephemeral medium. Jules, then an archivist at the University of California, Riverside, had the impulse to start saving tweets, but wasn’t sure how. “That whole weekend, watching things unfold, I thought, ‘This is a really amazing historical moment; we should think about capturing it,’ but I was just talking to myself,” he says. The following week, attending a Society of American Archivists conference in Washington, D.C., he voiced his fears en route to drinks at the hotel bar. He caught the ear of Ed Summers, a developer who just so happened to be the author of a Twitter archiving tool—and who promptly programmed it to va­cuum up #Ferguson tweets. Within two weeks, he had amassed more than 13 million.

Three weeks after the shooting, Summers blogged about the archive, which he and Jules were considering making public. Shortly thereafter, they received an inquiry from a data-mining company. When they pulled up the firm’s website, they read that its clients included the Department of Defense and, ominously, “the intelligence community.” What did the company want with the data? And what were the ethical implications of handing it over—perhaps indirectly to law enforcement—when the protesters’ tweets would otherwise evade collection? Using Twitter’s Application Programming Interface (API), the code that developers use to call up Twitter data, anyone can sift through tweets that were posted in the past week, but older posts disappear from the API’s search function, even if they still exist out on the web. The data-mining company was too late to nab a swath of the #Ferguson tweets. (Twitter has since unveiled a “premium” API that allows access to older data, for a substantial fee.) Newly mindful of the risks, Jules and Summers waited almost a year to publish their cache.

Illustration by Hanna Barczyk

Average life span, in years, of a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon:


Researchers in California succeeded in teaching genetically engineered E. coli bacteria to communicate using a new chemical “language”; the research aims at turning cells into tiny robots.

Theresa May’s Brexit proposal was rejected; Trump suggested raking to prevent forest fires; Jair Bolsonaro insulted Cuban doctors working in Brazil

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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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