Editor's Note — August 15, 2019, 1:32 pm

Inside the September Issue

Rich Cohen visits the N.F.L. combine; Rachel Poser investigates Zionist archeology; Sean Williams on the Black Axe; an acid-fueled memoir by Chris Rush

Poor build, skinny, lacks great physical stature and strength, lacks mobility and ability to avoid the rush, lacks a really strong arm, can’t drive the ball downfield, does not throw a really tight spiral, system-type player who can get exposed if forced to ad lib, gets knocked down easily.

So reads Tom Brady’s N.F.L. Scouting Combine report card from 2000. Earlier this year, Rich Cohen attended the N.F.L.’s annual event where top college football players undergo tests of physical and mental agility, and teams essentially shop for players, to understand how the combine’s approach to assessing athletes fails. “You can’t test for what you can neither define nor record,” Cohen learns, “which turns out to include many of the intangibles that make a great player.” 

Before trading in her trowel for the keyboard, Harper’s Magazine senior editor Rachel Poser was a doctoral candidate in archaeology. In “Common Ground,” she uses that expertise to report on East Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood, believed by some to be the location of the ancient City of David. This plot of land is one of the most contested in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. The Ir David Foundation, which oversees the site, has turned it into a tourist attraction, a kind of biblical Disneyland. The ultra-right settler group, commonly known as Elad, employs archaeology to strengthen Israeli control over Jerusalem. “It’s not simply a matter of faith; it’s a matter of fact,” Elad’s international affairs director tells Poser. “Archaeology is proving every day, beyond any reasonable doubt, that these things really happened.” The discipline’s vulnerability to biased reasoning, described so insightfully here, was a factor in Poser’s decision to change careers. 

How did an African freedom movement devolve into an international crime ring engaged in human trafficking, deadly violence, and the artful email swindle? In the Seventies, nine students at the University of Benin in Nigeria founded a campus fraternity called the Neo-Black Movement, which pledged to purge Africa of racism and oppression. Today, the leaders of the movement, now known as the Black Axe, insist that it remains a fraternal NGO based on the principles of democracy, equality, and social justice, though some in Nigeria and abroad are not convinced. Sean Williams investigates the four decades of growing criminality that have transformed the Black Axe into an organization more akin to the Italian Mafia than Human Rights Watch.

Also in the September issue: Chris Rush encounters a young homeless man in the Oregon woods and recalls his own youth on the run with a heart full of Jesus and a backpack full of acid. Catherine Lacey offers a delightful fictional meditation on personal stagnation and contemporary cultural mores. An Annotation examines what dental X-rays reveal about poverty. Readings includes an essay by Leslie Jamison, an excerpt from Benjamin Moser’s biography of Susan Sontag, and a few bons mots from Bo Jo. In Reviews: David Rieff on George Packer’s hagiography of Richard Holbrooke and Tim Parks on sex, violence, and the crime that defined modern Italy. 

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More from Ellen Rosenbush:

Editor's Note September 12, 2019, 12:33 pm

Inside the October Issue

A forum on the constitution; Andrew Cockburn on progressive prosecutors; Adam Wilson interrogates the Golden Age of TV; Linda Stasi on sexual abuse in the world of Orthodox Judaism

Editor's Note July 15, 2019, 9:47 am

Inside the August Issue

Ted Conover among the homesteaders of Colorado’s San Luis Valley; Christopher Ketcham on the Gilets Jaunes; Marc de Miramon on former Rwandan President Paul Kagame; Jacob Mikanowski on Hungary’s far right

Editor's Note June 13, 2019, 1:00 pm

Inside the July Issue

At the border with William T. Vollmann; new fiction by David Szalay and Nell Zink; and more

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October 2019


Secrets and Lies·

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In 1973, when Barry Singer was a fifteen-year-old student at New York’s Yeshiva University High School for Boys, the vice principal, Rabbi George Finkelstein, stopped him in a stairwell. Claiming he wanted to check his tzitzit—the strings attached to Singer’s prayer shawl—Finkelstein, Singer says, pushed the boy over the third-floor banister, in full view of his classmates, and reached down his pants. “If he’s not wearing tzitzit,” Finkelstein told the surrounding children, “he’s going over the stairs!”

“He played it as a joke, but I was completely at his mercy,” Singer recalled. For the rest of his time at Yeshiva, Singer would often wear his tzitzit on the outside of his shirt—though this was regarded as rebellious—for fear that Finkelstein might find an excuse to assault him again.

Seeking Asylum·

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Out of sight on Leros, the island of the damned

Poem for Harm·

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Reflections on harm in language and the trouble with Whitman

Good Bad Bad Good·

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About fifteen years ago, my roommate and I developed a classification system for TV and movies. Each title was slotted into one of four categories: Good-Good; Bad-Good; Good-Bad; Bad-Bad. The first qualifier was qualitative, while the second represented a high-low binary, the title’s aspiration toward capital-A Art or lack thereof.

Some taxonomies were inarguable. The O.C., a Fox series about California rich kids and their beautiful swimming pools, was delightfully Good-Bad. Paul Haggis’s heavy-handed morality play, Crash, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, was gallingly Bad-Good. The films of Francois Truffaut, Good-Good; the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men, Bad-Bad.

Life after Life·

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For time ylost, this know ye,
By no way may recovered be.

I spent thirty-eight years in prison and have been a free man for just under two. After killing a man named Thomas Allen Fellowes in a drunken, drugged-up fistfight in 1980, when I was nineteen years old, I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Former California governor Jerry Brown commuted my sentence and I was released in 2017, five days before Christmas. The law in California, like in most states, grants the governor the right to alter sentences. After many years of advocating for the reformation of the prison system into one that encourages rehabilitation, I had my life restored to me.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:


A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

A solid-gold toilet named “America” was stolen from Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, in Oxfordshire, England.

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Happiness Is a Worn Gun


“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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