Commentary

Commentary — November 15, 2018, 11:51 am

Certain Certainties

What Amazon HQ2 means for New York City

Commentary — May 22, 2018, 11:01 am

Marriage of Myths

“Monarchy offers a fantasy of national communion while, by its very existence, making it more unlikely to ever come to pass.”

Commentary — January 16, 2018, 3:28 pm

Angels and Wildfires

“Dying for a dollar an hour while fighting to keep someone’s home from burning is entirely constitutional.”

Commentary — October 20, 2017, 3:10 pm

American Rage

On Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s The Vietnam War

Commentary — March 2, 2017, 11:53 am

Dealmaker in Chief

Trump’s economic authoritarianism

Commentary — March 16, 2016, 2:22 pm

Trump’s Tomatoes

The story behind the billionaire’s fast food of choice

Commentary — February 17, 2016, 2:30 pm

State of Emergency

“France’s efforts to expand and enshrine the emergency laws in the constitution have created a sense that the legal framework of the French Republic, and all that it stands for, is under threat.”

Commentary — November 17, 2015, 6:41 pm

Shaky Foundations

The Clintons' so-called charitable enterprise has served as a vehicle to launder money and to enrich family friends.

Commentary — July 16, 2015, 1:00 pm

Greece, Europe, and the United States

“A progressive Europe—the Europe of sustainable growth and social cohesion—would be one thing. The gridlocked, reactionary, petty, and vicious Europe that actually exists is another. It cannot and should not last for very long.”

Commentary — May 22, 2015, 1:10 pm

Part of the Problem

Jonathan Chait's flawed attack on David Bromwich's critique of Barack Obama's presidency

Commentary — May 4, 2015, 12:53 pm

A Legitimate Distinction

In defense of the PEN America Center's decision to give Charlie Hebdo its Freedom of Expression Courage Award

Commentary — December 18, 2013, 4:22 pm

Proxy Syndrome

Afghanistan fights fire with fire in its war against the Taliban

Commentary — December 12, 2012, 4:33 pm

New Power Generation

Why I write about Prince

Commentary — October 22, 2012, 2:27 pm

An Excerpt From “How to Rig an Election”

Why the Help America Vote Act has done anything but.

Commentary — October 10, 2012, 8:46 am

The Democratic Argument for Compulsory Voting

Mandatory voting would greatly expand American electoral participation—and help the Democrats.

Commentary — September 14, 2012, 10:27 pm

Syria’s Summer of Stalemate

Looking back on Taftanaz and the slowly shifting course of Syria’s revolution.

Commentary — September 6, 2012, 11:03 am

Samuel James’s Scenes From Nigerian Oil-Refining Communities

This month’s issue of Harper’s Magazine features ”The Water of My Land,” a portfolio of photographs by Samuel James, who spent two months this past February photographing life in the riverine communities of the Niger Delta. Nigeria is the largest oil producer in Africa and the fifth-largest supplier of oil to the United States, but many delta residents have been shut out from this multibillion-dollar industry, and so have resorted to the clandestine trade of bunkering crude oil and refining it themselves. Through his photographs, James hopes to convey how communities engaged in this relentless and destructive practice are risking …

Commentary — September 4, 2012, 9:01 am

Christopher Hitchens’s Very Personal Handbook on Cancer Etiquette

It is strangely humbling to read the last writings of a dying atheist whose opinions seemed of near-stratospheric condescension, and who stood among a group of modern anticlerics who consider empiricism a virtue, disparage religion without consulting theological texts, and in general exercise the same merciless rigidity they despise in their opponents. Humbling because these are the words of a man who was dying. To gripe with his ideas seems petty, irreverent even. And there is, after all, a difference between a man and his beliefs. Christopher Hitchens, who died on December 11, 2011, is the author of the posthumous …

Commentary — August 21, 2012, 9:23 am

The Citizen Kane Era Returns

David Sirota is a Denver-based syndicated newspaper columnist, radio host, and the author of three books, including Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now. His article “The Only Game in Town: An unlikely comeback for dying newspapers” appears in the September 2012 issue of Harper’s Magazine. Last month, the Denver Business Journal showed that international banking scandals can be a major focus of local reporting. In its article “LIBOR scandal may cost Denver schools money,” the low-circulation trade magazine documented how the interest-rate scandal, which originated in the United Kingdom, could end up …

Commentary — August 17, 2012, 9:11 am

Pyramid Insurance

Why are multilevel-marketing companies making big donations to state attorney-general candidates?

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Addressing the graduating cadets at West Point in May 1942, General George C. Marshall, then the Army chief of staff, reduced the nation’s purpose in the global war it had recently joined to a single emphatic sentence. “We are determined,” he remarked, “that before the sun sets on this terrible struggle, our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand and of overwhelming force on the other.”

At the time Marshall spoke, mere months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. forces had sustained a string of painful setbacks and had yet to win a major battle. Eventual victory over Japan and Germany seemed anything but assured. Yet Marshall was already looking beyond the immediate challenges to define what that victory, when ultimately— and, in his view, inevitably—achieved, was going to signify.

This second world war of the twentieth century, Marshall understood, was going to be immense and immensely destructive. But if vast in scope, it would be limited in duration. The sun would set; the war would end. Today no such expectation exists. Marshall’s successors have come to view armed conflict as an open-ended proposition. The alarming turn in U.S.–Iranian relations is another reminder that war has become normal for the United States.

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Last fall, a court filing in the Eastern District of Virginia inadvertently suggested that the Justice Department had indicted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and other outlets reported soon after that Assange had likely been secretly indicted for conspiring with his sources to publish classified government material and hacked documents belonging to the Democratic National Committee, among other things.

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Harold Jamieson, once chief engineer of New York City’s sanitation department, enjoyed retirement. He knew from his small circle of friends that some didn’t, so he considered himself lucky. He had an acre of garden in Queens that he shared with several like-minded horticulturists, he had discovered Netflix, and he was making inroads in the books he’d always meant to read. He still missed his wife—a victim of breast cancer five years previous—but aside from that persistent ache, his life was quite full. Before rising every morning, he reminded himself to enjoy the day. At sixty-eight, he liked to think he had a fair amount of road left, but there was no denying it had begun to narrow.

The best part of those days—assuming it wasn’t raining, snowing, or too cold—was the nine-block walk to Central Park after breakfast. Although he carried a cell phone and used an electronic tablet (had grown dependent on it, in fact), he still preferred the print version of the Times. In the park, he would settle on his favorite bench and spend an hour with it, reading the sections back to front, telling himself he was progressing from the sublime to the ridiculous.

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1. In 2014, Deepti Gurdasani, a genetic epidemiologist at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in England, coauthored a paper in Nature on human genetic variation in Africa, from which this image is taken. A recent study had found that DNA from people of European descent made up 96 percent of genetic samples worldwide, reflecting the historical tendency among scientists and doctors to view the male, European body as a global archetype. “There wasn’t very much data available from Africa at all,” Gurdasani told me. To help rectify the imbalance, her research team collected samples from eighteen African ethnolinguistic groups across the continent—such as the Kalenjin of Uganda and the Oromo of Ethiopia—most of whom had not previously been included in genomic research. They analyzed the data using an admixture algorithm, which visualizes the statistical genetic differences among groups by representing them as color clusters. The top chart shows genetic differences among the sampled African populations, in increasing degrees of granularity from top to bottom, and the bottom chart shows how they compare with ethnic groups in the rest of the world. The areas where the colors mix and overlap imply that groups commingled. The Yoruba, for instance, show remarkable homogeneity—their column is almost entirely green and purple—while the Kalenjin seem to have associated with many populations across the continent.

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Ten yards was the nearest we could get to the river. Any closer and the smell was too much to bear. The water was a milky gray color, as if mixed with ashes, and the passage of floating trash was ceaseless. Plastic bags and bottles, coffee lids, yogurt cups, flip-flops, and sodden stuffed animals drifted past, coated in yellow scum. Amid the old tires and mattresses dumped on the riverbank, mounds of rank green weeds gave refuge to birds and grasshoppers, which didn’t seem bothered by the fecal stench.

El Río de los Remedios, or the River of Remedies, runs through the city of Ecatepec, a densely populated satellite of Mexico City. Confined mostly to concrete channels, the river serves as the main drainage line for the vast monochrome barrios that surround the capital. That day, I was standing on a stretch of the canal just north of Ecatepec, with a twenty-three-year-old photographer named Reyna Leynez. Reyna was the one who’d told me about the place and what it represents. This ruined river, this open sewer, is said to be one of the largest mass graves in Mexico.

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

$1,500

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.

An Iraqi man complaining on live television about the country’s health services died on air.

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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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