• print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2018

    Mamma Mia

    Every once in a while the psychoanalyst comes across certain deep beliefs in one of their analysands—a knot in the unconscious that sets a pattern and compels the analysand to act a certain way, again and again. Like the deep state, or the giant web of dark matter structuring the universe, there’s no way to tell exactly when or how it’s at work, or if it’s even there. When this knot emerges in analysis, it is visible only for a moment before ducking back under. The analyst’s job is to draw attention to its importance in shaping behavior—a role that is at once surreal and inconceivably simple.

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2018

    Can I Get a Witness?

    For decades, the forbidding bulk of the 808-page hardcover edition of Witness (1952)—Whittaker Chambers’s fam-ous apologia for his life as a Communist spy, his eventual political apostasy and religious rebirth, and his sensational agon with New Deal golden boy and probable fellow agent Alger Hiss—had resided on the bio-graphy section of our bookshelf, the legacy of a long-ago college paper written by my wife. I mentally filed it away in the category of books I was happy we owned (a valuable Random House first edition) and that I might get around to reading one of these years.

    The occasion to

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2018

    Throne of Games

    I’m pretty sure Robert Lipsyte was the first to make the insolent-yet-logical suggestion that the World Series be referred to by a more appropriate name: the North American Baseball Championships for Men. This was back in 1975, when Lipsyte’s SportsWorld: An American Dreamland was first published. It was also the year of perhaps the most riveting of those men’s baseball championships ever, between the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Red Sox. Superlatives were common in sport that year, which also presented for history’s consideration the epochal third heavyweight championship bout between Muhammad

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  • print • Summer 2018

    Digging Deep

    A “Sy Hersh piece,” as readers of the New York Times and the New Yorker have come to know over the past half century, is often met with dread. A dense intrigue unfolds, the unpacking aided by unnamed spooks who unspool salacious quotes, in seeming competition with one another, while the stakes for the body politic build to fever pitch. The tales are arcane, obtuse, and, above all, dark.

    “A bitch to read,” Hersh says of his 2001 New Yorker piece on American oil and Kazakh greed.

    If Hersh gained fame and a lifetime of street cred for his 1969 series on My Lai, the first documented massacre in

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  • print • Summer 2018

    Mine Control

    The Marcellus Shale is a 575-mile-long stretch of sedimentary rock, most of it deep underground, that settled millions of years ago over the imprint of an ancient sea. It lies beneath much of Appalachia, extending up through western and northern Pennsylvania and a section of western New York. Trapped within the rock are vast stores of natural gas, and because it’s so close to existing gas pipelines and the cities of the East Coast, the Marcellus Shale has long been, for energy companies, an attractive prize—“like discovering an underground deposit of beer directly beneath Yankee Stadium,” the

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  • print • Summer 2018

    Commercial Break

    Not since William Steig’s C D B! have I read a book with as many capital letters as Ken Auletta’s Frenemies. Sometimes they appear, without warning, in the middle of names—the “L” in MediaLink, the “M” in VaynerMedia—but mostly they arrive in great alphabet-soup spoonfuls. In the first chapter, we learn that AT&T has dropped WPP, which owns JWT, AKQA, and KBM; later in the book we meet the CEOs of agencies like BBDO and DDB. Auletta sketches out the difference between a creative agency like IPG’s FCB and a media agency like WPP’s MEC; he teaches us that the media agency GroupM—the “M” arising

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  • print • Summer 2018

    Unwell Water

    A grim turn of events briefly overtook the barely modulated insanity of our past presidential election season, around the time when the Steve Bannons of the world were declaring war on “the administrative state.” The city of Flint, Michigan, former home of most of the General Motors empire, was found to be in a state of malign neglect usually associated with developing-world kleptocracies like the Sudan or Haiti, as the city’s water supply was shown to be unfit for any human use. Families in the onetime colossus of US automobile manufacturing—which had, not long before, boasted one of the

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  • print • Summer 2018

    Big-Bang Theory

    In the wake of February’s mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, the public American conversation about gun control has been animated by a recurrent theme: the idea of a ban on assault weapons. According to Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, these guns—most often AR-15-style rifles, civilian versions of the American military’s primary firearm—are “weapons of war” that have no place on “our streets.” But AR-15s are made here in the USA; their manufacturers are subsidized by tax breaks and contracts championed by legislators from both parties. Schumer once called Remington Arms, the oldest American

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  • print • Summer 2018

    Unsettled Territory

    In nineteenth-century America, the word progress signaled limitless expansion and domination: Manifest Destiny was in full force and Americans rushed to exploit the country’s seemingly endless natural resources. In This Radical Land, landscape historian Daegan Miller returns to the era when this idea of progress first took shape. He gives us intriguing counterexamples, writing a history of forgotten communities that advanced a radical vision of what humans’ relationship to the land could be: One defined not by exploitation but by sustainability and interdependence. Surprisingly, it’s a definition

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  • print • Apr/May 2018

    White Lies

    In a country whose literary heritage includes the likes of Gone with the Wind and Atlas Shrugged, it should come as no surprise that the most politically influential novel in America during the past half century is terrible. But the terror in this case is literal, too: neo-Nazi leader William Pierce’s The Turner Diaries has inspired multiple generations of white supremacist terrorists since its publication in 1978. Framed as the memoirs of Earl Turner, engineer and bomber, the Diaries tracks the exploits of the Organization, a revolutionary group devoted to the violent overthrow of the federal

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  • print • Apr/May 2018

    Harlem Renaissance Man

    So for generations in the mind of America, the Negro has been more of a formula than a human being—a something to be argued about, condemned or defended, to be “kept down,” or “in his place,” or “helped up,” to be worried with or worried over, harassed or patronized, a social bogey or a social burden. The thinking Negro even has been induced to share this same general attitude, to focus his attention on controversial issues, to see himself in the distorted perspective of a social problem. His shadow, so to speak, has been more real to him than his personality.

    —Alain Locke, The New Negro (

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  • print • Apr/May 2018

    Declarations of Independence

    Lately I’ve been preoccupied with a strange thought, what one might call a blip of cultural memory: The only human-made object that has reached interstellar space—the Voyager 1 probe, launched by nasa in 1977—is a record player. Though it carries mathematical formulas and graphs and drawings of human figures Voyager’sgold-plated 16 2⁄3 rpm record is the main event: It includes a selection from Glenn Gould’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, Stravinsky conducting The Rite of Spring, Louis Armstrong’s “Melancholy Blues,”songs played by traditional musicians of Benin and Australia, shakuhachi flute from

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