• print • Apr/May 2018

    The Unwinding

    Americans and Libya go way back. The opening lines of the “Marines’ Hymn” commemorate the First Barbary War (1801–05), one of the young republic’s earliest forays into international military intervention. During the Reagan era, Libya and its dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, became synonymous with terrorism for many Americans, after the Libyan-sponsored bombing of a West Berlin nightclub frequented by US soldiers. This mistrust was famously dramatized in Back to the Future, in which the panicked cry “The Libyans!” was intended to be both bloodcurdling and somewhat absurd. And during the last presidential

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  • print • Apr/May 2018

    Rocket Men

    February’s test launch of Elon Musk’s new Falcon Heavy rocket was probably the most expensive and most glorious publicity stunt in the history of advertising: flame and smoke, and then videos of the space-suited mannequin in the cherry-red Tesla Roadster, David Bowie on the stereo, Hitchhiker’s “DON’T PANIC!” on the dashboard screen. Behind this promotion was the promise that Musk’s company SpaceX will soon be sending colonists to the planet Mars. But although the car is on a trajectory that will pass the orbit of Mars later this year, it won’t get anywhere close to the Red Planet, and the

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  • print • Apr/May 2018

    Our Men in Moscow

    As relations between Russia and the United States continue to worsen, one of the unexpected twists in the unfolding drama has been the dragging of each nation’s ambassadors into the limelight. Usually, these diplomatic figures spend most of their time hosting parties and attending state ceremonies. But the compulsion to conjure phantoms has made two recent ambassadors—Michael McFaul, Obama’s ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014, and Sergey Kislyak, Putin’s ambassador to the US from 2008 to 2017—into the public faces of their countries’ treachery.

    Bizarre as the current situation is, the role

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  • print • Apr/May 2018

    On the Job

    While #MeToo has exposed the pervasiveness of sexual abuse in a handful of high-profile industries, its priorities have so far reflected broader social hierarchies, giving outsize attention to the experiences of a privileged minority. In a Day’s Work shows us what harassment looks like outside Hollywood and the Beltway. A journalist at the Center for Investigative Reporting, Bernice Yeung has been on this beat for years, producing necessary, unglamorous exposés of the abuse suffered by low-wage laborers—mostly immigrants, mostly women—who are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence at work.

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2018

    Of Terror, Tribes, and Spies

    Kabul in the summer of 1996 was under siege. A little-known force of young militants had surged north from their base in the south. For months, they had camped just beyond the city limits, raining shells on the capital almost daily. They called themselves religious “students”—or in the local Pashto, Taliban.

    I had seen them earlier that summer in Kandahar, cradle of the new radical Islamist movement. The mullahs wore all black and seemed to pray all night. During the day, they crowded into Ford 4x4s, laden with rifles and RPGs and eager to expand the borders of their would-be statelet, the

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2018

    The Hills Have Lies

    If there was one book impossible to escape during the eternal election of 2016, it was J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. The Ohio native’s “memoir of a family and culture in crisis,” which detailed his dismal childhood with a substance-abusing single mother and his ascension, through hard work and education, into the ranks of the coastal elite, received rapturous praise upon its publication. Liberal and conservative commentators alike seized on its narrative and setting as a key to the candidacy and election of Donald Trump. In Vance, they discovered a trustworthy local interpreter from Trump

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2018

    Nowhere Fast

    No one chases death like the young. Goth teens, sure, and kids on social media who ask the Pope to murder them with sex, and anyone for whom a death wish is mainly a style or a meme. But non-elderly Americans are killing themselves at a staggering rate, and it’s increasingly difficult to tell what’s accidental and what’s intentional. The November overdose of twenty-one-year-old rapper Lil Peep was exemplary in its ambiguity: His Instagram posts just before he died swung between resignation and struggle, between “fucc it” and “one day maybe I won’t die young.” His death was self-inflicted but

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2018

    The Second Sect

    In August 2016, a widely circulated photograph showed armed police officers standing over a woman on a crowded beach in Nice as she awkwardly removed the top layer of her burkini. The confrontation was the latest stage in France’s decades-long struggle over certain forms of religious expression in public. Building on a 2004 law prohibiting head scarves in public schools, several towns in the South of France had banned “beach attire that ostentatiously displays a religious affiliation” in response to the 2016 Bastille Day terrorist attack in Nice. Around the same time, a woman in Cannes was

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2018

    The Quiet Americans

    In his inaugural address as America’s forty-fifth president, Donald Trump invoked the image of a nation in crisis. From “mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities” to “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones,” his speech portrayed a landscape of squalor and misery. Returning to a favorite theme of his campaign, Trump laid the blame for much of this devastation on the “crime and gangs and drugs” that, according to him, “have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.” “This American carnage,” he promised, “stops right here and stops

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2018

    Medication and Its Discontents

    It’s hard to say exactly when her depression began, Lauren Slater tells us, but she has a memory from the summer of her sixth or seventh year. She and her sister were sitting on their stoop, sweltering in the heat, when they were approached by a sweaty man in a dark suit. “His face perspired heavily as he knelt by my sister and me and asked if we would like to see his monkey dance,” she writes. “He was so close I could smell his cinder breath and then I saw his hand, or rather his lack of a hand, how one empty cuff just hung down, the skin at the knob of his bony wrist marbled and seamed.”

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2018

    Unnatural History

    With the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere the highest it’s been since the Pliocene, there is no dearth of au courant theories explaining how nature and society do not in any sense compose distinct spheres. Nature cannot be distinguished from society because the former, no less than the latter, is “constructed”—a discursive figuration or trope with no independent external reality. Or they can’t be distinguished because nature now constitutes a hopelessly blurred hybrid with society. Or because nature has simply ended. Or because, as French philosopher and anthropologist Bruno

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2018

    Resident Experts

    By the time the last tower at Cabrini-Green was demolished, in 2011, the notorious Chicago public-housing complex had become a national shorthand for anything “derelict or dangerous, from neighborhoods in other cities to a temporarily out-of-service elevator in a high-end apartment building,” as Ben Austen writes. In his new book, High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing, Austen explains how the homes, built between 1942 and 1962, started out as a vision of what public housing could be and ended as an example of inner-city blight.

    Plenty has been written about the

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