1) Usually when I mention an item in a new issue of The Atlantic, I make sure to add "subscribe!" Half schtick, half serious - and the remaining half serious too. This month, I'll say for variety: check out the newsstand version of our May issue.
This issue is about twice as fat as normal because in addition to the "regular" contents it has our annual Fiction issue with several powerful short stories, plus an essay by Joyce Carol Oates and an interview with Paul Theroux. I won't go through the whole lineup but will just say that the three feature-length "well" pieces in the issue really deserve attention for their variety of narrative and reportorial strengths. Marc Ambinder's personal-and-policy account of what it might take to deal with America's obesity epidemic, David Freed's whodunnit about the very public persecution of an unlovable but innocent man, and Howard French's vivid and original analysis of what China's new form of non-gunboat colonialism will mean in Africa -- these are illustrations of what journalism can do. I am never objective about the Atlantic, but I can be more or less arm's-length about this issue because I don't have an article in it. Check it out.
2) I mentioned several weeks ago that when I met Karl Marlantes in graduate school in the early 1970s, he was talking about his recent service as a Marine in Vietnam and his intention to write about it some day. Through most of the intervening years, he has been working on his novel, Matterhorn.
It's a long book, which I have read obsessively this past week. It is truly a magnificent work.
As almost every review has mentioned, the book's first few pages are somewhat labored, introducing a cast of characters (who after first mention are last-name-only through the rest of the book) and doing organizational setup. They do not suggest the narrative velocity and emotional and moral richness of what comes after that. I predict that if you get twenty pages in -- to roughly the episode with the unfortunate Marine named Fisher and the leech -- you will want to keep on until the ending, 500-plus pages later.
This is certainly one of the most powerful and moving novels ever written about Vietnam, and its description of combat rivals anything I have read on the topic -- by Erich Maria Remarque, Norman Mailer, James Jones, James Webb, John Keegan, Paul Fussell, anyone. I've mentioned before that my personal test for the quality of fiction is whether I find myself remembering a book -- characters, scenes, choices -- months or years after I've put the book down. I expect to remember this one.
Matterhorn is in a strict sense apolitical but can be read as a complete indictment of the Vietnam War in concept and execution (the action concerns the taking, abandonment, and devastatingly bloody re-taking of a hill that doesn't matter to either side) -- and also as the most moving description of heroism and sacrifice by men at arms. It richly deserves the acclaim it is receiving.
James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
As the public’s fear and loathing surge, the frontrunner’s durable candidacy has taken a dark turn.
MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina—All politicians, if they are any good at their craft, know the truth about human nature.
Donald Trump is very good, and he knows it better than most.
Trump stands alone on a long platform, surrounded by a rapturous throng. Below and behind him—sitting on bleachers and standing on the floor—they fill this city’s cavernous, yellow-beige convention center by the thousands. As Trump will shortly point out, there are a lot of other Republican presidential candidates, but none of them get crowds anything like this.
Trump raises an orange-pink hand like a waiter holding a tray. “They are not coming in from Syria,” he says. “We’re sending them back!” The crowd surges, whistles, cheers. “So many bad things are happening—they have sections of Paris where the police are afraid to go,” he continues. “Look at Belgium, the whole place is closed down! We can’t let it happen here, folks.”
Can we predict romantic prospects just from looking at a face?
By the time you swear you're his, / Shivering and sighing. / And he vows his passion is/ Infinite, undying. / Lady, make a note of this — /One of you is lying. ― Dorothy Parker
Edward Royzman, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, asks me to list four qualities on a piece of paper: physical attractiveness, income, kindness, and fidelity. Then he gives me 200 virtual “date points” that I’m to distribute among the four traits. The more I allocate to each attribute, the more highly I supposedly value that quality in a mate.
This experiment, which Royzman sometimes runs with his college classes, is meant to inject scarcity into hypothetical dating decisions in order to force people to prioritize.
And other stories behind the origin and meaning of a distinctly modern holiday
Why is it called Black Friday? The most common answer is that on the day after Thanksgiving, it’s said that retailers go from being in the red to being in the black, with their profits for the year riding on just how much they can sell before Christmas.
But in fact, the earliest references to that day as Black Friday had little to do with business success—they were about the unusually high rates of work absenteeism the day after Thanksgiving. The shift of the day’s connotation from negative to positive points to the commercialization of holidays, and is an example of how the meaning of a holiday can shift over time, often as a result of contentious debates.
The first common uses of the term “Black Friday” referred to two devastating stock-market crashes that occurred on Fridays—one on September 24, 1869, when the price of gold collapsed, and another on September 19, 1873, leading to a decade-long depression. In the following century, the crash of 1929 started another depression, but it happened on a Tuesday, so naturally it became known as “Black Tuesday.” Calling a dramatically bad day “black” became a familiar turn of phrase, especially when it came to Fridays, and the label was applied even to some cases internationally, such as a November 1910 incident in England when police used force against about 300 demonstrating suffragettes, and to Australian brushfires in 1939. Before it took on its modern meaning, the phrase “Black Friday” had a negative ring to it, and wasn’t even related to Thanksgiving.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
Retailers are experimenting with a bold new strategy for the commercial high holiday: boycotting themselves.
It starts with a scene of touch football in the yard. Next, a woman and a girl, cooking together in the kitchen. “Imagine a world,” a soothing voice intones, “where the only thing you have to wrestle for on Thanksgiving is the last piece of pumpkin pie, and the only place we camped out was in front of a fire, and not the parking lot of a store.” And, then, more scenes: a man, cuddling with kids on a couch. An older woman, rolling pie dough on the counter. A fire, crackling in the fireplace. Warmth. Wine. Togetherness. Laughter.
It’s an ad, unsurprisingly, but it’s an ad with a strange objective: to tell you not to buy stuff. Or, at least, to spend a day not buying stuff. “At T.J. Maxx, Marshall’s, and HomeGoods, we’re closed on Thanksgiving,” the spot’s velvet-voiced narrator informs us, “because family time comes first.” And then: more music. More scenes of familiar/familial delights. More laughter. More pie. The whole thing concludes: “Let’s put more value on what really matters. This season, bring back the holidays—with T.J. Maxx, Marshall’s, and HomeGoods.”
Nobody’s focused on winning the peace. That’s a big problem.
In August 1941, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt met off the coast of Newfoundland to outline a shared vision for the post-World War II era. The British prime minister was so thrilled to see the American president that, in the words of one official, “You’d have thought he was being carried up into the heavens to meet God.” The two countries issued the Atlantic Charter, which sought “a better future for the world” through the principles of self-determination, collective security, and free trade. The United States hadn’t even entered the war yet, but it was already focused on winning the peace. The endgame was not just the defeat of the Axis powers, but also the creation of a stable global order, in which World War II would be the last world war.
An entire industry has been built on the premise that creating gourmet meals at home is simple and effortless. But it isn’t true.
I write about food for a living. Because of this, I spend more time than the average American surrounded by cooking advice and recipes. I’m also a mother, which means more often than not, when I return from work 15 minutes before bedtime, I end up feeding my 1-year-old son squares of peanut-butter toast because there was nothing in the fridge capable of being transformed into a wholesome, homemade toddler meal in a matter of minutes. Every day, when I head to my office after a nourishing breakfast of smashed blueberries or oatmeal I found stuck to the pan, and open a glossy new cookbook, check my RSS feed, or page through a stack of magazines, I’m confronted by an impenetrable wall of unimaginable cooking projects, just sitting there pretending to be totally reasonable meals. Homemade beef barbacoa tacos. Short-rib potpie. “Weekday” French toast. Make-ahead coconut cake. They might as well be skyscraper blueprints, so improbable is the possibility that I will begin making my own nut butters, baking my own sandwich bread, or turning that fall farmer’s market bounty into jars of homemade applesauce.
Why are so many kids with bright prospects killing themselves in Palo Alto?
The air shrieks, and life stops. First, from far away, comes a high whine like angry insects swarming, and then a trampling, like a herd moving through. The kids on their bikes who pass by the Caltrain crossing are eager to get home from school, but they know the drill. Brake. Wait for the train to pass. Five cars, double-decker, tearing past at 50 miles an hour. Too fast to see the faces of the Silicon Valley commuters on board, only a long silver thing with black teeth. A Caltrain coming into a station slows, invites you in. But a Caltrain at a crossing registers more like an ambulance, warning you fiercely out of its way.
The kids wait until the passing train forces a gust you can feel on your skin. The alarms ring and the red lights flash for a few seconds more, just in case. Then the gate lifts up, signaling that it’s safe to cross. All at once life revives: a rush of bikes, skateboards, helmets, backpacks, basketball shorts, boisterous conversation. “Ew, how old is that gum?” “The quiz is next week, dipshit.” On the road, a minivan makes a left a little too fast—nothing ominous, just a mom late for pickup. The air is again still, like it usually is in spring in Palo Alto. A woodpecker does its work nearby. A bee goes in search of jasmine, stinging no one.
The 2016 Sony World Photography Awards are now taking entries, and the organizers have been kind enough to share some of their early entries with us.
The 2016 Sony World Photography Awards are now taking entries, and the organizers have been kind enough to share some of their early entries with us, gathered below. Last year’s competition attracted over 173,000 entries from 171 countries. Entries will be accepted until January 5, 2016. All captions below come from the photographers.