William Langewiesche, “American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center” (part two, excerpts); Charles C. Mann, “Homeland Insecurity”; P. J. O'Rourke, “Letter From Egypt”; Witold Rybczynski, “The Bilbao Effect”; Caitlin Flanagan on Martha Stewart; Christopher Hitchens on Martin Amis; fiction by Roxana Robinson; and much more.
"There is a question," our correspondent writes, "that less-sophisticated Americans ask (and more-sophisticated Americans would like to): Why are people in the Middle East so crazy? Here, at the pyramids, was an answer from the earliest days of civilization: People have always been crazy."
The generation that grew up with Rebecca Black’s “Friday” isn’t just nostalgic for that novelty tune—it’s making music inspired by it.
Ten years ago, the most Googled name in the world belonged to a wide-smiling 13-year-old girl everyone seemed to be laughing at. She was Rebecca Black of “Friday,” the calendar-themed sing-along that reached megafame by being, in many people’s judgment, the worst song ever. Amid cheesy production by the ARK Music Factory—a now-defunct Southern California firm that Black’s mom had paid $4,000 to make the song—Black’s auto-tuned voice bleated about cereal, front seats, back seats, and “fun, fun, fun.” In the music video, which featured tweens riding around in a convertible, and on talk shows where hosts quizzed Black about why her song was so hated, she never seemed to drop her grin.
There’s no way of knowing how bad things will get in the U.S. In a way, that’s a luxury.
This much is clear: The coronavirus is becoming more transmissible. Ever since the virus emerged in China, it has been gaining mutations that help it spread more easily among humans. The Alpha variant, first detected in the United Kingdom last year, is 50 percent more transmissible than the original version, and now the Delta variant, first detected in India, is at least 40 percent more transmissible than Alpha.
What’s less certain, however, is how the virus’s increased transmissibility will affect the pandemic in the United States. Alpha’s arrival prompted worries about a new surge in the spring, but one never came. The proportion of Alpha cases kept going up, but the total number of cases kept going down. People got vaccinated. Alpha became dominant in the U.S. Cases fell even further. The virus had become more biologically transmissible, but it wasn’t being transmitted to more people.
Leagues are seeing the downside of treating vaccines as simply a matter of personal choice.
When the NBA announced Wednesday that Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul was being sidelined indefinitely under the league’s coronavirus-safety protocols, the next question was obvious: Had Paul been vaccinated?
For COVID-19 concerns to interrupt Paul’s brilliant playoff run seemed particularly cruel—not only because the widespread availability of vaccines has made transmission of the virus largely preventable, but also because the Suns had just secured a spot in the Western Conference finals. Even though Paul is one of the best NBA point guards ever, this week’s development was another unfortunate entry in his long history of medical problems during the playoffs.
The television analysts Matt Barnes and Jalen Rose, both of whom are former NBA players, soon reported that Paul had indeed been vaccinated. But all the discussion of his status raised another important question: Do fans even have the right to know, and do journalists have the right to ask, if a player has been vaccinated against COVID-19?
The Apple TV+ series Physical is a reminder that making people hate their body is a thriving pillar of American commerce.
This is supposed to be the season of unleashed, exuberant exhibitionism. Many of us have swaddled our pale bodies in Lycra and terry cloth for more than a year; the theory of Hot Vax Summer is that we’re long overdue to expose them to the cruel light of other people’s eyes. In the music video for “Solar Power,” Lorde basks on the beach in a lemon-yellow crop top, the symmetry of her rib cage its own work of art. “Forget all of the tears that you’ve cried; it’s over,” she sings, shooing away our literal and metaphorical winter of COVID-19. (Predictably, the outfit she wears—$615 plus tax!—sold out immediately.) I watched most of Physical—Apple TV+’s new series about a 1980s aerobics queen-in-waiting—with this in mind, idly running my hand over and over my unsculpted midriff, fighting the impulse to throw on a leotard and sweat joyfully along to “Space Age Love Song.” This is the conflict at the center of American consumerist fitness spectacle: Even when it’s at its most transparently questionable, the promise is almost impossible to resist.
A common ideology underlies the practices of many ultra-wealthy people: The government can’t be trusted with money.
When ProPublica published its report last week on the tax profiles of 25 of the richest Americans, jaws dropped across the United States. How was it possible that plutocrats such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett could pay nothing in income taxes to the federal government? What sneaky sleights of pen, what subterfuge, what acts of turpitude could have led to this result?
The shock stems, in part, from a disturbing reality: Nowhere does ProPublica assert that these men cheated, lied, or did anything felonious to lower their tax burdens. The naked fact of the matter is that not a single one of the documented methods and practices that allowed these billionaires to so radically minimize their tax obligations was illegal.