Washington, D.C. (May 20, 2015)—The June 2015 issue of The Atlantic is now available online—with key pieces summarized and provided below:
Cover Story: “The Execution of Clayton Lockett”: To the reporters who witnessed the execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma last spring, it was like a scene from a horror movie. But the story goes far beyond what went wrong in the death chamber that night. As manufacturers of key lethal-injection drugs banned prisons from using their products, states resorted to far-flung suppliers and sketchy middlemen to provide alternatives. Ahead of a Supreme Court ruling on whether Oklahoma’s lethal-injection cocktail constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, Jeffrey E. Stern has a deeply reported narrative that recounts, in unprecedented detail, Lockett’s story and exposes how states are handling (and mishandling) lethal injections. At one point, Stern reports that officials from Oklahoma and Texas joked about bartering football tickets and tollway passes for help finding execution drugs, and one desperate Oklahoma official began walking into pharmacies across the state and asking whether they had a certain anesthetic, without success. Through access to court documents no longer available to the public and firsthand accounts, Stern reveals that lethal injection is not the painless, clinical procedure many believe it to be. The cover story is accompanied by “A Brief History of Executions” by The Atlantic’s Matt Ford.
Features and Essay:
Why It Pays to Be a Jerk: Do nice guys or jerks finish first? It’s hard to think of an unknown that has attracted so much water-cooler philosophizing yet so little scientific inquiry. Business opinion has lately swung toward nice guys, but the answer is not so simple. According to veteran business reporter Jerry Useem, research shows that narcissists seem to populate both extremes of the success spectrum. At the University of Amsterdam, researchers have found that semi-obnoxious behavior not only makes a person seem more powerful but can actually make them more powerful. The same goes for overconfidence. And “agreeableness,” other research shows, is a trait that tends to make you poorer. But being a jerk might not always get you to the top. While “givers” and “takers” each have their adaptive advantages, Useem finds that it just might be a combination of the two, the “disagreeable giver,” who turns out to see the most success.
The Mysterious Columba Bush: Few political spouses in recent memory have been as wary of the spotlight as Columba Bush, Jeb’s wife of 41 years. In a family where the sons traditionally choose their wives from a small society circle, Jeb’s choice in Columba, a barely-middle-class Mexican immigrant, registered as baffling, even reckless. While her husband was smoothly going native, her own cultural transition into Bushland was halting and bumpy. It was during Bush’s governing years that Columba reportedly told Jeb he had ruined her life. The press has tried to get inside the mind of real Columba Bush over the years, but she remains largely a mystery, fiercely devoted to living a private life with her family. As Atlantic national correspondent Hanna Rosin writes in her profile, all of this makes us wonder what it will be like for her to live through a national campaign and possibly a presidency, during which the mode she’s enjoyed least will become her entire existence.
“How Indie Rock Changed the World”: Two decades before a bunch of geeky American boys messing around on computers created social media, geeky kids messing around on guitars created another sort of social network. Through the framework of two new memoirs on how indie culture was built in the 1980s, sustained and transformed through the 1990s, and revived in the past decade, Deborah Cohen explores how the evolution of indie rock nerds helped jump-start our social-media-driven DIY culture.
The Sexes: “Playing the Granny Card”: The dearth of females in the upper echelons of virtually every field is notorious, and tends to get worse, not better, the higher you look. Lately, though, a group of prominent 60-somethings—Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Angela Merkel, and Christine Lagarde among them—is forging a new path in the world. According to Liza Mundy, the current cohort of female éminences grises may well herald an era when aging, for women, ceases to be an enemy, and even becomes a friend. Mundy explores how anthropology and shifting societal dynamics are changing perceptions about what older women can achieve later in life, and why, luckily for Hillary, age might just be a political asset for women.
Sketch: “Pixar’s Mood Master”: The prevailing Western metaphors for emotions have been mostly negative: they’re uncontrollable forces that can make us crazy. But Pixar animator, screenwriter, and director Pete Doctor hopes to change that with his forthcoming film, Inside Out. Daniel Smith profiles the man behind the film that could stand to change the cultural notions of emotions for the better; describing the film as “high concept, narratively ornate, and [as] psychologically intricate as a Christopher Nolan film—Inception by way of Fantasia.”
Wordplay: “Why Men Are Retweeted More”: Despite roughly equal proportions of American men and women on Twitter, women appear to trail male users in terms of influence; one measuring tool indicates that men are twice as likely to be retweeted. Jessica Bennett explores what the hashtag can tell us about how the sexes behave differently on the social-media giant.
Business: “The Blame Trap”: According to former U.S. Treasury Secretaries Henry Paulson and Robert Rubin, discussions of the U.S.-China economic relationship too often begin with a recital of each country’s grievances against the other. It’s time to turn that usual litany of critiques on its head. While the greatest American threat to China’s economic future is the possibility that America’s economic success could come to an end, the greatest economic danger China poses to the U.S. is the chance that China’s economy fails to grow. In their essay, Rubin and Paulson argue that the U.S. and China must act on each other’s critiques if either wants to see sustainable economic growth in the future.
History: “The Art of Avoiding War”: America is learning an ironic truth of empire from an ancient source. As the ruthless and tactical Scythians demonstrated: you endure by not fighting every battle—and these lessons are as applicable today as they were thousands of years ago. As war zones become vaster and emptier of combatants, Robert Kaplan explores how ancient history can inform U.S. strategy for confronting modern-day Scythians like ISIS. How can the U.S. avoid being undone by pride while still fulfilling its moral responsibility? Kaplan suggests policy steps America should take to maintain its reach—but not overreach.
From the Culture File:
Omnivore: “Making Sense of Björk”: There’s nobody like Björk: design freak, beat-hunter, womb of experimentation—a pop star with a soul of a poet. MoMA has taken on the challenge of funneling all of this into a much-talked-about exhibition. In his latest column, James Parker visits the Björk exhibition, detailing what the museum gets wrong—and right—in its controversial retrospective on the Icelandic pop icon.
Books: “Was Dickens a Thief?”: Professor Nicholas Dames has the review of Death and Mr. Pickwick, a new novel that portrays the young writer as a conniving founder of modern mass culture. “This Dickens,” he writes, “belongs in a pantheon alongside not Balzac and Tolstoy but Jobs and Zuckerberg, a canny interloper ruthlessly making the most of a historical transition."
If residents of the year 2115 dropped into 2015 for a visit, would they be appalled by any of our everyday habits and niceties? This month’s Big Question asks: “Which Current Behavior Will Be Most Unthinkable 100 Years Hence?” From driving and having a lawn, to excessive emailing and overphotographing the ubiquitous elements of daily life, a panel of writers, philosophers, and activists weigh in.
These articles and more are featured in the June 2015 issue of The Atlantic, available today, May 20, 2015, on TheAtlantic.com and The Atlantic’s mobile app, and on newsstands later this week.