There are appealing versions of the scenario in which a cryptographer has an amateur interest in escapology, and re-enacts Harry Houdini’s tricks. Then there is the sad one. The partly decomposed body of a British G.C.H.Q. code-breaker, assigned to work with MI6, was found in a padlocked red duffel bag in the bathtub of his own apartment, in the Pimlico section of London, in the summer of 2010. The spy’s name was Gareth Williams, and he was said to be very good at math. His body was naked, curled up; it’s not clear how he died. On Wednesday, after an inquest, two more years of police investigation, and a tally of the spies who might need anonymity before they testified (forty of them), London’s Metropolitan Police said that they had an answer, or at least were done: it looked to them like an accident...CONTINUE READING >>
Not quite two weeks ago, Julianne Hough’s Halloween costume ignited conversations about the ignominious history of blackface caricature in entertainment. A week later, Kanye West announced that he had co-opted the Confederate flag, in a scheme that was audacious, futile, cynical, provocative, and bewildering—perhaps the next logical step for a genre that has relentlessly repurposed the six-letter epithet most closely associated with Confederate racial sentiment. In the midst of these two spectacles, we were asked to ponder another case study, this one about the intersection of race, athletics, bullying, and the conspicuous behavior of a man named Incognito. The moral of all these misadventures in race seems to be that our culture is in need of either a greater sum of social maturity or a faster metabolism. Perhaps both.
Over the past seven months, Venezuelans have been trying to get used to a President, Nicolás Maduro, whose performance goes beyond the usual standards of astonishment, even for a country that has produced figures as extravagant and charismatic as his late predecessor, Hugo Chávez. In April, Maduro said that Chávez’s spirit had spoken to him through a bird. Two weeks ago, he showed photographs taken in a subway tunnel where, supposedly, you could see the face of his mentor in the rocks. Maduro has also minted several examples of linguistic nonsense, such as when he called for the multiplication of penises and loaves (penes y panes) instead of fishes and loaves (peces y panes), but most of his slips of the tongue are almost impossible to translate. Whereas Chávez was pugnacious but amusing, his successor is boring and muddled—a mess. Maduro’s not Chávez, people on all sides of the political divide say, and the polls prove it. Popular approval of Chávez remains at around seventy per cent, while Maduro’s rating has plummeted to 40.9 per cent from 55.2 six months ago, according to Datanálisis, one of the most trusted pollsters.
Last month, during a community forum in the state of Aragua, Maduro branded the opposition leaders—Henrique Capriles Radonski, who ran against him for President and got 49.12 per cent of the vote; Leopoldo López, a party organizer; and María Corina Machado, an assemblywoman—as the Trilogy of Evil. He also called them “mercenaries” and “fascist parasites.” Those present applauded...CONTINUE READING >>
When President Obama looked in the mirror on Wednesday morning, he must have wondered whether things could get any worse for the limber, graying fellow staring back at him. According to one new poll, his approval rating had hit a new low; his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, had joined the chorus criticizing him for misleading the American people about keeping their existing health-care policies; the Washington Post was reporting that healthcare.gov, the benighted Web site that is the source of most of his problems, won’t be fully fixed by the end of the month—something the White House had promised a few weeks ago; and Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, was about to announce that fewer than twenty seven thousand people have enrolled in new insurance plans through the federal online exchange.
The situation is dire alright—arguably the worst moment of Obama’s five-year tenure. But the Hawaiian Houdini still has one thing going for him, and that’s the uncanny tendency of some of his Republican enemies to turn opportunities into calamities. And none is more adept at this party trick than Darrell Edward Issa, the San Diego loudmouth whose House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a public hearing today, which backfired almost immediately...CONTINUE READING >>
In 2001, U.S.-led NATO forces invaded Afghanistan to hunt down Al Qaeda and take down the Taliban government. In the years that followed, fifty-four billion dollars came into the country in the form of economic aid and military spending. War-related industries sprouted and prospered: construction, logistics, and security. The country’s official per-capita G.D.P. more than quadrupled from 2001 to 2010. There was rampant corruption and graft, but the country also saw concrete improvements: The maternal mortality rate dropped by half from 2000 to 2011, and life expectancy rose by nearly four years over that period.
This year, Afghanistan’s G.D.P. is expected to grow 3.7 per cent, down from growth of twelve per cent in 2012, according to a projection by the World Bank. In Kabul, drug addicts can be seen squabbling over heroin at traffic islands in broad daylight, and day laborers mill around on street corners, desperate for low-paying work. “The thing about a bubble is that it bursts,” Kate Clark, a senior analyst with the Afghanistan Analysts Network, said. “Some things you don’t lose, like education or aspiration,” Clark said. But she wonders what will happen to the young men and women who have reaped the benefits of the past decade and gotten used to comfortable lives replete with education and employment opportunities. “Particularly when you have so many young men out in the job market like we have now, I think there is going to be trouble ahead,” she told me...CONTINUE READING >>
Janis Shinwari, the Afghan interpreter I wrote about a couple of months ago, finally had his U.S. visa restored, and he’s now in Virginia with his wife and two children. That’s a success story of sorts. But the effort it took to get them out of danger and over here shows how deep the betrayal of Afghans and Iraqis like Shinwari really runs.
During his seven years as an interpreter for the U.S. Army, Shinwari saved the lives of several American soldiers. One of them was Matt Zeller, a former intelligence officer who is still in the Army reserve. When the American Embassy in Kabul mysteriously revoked Shinwari’s Special Immigrant Visa shortly after issuing it, in September, Zeller pushed to get people in Washington to pay attention. According to Zeller, the State Department regarded the affair as closed; Shinwari’s chances of getting to America were almost zero. But attention and, especially, pressure from half a dozen members of Congress whom Zeller contacted—including Earl Blumenauer, of Oregon, who called for hearings, and Jim McDermott, of Washington, who spoke about Shinwari with a senior State Department official—made it impossible for the government to ignore the case. Since Benghazi, State has been extremely sensitive to congressional inquiries, and the small storm kicked up by Zeller’s frenetic lobbying on Capitol Hill forced the plight of this one Afghan, among thousands like him, to the attention of top officials...CONTINUE READING >>
I just got back from London, where I ran into a senior British official I hadn’t seen in some time. I asked him what was going on. “Another housing bubble,” he said, only half-jokingly. After being depressed for a few years, house prices in the English capital are rising at an annual rate of about ten per cent, and in some trendy areas the rate of increase is much higher than that. In the British media, there is already talk of the Bank of England raising interest rates sometime soon to head off another boom-bust cycle.
At least we don’t have that problem in the United States, I thought to myself. Or do we? At breakfast this morning, my wife informed me that our home, which we purchased a decade ago, in a gentrifying section of Brooklyn, has risen in value by another hundred thousand dollars. Over the past twelve months or so, prices on our once-modest street have jumped by about a third. And it’s not just brownstone Brooklyn. Listening to the radio the other day, I heard that in parts of Hoboken, across the Hudson in New Jersey, prices have jumped by forty per cent in a year...CONTINUE READING >>
On November 8th, after Typhoon Haiyan hit, Helen Merino, a forty-four-year-old housemaid in Manila, tried to reach her parents in rural Barangay Tolingon, part of Isabel municipality in Leyte province. All power and communication lines were down, but somehow Facebook was accessible—not for nothing is the Philippines known as the world’s social-media capital. That evening, a cousin messaged Helen’s son on Facebook and posted a picture of a tree that had crushed her parents’ house. But they were alive—they had taken refuge in a school that had been turned into an evacuation center. The school’s roof had been blown off.
Throughout the weekend, Helen, her three siblings in Manila, and two in the Davao region, in the south, tried to contact their parents. Helen finally got through to her mother, Rosella, on Monday morning. Rosella reported that she and her husband were all right, but they were still in their wet clothes, and had lost all their possessions. All the trees on their land had been knocked over. They had a little food—unripe bananas picked from a fallen tree. Rosella asked Helen to send them rice by air transport. Meanwhile, Helen’s brother heard that relief trucks were making their way to Isabel. Helen and her siblings, none of whom makes more than three hundred U.S. dollars a month, pooled their funds and asked a relative in Cebu province to bring rice and other supplies to their parents in Leyte...CONTINUE READING >>
Last week, Amazon.com unveiled Amazon Source—a partnership through which retailers, including independent bookstores, can sell Amazon’s Kindle e-readers. In its press release, the online retailer described a literary utopia in which e-books and indie bookstores would peacefully coexist: “With Amazon Source, customers don’t have to choose between e-books and their favorite neighborhood bookstore—they can have both.”
Amazon’s program offers U.S. retailers two options. As “Booksellers,” an option available to retailers in twenty-four states, they receive Kindles from Amazon at a six-per-cent discount off the suggested retail price and earn a commission of ten per cent on e-book sales in the two years following the sale of a Kindle. As “General Retailers,” available to stores in any state, they profit only from the sale of the device, but obtain it from Amazon at a discount of nine per cent.
It should come as no surprise that Amazon’s utopia looks, to many independent booksellers, like a deal with the Devil...CONTINUE READING >>
When I started working as a medical resident, in 2004, I heard from a patient I had inherited from a graduating resident. The patient had an appointment scheduled in a couple weeks. “But I need your help now,” he said.
He was a former construction worker who had hurt himself on the job a couple of years earlier. He told me, “I also need some more OxyContin to tide me over until I can see you.” The hospital computer system told me that he had been taking twenty milligrams of OxyContin, three times a day, for at least the last couple of years. I had rarely seen such high doses of narcotics prescribed for such long periods of time. I’d seen narcotics prescribed in the hospital to patients who had been injured, or to those with pain from an operation or from cancer. But I didn’t have much experience with narcotics for outpatients. I figured that if the previous resident—now a fully licensed doctor—was doing this, then it must be O.K.