Katy Waldman in The New Yorker:
Sally Horner was a widow’s daughter, a brown-haired honor student, from Camden, New Jersey. In 1948, hoping to impress some popular girls, she nicked a notebook from a dime store and was accosted by a man, Frank La Salle, posing as an F.B.I. agent. La Salle, who told Horner his name was Frank Warren, informed the eleven-year-old that he was placing her under surveillance. Then he commanded her to take a bus with him to Atlantic City, and from there they embarked on a cross-country road trip. Like Humbert Humbert, the protagonist of the novel “Lolita,” by Vladimir Nabokov, La Salle concealed his predations by posing as his victim’s father. (In the book, Humbert actually becomes Dolores Haze’s stepfather.) After enduring twenty-one months of rape and abuse, Sally finally opened up to a neighbor, Ruth Janisch, and found the strength to telephone her family back in Camden; the F.B.I. recovered her from a trailer park in Southern California and arrested La Salle, who confessed and went to prison for the rest of his life. In 1952, two years after her rescue, Sally was killed in a car crash.
“The Real Lolita” is Sarah Weinman’s attempt to pull back the veil on the kidnapping that may have helped inspire Nabokov’s novel.
Erica Klarreich in Quanta:
In a report posted online today, Peter Scholze of the University of Bonn and Jakob Stix of Goethe University Frankfurt describe what Stix calls a “serious, unfixable gap” within a mammoth series ofpapers by Shinichi Mochizuki, a mathematician at Kyoto University who is renowned for his brilliance. Posted online in 2012, Mochizuki’s papers supposedly prove the abc conjecture, one of the most far-reaching problems in number theory.
Despite multiple conferences dedicated to explicating Mochizuki’s proof, number theorists have struggled to come to grips with its underlying ideas. His series of papers, which total more than 500 pages, are written in an impenetrable style, and refer back to a further 500 pages or so of previous work by Mochizuki, creating what one mathematician, Brian Conrad of Stanford University, has called “a sense of infinite regress.”
Between 12 and 18 mathematicians who have studied the proof in depth believe it is correct, wrote Ivan Fesenko of the University of Nottingham in an email. But only mathematicians in “Mochizuki’s orbit” have vouched for the proof’s correctness, Conrad commented in a blog discussion last December. “There is nobody else out there who has been willing to say even off the record that they are confident the proof is complete.”
Tom Winterbottom in Public Books:
It has been a year since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, leaving a trail of destruction: ruined infrastructure, destroyed homes, and thousands of fatalities. Since that particular hurricane has largely faded from the news, the slow rebuild continues and defining questions loom over the process: Who is Puerto Rico for? Outside investors and tourists or Puerto Ricans? After a collective trauma like Hurricane Maria, who has the right to decide for Puerto Rico? The fight for its future is underway.
This fight began immediately after the hurricane. Electricity, hospitals, water, roads, and more: all would require rebuilding, a process that could take two paths. Given the desperation and distraction brought about by the disaster, the federal government, corporations, and investors sensed an opportunity: Puerto Rican society was at its most vulnerable, making it the perfect time to snap up bargains, privatize industry, and remake the island. A small elite of non-islanders, who own and control infrastructure and resources, would benefit from the profit-driven privatization and monetization of the island, which has been touted as the libertarian enclave of cryptowealth, a tax haven for certain private interests.
The other possibility, as the activist Naomi Klein writes in her new book, The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes on the Disaster Capitalists (2018), is to look for positive, real change in the island’s future after decades of oppression.
Oksana Forostyna at Eurozine:
During the warm summer nights three years before Maidan, just as my Kyiv life began, I often stood where my grandma lived when her Kyiv life ended. Of all what drew to a close. Given everything that she told me, it seemed that those days were the happiest of her life: she was young and beautiful, she went on dates. ‘A few Jews were courting me’, she used to tell me proudly as if by way of feminine validation, as if to say, ‘Boy, I was hot!’ I’m not sure about the timeline. Maybe those happy years were directly after her father and brother came back from East Siberia in 1939; both had been arrested, tortured and imprisoned in a labour camp in 1937, but released two years later during the so called ‘Beria Amnesty’. She also witnessed the Great Famine (Holodomor) of 1932 and 1933, as well as the Babyn Yar massacre of 1941. I first learned of both tragedies from her, as they simply hadn’t featured in my Soviet school education. Those were the most terrifying years of Stalinist repression, yet she managed to find some joy in this city.
Peter Schjeldahl at The New Yorker:
Downes’s own meticulously descriptive pictures of the woebegone subjects that he favors—industrial zones, Texas deserts, highway structures, the New Jersey Meadowlands—do that, too, with a deadpan restraint that has kept his fan base small but ardent throughout the half century of his career. I’m a member. We cherish Downes’s evidence that painting can be truer than photography to the ways that our eyes process the world: reaping patches of tone and color which our brains combine very rapidly, but not instantly, into seamless wholes. He renders everything in his specialty of long, low panoramas, often encompassing more than a hundred and eighty degrees, which he always paints—on-site, over many sessions—head on, without either perspectival organization or fish-eye distortion. His avoidance of charm in his subjects and suppression of expressiveness in his touch serve the dumbfounded wonderment you can feel when—perhaps rarely enough, in this frantic era—you stop somewhere, look around, forget yourself, and only see. Downes’s is a puritanical passion, burning cold rather than hot but no less fiercely for that.
Jesse McCarthy at n+1:
RAINDROP. IF THE MARK of the poetic, of the living force of lyric in the world, is the ability to change the inflection and understanding of a single word, to instantly evoke and move speech into song, then what better example do we have than the poetics of Migos and their breakthrough album, Culture? “Like a wreath, culture is a word we place upon the brow of a victor,” William H. Gass once wrote. As the title attests, Migos crowned themselves, like Napoleon. Their trap trips off the tongue, three steps to get it poppin’, three more to get it started. Everything done in triplets. Quavo, Offset, Takeoff, their supergroup a triad. The message of the massive hit “Bad and Boujee” is simple and, thanks to its lullaby-rocking lilt, irresistible: the cosmopolitanism of the underclass is good enough for them. In this, everyone wins. The fetish of class and racial transgression is given a smooth membrane across which to exchange approving glances. Hence the appropriateness of Donald Glover’s role in assisting the song to the top of the charts. No figure better represents the amphibious role of blackness slipping back and forth across lines of class, taste, and career.
Martin Enserink in Science:
Given the billions of dollars the world invests in science each year, it’s surprising how few researchers study science itself. But their number is growing rapidly, driven in part by the realization that science isn’t always the rigorous, objective search for knowledge it is supposed to be. Editors of medical journals, embarrassed by the quality of the papers they were publishing, began to turn the lens of science on their own profession decades ago, creating a new field now called “journalology.” More recently, psychologists have taken the lead, plagued by existential doubts after many results proved irreproducible. Other fields are following suit, and metaresearch, or research on research, is now blossoming as a scientific field of its own.
For some, studying how the sausage is made is a fascinating intellectual pursuit in itself. But other metaresearchers are driven by a desire to clean up science’s act. Their work has spawned many initiatives to make research more robust and efficient, from preregistering studies and establishing reporting standards to the recent push to make study data freely available for others to explore. Metaresearchers sometimes need a thick skin; not all scientists are grateful when their long-standing practices are questioned. And whether the reforms actually work has become a study object in itself.
The Clothes Shrine
It was a whole new sweetness
In the early days to find
Light white muslin blouses
On a see-through nylon line
Drip-drying in the bathroom
Or a nylon slip in the shine
Of its own electricity-
As if St. Brigid once more
Had rigged up a ray of sun
Like the one she’d strung on air
To dry her own cloak on
(Hard-pressed Brigid, so
Unstoppably on the go)-
The damp and slump and unfair
Drag of the workday
Made light of and got through
As usual, brilliantly.
by Seamus Heaney
from Electric Light
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001
Neil Gross in the New York Times:
There is a longstanding debate among social scientists about what ultimately drives human behavior. Do ideals, symbols and beliefs lead people to act as they do? Or are the wellsprings of action and the drivers of history less ethereal: money, fear, the thirst for power, circumstance and opportunity, with culture as an afterthought?
Scholars in the first camp are culturalists; in the second, materialists. And the disagreement between them is not merely academic. It spills over into heated policy debates about crime, poverty, immigration, economic development and everything in between.
In “Rule Makers, Rule Breakers,” the psychologist Michele Gelfand sides with the culturalists. “Culture is a stubborn mystery of our experience and one of the last uncharted frontiers,” she writes. Her aim isn’t to guide readers through all the complex elements that make up a culture, but to draw attention to one aspect she believes has been ignored: the social norms — or the often informal rules of conduct, the dos and don’ts, the sources of tsking and raised eyebrows — that emerge whenever people band together.
Michael Hobbs in The Huffington Post:
About 40 years ago, Americans started getting much larger. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 80 percent of adults and about one-third of children now meet the clinical definition of overweight or obese. More Americans live with “extreme obesity“ than with breast cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and HIV put together.
And the medical community’s primary response to this shift has been to blame fat people for being fat. Obesity, we are told, is a personal failing that strains our health care system, shrinks our GDP and saps our military strength. It is also an excuse to bully fat people in one sentence and then inform them in the next that you are doing it for their own good. That’s why the fear of becoming fat, or staying that way, drives Americans to spend more on dieting every year than we spend on video games or movies. Forty-five percent of adults say they’re preoccupied with their weight some or all of the time—an 11-point rise since 1990. Nearly half of 3- to 6- year old girls say they worry about being fat.
The emotional costs are incalculable. I have never written a story where so many of my sources cried during interviews, where they double- and triple-checked that I would not reveal their names, where they shook with anger describing their interactions with doctors and strangers and their own families.
Eid Khamis in Forward:
As I write these words, I await Israel’s destruction of the only home and community that I have known in my 52 years of life. The 180 residents of my West Bank village, Khan al-Ahmar — men, women and children — will soon be forcibly removed from our land in order to expand Israel’s illegal settlements. Our homes will be demolished and even our elementary school, built with love out of nothing but tires and mud, will be leveled.
My fondest memories are of my childhood in Khan al-Ahmar. I would often make trips with my friends to a nearby valley full of natural springs and ponds. We would take food and tea with us, riding on donkeys to swim, catch fish, and enjoy ourselves. Israel stopped us from visiting the valley years ago, and now it wants us to leave our homes altogether and move once again.
Even though Khan al-Ahmar was established in 1952, long before Israel’s army occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it cannot be found on a map. My parents came to Khan al-Ahmar after being forcibly removed in 1948 from our village in the desert in Arad, after the establishment of the State of Israel. Like other Palestinian cities and towns, Israel destroyed our village in order to make way for Jewish Israelis. We were thrown off our land and told to fend for ourselves.
Jayne Anne Phillips at Lapham’s Quarterly:
The so-called Hog Trial took place against a background of bitterness regarding Cline-McCoy loss of land in West Virginia. It’s hard not to recognize the hardships of the postwar decades in the mountains, particularly for the less affluent McCoys, for whom the butchering of a hog could mean the difference between eating or going hungry for some weeks. Fencing the steep land wasn’t practical, and livestock wandered between homesteads; farmers notched the ears of their animals as a form of branding. McCoy saw his notch on Floyd Hatfield’s hog and filed suit. Floyd, Anse’s cousin, lived on the Kentucky side of the river and was related to both families. Some say Randall McCoy’s actual motivation was anger that Floyd worked for Anse’s profitable timber operation. The local justice of the peace, “Preacher Anse” Hatfield, cousin to Devil Anse, impaneled a jury that was half Hatfield men, half McCoy men. McCoy juror Selkirk McCoy—son of Asa Harmon McCoy, the Union soldier murdered thirteen years before—worked, with two of his sons, among the thirty-five to forty men on the Hatfield timber crew. He apparently valued the present more than the past, and voted against Randall McCoy. No violence ensued, but the “betrayal” fueled resentment among the families. McCoy, a subsistence farmer and sometime ferryboat operator, was unable to provide economic stability or social or political status for his clan, while Hatfield’s success protected his family and employees from the economic decline endemic to the Tug Valley. The McCoy family was understandably frustrated, even furious, at the seemingly undefeated Hatfields.
Peter Marshall at Literary Review:
In the conduct of public affairs in the 1530s, Cromwell seems ubiquitous and MacCulloch does more than any previous scholar (or even previous scholarship in aggregate) to track the range of his activities. There is a fascinating retelling of a familiar story: his role in dissolving monasteries. Cromwell was not, MacCulloch argues, ideologically wedded to complete appropriation of monastic assets; the Court of Augmentations – set up to handle the windfall, and the centrepiece of Elton’s ‘Tudor revolution’ – turns out not to have been his idea. Cromwell was, however, deeply concerned with the regulation of weirs and waterworks, a subject of possibly greater concern to some of the gentry. We learn of Cromwell’s adeptness in managing the governance of Wales, his much less sure hand (with future consequences) in attempting the same for Ireland and an apparent lack of interest in the affairs of Scotland. Another blind spot was the north of England, where Cromwell lacked connections and clientage: he was the target of vicious antipathy during the 1536–7 Pilgrimage of Grace.