The Great Biomass Boondoggle

Mary S. Booth

A handful of fuel from the then-new biomass facility at Drax Power Station near Selby, North Yorkshire, England, 2013

The urgency of the climate crisis is inspiring some extreme and unproven ideas. Arguably one of the most reckless ideas is already well underway: burning “forest biomass”—that is, trees—in power plants as a replacement for coal. The problem with this so-called green energy source is that instead of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, it increases the amount of CO2 coming out of the smokestack compared to fossil fuels, and the climate “benefit” is claimed by simply not counting the emissions.  

What Cars Can Teach Us About New Policing Technologies

Sarah A. Seo

A traffic stop in St. Louis, Missouri, July 25, 2017

The mass production of the automobile transformed twentieth-century America in unexpected and important ways. Foremost, and little-known, it revolutionized policing, spurring the development of police surveillance and increasing individual officers’ discretionary authority. Although this expansion of the state’s power didn’t begin with discriminatory motives, the history of policing drivers makes clear that law enforcement’s surveillance practices don’t invade people’s privacy equally, but have historically reinforced existing inequalities. This is important to remember as contemporary concerns in the face of new technologies abound.

My Adventures in Psychedelia

Helen Joyce

Carl Simon: Living in the sea, twentieth century

To try psychedelics was something I’d secretly hankered after doing ever since I was a teenager, but I was always too cautious and risk-averse. As I got older, the moment seemed to pass. Today I am a middle-aged journalist working in London, the finance editor of The Economist, a wife, mother, and, to all appearances, a person totally devoid of countercultural tendencies. And yet… on impulse, I arranged to go. Only after I booked did I tell my husband. He was bemused, but said it was fine by him, as long as I didn’t decide while I was under the influence that I didn’t love him anymore. My eighteen-year-old son thought the whole thing was hilarious (it turns out that your mother tripping is a good way to make drugs seem less cool).  

What Happened to the West Village?

Susannah Jacob, photographs by Radcliffe Roye

Greenwich Village was once a locus for a succession of twentieth-century progressive movements fighting for workers’, women’s, civil, and gay rights. Its history is also that of longtime residents’ determined efforts to save it from the designs of new, wealthy neighbors and powerful landlords. Among the first New York neighborhoods to gentrify, the West Village has seen that change unfold more slowly but long predating the gentrification that is rapidly transforming parts of Brooklyn and northern Manhattan. “It’s difficult to say exactly when Greenwich Village gentrified. It didn’t happen in one fell swoop as it did for [other] parts of town,” Jeremiah Moss writes in his 2017 book, Vanishing New York. (Greenwich Village is an older name and larger category, understood to include parts of the Village east of Sixth Avenue.) And yet, the neighborhood has come to be seen as a harbinger of the city’s future.

Ukraine Continued: How a Crucial Witness Escaped

Murray Waas

Former Prosecutor General of Ukraine Yuriy Lutsenko at a press conference in Kiev, March 7, 2019

A classified State Department assessment concluded in 2018 that Ukraine’s former Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko—who is at the center of the impeachment inquiry of President Trump—had allowed a vital potential witness for Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Konstantin Kilimnik, to escape from Ukraine to Russia, beyond the reach of the United States, after a federal grand jury in the US charged Kilimnik with obstruction of justice. When Lutsenko arranged for Kilimnik to slip across the border, he eliminated the last likely possibility for the American people to learn the truth.

Proofreading the President

Daniel Drake

The flurry of responses to Trump’s ham-fisted tweet had the pathetic aspect of a bullied child trying to get even by waving his report card in his tormentor’s face. I share the impulse: his ludicrous Page Six-style nicknaming conventions are spiteful and stupid, and there is some bitter satisfaction in being spiteful and smart right back at him. But mocking the president’s twisting circumlocutions is cold consolation—ask anyone who bought a “Bushisms” calendar the January before the United States invaded Iraq.

Justin Trudeau, Liberal Let-Down

Martin Lukacs

Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberal Party, holding a press conference in Brampton, Ontario, Canada, September 22, 2019

It was no wonder that Trudeau became a darling of Davos, idolized by a global liberal establishment that felt increasingly besieged by surging challenges from the left and right. The self-awareness about his role was apparent in a moment of unscripted candor, when he told The Guardian, in 2016: “We’re actually able to approve pipelines at a time when everyone wants protection of the environment. We’re being able to show that we get people’s fears and there are constructive ways of allaying them—and not just ways to lash out and give a big kick to the system.” Getting gains for the fossil-fuel industry while hoodwinking popular anger at a hoarding elite: Trudeau had never stated so baldly that his goal was not to transform the status quo, but to smoothly defend it.

A Black Actor’s Unrequited Love for Shakespeare

Patricia Storace

Keith Hamilton Cobb in American Moor

One of the pleasures of American Moor is its portrayal of how an actor builds a character, and we come to see that a character is not only himself but also an anthology of all his relationships. To play the black warrior Othello, you have to also be able to play Desdemona, to imagine what it would be to see yourself through the adamant, principled tenderness that makes her the counterpart of Iago, as implacable in love as he is in hatred. Keith Hamilton Cobb shows us both. The audition that is the action of the play evolves into a struggle between the Actor and the Director for the soul of Othello, Shakespeare’s tragedy being played out within the audition, a lived reality: “And you think you’re not in this play?” the Actor, played by Cobb, says to the Director, as their collision becomes a matter of life and death for him.

Closing Rikers: Competing Visions for the Future of New York City’s Jails

Anakwa Dwamena

Audience members at the New York City Council hearing on the closure of the Rikers Island Jail and the building of four borough-based jails, New York City Hall, September 5, 2019

At this moment in the country’s history, an unusual alignment has taken shape—of investment in and activism around criminal justice reform; widespread recognition of the failure of systems currently in place; political will from all levels of government; and an abundance of successful programs for change backed by policy research. Yet the de Blasio administration is still hiding behind logistics and bureaucracy, repeating past mistakes and reluctant to do more to address its role in the perpetuation of an unjust system. The debates about the closure of Rikers have revealed how the city, circumscribed by what it feels it can get away with politically, is unwilling to look beyond what seems acceptable to what might be possible.

How Varian Fry Helped My Family Escape the Nazis

Anya Schiffrin

Jacqueline Breton, André Masson, André Breton, and Varian Fry at the Villa Air-Bel, near Marseille, France, 1941

During the year he spent in Marseille, from 1940 to 1941, the American journalist Varian Fry and his colleagues created a rescue network that saved at least 2,000 people from the Nazis—including Hannah Arendt, Marc Chagall, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Arthur Koestler, Max Ophüls, Anna Seghers, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and scores of other writers, artists, and philosophers. Fry was tenacious and creative in his means of getting people visas and onto boats in a desperate rush against time. Because of his extra-legal methods, Fry was shunned by the US Consul in Marseille. But the refugee rescue organization that Fry and his helpers built has been credited with saving from annihilation a crucial piece of European culture.