In this week’s New Yorker

August 23, 2011

clever cover by Istvan Banyai

I read Wendell Steavenson’s absorbing report of street protests in Syria, admirably persistent in the face of a regime that seems to think dissent can be permanently stifled. “The demonstrations are so fleeting that they are nicknamed ‘flying protests.’ Activists have tried to confound the authorities by singing the national anthem or throwing roses into the fountain in Marjeh Square. They have tied messages of defiance to balloons, and tucked them inside packages of dates given out at mosques, and taped them to Ping-Pong balls thrown into the street from high buildings. In one ingenious scheme, they wrote ‘freedom’ on banknotes, but then banks refused to take notes with any markings on them. One day during my visit, dozens of people simply wore white and walked around a block in an upscale neighborhood. Several were arrested.”

I love Susan Orlean, but I skipped her piece on Rin Tin Tin — not interesting subject to me. I read every word of Jeffrey Toobin’s piece on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Ginni, who is one of the Tea Party’s most prominent champions and funders. The most astonishing passage:

By the fall of last year, Ginni Thomas’s activities had become so public that she began to draw journalistic scrutiny. On Saturday, October 9th, the Times ran a front-page story headlined “ACTIVISM OF THOMAS’S WIFE COULD RAISE JUDICIAL ISSUES,” which was a straightforward account of Ginni’s political activities. Still, the story may have unnerved its subject, because at seven-thirty-one that morning Ginni Thomas left a voice mail for Anita Hill, at her office at Brandeis University, where she teaches. “Anita Hill, it’s Ginni Thomas. I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband.” She went on to urge Hill to “pray about this,” and then signed off, “O.K., have a good day!”

Sasha Frere-Jones’ piece on Ishmael Butler told me everything I wanted and needed to know about Shabazz Palaces and mainly inspired me to go back and listen to the complete Digable Planets on Rhapsody. Daniel Mendelsohn’s piece on Rimbaud interested me, especially this quote from one of the young poet’s letters: “The first study of the man who wishes to be a poet is complete knowledge of himself. He searches his mind, inspects it, tries out and learns to use it.”

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