This week’s issue of The New Yorker, the one with the instant-turnaround purple rain cover, has two pieces I highly recommend in categories the magazine is best-known for. Ian Frazier writes deep-dive articles in a folksy voice in the department called “Our Local Correspondents,” and this week he covers an issue near and dear to my heart: “The Bag Bill,” focusing on activist Jennie Romer and her campaign to reduce the number of plastic shopping bags we use because they do substantial environmental damages. Meanwhile, Eyal Press contributes “Madness,” a wrenching expose of how mentally ill inmates in Florida are routinely tortured.
Last week’s “Entertainment Issue” had a few good pieces, notably Adam Gopnik on Paul McCartney, Kelefa Sanneh on Erykah Badu (above, photographed by Amanda Demme), and Emily Nussbaum on Kenya Barris, the creator of the TV show “black-ish.” I’ve never watched the show, but Barris is smart and funny, and Nussbaum is a terrific writer — she deserves the Pulitzer Prize for criticism she just won. Here’s the way that article ends:
In April, Barris’s family went on a vacation that could be taken only by people at the pinnacle of success. During a visit to New York, they saw “Hamilton” not once but twice. They also flew to Washington for the White House Easter Egg Roll, and were part of a V.I.P. group who met the President and the First Lady. “That’s our family,” President Obama told Barris, about “black-ish.”
Not everything went smoothly. After four hours at the White House, Barris, tired, insisted that they leave. Once they were outside, Kaleigh got a text from Anthony Anderson’s son: they’d just missed Beyoncé and Jay Z. Barris’s daughters were furious at their dad; tears formed in Leyah’s eyes. When he saw those tears, Barris lost it: “You just met the President!” They apologized. Barris stayed mad. But he was also inspired. “I texted Groff and said, ‘We have to use this next season.’ ”
But the week before that was an especially good issue. Aside from Hilton Als’s piece about Maggie Nelson (which inspired me to go out and buy her book The Argonauts) and Ariel Levy on the delightful eccentric artist Niki de Saint Phalle, the issue contains one of the most important political news stories I’ve read all year. Ben Taub’s “The Assad Files” is a long, strong reporting piece about the Commission for International justice and Accountability, an independent investigative body founded in 2012 by American lawyer Chris Engels which has been collecting hundreds of thousands of top-secret documents tracing the mass torture and killings directly to Bashar Al-Assad and his regime. The first-hand accounts are horrifying and upsetting to encounter. The situation in Syria is so bad and so hopeless, who knows when and how it will ever be resolved. If there’s any good news in this story, it’s that whenever the moment comes to prosecute Assad in the International Criminal Court, there will be no lack of evidence for his responsibility.