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Frustrations with The New Yorker

I occasionally become frustrated with articles in The New Yorker, especially articles that discuss clashes of ideas or social controversies. I periodically reach the point of letting our subscription to the magazine run out; and then an issue arrives with a great, "must read" and "read again" article. There are three such articles in the Nov. 22nd issue:


  • Letter from Moscow: The Paper Trail by Masha Gessen, which is about Dmitry Muratov, editor in chief of Novaya Gazeta, this year's co- recipient (along with Filipina journalist Maria Ressa) of the Nobel Peace Prize. This outstanding article is at once a character study of an extraordinary person, Muratov; a description of the unusual, awe-inspiring organizational culture of Novaya Gazeta, and an inquiry into political survival of an independent newspaper in Putin's Russia. The article is surprising and revelatory regarding each of these three subjects, a testimony to an extraordinary high wire act that could end at any time -- and almost has several times --- written by an author with a deep understanding of Russian culture. Novaya Gazeta is a staff owned inspiration for journalists around the world.  Muratov donated one hundred percent of the more than one million dollars from his Nobel Peace Prize to charity, and announced the recipients of charity, with one notable exception, in front of Putin. 

  • In Annals of Justice: Family Secrets, by Raffi Khatchadourian explores the remarkable forensic achievements of CeCe Moore, a genealogist who solves murder mysteries by developing family trees. Moore recently solved a cold case murder that occurred in Snohomish County, Washington in 2 hours, after thousands of hours of detective work since 1987 had led nowhere.  Moore takes DNA collected at crime scenes  and when there is no match in the data base of criminal justice agencies develops family trees by finding relatives in large existing DNA data bases. She works indefatigably in a highly compulsive way to solve "cold" cases with this approach.  She taught herself genealogy. After identifying William Earl Talbot II an aging truck driver, as the murderer of Tanya Van Cuylenborg and her boyfriend, Jay Cooke, thirty years after their murder, "Moore began using her GEDmatch to work through a lineup of cold cases. On May 5th, she identified the killer of Terri Lynn Hollis, an eleven-year-old who was murdered in California in 1972.  the officers investigating her death had conducted two thousand interviews, over hslf a century to no avail. On My 15th she identified the-killer of a teacher who was raped and murdered at her home in Pennsylvania in 1992.  On My 3oth, she identified the murderer of a twelve year old in Washington whose body was dumped in a gulch in 1980. Three days later she identified a  man  who had kidnapped, raped, and killed an eight year old girl in Indiana in 1988. She continued in this way in the weeks ahead ...   As you might expect, Moore's methods and data base have led to controversy regarding privacy rights. Still, this may be the most amazing account of a detective I've read, even in fiction.

  • A Critic At Large: Passion and Prophecy, by Adam Gopnik, is a review of The Young H.G. Wells: Changing the World by Claire Tomalin.  Wells, the English socialist and science fiction writer, was, according to Gopnik "perhaps the most erotically adventurous man of his generation,' surely an extreme claim for any person in any society.  Wells wrote of his sex life, "I have done what I pleased .. Every bit of sexual impulse in me has been expressed."  It appears from this review that he wasn't bragging. Gopnik asserts that "The case is sometimes made that Wells invented the word "sex," which is a stretch but suggests the scope of Wells' desires. Wells was married, but unapologetic regarding his many liaisons and affairs, some of which were romantic "all in" commitments, which did not somehow lead to divorce. Gopnik comments: "Wells own segments of the Fabian circle carried on in that weird British way in which everyone sleeps with everyone, no one breaks off with anyone else, but no one seems particularly happy at all." Gopnik has much to say regarding Wells' servant class background and his struggle for social recognition. Wells craved the fame and reputation enjoyed by the philosopher, Bertrand Russell, but had a hard climb from despised servant class to intellectual upper crust. Gopnik comments that  "The point of a class system is to make those immediately adjacent to their superiors conscious of their place." No ambitious social climber ever forgets the daily microaggressions of class. Gopnik is insightful regarding the tension between Wells' socialism and his futuristic imagination. He thought the future would bring huge changes in both technology and sexual mores,  but he did not expect these changes to lead to human happiness.  "He is someone who has the ability to  imagine the worst,  .. but gets up and tries to do his best." Gopnik asserts wisely that "a house divided against itself cannot stand,  but a writer who is not divided against himself has little chance of   enduring." It is contradictions that makes people interesting and writers worth reading. Simplified polemics are soporific,  while contradictory impulses and goals create a fascinating tension.     

-- Dee Wilson

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