Saturday, October 29

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The Decade in Indie

On the increasing tension between the pleasant, thoughtful indie rock of car commercials and those who insist on something weirder.

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He Who Casts the First Stone

The low-key swingers of sleepy Amarillo, Texas find themselves relentlessly harassed by a militant Christian group.

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Long Day's Journey

Two weeks spent walking across Provence.

There is something about entering an ancient town on foot that's radically different from entering the same place by car. Keep in mind that these old French towns were all designed by people on foot for people on foot. So when you walk in, you're approaching the place as it was intended to be approached—slowly and naturally, the way Dorothy came upon Oz (spires rising in the distance, a sense of mounting mystery: What kind of city will this be?).

Friday, October 28

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In Somalia

Three decades ago, Mohamed Siad Barre, commander of the Supreme Revolutionary Council, head of the politburo of the Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party and the last ruler of a functional Somali state, built vast concrete buildings all over Mogadishu. The beautiful city on the coast of the Indian Ocean, with its Arabic and Indian architecture, winding alleyways and Italian colonial-era villas, was dominated by these monuments. They were Third World incarnations of Soviet architecture, exuding power, stability and strength. The buildings – like the literacy campaigns, massive public works programmes and a long war against neighbouring Ethiopia in the late 1970s and early 1980s – were supposed to reflect the wisdom and authority of the dictator.
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The Revolutionary

A profile of Hugo Chávez, two years into his presidency.

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In the New Gangland of El Salvador

How LA-style gang life migrated to the slums of San Salvador.

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The Movie Set That Ate Itself

Inside the five-year (so far) production of the Ilya Khrzhanovsky film Dau:
Khrzhanovsky came up with the idea of the Institute not long after preproduction on Dau began in 2006. He wanted a space where he could elicit the needed emotions from his cast in controlled conditions, twenty-four hours a day. The set would be a panopticon. Microphones would hide in lighting fixtures (as they would in many a lamp in Stalin's USSR), allowing Khrzhanovsky to shoot with multiple film cameras from practically anywhere — through windows, skylights, and two-way mirrors. The Institute's ostensible goal was to re-create '50s and '60s Moscow, home to Dau's subject, Lev Landau. A Nobel Prize–winning physicist, Landau significantly advanced quantum mechanics with his theories of diamagnetism, superfluidity, and superconductivity. He also tapped epic amounts of ass.

Thursday, October 27

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I Want My MTV

An excerpt from a new oral history of MTV.

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Meet Your Neighbor, Thomas Pynchon

Thomas Pynchon walks down a New York City street in the middle of the morning. He has a light gait. He floats along. He looks canny and whimsical, like he'd be fun to talk to; but, of course, he's not talking. It's a drizzling day, and the writer doesn't have an umbrella. He's carrying his own shopping bag, a canvas tote like one of those giveaways from public radio. He makes a quick stop in a health-food store, buys some health foods. He leaves the store, but just outside, as if something had just occurred to him, he turns around slowly and walks to the window. Then, he peers in, frankly observing the person who may be observing him. It's raining harder now. He hurries home. For the past half-dozen years, Thomas Pynchon, the most famous literary recluse of our time, has been living openly in a city of 8 million people and going unnoticed, like the rest of us.
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The Turnaround Men

A charismatic entrepreneur, an ex-con turned devout Christian, and the politicians who championed them.

The story of a $36 billion Ponzi scheme in Minnesota.

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Let It Bleed

Pete Dexter, profiled.

"I'm sick and tired of the story," says Dexter, though he knows it is a signature moment of his trajectory from newsman to writing some of the most original and important novels in American literature, including the National Book Award–winning Paris Trout (1988), a riveting tale of an unrepentant racist who brutally murders a 14-year-old black girl in a small Georgia town in the late 1940s. Settling deep into a dark-green leather chair near a patio window that offers a commanding view of ferries chugging across the cold blue waters, Dexter begins: "It was not a good column. I was trying to write something I didn't feel." Dexter is referring to the column that almost got him killed.

Wednesday, October 26

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How Ready Are We for Bioterrorism?

The specter of a biological attack is difficult for almost anyone to imagine. It makes of the most mundane object, death: a doorknob, a handshake, a breath can become poison. Like a nuclear bomb, the biological weapon threatens such a spectacle of horror — skin boiling with smallpox pustules, eyes blackened with anthrax lesions, the rotting bodies of bubonic plagues — that it can seem the province of fantasy or nightmare or, worse, political manipulation.