Variety Show

Off and running in the new year

As someone constitutionally disposed to find fault with every issue of this magazine, I have to admit I'm almost pleased with this one. There's a nice mix—something, if you'll forgive the cliché, for everyone. Well, almost everyone. (Nothing, rest assured, about Britney Spears or Justin Timberlake.)

Gregory Jaynes' article ("Coming to America") about a Somali Bantu refugee family uprooted from a 19th-century culture in East Africa and plopped down in 21st-century Phoenix, Arizona, gives new meaning to the phrase culture shock. Says Jaynes: "Of the many admirable qualities the Lamungu family possesses—courage, resilience and extraordinary patience—the one that impressed me most is dignity. Still unaccustomed to electric lights, all of them sit quietly in the self-imposed darkness of their living room. As the father, Hassan, tells the story of their awful odyssey—softly, never raising his voice—they are rapt."

John Ross' cover story about Inuit dogs ("Top Dogs") tells us quite a bit about some remarkable animals and the people whose survival still depends on them. To get the story, Ross spent nine days on a seal hunt in Greenland in April. "We were coldest when we jumped off the sleds," Ross reports. "Then it hurt." At one stop, Ross says, an Inuit hunter pulled out "a large halibut, as flat and hard as a board, and carved off pieces with his knife. Sushi popsicles. Delicious."

In researching "Reading Faces," Richard Conniff wanted to attend a seminar for government security employees about how to identify human expressions. Until, that is, he got an e-mail saying someone from the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive would have to review any article he might write about it. Needless to say, he declined. Even so, he got a terrific piece about something we should all be able to do—but can't.

Shane Dubow's take on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, where protests led last year to the U.S. Navy's departure after 62 years, is hardly your typical travel story ("Vieques on the Verge"). Then again, Vieques is not your typical Caribbean island. "A visit is frontier-esque," says Dubow, "because it involves stopping your car for wild horses or wandering cows or oblivious chickens. You also need to be careful lest you find yourself in a hilltop hotel that happens to be for sale and gets you to thinking about starting over as a Vieques hotelier."

And who knew that descendants of American Tories—Loyalists in the Revolutionary War—are still at it, toasting King George and boasting, in the words of a Canadian historian, that they "have more in common with New Zealand than New Hampshire." The story grew out of a luncheon David DeVoss attended a couple of years ago in Pasadena, California, with people from New Brunswick, Canada—a province settled and still populated by "the forgotten people of the American Revolutionary War," says DeVoss, who hurried home to his son's eighth-grade history book. "In the chapter on the American Revolution," he adds, "Tories were accorded two sentences." In "Divided Loyalties," we give them their due.

Bruce Watson got to hang out with James Rosenquist at the artist's modest home in Aripeka, Florida ("Big!"). At dinner with some local fishermen, says Watson, "Rosenquist shared stories about fishing and drinking, and you never would have known that he used to whoop it up with Andy Warhol on art's cutting edge."

Then there's Barry Avrich's charming piece on the late photographer Jack Pashkovsky, whose rarely seen shots of Hollywood in the 1930s, '40s and '50s seem to capture the stars with their hair—and guard—down ("Shooting Stars").

And finally, consider Fen Montaigne's report ("Policing America's Ports") on the nation's seaports and their vulnerability to terrorist attack. "To sift through countless thousands of containers stacked on boats and wharves and find the one that might hold a nuclear or chemical weapon is a monumental task," says Montaigne. He asked inspectors how they managed to stay pumped up when, day after day, they find nothing related to terrorism. "They all said that 9/11 is the great motivator, so they keep searching, hoping that the absence of terrorist weapons is proof of a strong deterrent—and not a sign that a bomb has slipped through the cracks."

As I was saying, quite a nice lineup this month. Hope you agree, and sorry about Britney.

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