Ideas from the Archives Archive

22 June 2009 3:50 AM

Ideas from the Archives

Ideas from the Archives: "Among the Hostage Takers"

The Atlantic's December 2004 issue features a story by Mark Bowden about the young Iranian men who seized the United States embassy and took hostage the entire American diplomatic mission.

His description of Iran is fascinating given current events -- the whole piece is worth a read -- and particularly striking is an excerpt about the hostage-takers, or gerogan-girha.

The gerogan-girha live in the ruins of their dream. As they've grown gray-haired and plump, the fame and admiration they once enjoyed have faded like the graffiti at the Den of Spies. Those who despise the current regime now regret their role in bringing a small circle of wealthy, authoritarian clerics to power. And more than anything they blame the hostage crisis for a litany of problems and setbacks that have befallen their country in the past quarter of a century. Iran's loss of ties to the United States after the embassy seizure prompted Saddam Hussein to invade in 1980 (when the hostages were still being held). In the ensuing war Iran lost more than half a million young men. Iran's status as an outlaw nation has had a stifling effect on its chances for an economic turnaround.

Some of the gerogan-girha have gone into exile and taken up arms against the religious rulers; others have been harassed, denounced, beaten, or imprisoned for advocating democratic changes. In some cases they have been persecuted by their former colleagues. "None of us in the revolution believed Iran would ever have an autocratic regime again," Mohsen Mirdamadi, a leader of the gerogan-girha who is today a controversial reform politician, told a Knight Ridder correspondent earlier this year. "Yet here we are."

Again, do read the whole thing. And also note his follow-up on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's role.

Flickr user Dahon

20 June 2009 8:15 AM

Ideas from the Archives

Ideas from the Archives: "Waiting on the Weekend"

In August 1991, Witold Rybczynski lamented the way that Americans spend their Saturdays and Sundays. Society took a long time to offer its members two days off, he wrote, but "what we choose to do looks increasingly like work, and idleness has acquired a bad name."

My favorite part of the piece is as follows:
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19 June 2009 7:50 AM

Ideas from the Archives

Ideas from the Archives: "Shoot to Kill"

In an ongoing Q&A, libertarian writer Radley Balko is setting forth his ideas about what is wrong with the American criminal justice system. One lament concerns the rise of SWAT teams. "We're dressing police officers in military attire, giving them military-grade weaponry, training them in military tactics, then sending them into American cities and neighborhoods and telling them they're fighting a war," he wrote. "That's not a healthy development for a free society."

Tim Harper explored the rise of SWAT tactics in an October 2000 Atlantic article that showed how the Columbine high school massacre transformed our idea of local police departments, especially how officers ought to react during hostage situations.

He writes:
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18 June 2009 7:01 AM

Energy / Environment

Ideas from the Archives: "The American Forests"

Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot run away; and if they could, they would still be destroyed,--chased and hunted down as long as fun or a dollar could be got out of their bark hides, branching horns, or magnificent bole backbones... Through all the wonderful, eventful centuries since Christ's time--and long before that--God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but he cannot save them from fools,--only Uncle Sam can do that.
The excerpt is from "The American Forests," an 1897 essay by crusading naturalist John Muir. Although he wrote long after westward expansion fell and burned much of the country's woodlands, his advocacy helped spur President Theodore Roosevelt to launch a major conservation program, creating the U.S. Forest Service in 1905 and preserving millions of acres of American wilderness.

An ode to trees bring to mind two things for me: the Ents that Tolkien renders so beautifully in The Lord or the Rings, and the closest I've found to an earthly equivalent, the giant Sequoia and redwood forests of California. It is impossible to walk among those forests without feeling awe at proximity to creatures so magnificent in scale and ancient in age.
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17 June 2009 6:15 AM

Business / Economics

"The Story of a Great Monopoly"

In March 1881, The Atlantic published "The Story of a Great Monopoly," one of the earliest pieces of progressive muckraking to run in a national, well-respected magazine--and the first exposé of the Standard Oil Trust to be taken seriously. "The issue in which the article appeared sold out seven printings, and it helped bring antitrust legislation to the forefront of national debate," notes Sage Stossel, a longtime Atlantic editor who is one of the magazine's most knowledgeable and dedicated historians.

It is no wonder that the article augured the passage of the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 and the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 -- after laying out numerous specific complaints against the biggest corporations of the day, it concludes by offering as powerful an objection against the idea of monopoly power as has ever been written:
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Flickr user Photos8.com

16 June 2009 8:00 AM

Ideas from the Archives

"Broken Windows" and Its Forgotten Argument

IDEA FROM THE ARCHIVES/June 16, 2009 -- Any history of influential articles published by The Atlantic must include "Broken Windows," a 1982 cover story by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling about the relationship between police and neighborhood safety. The theory it proposed is credited by many (though not all) with reversing the lengthy crime epidemic that plagued New York City and other urban centers. Former NYPD Commissioner James Bratton called Mr. Wilson "my intellectual mentor." A head of the Justice Department's research arm once said that the piece "has had a greater impact than any other article on serious policing."

On re-reading it, I am struck by the fact that although the "broken windows" part of its argument is conventional wisdom these days, an equally prominent part of the article is all but forgotten. In fact, the forgotten part includes what strikes today's reader as its most radical--some would say reactionary--idea.

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