Weekend Reading: Andrew Cuomo's Last Stand, Withdrawing From Afghanistan, COVID-19 Denial, and More

The best reporting and writing from the past week, and context to understand it.

There’s a lot of great journalism out there. Every week, in a format short enough that it won’t be clipped by your inbox, we aim to share some of the best, with additional context for understanding the biggest news of the day. This is a weekly digest of stories you can savor and reporting you can rely on.

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Is This Finally It for Andrew Cuomo?
Eric Lach, The New Yorker

It’s hard not to view the latest Cuomo incident through the lens of Donald Trump. Both now stand accused of sexual harassment, and Cuomo seems to be following the playbook of the former president: stubborn denial in the face of damning evidence. He said wait for the facts, and when the facts came, he said they simply weren’t the facts. He’s digging in his heels in the face of growing calls for his resignation, seemingly intent on weathering the storm by brute force. The allegations are disturbing, not just for the grossly inappropriate comments and touching, but also for the culture Cuomo’s created around himself that causes many to live and work in fear of his wrath.

  • 📖 How Is Andrew Cuomo Still Here? — Rebecca Traister, New York: Can Cuomo convince enough people that facts don’t really matter?

    In his knee-jerk move to defend himself, Cuomo is counting on the fact that in this country you can, to some extent, retain control by denying facts and observable, quantifiable realities. You can, for example, claim that a vacant Supreme Court seat can’t be filled in the last year of one president’s term, then claim that another vacant Supreme Court seat can be filled in the last months of another president’s term. … You can make up fictions about stolen elections and uncounted ballots and voter fraud, and if you are in a position of political or legislative authority, you can transform those fictions into real laws that will successfully suppress a franchise in order to keep you in your position of political or legislative authority.

  • 📖 Andrew Cuomo’s White-Knuckle Ride — Matt Flegenheimer, The New York Times Magazine: A whip-smart deep-dive into Cuomo written originally in April that paints a clear picture of the man and the leader.

A Near Press Blackout in Afghanistan
Megan K. Stack, The New Yorker

A piece of writing that perfectly captures the ambivalence of the United States’ recent withdrawal from Afghanistan. It was undoubtedly a war that went on too long, but an assessment of what was gained and what the U.S. left behind makes it hard to feel unequivocally positive about the unceremonious end. Its purpose was ill-defined, and perhaps we grasp that explanation when seeking to let ourselves off the hook for how little we paid attention after two decades.

  • 📖 As Fears Grip Afghanistan, Hundreds of Thousands Flee — Christina Goldbaum & Fatima Faizi, The New York Times: It’s easy, as an American, to celebrate the end to a forever war; nobody wants to see troops continue to risk their lives for a war that’s been all but forgotten and is seemingly unwinnable. But then one hears a staggering statistic: this year, more than 330,000 Afghans have fled the country, and more than half of those fled since the U.S. began its withdrawal in May.

  • 📖 The Forever Wars Aren’t Ending.They’re Just Being Rebranded. — Jacob Silverman, The New Republic: A further thought to compound the ambivalence over withdrawing from Afghanistan:

    The forever wars don’t seem to end, they just molt into their next iteration, as assets are shuffled around, missions rebranded, and local allies reassured that we are there to “advise and assist” for as long as is needed. Relying heavily on special forces, intelligence resources, contractors, and unmatched air power, the U.S. continues to be involved in conflicts in Syria, Somalia, Libya, Niger, and other undeclared war zones.”

  • 📖 Afghanistan’s Pandemic Response Falters as U.S. Troops Withdraw — Ruchi Kumar, Mother Jones: Afghans are dealing with the rise in violence as the Taliban reasserts control over the country following an American withdrawal, and details of the horrors associated with that can easily obscure a painful reality: Afghanistan is not magically immune to the COVID-19 pandemic and delta variant now surging across the world.

‘What’s COVID?’ Why People at America’s Hardest-Partying Lake Are Not About to Get Vaccinated
Natasha Korecki, Politico

Depending on your politics, the scene at Backwater Jack’s is either a symbol of reckless abandon or unapologetic living in the face of a pandemic. It is one pole of the divide that has erupted across the country, which increasingly seems cloven into two Americas: vaxxed and unvaxxed. In the Lake of the Ozarks region, where Missourians and out-of-staters pour in to boat, fish, sunbathe and party, to be unvaxxed is a source of identity and — at times — pride, a totem of one’s independence and politics.

Sigh. The truth of this passage is unassailable, but it needn’t be the case.

  • 📖 In One Missouri County, Coroner Excludes COVID From Death Certificates If Family Asks — Jake Kincaid, Derek Kravitz & Cameron Barnard, The Kansas City Star: COVID-19 has become so political that denial and rejection of science doesn’t simply end at one’s death. It can persist, as in the case of the Kirksville, Missouri, coroner who’s been omitting COVID-19 as the cause of death on death certificates if the family asks.

    They don’t want the virus on any official record for their dead loved one. For others, restrictions on hospital or nursing home visits made death and the grieving process almost unbearable. The word “COVID” had become a cruel reminder of how they couldn’t see their family members as they lay dying and, ultimately, of what they had lost.

  • 📖 Some in Missouri Seek COVID-19 Shots in Secret, Doctor Says — Isabella Grullón Paz, The New York Times: It’s hard to imagine political disagreements have spilled over so dramatically that the simple choice to attempt to avoid a potentially life-threatening disease has become something one feels the need to do in secret in order to preserve relationships, yet here we are.

  • 📖 YouTube Blocks — Then Unblocks — St. Louis County Council Meeting for COVID Misinformation — Austin Huguelet, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Without confirmation from YouTube, the author of this article could only guess at which statements during a public comment period could have led to a government meeting being banned from the platform, and, unsurprisingly, there were so many that violated YouTube’s policies on COVID-19 misinformation that one could never be sure.

The Lost History of the Electric Car — and What It Tells Us About the Future of Transport
Tom Standage, The Guardian

The article begins with the history of horse-drawn carriages as transportation, and the statistics surrounding the nuisances created by large numbers of horses is shocking. The car became the logical solution to some of those problems, and everyone lived happily ever after, right? Not quite, and it calls into question the assumption that mass adoption of electric vehicles will save us.

In recent years, this transition has been cited as evidence of the power of innovation, and an example of how simple technological fixes to seemingly intractable problems will show up just when they are needed — so there is no need to worry about climate change, for instance. Yet it should instead be seen as a cautionary tale in the other direction: that what looks like a quick fix today may well end up having far-reaching and unintended consequences tomorrow. The switch from horses to cars was not the neat and timely technological solution that it might seem, because cars changed the world in all kinds of unanticipated ways — from the geography of cities to the geopolitics of oil — and created many problems of their own.

  • 🖥️ What If Highways Were Electric? Germany Is Testing the Idea. — Jack Ewing, The New York Times: An old technology gets a new application: Electrical wires strung above the highway, like those that provide power to trains and streetcars, could be used to power trucks with electricity without the bulky, expensive batteries.

  • 📖 Why Do Electric Cars Look The Way They Do? Because They Can. — Elana Scherr, Car and Driver: Not all of the exciting benefits of electric cars come from the benefits to the environment. As Tesla has shown, some perks are purely superficial. They just look cool.

    Escaping the tyranny of the center tunnel is exciting to many designers. Imagine trying to decorate a room with an undulating hardwood floor. Furniture would be pushed to the side, with the center of the space unusable. In cars, designers regularly hide the hump with a shallow console in the front; in the back, they simply cover it with carpet and ignore it. But now that they can smooth out that hump, there’s a lot more room to play with.

More of Our Favorites From the Past Week

The Surprising Benefits of Talking to Strangers — Joe Keohane, The Atlantic

Happy-Go-Lucky — David Sedaris, The New Yorker

‘This Is Going to Change the World’ — Dan Kois, Slate

Infinite Self — E. Alex Jung, New York

The Internet Demands Uplifting Videos. So He Stages Them. — Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein, The New York Times Magazine

The Follow-Up

The news doesn’t stop. If you checked out last week’s edition and found the topics interesting, here’s a collection of stories published since.

The Capitol Insurrection

Gawker 2.0

Simone Biles

Amy Chua at Yale Law School

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The Postscript

This week, elsewhere on The Postscript.

Teaching the Art of Reading in the Digital Era

As the art of close reading has declined, a cohort of experts has emerged to reverse the trend and encourage stronger reading habits.

Stories That Matter: How Ben Mauk and The New Yorker Took Readers — and Viewers — Inside China's Gulag State

Years of reporting on Xinjiang led to what's been described as “the most ambitious immersive visual storytelling [the magazine] has ever undertaken.”