What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Nick Paumgarten is not like a piece by Dana Goodyear, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Friend, or Bilger for Lepore, or Collins for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

November 17, 2014 Issue

Paige Williams’s "Double Jeopardy," in this week’s issue, is impressive. I like its structure, the way its scope keeps expanding – from the facts of Shonelle Jackson’s case to Judge Gordon’s override of the jury’s sentence to the appalling frequency of override usage in Alabama to the constitutionality of override to the link between elected judges, judicial election-spending, and the use of judicial override. The piece climaxes with Judge Gordon, now retired, in his Montgomery office (“His tidy desk held a glass gavel”) talking about his decision to ignore the jury’s unanimous vote and sentence Jackson to death:

He went on, “People talk about being hard on crime. O.K.—are you willing to pay the price? Are you willing to construct the prisons? Staff the prisons? Budget for food and medical care? You can’t put everybody in the penitentiary. You just can’t.” He looked away, shook his head, and said, “Sometimes you just have to put ’em down.”

Sometimes you just have to put ’em down. Gordon talks as if he was dealing with dogs rather than human beings. He chose to put Jackson down even though (1) Jackson might not be the killer and (2) the jury unanimously recommended life. Well, here’s my verdict on the Alabama judicial system after reading Williams’s powerful piece: it’s rotten to the core.

Postscript: A special shout-out to David Black for his luminous, ravishing “Goings On About Town” photo of Seu Jorge.

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