Amazing Articles

A trio of great stories made their way into my mailbox lately. Perhaps the most interesting is an analysis of tribal vengeance by Jared Diamond, author of Collapse and Guns, Germs and Steel. (I almost typed that as Guns, Germans and Steel, which would be an interesting book in its own right.)

The article, “Vengeance is Ours,” in the April 21 issue of the New Yorker, explores the dynamics of revenge in tribal societies, focusing on Papua New Guinea. The politics of the situation are fascinating, even as the mechanics of the feuds consistently unnerving in their disregard for human life. As Diamond explains:

Daniel told me that responsibility for arranging revenge usually falls on the victim’s firstborn son or, failing that, on one of his brothers. “Soll did have a son, but he was only six years old at the time of his father’s death, much too young to organize the revenge,” Daniel said. “On the other hand, my father was felt to be too old and weak by then; the avenger should be a strong young man in his prime. So I was the one who became expected to avenge Soll.” As it turned out, it took three years, twenty-nine more killings, and the sacrifice of three hundred pigs before Daniel succeeded in discharging this responsibility.

The issue’s preceding story, “Tigerland,” by Caroline Alexander, explores the biology of the top predator in India’s Sundarbans Tiger Reserve, where the big cats are excellent swimmers, can reach up to 10.5 feet in length and regularly prey on the humans forced to enter the park for subsistence hunting and gathering. Alexander creates a tense mood of helplessness and awe in the face of natural power, explaining:

Tigers, the largest of the world’s big cats, migrated to India twelve thousand years ago from south China and southeast Asia; the time of their arrival in the Sundarbans is not known. In the marshy land and brackish channels caused by encroaching tides, the huge terrestrial animals took to the water. “The Sundarbans tiger is amphibious,” Dr. Sanyal said. The tiger’s diet is not only meat based; it also includes aquatic prey, such as monitor lizards and other reptiles, frogs, and fish. The variety of the tiger’s prey—ranging, as one field manual cheerfully notes, “from fish to human beings”—is another advantage that the Sundarbans tiger has over other tiger populations.

Finally, Mark Bowden, the author of Black Hawk Down, has a impressively researched story, “The Best Game Ever: How John Unitas and Raymond Berry Invented the Modern NFL,” in the April 28 issue of Sports Illustrated. Bowden explores the formative season of Raymond Berry, an undertalented wide receiver who molded himself into one of the best players at his position through meticulous preparation. The piece has plenty of football action, but it serves as a meditation on obsession as well. It could be the foundational myth for every coach that sleeps in his office during the season.

Bowden offers a glimpse of Berry’s mindset in reproducing his preparation for the 1958 NFL Championship:

He was mightily prepared for the NFL championship game. He pored over the 25 pages of notes in his microscopic handwriting that he carried in a binder: diagrams of the routes he had run successfully against the Giants cornerback he would face that day, Carl Karilivacz; insights he had gleaned from hours of solitary film study; plays he wanted to try; reminders of everything else from head fakes he had designed for specific routes to basics like watching the ball all the way into his hands. WATCH YOUR FOOTING ON STARTS he had written in large block letters in the middle of one page. He had the careful planner’s habit of dividing each page into segments with perfectly straight lines. Under the heading DURING RUNS he had written BASIC THREE, which were:


Below that, with stars penciled in alongside, was written *BE BEST COMPETITOR ON FIELD *KNOCK #20 & #21 ASS OFF *GO ST AT 21 TO SET UP 136, referring to safety Jim Patton, who wore number 20; Karilivacz, who wore 21; and play number 136. Under the heading DURING SHORT YDG & GOAL LINE Raymond had written, *KNOW SNAP COUNT *DO YOUR JOB.