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Editor's Letter: In These Pages

Introducing the March/April 2014 Issue of Pacific Standard.
(Photo: GunarsB/Shutterstock)

(Photo: GunarsB/Shutterstock)

Last issue, we made a small change to the magazine—we added a tagline, The Science of Society, to the cover. More and more, we aim for our stories to grapple with the nation’s biggest social, political, and cultural issues by focusing on what shapes human behavior—the tendencies, institutions, gadgets, and ideas that propel modern life. As we’ve been getting this issue ready to print, I decided to take a little inventory of how we’re fulfilling that mission. I think we’re doing pretty well, but judge for yourself. Here’s a very partial human-behavior index of sorts for the pages ahead:

  • On being in elevators: “Half of all riders directed an initial, indiscrete once-over toward their lift-mates. Those who offered no glance, or gazed too long, made other riders uncomfortable.”
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  • On the mind-expanding power of technology: “Attendees wandered the neon-lit corridors, refilling their cocktail glasses and checking out displays of older-model neuroheadsets, which some people placed on their heads and employed to levitate a toy helicopter and control virtual shapes with their mind.”
  • On trying to keep our kids safe: “In 2008, Gary Smith, a reserved, silver-haired pediatrician, began dropping cheerleaders on their heads.”
  • On making music: “Three-quarters of a century ago, Swedish authorities tried to put a stop to the pernicious encroachment of international pop music, and instead they accidentally built a hothouse where it flourished.”
  • On disease control: “What kind of government do you live under? Who are your sexual partners? What values do you share? All of these questions may mask a more fundamental one: What germs are you warding off?”
  • On the Los Angeles epicenter of fast fashion: “Gossip and rumor pervade the neighborhood—about who is doing well and who isn’t; about who secretly owns a massive warehouse and manufacturing operation, and who has little but a flashy showroom.”
  • On struggling with our vices: “For what other medical condition does 90 percent of treatment consist of meetings and prayer?”
  • On long-distance love: “We worry about the way that our nightly conversations encourage us to curate our lives for each other. We trot out the funniest parts of our days and the most fascinating things we’ve read, neglecting the errands and the irritation and the drudgery.”

And here’s a quandary we haven’t explored: How does an obscure microscopic parasite show up in two different stories in one issue? In Ethan Watters’ story about a new theory of culture and disease: “One study, for instance, found at least 124 genetically distinct strains of the parasite Leishmania braziliensis across Peru and Bolivia.” And in Robert Anasi’s article about explorers in Peru: “There are chiggers and sand flies bearing the skin-rotting disease leishmaniasis.” The deeper we delve into human experience, the more intriguing connections we find, but sometimes what propels modern life is just pure serendipity.

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This post originally appeared in the March/April 2014 issue of Pacific Standard as “In These Pages.” For more, subscribe to our print magazine.