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Week 11/9/20

PUBLISHED: November 16, 2020

In an effort to better acquaint you, the reader, with the VQR staff, members of our team will share excerpts from our personal reading—The Best 200 Words I Read All Week. From fact to fiction, from comedic to tragic, we hope you find as much to admire in these selections as we do. 


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In April 2017, a man started hiking in a state park just north of New York City. He wanted to get away, maybe from something and maybe from everything. He didn’t bring a phone; he didn’t bring a credit card. He didn’t even really bring a name. Or at least he didn’t tell anyone he met what it was.

He did bring a giant backpack, which his fellow hikers considered far too heavy for his journey. And he brought a notebook, in which he would scribble notes about Screeps, an online programming game. The Appalachian Trail runs through the area, and he started walking south, moving slowly but steadily down through Pennsylvania and Maryland. He told people he met along the way that he had worked in the tech industry and he wanted to detox from digital life. Hikers sometimes acquire trail names, pseudonyms they use while deep in the woods. He was “Denim” at first, because he had started his trek in jeans. Later, it became “Mostly Harmless,” which is how he described himself one night at a campfire. Maybe, too, it was a reference to Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Early in the series, a character discovers that Earth is defined by a single word in the guide: harmless. Another character puts in 15 years of research and then adds the adverb. Earth is now “mostly harmless.”

Business Manager Diane John
Excerpt from “A Nameless Hiker and the Case the Internet Can’t Crack” in Wired


Perhaps no other president has made the mistreatment of Americans imprisoned abroad so central to his administration’s identity. […]

“I’m very pleased to let everyone know that we brought back over 50 hostages from 22 different countries,” Trump announced during the convention. “We’re very proud of the job we did.” The video voice-over declared, “No American should ever be left behind.”

But when Nicodemus Acosta, a Black Navy veteran, heard the president’s claims, he knew that this was not the full story. Acosta had recently spent over a year imprisoned in Kuwait for dealing marijuana — a crime he had not committed. But despite his military service and glaring problems with the Kuwaitis’ case, he felt that he’d been completely abandoned by his government. And Acosta knew that he was not alone. Though he had been liberated from Kuwaiti custody, he had left a number of men behind in the emirate’s notorious Central Prison Complex. A total of 28 Americans have done time there for drug offenses over the last five years and received little help from the State Department, whose obligations to them are somewhat limited. And yet the specifics of their cases suggest that more could have been done.

Executive Editor Allison Wright
Excerpt from “Arrested, Tortured, Imprisoned: The U.S. Contractors Abandoned in Kuwait” in The New York Times


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