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Selling Human Rights


Economist, March 2 The cover story finds no easy solution to South America’s woes. Many politicians are blaming their countries’ economic misfortune on neo-liberal policies, but the truth is simply that the transition from Cold War dictatorships to capitalist democracy is longer and harder than most had expected. An article says the social sciences are getting more rigorous. Increasingly, social policy-makers are testing out their ideas with the sort of controlled, double-blind experiments that have always been the staple of natural scientists. The results can sometimes be counterintuitive. For example, it turns out that high-school driver education programs actually raise the number of road deaths by causing teens to get their licenses at an earlier age. An obituary cheers the death of Jonas Savimbi, the vicious leader of Angola’s UNITA rebels and the embodiment of “evil in a red beret.” His death offers the beleaguered South African nation its first chance at peace in decades.— J.F.

Washington Monthly

Washington Monthly, March 2002 The cover story chastises Democrats for being a bunch of wimpish pushovers. While Republicans have pummeled them on issue after issue—the Florida recount, conservative appointees, tax cuts—the Dems have just smiled graciously and taken their beating like the schoolyard nerd. And the liberal media haven’t come to their defense either. Unlike their conservative counterparts, who tend to be bloodthirsty Republican apparatchiks, leftist journalists aspire to be more than just organs of their party, which means they’re constantly worried about appearing overly partisan. An article claims Washington and the telecom giants are keeping free, universal broadband access under wraps. In big cities, underground networks of broadband pirates have illegally altered their wireless home Internet hubs so that anyone with the right software can share their high-speed connections. ISPs are rightfully scared, but legislators who want to make broadband ubiquitous ought to be embracing the technology.— J.F.

New York Times Magazine

New York Times Magazine, March 3 The cover story profiles an American businessman who has become a force for human rights in China, securing the release of 250 political prisoners in the last decade. Chinese officials like John Kamm because he’s friendly, not strident; he strokes their egos and drops names of “friends” in Washington. He’s the perfect salesman. A piece says that we’re even more wrapped up in gossip and celebrity than when the film Sweet Smell of Success, based on the career of gossip columnist Walter Winchell, came out in 1957. A piece says that HBO’s Sheila Nevins likes the films she produces to be outrageous and disturbing. She thought Monica Lewinsky would be “boring” before she met and liked her. “‘She’s just a hot little girl with a good head and a sexy body. What this country did to her was horrible.’”Monica in Black and White airs this Sunday.—K.T. Atlantic, March 2002
The cover story unleashes some extensive revisionism on our old textbook notions of the pre-Columbian Americas. Far from an uncivilized cultural backwater, the Western hemisphere pre-1492 was vastly more populated and sophisticated than historians once thought. In fact, a controversial body of evidence suggests that the Amazon rain forest may be an agricultural artifact created and managed by an advanced culture that was wiped out by Old World disease. An article looks behind Vermont’s recent spate of suburban teen violence and finds a frightening trend. The Green Mountain State has been a strange breeding ground for nihilistic adolescent killers, including Robert Tulloch and Jimmy Parker, the two teens charged with murdering a pair of Dartmouth professors last year. (Slate’s Timothy Noah has a more skeptical take on the phenomenon of the “Yankee Superpredators.”)— J.F.

The New Yorker

Newsweek, March 4
A good cover story about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, pegged to revelations that Boston Rev. John J. Geoghan molested more than 100 boys, argues that high officials may be ready to abandon their policy of covering up. Why are there so many child-molester priests? Most popular answer: Pedophiles are drawn to the priesthood because they hope celibacy will cure them. An article previews GOP tactics for the November elections. The White House will send Vice President Dick Cheney around the country, hinting that the war on terrorism is a semi-permanent condition and that if you’re not for us, you’re against America. The administration will focus on California, which it hopes to tilt Republican for the 2004 presidential contest. A piece claims the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has reached a new stage. Palestinians are shifting from suicide bombers to attacking Israeli troops in the territories, whom they view as an occupying army.— J.D. Time, March 4 Since the Olympics haven’t saved the world, the cover story asks if U2 lead singer Bono can. Ever the activist, he no longer believes in music as a political force, so he has launched a serious side career lobbying politicians about African debt relief. But when he’s not trying to cut deals with Bill Clinton or Jesse Helms, Bono’s still a zany, egomaniacal rocker. (Earlier this year, Slate’s David Plotz assessed U2 and its frontman.) A bizarre piece reports that the owners of a crematory in rural Georgia were stashing bodies (almost 300) all over their property and passing off potting soil or concrete dust as mortal remains. The burial industry, which is poorly regulated, has suffered numerous similar scandals, including one in California involving the sale of ostensibly cremated body parts to medical laboratories.— J.D. The New Yorker, March 4 An article by Lyndon Johnson biographer Robert Caro savages the former president for ruining his vice president, Hubert Humphrey. Humphrey started his career in the Senate in 1949 as a liberal idealist crusading uncompromisingly for civil rights, but Johnson went to work, turning him first into a compromiser and then into an especially powerless and humiliated vice president. Both men wanted to be chief executive and tried to use the other to get there, but Johnson was so much more ruthless than the kind Minnesotan. A piece introduces the idiosyncratic crossword puzzle subculture. Contemptuous of competitive Scrabble players, the best puzzlers can finish the Saturday New York Times crossword in less than 10 minutes. And they get excited that Britney Spears endorses Pepsi-Cola because the former is an anagram for Presbyterians and the latter for Episcopal.— J.D.


Harper’s, March 2002 The cover story explains how archeaology has undermined many parts of the Old Testament that even historians once thought to be true. In the last 25 years, diggers in the Holy Land have unearthed evidence suggesting that the exodus probably never happened, Abraham almost certainly couldn’t have existed, and the empire of King David was so small it can hardly qualify as an empire at all. Indeed the Bible’s central plot line about an exiled people who return to conquer their homeland was probably just a myth created by the Israelites to establish a moral right to the land they inhabited. An essay melodramatically decries the United States’ “phony war” in Afghanistan, which has been waged “not to defend America from an external foe but to homogenize and coerce its citizens under a flag of rabid nationalism.”— J.F.

Weekly Standard

Weekly Standard, March 4 The cover story reassesses victimhood post-Sept. 11. America used to deal with two stock characters: the powerless victim, who sees himself shaped by powerful forces outside his control, and the “unvictim,” who distills everything down to personal responsibility. But since Sept. 11 we’re all a little like the passengers aboard Flight 93 who gave their lives in a revolt against the plane’s hijackers; we’re all both victim and unvictim. A piece offers an exclusive sneak peek at Alexandra Pelosi’s (daughter of House Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.) soon-to-be-released documentary about George W. Bush on the campaign trail. The film, shot on a simple camcorder, captures the future president at his humorous best as he clowns around with reporters and shows off his lovable wit. Best moment: After winning big on Super Tuesday, Bush relives his college cheerleading days by folding his body into the letters of “Victory.”— J.F.

The Nation, March 11 The cover story lays out the anti-globalization left’s agenda that emerged from January’s World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Besides the usual railings against the WTO, IMF, and FTAA, the conference also marked the beginnings of an effort to redefine the movement as not only against globalization but actually for something. Condensing that “something” to the size of a bumper sticker is the challenge. An article lambastes The McLaughlin Group on the occasion of its 20th anniversary but also affirms its importance. The show is accused of both single-handedly precipitating the rise of the under-qualified TV pundit and consciously shifting national discourse to the right under the guise of responsible debate.— J.F.