New Republic, June 9 True to form, TNR is all over the lot this week. … The cover asks “What Would Woodrow Do?” and John B. Judis argues inside that America’s burgeoning Young Imperialist League should note President Wilson’s reservations about American Empire before it sets out to build one. Wilson believed imperialism both unjust and unwise, the latter because it inevitably provokes destabilizing nationalist backlashes. The alternative, Judis contends, is Woodrow’s “liberal internationalism”: Ceding power to international bodies like the United Nations protects weak nations from strong ones, but it also protects strong nations from the resentment of the weak. (Judis also slams neoconservative claims to be Wilson’s heirs, arguing that Wilson disavowed unilateral action.) … Unilateral action is just we need in Iran, Lawrence F. Kaplan argues. Inspections won’t keep Iran from obtaining nukes, and the leaders of any democratic revolution will likely want some of their own. “Either the United States will put a halt to these ambitions,” Kaplan intones, “or no one will.”
What Neocons Think of Oprah
Who knew that the folks at the Weekly Standard are such close readers of O, The Oprah Magazine? Perusing the latest issue with a keen eye, David Skinner catches a recycled quote from Ms. Winfrey herself! (The article’s only available on the Web.) Skinner then goes on to critique the issue—which focuses on men good and bad—and laments that O portrays the average American male as a trainable cretin. “You’re either a fat, sweaty construction worker who whistles when a babe passes by or you’re a fat, sweaty construction worker who refrains from whistling,” Skinner sighs.
The New Yorker, June 2
A long piece by Janet Malcolm examines how Gertrude Stein and her companion, Alice Toklas, miraculously survived the Nazi occupation of France. Malcolm enlists Stein scholars to help her explore the couple’s friendship with Bernard Faÿ, an anti-Semitic collaborator who protected the two Jewish women from capture even as he sent hundreds of Freemasons to their deaths. Malcolm quotes Stein extensively from letters and Wars I Have Seen, her memoirs of the period, in discussing Stein’s willful ignorance of “what had been happening to others” while she and Toklas lived in their comfortable house. … In “Talk of the Town,”Ben McGrath reports on researchers at Georgia Tech who are developing radar technology for the military designed to identify suspects by the way they walk. The work on ” ‘gait signatures’ [is] alarming not only to diehard civil libertarians but also to skulkers, stumblers and zigzaggers everywhere.”— E.F.
New York Times Magazine, June 1 A cover line dubs Afghanistan “Warlordistan,” and Barry Bearak’s piece inside lays out the jumble of concerns facing those who would rebuild the country. Regional governors collect taxes and refuse to pass the revenues along to Kabul; promised international aid has failed to materialize; President Hamid Karzai and his deputies control no police force to help execute their authority; security is nil. All this came to pass when Afghanistan was the United States’ foremost nation-building project, which bodes ill both for Iraq, which has just snagged U.S. notice, and for Afghanistan, which seems to have lost what attention it had. … Political writer Matt Bai offers his What’s up with that Dean guy? article; he concludes that Dean “seems more prepared to exploit people’s rage than to channel their passion into something positive,” but notes that centrist Democrats who dismiss him would do well to tap voter resentment of Bush, which may be more “transformational” than “fringe.”
Time, June 2, and Newsweek, May 27
Both covers focus on learning but from very different angles. Newsweek lists the best U.S. high schools and examines the ways educators assess merit in the 21st century. AP and IB (for International Baccalaureate) courses and tests are considered by many education specialists to be better indicators of academic strength than the stalwart SATs; and these challenging courses could raise GPAs across the board. … Time’s cover story tackles nature versus nurture, showing how scientists are adjusting to the subtle, circular relationships between environment and genetics. Behaviors long thought to be “instinctive” or genetically hard-wired now appear to be predispositions to certain kinds of learning. Learning being, in the last analysis, nothing more than “switching genes on and off.”
In Newsweek Michael Isikoff writes about a dust-up over the Bush administration’s refusal to declassify certain documents pertaining to pre-Sept. 11 terrorism intelligence. The disputed congressional report contains details gleaned in the president’s famous daily briefings, including one dated Aug. 6 that raised the possibility of plane hijackings. Also at issue are details of what, if any, Saudi support the terrorists claimed. … According to a Time article, Saddam Hussein’s sons put the worst Hollywood baddies to shame. Jason and Hannibal, you’ve met your match in Odai and Qusai. Serial rapists, sadists, torturers, and vain, obsessive/compulsive freaks, the brothers singly and together formed a nonstop horror show to disgust even their father.—S.G.
New York Review of Books, June 12
In the first of two articles Clifford Geertz appraises the massive and varied outpouring of Western writings on Islam. While ostensibly trying to clarify the nature of this “other,” the literature’s tendencies to polemicize and generalize dangerously oversimplify Islamic culture. Like most modern socio-political situations, the relationship of the West to Islam demands more painstaking inquiry. … An essay by Stanley Hoffmann examines the Bush administration’s uses of “manipulation of fear” and “Orwellian rhetoric” in bringing about the war in Iraq—and by extension, the dismantling of long-standing mechanisms for facilitating international conflict. If Bush thinks hegemony makes for stability, he’s wrong. … Orlando Figes praises Anne Applebaum’s history of the Soviet Gulag, particularly her use of numerous zek memoirs and materials declassified since communism’s fall. (Read Stephen Kotkin’s review in Slate.)—S.G.
New Republic, June 2
Jonathan Chait, who recently dubbed Dubya “the 9/10 president” for his failure to tighten homeland security, now calls Bush a liar and derides his tax plan as “fiscal madness.” Bush pitched the tax cut as boon to the middle class, but the bulk of the cut will do them little good. Chait also notes—late, but amusingly—that Bush’s feeble promise of “one million new jobs sounds eerily like the Austin Powers character Dr. Evil.”… Of late, there’s a certain thrill in finding one of Ryan Lizza’s “Campaign Journals” in a new TNR. It’s akin to the feeling you get when you notice that it’s Anthony Lane’s turn to write at The New Yorker—you know you’re in for a good read. This week, Lizza writes on Howard Dean’s Internet-based campaigning. There’s more to it than those Meetup.com fund-raisers everyone wrote up last month; staffers run streaming video of Dean’s appearances and can marshal a phalanx of supporters to defend him in the blogosphere. Some predicted Dean would fade after the war, but, perhaps thanks to the Internet, “the cult of Dean doesn’t seem to be going away.”
Economist, May 22 Weighing in on the beauty industry, the Economist is by turns shocked and blasé. Americans spend more on beauty than they do on education, the cover story sputters. “Brazil has more Avon ladies (900,000) than it has men and women in its army and navy”! But then the mag about-faces and critiques beauty industry powerhouses like L’Oreal for failing to jump on the Botox bandwagon: “Traditional beauty companies have yet to grasp the opportunities” in cosmetic surgery.
The Nation, June 2
There is an intelligent piece to be written about The New Yorker’s coverage of the Bush administration’s War on Terror. But Daniel Lazare’s essay on the topic—which runs under the subhead “How a nice magazine talked itself into backing Bush’s jihad”—isn’t it. In a scattershot analysis, Lazare seems initially fazed by The New Yorker’s tendency to speak “with many voices, not all of whom completely agree.” (A magazine that publishes diverse political opinions? Heaven forfend!) But Lazare moves on, choosing to pick apart a few pieces that represent the magazine’s “overall conservative turn” since the Sept. 11 attacks.
He dismisses Jeffrey Goldberg’s Feb. 10 story—about Pentagon and CIA intelligence analysts hunting for an Iraq/al-Qaida link—as administration propaganda, writing that Goldberg “dutifully jotted down” all that Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet, et al. told him about the unsettling partnership. Politically, Goldberg may or may not be head cheerleader for the Mighty Hawks, but as IOM remembers it, his piece deftly piled up quotes in which these sources described how, post-9/11, intelligence analysts lowered “the threshold for what is credible.” So as Goldberg nimbly reported the government’s case for an Iraq/al-Qaida connection—something that had yet to be done—he also raised questions about the strength of the intel used to make that claim.
The essay also insists that The New Yorker, in failing to “encourage opposition” to the war, stumbled badly. Lazare argues that The New Yorker “helped middle-class opinion to coalesce against US intervention in Vietnam, [and] might well have served a similar function today by clarifying what is at stake in the Middle East.” Well, sure. But if The Nation is concerned about persuading “the bourgeoisie” to oppose the war, why delegate that responsibility to The New Yorker? Why not try to persuade the politically undecided itself?
—Ed Finn also contributed to this column.