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Black and White

Texas Monthly checks on race relations in Jasper, Texas.

Sports Illustrated, Dec. 8 A stylish piece by Bruce Schoenfeld profiles Las Vegas Sports Consultants, the ragtag group that sets gambling lines for dozens of casinos and hundreds of newspapers. Internal debate about a Notre Dame-Purdue football game—most say Purdue should be favored by 7, but one cocky outlier stumps for 14—reveals the contrary styles of analytical “strict constructionist” types and those who prefer a “narrative approach.” The eventual number, a compromise between the two approaches, is Purdue by 10 1/2. The Boilermakers win by 13. A package on life in the NFL trenches reveals the enmity between offensive and defensive linemen. Offensive tackle Kyle Turley says simple-minded defenders—or as he calls them, geraniums—are easily confused. When Turley wants a teammate to pick up a defensive lineman, “I’d normally call out, Slip, he says. But if the defender is hip to this signal, “I simply change it to something else that’s slippery, like Snot or Grease.”

Texas Monthly, December 2003 Pamela Colloff goes back to Jasper, the East Texas town that made the news when James Byrd, Jr. was dragged to his death behind a pickup truck in 1998. After the brutal hate crime, public contrition came via town-hall meetings and the removal of a fence separating black from white in the town cemetery. Colloff sees signs of progress, particularly in the increased trust between black citizens and the Jasper police, but at high-school football games the crowd still self-segregates, with whites in the reserved section and blacks in general admission. The most trenchant indicator of the town’s persistent racial divide, though, is the sympathy many have for Shawn Berry, the one Jasper native among Byrd’s three killers. “Where some see evil, others see only the familiar face of a man who was once their neighbor and friend. As with the cemetery fence, the view depends on where you’re standing.”

New Republic, Dec. 15
David Hajdu’s cover story on the “inauthenticity of Bruce Springsteen” homes in on the inauthenticity of Robert Coles, the author of a recent book on the New Jersey bard. Hajdu insinuates that the book’s testimonials—from “the prototypical sort of everyday people that one does not meet every day”—are too good to be true, and that Coles may have fabricated quotes from avowed Springsteen fan Walker Percy. Hajdu himself finds the singer’s proletarian tenor both “evocative” and “pandering.” His favorite Boss album: Tunnel of Love, the LP with the least “role-playing.” In his post-mortem on the HBO series K Street, Lee Siegel says the show’s flattering portrayals of political guest stars reveal Hollywood gullibility more than D.C. seaminess. Choice line: “If [K Street producers] Soderbergh and Clooney knew how much the Beltway connivers were playing them like salmon, they would lie down on bagels and die.”

Economist, Dec. 6”The not-so-mighty dollar,” which continues to slide in value compared to the euro, might be a good sign for the world market, the magazine reports. If the money in the pockets of European consumers keeps increasing in value, it could “boost Europe’s feeble domestic demand, which has long been a big drag on euro-area economies.” The “Afghan Elvis” lives! Ahmed Zahir, a popular sensation who sang “Persian love poetry to an electric guitar,” died in a car accident in 1979, and then suffered post-death indignity when the antimusic Taliban launched rockets at his Kabul tomb in 1996. In recent months, Zahir’s gravesite has been restored and visited by thousands of ardent fans. The small-scale construction project, though, represents the country’s rebuilding troubles in microcosm. “Though better than the heap of rubble that it replaced, the tomb was redone on the cheap: several marble tiles have already fallen off.”

New York Times Magazine, Dec. 7
Samantha M. Shapiro puts a bizarre spin on the story of Howard Dean, Internet pioneer: For Dean-loving techies, the campaign represents a sublimation of romantic love. In Dean headquarters, lovelorn programmers—one of whom lay in the fetal position for days after getting dumped by his girlfriend—listen to plaintive lyrics like “When the human touch is what I need, what I need is you.” Who’s the “you”? Both the roguishly charming candidate and the lovely, Meetup-attending lasses. Barry Bearak says despite President Bush’s call for democracy in Islamic states, he proposed a $3 billion aid package to prop up Pakistan’s reactionary, militaristic regime. That’s because America’s foreign policy interest in the world’s sixth-largest nation is the maintenance of a buffer zone against Afghanistan.

Washington Monthly, December 2003 It’s an AEI smack down, as three separate stories look askance at the American Enterprise Institute. Benjamin Wallace-Wells takes on the gestalt, criticizing the conservative think tank for skewing studies to please its benefactors, “even if that means cutting corners on scholastic rigor.” Peter Bergen narrows his gaze on former AEI scholar Laurie Mylroie, whose writing on the complicity of Saddam Hussein in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 9/11 attacks flies “in the face of virtually all evidence.” It wouldn’t be such a big deal if Mylroie didn’t have the ear of Vice President Dick Cheney. Nicholas Confessore says journalist/pundit/AEI fellow James Glassman has invented a new, ethically sketchy, occupation: “journo-lobbying.” Writers for Tech Central Station, a Web-based “think-tank-cum-magazine” hosted by Glassman, pen op-eds that shill for corporations like AT&T, ExxonMobil, and Microsoft—the same corporations that underwrite the site. (Microsoft is Slate’s corporate parent.)

Glamour, December 2003
Julie Hilden’s “open diary” is strange on two counts: It’s a defense of an ongoing relationship, and the boyfriend being defended is serial fabricator Stephen Glass. The courtship begins auspiciously—five-hour phone call, shared love of the movie Magnolia—and there’s soon no denying the couple’s compatibility, as both “preferred pizza nights to fancy dinners, ate way too much candy and were compulsive video renters.” The now-3-year relationship, which began after Glass’ ouster from the New Republic, gets cemented when Glass nurses Hilden through a bout with a bacterial infection, and she realizes the “confirmed liar” treats her better than all those “straight-arrow exes.”

The New Yorker, Dec. 8 A Jeffrey Toobin piece asks if gerrymandering nullifies direct election of the House of Representatives. Partisan cartographers use fancy computer software to check out voting records and ethnic makeup on a block-by-block level, leading to strange-looking district geometry that can virtually assure victory for the map-drawing party. The GOP-engineered Pennsylvania redistricting is now before the Supreme Court, with Dems arguing that fun shapes like the “supine seahorse” and the “upside-down Chinese dragon” deny them equal protection under the law. “[H]ip kids tend to overprice iconic funk,” advises Judith Thurman in a hilariously highfalutin guide to thrifting in NYC. No trucker hats and Texaco uniforms here. After apologizing to readers for the “Balzacian provenance” of secondhand items, Thurman offers up some choice recommendations: an “exquisitely fitted alligator minaudière” for $550, a “nest of three Deco casseroles” for $150, and “Hermès bags in perfect condition” for $3,500-$4,200.

Weekly Standard, Dec. 8 Just in time for the holidays, Andrew Ferguson checks out the weighty tomes of eight Bush bashers. In these anti-Dubya jeremiads he finds “the faint sound of veins popping,” and—like the collected works of Hannity, O’Reilly, and Coulter—books that “show no sign of having been written for people who read books.” Ferguson singles out Bushwhacked by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose as the best of the bunch, then damns it with less-than-faint praise for using “unhappy people as stage props.” Matthew Continetti heads to the House floor to see how President Bush muscled through a prescription drug benefit after a three-hour vote. When one Republican “escaped” to the gym after his “no” vote, GOP leaders blocked the exits, with “rebel conservatives” huddling together for strength. “If the leadership ever got you alone, you were in trouble,” says Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo.

Tracks, Winter 2004 This new music magazine from former Vibe and Spin editor Alan Light shows its age by including jam band Widespread Panic, who formed in 1983, in a box labeled “New Music 101.” Those who haven’t moved past the Dead will feel at home with this boomer-friendly premiere issue. Nostalgia-filled features focus on the bygone achievements of older artists: Cover boy Sting flacks an autobiography that covers his first 25 years, while a doughy Robert Plant revisits the cottage where he and Jimmy Page penned Led Zeppelin III. That which is not familiar is contextualized: The sound of My Morning Jacket, the one contemporary group profiled, is compared in turn to Neil Young, the Allman Brothers, Skynyrd, and the Beach Boys. Shortish reviews toss hosannas at oldies like Elvis Costello, inoffensive newcomers like Rufus Wainwright, and critical faves Outkast and Death Cab for Cutie, while the Shins’Chutes Too Narrow, one of the most anticipated albums of the year among hipsters, is one of the “best records you didn’t hear.”

Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 8 Food for thought: Although genetics may play a role, Time’s cover story finds weight remains the dominant factor behind the growing number of children with “adult-onset” diabetes. Singer Patti LaBelle, a Type 2 diabetic for 10 years, recommends controlling the disease by eating cheese-steak sandwiches without cheese or bread. Newsweek, which calls obesity the No. 1 health story of 2003, says it’s not your fault you can’t resist junk food. Delectable treats like chocolate and cheese mimic the effects of delectable drugs like cannabinoids and opiates.

God complex:Newsweek rips its cover on biblical women straight from the best-seller list. Feminist scholars agree with the novel The Da Vinci Code: Mary Magdalene was a key supporter of Jesus, not a harlot. Other women are getting the once-over as well. One religion professor says Judith, who decapitated the Assyrian general Holofernes, is “like Wonder Woman, only Jewish.” Three hundred years after the birth of fire and brimstone Great Awakening preacher Jonathan Edwards, U.S. News finds that evangelical Christians still “defy easy labels.” That doesn’t stop the magazine from offering the following easy labels: emphasize personal relationship with Jesus, believe in veracity of the Bible, and proselytize through social-service ministries.

Prison camp:Time offers a look inside Guantanamo Bay, where 660 suspects are being held as part of the war on terror. The carrot for prisoners: Camp 4, where those who display good behavior enjoy “family style” meals and other benefits. Nevertheless, 32 detainees tried to kill themselves in the past 18 months—that’s up from the 18 reported by Mark Bowden in his thinky piece on torture in the October Atlantic.

This flight suits him: News and notes on President Bush’s surprise Thanksgiving visit to Iraq. Time says top Dems are stewing on account of the president’s post-flight-suit mastery of the photo op. “It’s pretty hard to criticize this one,” says one official. A note in Newsweek offers some insight into the administration’s notion of celebrity cool. In an attempt to boost attendance at the Bush-attended Thanksgiving meal, top officials spread rumors of a visit from Shania Twain and Nicolas Cage.