New Republic, Dec. 13 Liberals need to recognize the centrality of the struggle against Islamic extremism. Among the grass roots, “ there is little liberal passion to win the struggle against Al Qaeda.” Democrats must reclaim their base from those who “[see] threats to liberalism only on the right,” such as Michael Moore. Democrats should recognize that “liberals face an external enemy more grave, and more illiberal, than George W. Bush.”… An article argues that Condoleezza Rice should “crack the whip” against foreign service bureaucrats who undermine policy decisions. One bureaucrat, upset with Bush’s policy in his region, “simply stopped sending cables to Washington.” But Rice is making noises to placate Foggy Bottom in order to avoid “a bureaucratic meltdown.”…”TRB” says that federalism is a “pragmatic solution” to our current cultural polarization. Though the concept has been largely ignored by conservatives in the executive branch and liberals in the courts, a return to federalism could “manage [polarization] without splitting the country apart.”—D.K.
Economist, Dec. 2 The dollar’s sharp decline poses a risk to America and the world economy. The dollar’s historic stability, which encourages other countries to invest in it, “allows America to borrow cheaply, and thus to spend much more than it earns.” Furthermore, “[p]eriods of dollar decline have often been unhappy for the world economy.” America must curtail “furious consumer spending” and reduce the deficit.… The post-election political battle contines in the Ukraine continues, but the government candidate “has only the slimmest chance of ever becoming president.” Yushchenko wants to re-run only the second round of the election, pitting him against Mr. Yanukovich, but the government faction wants to repeat the entire process. (Ukraine’s Supreme Court today ordered a run-off.) … In California, Arnold Schwarzenegger must choose between raising taxes and cutting spending to balance the budget. While it may offend his base, the “Republican-lite” Governator will need to raise taxes at least marginally.—D.K.
New York Review of Books, Dec. 16 Babar the elephant has entertained children for more than 70 years—but also has been denounced as “an elitist, a colonialist, and a racist.” Some critics have accused Babar of colonialist pretensions, “teach[ing] the false moral that if backward countries imitate the more advanced countries … they will improve their lot.” Such an attack could be leveled against most utopian visions and forgets that children’s books “normally portray a better world than the one we live in.” … Stephen Greenblatt searches for the real-world inspiration for Shakespeare’s characters in Will in the World. To “limit [Shakespeare’s] creativity … to his own experiences is strangely naïve.” This approach is ultimately inconclusive and ignores why readers still find his characters relevant. … An article says the Bush White House put pressure on the CIA to “exaggerate, distort, or misrepresent intelligence findings” to build support for the Iraq War, changing the CIA from “an agency uneasily aware of the possible political impact of everything it does … into an operational arm of the White House.”—D.K.
New York Times Magazine, Dec. 5 The cover story examines the trend toward organized word-of-mouth marketing. The idea is that companies, such as BzzAgent, accrue and send out unpaid “agents” to talk up a client’s product to friends, strangers, co-workers—anyone who will listen. The piece analyzes the psychology behind the phenomenon, concluding that part of the appeal of working as a volunteer marketer lies in being a trendsetter: “Even in the small orbit of your own social circle, knowing about something first—telling a friend about a new CD, or discovering a restaurant before anyone else in the office—is satisfying. Maybe it’s altruism, maybe it’s a power trip, but influencing other people feels good.” … An author who suffers from middle-age memory loss sets out to learn what’s ailing her. Along the way, she explains some of the scientific reasons for memory degeneration, such as the “breakdown of the myelin sheath,” and controllable factors such as stress, depression, and lack of sleep.—J.H.P.
Rolling Stone, Dec. 9
The magazine’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” has bloggers atwitter. Not surprisingly, Rolling Stone grants Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” top honors. The magazine lauds it for “the impressionist voltage of Dylan’s language,” and “the intensely personal accusation in his voice.” It concludes, “No other pop song has so thoroughly challenged and transformed the commercial laws and artistic conventions of its time, for all time.” The Rolling Stones “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” nabs the No. 2 spot. Others in the top 10: “Imagine” and “Hey Jude,” songs by Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, the Beach Boys, and Chuck Berry, as well as Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The highest-ranking song of the last 10 years is Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” (166). Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” appropriately wins last place. Songs from the ‘60s comprise more than 40 percent of the list, and songs from the ‘70s make up more than 28 percent.—J.H.P.
The New Yorker, Dec. 6 Variations in medical practice used to be of little import. “But the evidence has begun to indicate otherwise. What you tend to find is a bell curve: a handful of teams with disturbingly poor outcomes for their patients, a handful with remarkably good results, and a great undistinguished middle.” The cover story examines the philosophy of Don Berwick, CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, who has made it his mission to improve health care by promoting candid communication among doctors, hospitals, and patients about the shortcomings of a hospital’s program, and its plans for improvement. Berwick believes “openness would drive improvement, if simply through embarrassment.” Hospitals that have adopted his ideas, including Cincinnati Children’s, have found that honesty has only increased patients’ faith in them. The article acknowledges that “the bell curve isn’t going away,” and as a result, addresses quandaries such as, “Will being in the bottom half [of the bell curve] be used against doctors in lawsuits?” It concludes that “[t]he answer to all these questions is likely yes.”—J.H.P.
Weekly Standard, Dec. 6 One reporter visits Little Rock to take note of the hoopla surrounding the opening of Clinton’s presidential library. In addition to basic observations, like the fact that Monica Lewinsky is referenced but once, the author evaluates the experience itself: “The thing to realize about Clinton Week, as did the legions of celebrities and former administration types who descended on Little Rock hauling oxygen tanks and defibrillator paddles to help resuscitate the legacy of their hero, is that this wasn’t some hollow exercise, but rather, a religious experience.” The author also takes it upon himself to relay stories from alleged former Clinton flames, Connie Hamzy and Clinton’s high school classmate, Dolly Kyle Browning. … The magazine presents its “Holiday Books” issue, reviewing a variety of work, such as Too Brief a Treat: The Letters of Truman Capote: “These letters, scrupulously edited, with exactly the right degree of annotation, are themselves too brief a treat.”—J.H.P.
Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 6 Yanukovych v. Yushchenko:Time and Newsweek dissect the corruption in Ukraine’s recent presidential election. ” ’Dirty’ doesn’t begin to describe the election,” says Newsweek. Unethical tactics included “ voter intimidation, physical assaults and the torching of ballot boxes,” adds Time. While Ukrainians wait for this week’s ruling from their Supreme Court about whether Viktor Yanukovych beat Viktor Yushchenko fairly, commentators speculate about Vladimir Putin’s role in the debacle. One adviser to Putin tells Newsweek, “Putin is absolutely convinced that the West wants Yushchenko as president for one reason: to blockade Russia.” Another source tells Time, “Putin made it clear that a Yushchenko victory would not be acceptable. If the Russian president sticks to that hard line, it could provoke serious trouble, not only abroad but also at home.” Even if Yushchenko wins, “that doesn’t mean the crisis is over. … Ukraine remains a divided and distrustful nation.”
Medical milestones: Memory-enhancing medication may be available in a couple of years, according to Newsweek, because of the aid of a “hermaphroditic marine snail with mottled purple skin” known as Aplysia Californicus. The slugs have been integral to scientists’ research, because “[t]he molecules of memory in sea slugs … aren’t that different from some of those in humans.” Pharmaceutical companies hope the drugs “will enhance long-term memory in patients with age-related forgetfulness and even ward off the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.” … Americans spend $42.3 billion a year treating anxiety disorders, says U.S. News. A drug known as D-Cycloserine is now available to help patients conquer fears, though it is generally administered in tandem with other therapy. … Time says 50 million more Americans suffer from hypertension than did so a decade ago. Although medication is available for those with the most severe cases, healthcare professionals first advocate a healthy diet, exercise, and the elimination of smoking and excessive alcohol.
Notable quotables: In an interview with Newsweek,Ariel Sharon says that the only way to combat Iran’s nuclear weapon development is “a major international effort to exert economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran and to bring the issue to the U.N. Security Council, where sanctions can be imposed.” In a separate interview, Mahmoud Abbas takes responsibility for the fate of Palestine. “[I]f we miss this opportunity,” he says, “there is no one to be blamed but ourselves.” In addition, he says he plans to include Hamas in parliamentary elections: “Once they become parties inside the civil society, I believe it will be a major change in our lives.”… Tom Brokaw defends Dan Rather in a Time interview, saying “No reporter of his generation has covered as many big stories … I think he deserves to be judged on his whole career and not just on this final episode.” When asked about his regrets, Brokaw answers, “ I regret that we didn’t connect the dots on terrorism.”—J.H.P.
New York Times Magazine, Nov. 28
Can money buy a sports career? IMG Academies is banking on it. For about $22,000 a year, kids hone their athletic skills in an individual or team sport, practicing at least four hours a day. Add to that $12,000 a year for academics, $500 an hour for private coaching, and other expenses like media training, and parents can spend $70,000 annually in an attempt to morph little Jimmy into the next Derek Jeter. “The coaching at IMG is … undeniably first rate. … But on many other levels, IMG can be viewed only as the epicenter of a sports culture gone mad.” In 10 years, only one of about 80 IMG baseball students has been plucked for the baseball draft.… In another piece, frequent Slate contributor Clive Thompson dissects the genius of Cranium founder Richard Tait. “[B]y zeroing in on America’s insatiable thirst for self-esteem, Cranium appears to have discovered the paradox that gets kids and families playing again: a game where no one loses.”—J.H.P.
Chow, Holiday 2004 This new, high-brow-meets-low-brow food magazine fills a niche others don’t by offering articles like one on the gourmet cheese black market. For Camembert aficionados looking to snag that fine, young cheese outlawed in the U.S. due to high bacteria levels, “Don’t act like you’re doing a drug deal” when inquiring at your local cheeserie. Instead, play it cool, asking, “Might you have anything a little more … special?”… Slate contributor Sara Dickerman offers tips on how to prepare your turkey, complete with crisis intervention. “If your bird is still totally frozen two hours before your guests arrive, well, you’re kind of screwed here. Run to the grocery store and hope you can find a few turkey breasts on the bone.”… The front of the book offers quirky holiday advice on things like “How to feign delight when opening a gift,” but in this premiere issue the magazine is still working out the kinks: To maximize your Thanksgiving Day gorging potential, it recommends, “Don’t each much that day.”—J.H.P.
Weekly Standard, Nov. 29 The magazine defends CIA Director Porter Goss in light of the recent flare-up that led to the resignation of two top CIA officials, as well as what was perceived by some news media as a controversial e-mail to staff. The article supports Goss’ impending transformation of the agency, saying, “These changes are long overdue. And though you wouldn’t know it from recent media coverage, many CIA officials support them.”… Another article assesses Condoleezza Rice’s new role as secretary of state, saying diplomacy is an “urgent task,” but her first order of business is to enforce her views—and the president’s—on policy in “Iraq, Israel and the Palestinians, the pursuit of democracy in the Middle East and Arab countries, Iran, North Korea, and who knows what else.” The challenge is for her to “impose these policies … without touching off a revolt or clandestine efforts to undermine the president, such as occurred at the CIA.”—J.H.P.
The New Yorker, Nov. 29 The magazine releases its annual cartoon issue, complete with the traditional caption contest and a spread especially for Thanksgiving. Jonathan Franzen presents an ode to Charles Schultz, calling him “the best comic-strip artist who ever lived,” and describing the important role Schultz played in his own youth. … Janet Malcolm offers a sensitive tribute to the humble radio personality, George Jellinek, known for hosting the opera radio program The Vocal Scene for the last 36 years. When she asks him about his legacy, he admits, “I have not done anything that passes the test of immortality. Great artists pass this test … I have done nothing like that. I’ve done a number of clever programs.”… Another writer shadows a U.S. Border Patrol officer as he tries to capture illegal immigrants, revealing the difficult task at hand. In this officer’s territory, “[n]o more than forty agents are ever in the field at once—one per ninety square miles.”—J.H.P.