New Republic, May 23
Harvard history professor Ernest R. May writes about his experience of serving on the 9/11 commission. May, who says he was chosen for his lack of partisanship, explains that the commissioners presented the report as a narrative history to stave off partisan squabbles, but he criticizes the report for steering clear of whether American foreign policy led to 9/11 and for being “too balanced.” He adds that the White House gave the commission more help than it’s given credit for. He thinks the report praised the CIA and FBI too much and gave Presidents Clinton and Bush and their closest advisers “indulgent treatment.” However, he points out, “Deeply buried in a footnote is evidence that Bush called for action against Al Qaeda well before any of his high-level advisers.” … Another article criticizes President Bush’s decision to cut funding for public-housing projects—even HOPE VI, part of a program for affordable housing that started when Republican Jack Kemp was HUD secretary.—B.B.
Economist, May 12
The cover suggests that a “double nuclear challenge” from Iran and North Korea is likely “in the coming days or weeks.” It notes that the economic interests of Russia, China, and Japan may well lead them to “pretend to believe” Iran’s claim that its nuclear buildup is legitimately for energy. Thus, the United Nations probably will issue toothless sanctions or none it all. The nuclear threats can be warded off, the article says—but only by good international diplomacy. The Europeans should bring Iran before the Security Council, and Americans should provide “the right sort of security assurances.” … A related story argues that internal struggles among Iranian leaders who are anticipating next month’s presidential elections may have increased the country’s emphasis on nuclear power. …Another piece touts the economic viability of biofuels; if fossil-fuel prices stay high, consumers will clamor for ethanol. It points out that ethanol made in corn-rich U.S. states is already “close to being competitive even without subsidy.”—B.B.
New York, May 9, 2005
The cover article peels the layers off the lives of three women who underwent bariatric surgery to lose weight. While all three are thrilled with their new looks, they weren’t prepared for society’s, and even friends and spouses’, reactions to the “power of pretty.” People considering such surgery should know that besides the physical risks, the mental aftershocks can also be scarring. … Another article chronicles the life of David, a Mexican undocumented worker living with 26 roommates in a basement apartment. A recent New York City Planning Department study states that “two thirds of all Mexicans live in overcrowded conditions.” David says that despite the cattle-car nature of the apartment he “felt lonely.” … A piece profiles 63-year-old whippersnapper Leslie Crocker Snyder, a New York State Supreme Court justice cum authoress cum script-vetter for the Law and Order franchise. Crocker is gunning to unseat 85-year-old Manhattan D.A. Robert Morgenthau. The seeds for Snyder’s quixotic campaign seem to have been planted back in 1967, when Morgenthau turned her down for a job.—Z.K.
New York Times Magazine, May 15
A special issue surveys the audacious, optimistic, and now neglected architecture of the mid-20th century and asks, “Is Modernism disappearing from the landscape it made?” A small group of Russians is fighting to protect the buildings of the utopian Soviet avant-garde from developers and city planners who hope to level or transform them. “I don’t know if you can call this corruption,” says an architecture critic. “It is the reality of our privatization. It is eating everything.” … An article assesses the legacy of Vann Molyvann, who brought Modernist architecture to Cambodia only to see it abused by the virulently anti-urban Khmer Rouge. … A profile of Oscar Niemeyer finds Brazil’s master builder at 97 an unrepentant optimist, Communist, and sensualist. A typical dictum: “Form follows feminine.”—D.W.W.
Weekly Standard, May 16 A review of a new biography of Mary Wollstonecraft lauds the pioneering feminist because “unlike many of today’s feminists, [she] instructed women that they had to take responsibility for being treated seriously by men.” While the reviewer claims that some parts of the book read “like notes left over from a Women’s Studies 101 class,” she says Lyndall Gordon, the biographer, manages to “synthesize the two Mary Wollstonecrafts: the politically radical, defiantly independent Mary who disdained marriage and social convention, and the emotionally needy Mary” whom older historians tagged “as a hysterical, self-defeating oddity.”… The cover story focuses on the CIA’s practice of “rendering” terrorism suspects to foreign countries that have fewer qualms about torture than the United States. It runs through all the reasons why rendition is a good idea, but concludes, “It shouldn’t be that hard to understand that rendition is actually an abdication of intelligence professionalism.” The piece ends by calling for a national debate about the ethics of torture.—B.B.
The New Yorker, May 16 Malcolm Gladwell reviews Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad Is Good for You, which argues that pop culture is making Americans smarter. Johnson says that reading inculcates “passivity” and is “tragically isolating.” He praises sophisticated TV plots that require viewers to keep track of lots of plotlines at the same time, and to pick up on tons of allusions. He also extols the merits of video games like Grand Theft Auto, which require complex problem-solving skills and demand delayed gratification. Gladwell distinguishes “fluid problem-solving” from the “explicit knowledge” that books provide and argues that smartness rests upon both skills, a fact that he says Johnson sometimes overlooks. (Read Slate’s Dana Stevens’ debate with Steven Johnson here.) … Sasha Frere-Jones says that the Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle is “America’s best non-hip-hop lyricist” and insists that his new album The Sunset Tree has a “genteel sound” that “would not be out of place on a Starbucks CD, yet the lyrics are anything but anodyne.”—B.B.
Harper’s, May 2005 In a piece about Nepal’s Maoist rebellion, Eliza Griswold suggests that the rebellion has flourished because of the government’s utter failure to build infrastructure outside of Katmandu; “we are not pressing for a ‘communist republic’ but for a bourgeois democratic republic,” a Maoist leader tells her. However, Griswold also emphasizes the Maoist practice of abducting schoolchildren en masse and of demanding massive bribes from villagers. … Another story focuses on pastor Ted Haggard, who heads a Colorado Springs megachurch and confers with the White House weekly. In his youth, he had “oddly pragmatic visions (he believes he foresaw Internet prayer networks before the Internet existed)”; these days, his message is “the Christian home is to be in a constant state of war.” The article points to Christian fundamentalists’ distrust of the city and their “strategic retreat” to exurbs from which they can surround the devilish urban centers.—B.B.
Time, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, May 16
Terror arrest: All three newsweeklies focus on the capture of Libyan Abu Faraj al-Libbi, supposedly al-Qaida’s No. 3 man. After a colorful capture involving government operatives dressed in burqas, Time reports that officials got enough information from al-Libbi to arrest more than 20 al-Qaida members and that al-Libbi helped plan terrorist attacks that were supposed to take place during last year’s presidential election. U.S. News believes that Pakistan was key to al-Libbi’s capture and notes that some of the most significant al-Qaida arrests have been made in that country. Newsweek wonders what will happen now that al-Libbi has been captured and questions why no al-Qaida suspects have been brought to trial yet. It reports that the Pentagon is hoping to bring al-Qaida suspects to trial “later this year” and explains that the Senate judiciary committee is considering replacing military tribunals with “a newly empowered Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court—a panel of judges that meets in secret and has greater latitude to use classified material.”
Health issues:Time’s cover highlights the female midlife crisis: “From coast to coast, women of all backgrounds are essentially opening up the Great Midlife Lemonade Stand, taking the bitter taste of aging and making it sweet, satisfying.” Noting that middle-aged women have double the optimism of men their age, the piece claims that many women have taken an entrepreneurial approach to helping other women figure out life after menopause even as youth-obsessed marketers seem oblivious to the fact that many older women have loads of money to throw around. …U.S. News revisits prescription drugs for depressed kids. A health-management company’s study found that since last year’s controversial debate about whether antidepressants make some kids more suicide-prone, fewer children and teens are taking the meds. Moreover, it’s still unclear why drugs help in some cases and not in others.
Odds and ends:Time’s Joe Klein praises Hillary Clinton’s intelligence, integrity, and sense of humor before announcing that “a Clinton presidential candidacy in 2008 would be a disaster on many levels.” He goes to say that “there is something fundamentally un-American—and very European—about the Clintons and the Bushes trading the office every eight years.” …U.S. News features an excerpt from a new book about favorite presidential retreats. Apparently, Lyndon Johnson had a penchant for an amphibious car on his Texas ranch. He’d drive guests straight into a river. “Suddenly he’d shout, ‘The brakes won’t hold!’ and the car would plunge in with a huge splash. Johnson would roar with laughter as his frightened passengers gradually realized the car could float.” … And Newsweek reports that comedian Dave Chapelle may be buckling under the pressure of his popularity and his $50 million deal with Comedy Central; the comedian keeps postponing the debut of his third season.—B.B.