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The New Boomtown

Why things are looking up in Germany.

Economist, Aug. 20 The cover examines why Germany has once again become the world’s largest exporter and predicts a significant upswing in the country’s economy. It explains that relations between companies and trade unions have improved. “German workers have belatedly recognised that change has become essential, which is why they have been ready over the past year or so to accept such innovations as more decentralised pay bargaining, longer hours and even wage cuts.” Another piece looks at Niger to ponder how famines get reported and predicted. It argues, “Loose talk of famine and millions of starvation deaths can do more harm than good. Such talk can tempt private traders to hoard grain, either out of fear that they, too, will succumb to famine or out of greed, anticipating the higher prices an international relief effort will pay.”—B.B.

Nation, Aug. 22, 2005 A piece suggests that arguably the most health-obsessed president is in cahoots with the “obesity lobby” to keep the nation’s kiddies thunder-thighed and big-butted. The smoking gun links the substantial amounts of money donated by bigwigs from Coco-Cola and Nestlé USA to the Bush/Cheney campaign to the administration’s weakening of the “World Health Organization’s global anti-obesity strategy” and questioning “the scientific basis for the linking of fruit and vegetable consumptions to decreased risk of obesity and diabetes.” The articles discount the notion that kids are fat because they “sit around on their duffs watching Eminem on MTV and playing video games.” Because one of the propelling ideas behind the feminist wave was the idea of choice, Katha Pollitt suggests that women belonging to the organization Feminists for Life cannot choose to call themselves feminists and be against abortion since “a feminist could not force another woman to bear a child, any more than she could turn a pregnant teenager out into a snow storm.”—Z.K.

Rolling Stone, Aug. 25, 2005
Bret Easton Ellis’ first book made him famous at 21. His fifth novel might make him infamous. Considered by some to be “the most notorious and vilified writer of our age,” Ellis’ Lunar Park, a faux memoir, could cement that opinion or reverse it, opines a piece. Possessing a chameleonlike nature, the book further blurs the line between Bret Easton Ellis, author, and Bret Easton Ellis, personality. Ellis did not set out to immortalize himself in pulp, but as the writing process commenced Ellis found that “the outline kept changing,” ultimately providing him with an outlet where he could deal with “bad shit, his celebrity image, his father.” Vermont’s only representative in the House, Bernie Sanders, gives Matt Taibbi a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the daily machination of this august body. After a couple of weeks with the congressman, Taibbi observes “the whole thing is an ingenious system for inhibiting progress and the popular will.”—Z.K.

New York, Aug. 22, 2005 An article profiles perpetual candidate Bill Clinton post-presidency. Too young and too ambitious to spend his retirement building model ships, Clinton has concocted a quasi-administration in exile: traveling with a small group of aides de camp; informally advising a gaggle of Democratic candidates (though he denies spending much time contemplating Hillary’s presidential machinations); fronting America’s tsunami relief efforts with fellow ex-prez George H. Bush; and spearheading the Clinton Foundation’s efforts to combat the AIDS/HIV epidemic in Africa. A profile of wunderkind Nick McDonnell, timed to the release of his sophomore literary effort, The Third Brother, contradicts those who believe the well-connected novelist’s success hinges on his connections and nepotism. (His father is the managing editor of Sports Illustrated, Hunter Thompson was a godfather, and George Plimpton was young Nick’s “guru.”) According to his publisher and family friend, “The best evidence of how good Nick is is that 27 publishers internationally have bought his book.”—Z.K.

New York Times Magazine, Aug. 21, 2005
An article looks at Liberian soccer sensation George Weah’s run for the country’s presidency. Other nations have dealt with celebrities cum politicians; Liberians, with their country on the brink of nervous breakdown thanks to a 10-year civil war, are hoping Weah can replicate his success on the soccer field in Monrovia. Instantaneously embraced by the people, a number of political elites who would have normally distained a run by someone other than a “book man” have to hitch their wagon to Weah’s star. “His chances of winning—by a landslide—are very bright,” predicts journalist Jonathan Paye-Layleh. An organizer of a controversial U.K.-based exhibit of anti-Semitic art “hopes his show will educate and thereby chasten those who cavalierly invoke anti-Semitic language or iconography” in an attempt demonstrate how some conflate anti-Israel cartoons and the specter of anti-Semitism.—Z.K.   

Radar, September/October 2005
Former Slate staffer Chris Suellentrop uses Edward Klein’s The Truth About Hillary to assesses the senator’s womanliness. While Klein implies that Hillary “is a man,” the piece argues that “Republicans may have grasped her biggest strength: The former first lady may be the only Democrat man enough to take back the White House.” Suellentrop concludes, “If [Republicans] portray her as a conniving shrew, they’ll make her seem as tough as nails. If they emphasize her womanhood, they risk seeming loutish.” Another piece asks why Americans haven’t yet embraced luxury toilet paper. It notes that a Spanish company, Renova Negro, sells an all-black toilet paper (“very Pedro Almodovar”) and that rolls “infused with pineapple enzymes to counteract odor” are available in Japan, while Americans have to make do with Charmin’s nonthreatening bear. According to a wholesale distributor, “Americans aren’t ready to say ‘I want to tell you about my wonderful experience in the toilet.’ “—B.B.

The New Yorker, Aug. 22 Kinky Friedman, mystery writer and former musician, * is running for governor in Texas—and getting a surprisingly enthusiastic response. “He had previously explained that he wanted the job because he needed the closet space, and he had already promised the job of warden of women’s prisons to at least eight different guys,” writes Daniel Halpern. “But, one after another, voters told him they thanked God that he had decided to do this, that they were sick of the way politics was being practiced.” Ian Buruma reviews some new books about North Korea. He calls Bradley K. Martin’s Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty“perhaps fair to a fault.” Martin writes that Kim Jong-il is “an often insensitive and brutal despot who had another side that was generous and—increasingly as he matured—charming.”—B.B.

Time and Newsweek, Aug. 22 Cindy Sheehan: Time examines the anti-war activism of Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq who has set herself up outside the president’s ranch. The piece notes that Sheehan’s surviving son, Andy, “supports his mother in principle but recently sent her a long email imploring her ‘to come home because you need to support us at home.’ ” The article concludes, “In 1965 a group of just 25 antiwar protesters demonstrated outside President Lyndon Johnson’s Texas ranch. Within a few years, the handful had turned into a movement.” Newsweek has a piece about Bush’s meetings with families who have lost loved ones in Iraq. The article analyzes how the grieving families respond after the meetings and notes that Bush likes to seem confident but often has been “stricken in private.” Crystal Owen, a schoolteacher whose husband died in Iraq says, “In a way, I wish he weren’t the president, just so I could talk to him all the time.”

Iraq:Time writes that Iran is supporting insurgent leader Abu Mustafa al-Sheibani, whose group has started using a kind of roadside bomb that’s deadlier than the other explosives being used in Iraq. It’s similar to the design used by the Lebanese group Hezbollah, and it “can punch through a battle tank’s armor like a fist through the wall.” A senior U.S. officer says that uncertainty lies in what factions within Tehran’s splintered security apparatus are behind the strategy and how much top leaders have endorsed.” Newsweek reports that the United Nations is putting off deciding what kind of international monitoring Iraq should undergo in the future. While the head of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission recently pointed out that Iraq might decide to restart its previous nuclear, chemical, or biological weapon programs in order to counter a threat from Iran, “Iraqi politicians are reportedly adamant that the new, sovereign Iraq will accept no special constraints or monitoring.”

Odds and ends: Time presents a list of the 25 “most influential Hispanics in America. Among them: Alberto Gonzales, Salma Hayek, Jennifer Lopez, George Lopez, Jorge Ramos, Bill Richardson, Narciso Rodriguez, Mel Martinez, Arturo Moreno, Cristina Saralegui, Lionel Sosa, and Antonio Villaraigosa. Newsweek has a piece about the rise of female politicians in Latin America. It focuses on Chile and Argentina, and notes that, “A Gallup survey conducted in six major Latin American cities in 2000 revealed the widespread beliefs that women would be more effective in reducing poverty (62 percent), improving education (72 percent) and curbing corruption (57 percent).” Newsweek also reports on “hypoallergenic” pets that don’t aggravate people’s allergies, noting that ” a limited number of studies do suggest that some dogs and cats seem to stir up fewer reactions than others.” Top dog breeds include: poodles, Portugese water dogs, and bichons frises. Devon Rex is the main cat breed.—B.B.

Reason, August/September 2005
Salman Rushdie takes President Bush to task about the war, but not because he’s against it—Rushdie wishes the president would stop insisting the war against terror is not about Islam. Speculating that the motivation behind such proclamations are the specters of political correctness and cultural relativism, Rushdie believes, “You can respect those reasons, but there is a problem of truth.” And the truth is that “there is an existing Islam which is not at all likeable.” Even as 500,000 children fester away in America’s foster-care system, an article reveals that more states are adopting measures that would restrict adoption privileges by homosexuals, preferring that children languish in orphanages because, as Texas state Rep. Robert Talton says, “At least they have the chance of learning proper values.” The article goes on to systematically debunk social conservatives’ arguments against gay adoption.—Z.K.

Correction, Aug. 16: The New Yorker item originally identified Kinky Friedman as a rock musician. His band, Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys, played country music. (Return to the corrected sentence.)