New Republic, Sept. 11 and 18
The town of McLean, Va., has usurped Georgetown as the Washington elite’s residence of choice, the cover piece reports. The influx of high-powered conservatives “represents the shift in American politics in microcosm,” as the once-Democratic McLean has become the “psychic center of the Washington Republican establishment.” Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski retches at the gaudy displays of wealth: “If you just drive around, you will see one development after another with absolutely phony names, evoking some connection with British aristocracy … and now increasing Francophone tones: Le Reserve,” he hisses. … A piece recommends that Republicans reconsider the role Rep. Katherine Harris, whose sanity is apparently eroding, played in the 2000 presidential elections. Subsequent events, namely the Supreme Court ruling in Bush v. Gore and the 2001 recount, seemed to have vindicated Harris. But, the author argues, if you discard “the bedrock assumption … that Harris is a sober, competent, and upstanding public servant,” then Bush’s victory “takes on a strikingly different cast.”—C.B.
Economist, Sept. 2
A Sept. 11 anniversary cover package assesses the United States’ global war on terror, describing “half-success in Afghanistan, total failure in Iraq.” Separate articles address the wars, the U.S. assault on civil liberties, the overall state of the Middle East, and the current strength of al-Qaida itself. … A special feature looks at the nascent science of synthetic biology. It will take a step beyond today’s genetic engineering and create new genes and metabolic pathways from scratch, rather than simply moving existing genes from one species to another. A bacterium synthesized entirely in the laboratory may be only a few years away, and scientists are already working on “improving” DNA and RNA—meaning that, in all likelihood, we’ll soon share the Earth with life-forms based on a fundamentally different genetic system than that used by all living things today. Spooky stuff.—B.W.
New York, Sept. 11
On the eve of Katie Couric’s CBS Evening News debut, Kurt Andersen has high hopes for America’s perky darling: “If it’s possible to rejuvenate TV news, Couric is among the last best hopes.” Couric’s plan involves making the news show less newsy: The broadcast will be “appropriately casual, less what I call Newzak, the kind of droney thing that has no relation to normal conversation,” says Couric. Potential guest commentators such as Jon Stewart and Ali G could help get the normal conversation rolling. … An article argues that despite Günter Grass’ recent admission that he served in Hitler’s Waffen-SS, his hectoring of Germans to atone for their historical crimes still holds true: “[W]e could be pretty sure that if, in an awful future, we did behave honorably, one of the big reasons would be because we had prepared for our behavior by reading Günter Grass.”—Z.K.
New York Times Magazine, Sept. 3 James Traub profiles China’s U.N. ambassador, Wang Guangya, by studying the country’s new role as a big player in the “international community.” Wang is often working against the United States on major issues, opposing intervention in Darfur, for example, and limiting the pressure on Iran. Traub writes, “China and the United States are the twin bêtes noires of the U.N.: the U.S. insists on enlisting the organization in its crusades, while China refuses to let any crusade get in the way of national interest. Washington is all blustering moralism; Beijing, all circumspect nationalism.”… The cover story champions young indy actress Vera Farmiga and bemoans the lack of major female roles in Hollywood. The article argues that it is unlikely that anyone could re-create the career of a Meryl Streep in today’s climate, where “Dakota Fanning, who is 12, is more likely to be offered the starring role in a drama than most older actresses are.”—B.W.
The New Yorker, Sept. 4 A piece on the Duke lacrosse scandal raises questions about the viability of the rape charges against three players, while also emphasizing the vaunted position of athletes at the university. Whether or not the players are guilty, the case highlights the conflict between athletics and academics: “The two strands of Duke’s character create an interesting tension—Sparta and Athens, in one package,” the author writes. … Margaret Talbot writes about Harvard cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Spelke, who studies babies and toddlers’ behavior. Spelke believes babies have innate abilities to understand their world: “Babies, in her view, have a sense of other people as ‘goal-directed agents’ who are capable of forming intentions and acting on them. And humans are endowed with a natural sense of geometry, an ability to orient themselves in space,” Talbot writes.— D.S.
Weekly Standard, Sept. 4 An article makes the case for sticking it out in Iraq. Unlike in Korea or Vietnam, the forces being confronted in Iraq—Sunni Baathists and Sunni and Shiite jihadists—mean business: “All three are dangerous because all have imperial ambitions; each seeks not control of a small piece of Middle Eastern real estate but regional hegemony—even, in the case of the jihadists, world domination.” Oh, and “all three hate the West,” says the author. … A Web-only article advises the international community to start paying attention to Somalia, where the Islamic Courts Union is gaining power. As the Taliban did in Afghanistan, the ICU is gaining power by bringing about normalcy in a war-torn country. And just as the Taliban opened up Afghanistan to al-Qaida, some analysts fear the sharia-enforcing ICU could leave out the welcome mat for terrorist organizations, too.—Z.K.
Newsweek, Sept. 4 Why do we care that the International Astronomical Union reclassified Pluto as a “dwarf planet”? asks the cover article. Astronomers reigned in Pluto because scientists were discovering other heavenly bodies that could qualify as planets, too, but the overdue downgrade resonates with the public because it debunks what everyone learned in grade school, the article asserts. … A new book on the Valerie Plame leak names State Department insider Richard Armitage as the source. Armitage’s involvement is ironic, according to Newsweek correspondent Michael Isikoff, who co-wrote the book. “Armitage was a member of the administration’s small moderate wing. Along with his boss and good friend, Powell, he had deep misgivings about President George W. Bush’s march to war,” he writes. … A profile of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin mines old territory to reiterate how slowly the city is rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina and how disappointed many residents are in Nagin and his Bring New Orleans Back Commission. Nagin knows when to be politically provocative, like with his “Chocolate City” sound bite. But political savvy can’t put clean drinking water through the city’s pipes— M.M.
Time, Sept. 4 On the verge of being shut down because of gross inefficiency in the 1990s, the Veterans Administration hospital system is thriving today, even when compared with private hospitals, according to an article. The piece attributes the VA’s high ratings for patient care to a centralized patient-record database, a barcode pharmacy system, and an overhaul of the infamously bureaucratic system. The VA now has to turn away patients who make too much money or who have not been severely injured—a sign of improved service, according to the piece. … A profile of California Rep. Nancy Pelosi finds the leader of House Democrats a tenacious crusader for liberal ideals and an organizational godsend for the party. “The 66-year-old San Francisco lawmaker is an aggressive, hyperpartisan liberal pol who is the Democrats’ version of Tom DeLay, minus the ethical and legal problems of the former Republican House leader.”— M.M.