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Obama Drama

The Nation on whether Barack Obama transcends race.

The Nation, March 5 In the cover essay, Patricia J. Williams rails against the notion that presidential contender and Sen. Barack Obama somehow “transcends” race: ” ‘Transcendence’ implies rising above something, cutting through, being liberated from. What would it reveal about the hidden valuations of race if one were to invert the equation by positing that Barack Obama ‘transcended’ whiteness because his father was black?” For many people, his appeal seems to be what he is not: “He’s not a whiner; he’s not angry. … He is not the whole list of negatives that people like Chris Matthews or Joe Biden or a whole generation of fucked-up middle-class college students identify as ‘blackness.’ “ A piece explores the mounting discontent among conservatives in John McCain’s Arizona home district. Says one state committeeman: “The guy has no core, his only principle is winning the presidency. He likes to call his campaign the ‘straight talk express.’ Well, down here we call it the ‘forked tongue express.’ “— C.B.

Economist, Feb. 17 An editorial anticipates a coming age of electronic money. “[C]ash is plainly still king,” but phone companies in some countries have already started integrating payment programs into their devices. The price: Anonymity. The editors argue it’s in the government’s interest to preserve anonymity in electronic transactions: “The more the state intrudes into electronic cash, the more it encourages inefficient notes and coin. … As Adam Smith would no doubt have observed, just because the state can pry into electronic cash does not mean it should.” An article criticizes North Korea’s latest nuclear deal, arguing that Kim Jong-il has proved himself untrustworthy. First, he misled South Korea; then, in 1994 he struck a similar deal that the United States suspects he later violated. The piece contends that even as other countries lift trade sanctions, “there should be no let-up on curtailing its criminal activities,” such as weapon selling and currency counterfeiting.— C.B.

Time, Feb. 26 The cover piece describes the emergence of crisis pregnancy centers. Though they are decades old, they have acquired new prominence in the wider pro-life movement. These centers have irked pro-choice groups like NARAL, who claim CPC patients are “harassed, bullied, and given blatantly false information.” But the centers say that they  enlist clinicians who are “going in there with a heart and compassion who’ll talk reasonably and present the options” to dissuade women from pursuing abortion, An article examines former pet detective Jim Carrey, whose manic-to-maudlin cinematic trajectory will reach darker depths in the upcoming horror film The Number 23. The genre shift has accompanied a change in outlook: “He’s not afraid of getting made fun of, he’s not afraid of change, and he’s not afraid of his audience flying away.” This new attitude opens up “the slight possibility that he won’t become a punch line.”— P.G.

New York Times Magazine, Feb. 18
The cover piece assesses the rise of Toyota, the most popular car company in the United States. Last year, Toyota’s “retail turn rate”* —the average time its cars spent in lots before being sold—beat those of GM and Ford three-fold. The company’s owes its success largely to its core principle of kaizen, or continuous improvement. ”The company thinks in years and decades,” says one consultant. ”They don’t think in months or quarters.” Now, Toyota is banking on the Tundra—“the toughest, brawniest and most iconically masculine pickup truck anywhere, ever”—to maintain its dominance. A piece explores the “legal gray area” surrounding hip-hop mixtapes. After SWAT teams busted the Atlanta studios of two renowned DJs, artists and producers wonder how mixtape culture will survive: ”Most artists can’t afford to get their music on the radio, but an artist has the right to let his fan base hear what he’s done,” one music store owner says.— C.B.

New York, Feb. 19 The cover piece highlights a bevy of psychological studies debunking the idea that parents must broadly praise their kids to secure their self-esteem. As it turns out, praising Junior’s smarts may impede them, as “emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.” Even the idea of self-esteem “was polluted with flawed science. …[H]aving high self-esteem didn’t improve grades or career achievement.” Instead, parents should reward persistence, emphasizing that the brain can improve through, while clichéd, trying, trying again. A piece illustrates the ongoing enmity between ACLU head Anthony Romero and the organization’s board of directors. While Romero has boosted the ACLU’s revenue and membership since he took office a week before Sept. 11, his tenure has been marked by scandals (example: Unbeknownst to the board, he advised the Ford Foundation to add Patriot Act-like language to its grant applications) that have grown “into a much-dissected cancer on Romero’s leadership.”—P.G.

The New Yorker, Feb. 19 and 26 A profile of TV producer Joel Surnow explores the murky politics that dominate 24. The show relies on the classic “ticking time bomb” plot device to justify the use of torture against suspected terrorists. “Isn’t it obvious that if there was a nuke in New York City that was about to blow … that, even if you were going to go to jail, it would be the right thing to do?” Surnow asks. But such situations rarely occur in real life, admits 24 co-creator Bob Cochran. Human rights groups have made the same point to question the show’s premise: that a society must exchange liberty for security. A piece traces how California physicist Robert Lang became a world-renowned origami artist. For centuries, paper folding was limited to a set number of shapes and techniques. But since the 1970s, Lang and others have applied mathematic tools to develop increasingly complex designs.— C.B.

Weekly Standard, Feb. 19 A cover piece warns that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad might like to see a repeat of the Holocaust against the 25,000 Jews living in Iran. Ahmadinejad utters the term Zionist much like Hitler said Jew; Iranian officials speak lightly about nuking Israel; and the notorious Holocaust denial conference “implies that over 90 percent of the world’s media and university professorships are controlled by Jews and are thereby cut off from the ‘real’ truth. No one who accuses Jews of such perfidy can sincerely regret Hitler’s Final Solution.” A piece observes that the 2008 presidential contest could reconfigure the U.S. electoral map, with less traditional candidates giving Republicans access to northern metropolitan areas. Of GOP hopefuls Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Rudy Giuliani, “None hails from the South, none looks or sounds country, none is conspicuous for traditional piety, and none is linked closely to social conservatives. At the same time, none is exactly at odds with social conservatives either.”— P.G.

Newsweek, Feb. 19
The cover piece describes a “hidden war” between the United States and Iran—two countries “led by men who deeply mistrust the intentions and indeed doubt the sanity of the other.” For a time after 9/11, Iran showed unusual support for the United States. As coalition countries were drafting an agreement for Afghanistan’s new government, one Iranian official reportedly commented, “Don’t you think there could be some commitment to democratization?” But tensions are mounting, following the recent arrests of Iranian diplomats in Iraq. U.S. forces “intend to be as provocative as possible and make the Iranians do something [America] would be forced to retaliate for,” says a former administration official. A piece examines the emergence of the “real” John Edwards. As John Kerry’s running mate in 2004, Edwards seemed too airbrushed. Now he claims to prioritize honesty over safety: “Consultants can make it hard to tell the truth,” Edwards says. “They want you to be so cautious it makes it hard to say anything.”—C.B.

New Republic, Feb. 19
A piece suggests that a surge in the Iraqi provinces might work more effectively than a surge in Baghdad. On the ground in Ramadi, Lawrence F. Kaplan finds U.S. troops cooperating with local sheikhs to track down insurgents—a method commanders in Baghdad never suggested. “There hasn’t been any coherent guidance,” says one retired Army officer. “So, instead of a symphony, what you have is a collection of jazz bands.” Without a consistent strategy, the military must confront the question, “What if there were one true path all along?” Democratic presidential candidate and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack faces an uphill battle, a profile posits. He’s banking on an Iowa victory to pull him into the national spotlight: Then, he says, people will begin to ask, “Which of the two or three remaining candidates has the best chance of winning the states in the Midwest, the Southeast, the Mountain West? And I think there’s no question I would have the best chance.”— C.B.

Correction, Feb. 15, 2007: This article originally and incorrectly referred to Toyota’s “retail turn rate” as its “retail return rate.” (Return  to the corrected sentence.)